Economics

Meaning-Based Economy

 Icebreaker, the maker of men's and women's fashion, makes renewable, recylcable, and biodegradable merino wool clothing that also connects you to the farmer who raised the sheep- the company provides long-term contracts to the farmers to give them economic stability while raising their sheep.

Icebreaker, the maker of men's and women's fashion, makes renewable, recylcable, and biodegradable merino wool clothing that also connects you to the farmer who raised the sheep- the company provides long-term contracts to the farmers to give them economic stability while raising their sheep.

I was looking through my e-mail and found an unread blog post of one of Boulder, Colorado's most interesting and prolific investors, Brad Feld, from 2013.  A quote in it struck a chord in me.  He had written about a company he invested in called Barnanas- a dehydrated banana snack covered in chocolate that managed to make its way into Whole Foods, kind of the holy grail of stores you want to get into.

Feld made this observation about the Barnana team.

Interestingly, a majority of the Barnana team is comprised of tech guys. It seems more and more people are entering the fast growing natural foods space from other high growth industries like tech. I asked Matt why he feels natural foods world is so appealing to techies.

We are transitioning from a price based economy to a meaning based economy. Not only meaning for your customers, but meaning soup to nuts throughout the entire organization. The notion of meaning is supported across multiple verticals, from the maker revolution to local and organic foods, to the various kickstarter campaigns. It’s simple – people want meaning. And bananas.”

A meaning based economy.  I love that phrase.  I mean, people still look at prices, but we also want our product to be sustainable, we want to feel like we're connecting with the people who actually made the product, we want to feel like we've been understood by the people who created the brand, and we want to feel like we're doing good in the world by purchasing the product. 

Last night a friend gave the example of Warby Parker donating a pair of glasses to someone who needs them when you buy a pair.  This morning I read about Evrnu, a cotton-recycling company that takes discarded cotton clothes and turns them into a new fabric for re-use.  Companies are tuning into this sentiment and finding ways to do good all over, even if it arouses all our cynicism- like Wal-Mart pledging to be the biggest supplier of organic food in the world. 

I personally thought the meaning economy phrase was more like "a brand gets me".  Like my favorite company, Club Monaco's branding gets the meaning I want to convey when I wear my clothes and do my hair so I'll buy their clothes because their visuals tell the right story.  That was my narcissistic interpretation of "a meaning-based economy", which I'm sure is still legitimate, but the guy who wrote the quote was probably meaning moreso the do-good-by-purchasing-our-product kind of idea.

Either way I'm fascinated.  How do you interpret "meaning-based economy"?  What have you bought recently simply because it had meaning to you?

Losing Jobs to China

I follow two blogs daily- Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist, and Joanne Wilson, an angel investor.  They're both super astute observers of the economy, entrepreneurship, politics and culture.  Fred wrote another great post this morning about the conversation around losing jobs to China, that we (but mostly Americans right now) are bemoaning the loss of manufacturing jobs to China, when automation will mean that they will eventually lose their jobs anyway, so why can't politicians help constituents see the bigger picture instead of stoking their fears?

We are now well into a transition from an industrial economy to an information economy. It seems to me that part of that transition was the move of industrial jobs to lower and lower cost regions in an ongoing march to reduce costs. But that march may end with massive automation and very little labor in the manufacturing process. That means that these low cost regions that “stole our jobs” will also lose these jobs eventually.

The US and a number of other countries around the world are building new information based economies. That is the long term winning strategy.

So while we can critique our leaders (business and political) for giving up on the manufacturing sector a bit too early, I think the US has largely played this game correctly and will be much better off than the parts of the world that have taken the low cost manufacturing jobs from us.

The discussion amongst Fred's readersin the comment section is centered on the future of jobs in America, and given my limited knowledge of stats in this area, I'll just stick to what I know.  Computers and machines can't create a field of presence between two people, and they can't come to presence like we can.  Because they remember the crash of 2008,  Millennials are spending more money on experiences than things; they want to be at live events, creating memories and bonding with their friends rather than accumulating things.  They remember seeing that houses and things can be re-possessed, and they don't want that happening to them.  Their spending patterns will indicate where the jobs will be in the coming years.

Enneagram teacher extraordinaire George Gurdjieff called us machines- and the more we meditate and become self-aware, the more we see how true it is that we operate on automatic.  Non-meditators guffaw when you say something like that, but when you start the self-observation practice, you eventually start to see tiny, short glimpses of our automatic nature.  So if you haven't done a lot of meditation or self-observation, you can't compete very well against a machine.  But... self-observation leads to self-leadership and with leadership skills, you can create a field with others... or without having to go into too much depth about what that means... you can create a meaningful experience for others.  An experience of presence.

