Generating Systemic Wealth — Part 4: A System of Wealth-Generating Sources
One way to better understand wealth is in terms of a hierarchy of sources for wealth-generating activities. Each of these sources can be worked with individually or systemically.
The first source is biotic life itself, for example, living soils as the basis for agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry. The second source is the world of minerals and chemicals, which come from the earth and are then transformed into higher value materials. The third source is assets, which include everything from land to machinery to buildings to financial resources. Assets provide the means by which other sources can be materially leveraged.
Ideas are the fourth source. Ideas can evolve the uses of all the prior sources, and can themselves be sold or licensed. Humans are often thought of as wealth-generating assets based on the quality of their ideas and their ability to apply them in the three prior arenas.
The fifth source is thinking processes. Ideas often appear to people without them understanding how or why. To access this level of wealth generation, one must be able to call on the ideation process as needed, rather than waiting for random discoveries. The value of innovation in the fast moving business climate of the last few decades has made this a more obvious wealth-generating arena, and consulting companies have established methods and technologies to improve the quantity and quality of thinking.
A common example is an incubator for discovering and developing businesses and social venture ideas. Organizations like IDEO, a product and process innovating company, and McKinsey Consulting, which offers “processes to improve ideation in companies,” are highly profitable ventures able to serve businesses operating in all of the four previous arenas.
The sixth source for wealth generation has two aspects. The first is the capacity to design and lead processes that break open and transform the locked worldviews that all disciplines acquire — that is, the capacity to shift paradigms. Thomas Kuhn’s research as a philosopher of science gave guidance on how to examine and challenge thinking processes. Attachment to the “truth” of an approach or a particular way of thinking is a common blind spot for people. So moving into this territory requires an unusual mind.
Education and research institutions will sometimes endeavor to understand what is behind a given way of thinking, but even they are likely to be doing this work from within an existing paradigm. So although this source offers the highest potential for wealth generation, it is very rarely accessed consciously, and tends to play out in broad historical processes of cultural evolution.
Once a paradigm has been shifted, the second aspect of the sixth source comes into play — namely, the capacity to engage consciously in continuous evolution of thinking. This enables people to work directly on what shapes their thinking — the paradigms, values, and orientation.
In the coming parts of this series, we’ll be looking more deeply into each of the wealth generating sources and seeing how a responsible corporation engages with each to generate wealth for all stakeholders in its operations, and become non displaceable in the market.