Renewal: Consume or Create?

After a couple of stories recently on NPR about businesses and charities that are trying to do their work in “out of the box” sort of ways, it occurred to me that in my experience with the business world, there seem to be two models.  Let me say first, that 1) this is entirely my own experience, which is limited, 2) that there certainly can be more than these two, and I suspect there are or should be, and 3) one of these is the dominant model.

I am calling them the consumer model and the creative model.  The consumer model is what we are largely accustomed to, and because it is so prominent in our culture, what we are shaped to think of when we think of business and investments.  The consumer model looks for ways to make money off of other people–by selling goods and services of things that people are convinced they need; by creating a fear out of which people . . . buy more goods and services.  In this model, the underlying motive is to get money from people for yourself.  It’s an ancient model that has its roots in ancient slavery.  Wealthy aristocracy looked at physical labor as something inferior to their status. They required slaves to do all kinds of things for them from mining and building to bathing and dressing them.  Yes, slaves were required to bathe the wealthy man and woman who could not be bothered to run some soap and water over their own bodies.  Medieval serfdom simply modified this model to include a fear factor:  if you don’t live in this hut and farm my fields for me, how will you survive the winter.  This model is about consuming: stuff and services, but at the root, it’s about consuming resources from others with as little effort on my part as possible.  This model always has a few people at the top and a lot of people at the bottom, from whom the top benefits. The top often reminds the bottom how lucky they are to have this job. It’s part of the fear factor.

The creative model looks for ways to engage human creativity for a benefit for everyone, a way of inviting people into their best work so that everyone gets what they need.  Fear is not on this landscape, because fear squashes creativity.  In this model of business, every person “at the job” has a voice to make the job and what it produces better–the job AND what it produces.  There is a sense in this model of doing better and gaining more of what we need by working together.  There is not really a top and bottom to this model.  In this model, while there may be an owner or project facilitators, very often, everyone in the company is an investor and stock-holder, and everyone has a voice in how things are done. Simply describing this model in our cultural context raises voices of protest: there’s no way you can run a business without a “chief”.  Our culture really expects a few at the top and a lot at the bottom.  And, so we are.

I wonder how we pierce this expectation that the only way to live successfully is to consume off of the hard work of others?  Is there a way in your world to invite others to create with you?

Bob Patrick

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