That said, what kinds of jobs will be left for us?  I pay some attention to the modelling world and models have experienced a tremendous shift as well- consumers don't just want to see their beautiful bodies and faces- they want to know about their consumer choices, what they do in their time off, where they vacation, how they make hummus... The modelling industry isn't about just showing up for a photo shoot and posing with a brand's clothing.  Increasingly, models' personal lives are more well-known to us, more accessible, and they are sharing more with their followers.  They have youtube channels, they share their recipes and pictures of their pets with their Instagram followers, they're going back to school and the fact that we know about that, care about it, and are following in their footsteps means we care about the lifestyle behind their brand.   So if we take that same angle to business, going into business means creating a branded experience.  Customers don't just want a product thrown at them- they want the look, the attitude, the political statement, the integrated lifestyle of what the brand represents- the meaning behind it is just as important- or more important than its quality.  If you're going to create an integrated lifestyle behind a brand, you're going to need a capacity for self-reflection.  

Those are just some very scattered thoughts this morning.  I do believe that the disembodiment that's been happening since the dawning of computers has led us to find different ways of being around .... more... bodies.  The new sharing economy is a manifestation of that- Uber and Airbnb for example.  Those who have the self-knowledge and presence of mind to "create a field" for others as we say in meditation circles, or "create an experience", as they say in marketing, will win over robots.

Why I use Tarot Cards

  Tarot cards are an intuitive way of getting a beat on the energy of a particuar situation.   Image from Fortune Magazine. 

Tarot cards are an intuitive way of getting a beat on the energy of a particuar situation.  Image from Fortune Magazine. 

This summer, my landlady needed a cleaning agent to kill some pests, and I knew I had exactly what she needed, although it was nowhere to be found in any of my likely storage places.  A few days after I'd promised her I could help her, I decided "what could it hurt if I asked my tarot cards?"  I did a three-card reading and the answer I got was that it was "behind [or after] addictive substances."  I don't have any addictive substances amongst my possessions- illegal anyways- but the closest I could think of was wine bottles, so I went to the storage room and checked at the back of a shelf behind some bottles, and voila- there it was.

Two days ago, I read an article on Fortune Magazine about how more and more executives are turning to psychics, astrologers, and tarot card readers to make important business decisions.  From the perspective of the service provider, this is a good business to be in if you know your shit.  Some of them charge up to 800$ an hour to give their clients insight into their competitions' business.  I have worked with three astrologers- one of them studied with Carl Jung's daughter, and she charges 400$ CDN for 80 minutes.  Most of her clients are executives, as she inadvertently revealed in a huff of impatience with me one session.  She can afford to be picky; she books a year in advance, and she expresses a certain displeasure with you if you don't take the opportunities that she tells you about.  Mr. M and I were referred to her by a former Pepsi exec and Fortune 500 VP that we met at a workshop.  He'd used her to get through a divorce and found her to be extremely helpful.

Through experience, I have learned to take my horoscopes with a healthy dose of salt and rely more on personalized readings from astrologers who are actually reading my chart.  I do really like one website, though, for their horoscopes: astrolis.com.  One day this past May, after having read their horoscopes for a good year, I decided to click on the "tarot" section, wondering what baloney they were going to try and feed me, and when I clicked on the three cards, three cartooney pictures were revealed.  I read the descriptions beside the pictures, and the sentiments in the card mirrored the general gist of what I was going through, so I asked another question and clicked on the cards again. 

That was the beginning of my adventure with tarot cards.  Since then, they've forwarned me about a break-up, warned me what it would be like if I went back to an old boyfriend, told me [correctly] that my next boyfriend would be younger than me, helped me understand why someone was being cold with me, pointed me in the right career direction, and helped me make good decisions while apartment hunting.  Right now I'm using them to find something else that got lost last summer.  They can be insanely tricky to read due to multiple meanings, or their meaning can be clear as day- the more you use them and sit and think about their meanings, the better reader you become. 

Yes, there's a lot of hokiness out there, and you do need to be careful.  My ex and I visited a palm reader for kicks last summer in an old, smoky, run-down house in Philadelphia, and she was way out to lunch.  On the other hand, I had a tarot card reading a month ago, and she was off on some things [and I knew it], and embarassingly accurate in others.  You can find quacks and frauds just as easily in a financial planning company or a law office as you can in a psychic's youtube channel.  You can also find people who are grounded and wise in both places.  Neither needs to be discounted wholesale, you need to follow your gut- ask a trusted friend for a referral.  And of course, you get what you pay for.  400$ or 800$ an hour is going to give you much better quality information from someone with much more experience than someone who charges 50$ an hour.

Part II of Position Paper- Some of Stress's External Factors

Part II of Position Paper

In order for a personality typing system to be effective, it needs to be able to clearly articulate the various reasons that the different types experience stress.  Some of us get annoyed with slowness- people who are walking slow, driving slow, processing information slow; some of us get impatient very easily.  On the other hand, those of us who are more or less fine at this pace are annoyed by other things.  People who aren't genuine, who aren't self-motivated, who patronize.  We all have buttons, and their combinations tend to constellate around certain types.

  Human neuron showing actin formation in response to stimulation. 

Human neuron showing actin formation in response to stimulation. 

Furthermore, not only should this typing system pinpoint why each type experiences stress, but a really great personality typing system will have specific guidance for how each one can deal with that stress.  To quote Jung, "the shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases."   To give blanket "life advice" may have people taking the wrong medication for the wrong reasons. 

For example, the advice to "walk away when you're angry" is useful to a certain personality type that easily puts their foot in their mouth when provoked.  They could quite easily say or do something they eventually regret.  There are those, however, who don't express anger adequately and need to practice staying with their anger so it emerges instead of being stuffed down.  Those who sue for peace out of fear of rocking the boat need to count to ten for a different reason-- so they can get in touch with their anger and hopefully articulate their needs.

We know that stress isn’t about what happens to us- it’s how we respond to it, but it is worth noting how much more stressful our lives are becoming compared to those of previous generations.

One of the main reasons Canadians and Americans are stressed out is because they're trying to maintain the same standard of living as their parents while in some cases making less money after inflation, doing similar jobs, and working longer hours than they did.  This is taking its toll.  The strain of this new normal means that people are skimping on sleep, taking less vacation, skipping their workouts or home-cooked meals, affecting their health and their families. In 2011, Statistics Canada found that a full 27% of Canadians describe their lives as "quite stressful" or "extremely stressful".  South of the border, the American Psychological Association who publishes a study every year on the stress levels of Americans, found that twenty-two percent of Americans said they experienced extreme stress about money in the month before the survey.  31 percent of adults with partners said money was a major source of conflict in their relationship. 

 Image from www.makingsenseofcents.com

Image from www.makingsenseofcents.com

While our economy has slowly been recovering from the 2008 recession, there are overall trends that show the reality we're living in now is quite different from was one or two generations ago.

Both men and women are working longer hours than we were thirty to forty years ago.  In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg writes that “assuming a fifty-week work year, middle-income married men and women with children worked 428 more hours in 2010 than in 1979, or an average of 8.6 more hours per week" (Sandberg, 2013).  Employees seem to be haunted by the 2008 layoffs and consequently "feel they have to be tied to their desks" out of an increased pressure to be productive.  Canadian workers have developped a habit of not taking all their vacation, says Right Management's spokesperson Margaret-Ann Cole.  She doesn't foresee the trend letting up soon, either, as people feel pressured to show up at work lest they be judged by their colleagues for not contributing enough, even if a vacation might re-energize them. 

 Image from www.bringyourchallenges.com

Image from www.bringyourchallenges.com

According to a recent StatsCan report, over a quarter of Canadians feel their lives are “quite” or “extremely” stressful.  One of the reasons might be the fact that Canadian families are the most indebted with a record high household debt of about 164% of after-tax income [Source]. 

Not only are Canadians and Americans working longer hours, but as Linda Duxbury from Carleton University says, their work hours are blending into evenings and weekends as a result of their managers having access to them via their cell phones and asking them to take work home with them [Source].  This is especially true for highly-paid knowledge workers who, to juggle this new complexity, are outsourcing their family duties to outside providers. 

As for the lowest income earners, overall economic growth has translated into increased wages, according to Benjamin Tal, Deputy Chief Economist at CIBC, and yet, as of 2014, one in 5 Canadians were still juggling more than one job, and the majority of them were at the lower end of the pay scale.  The other group that was experiencing growth was the top 20% of wage-earners, leaving the middle at a stagnant growth rate.  Says Tal,

When you look at Canada over the last 15 years, what’s interesting is that the two groups that have seen the most significant growth in income were the bottom 20 and the top 20.  The middle has seen its income growth lagging.

 Image from avc.com

Image from avc.com

Which is a problem our southern neighbors wish they had.  Their middle class wages are actually going down.  According to a 2015 New York Times report, due to trends in globalization, off-shoring, and the IT revolution, between 2000 and 2013, the median income dropped in most states in the U.S, a trend they dubbed "the hollowing out of America's middle class."  Whereas the vast majority of Americans used to identify as middle class, America looks more like an hourglass now, with more people sliding into the "working class" designation and more wealth is accumulating at the top [Source]. An article in the New York Times says, "After three decades of income gains favoring the highest earners and job growth being concentrated at the bottom of the pay scale, the middle has for millions of families become a precarious place to be [Source].

  Robots mixing drinks in a bar online a luxury cruise ship.   Image from dailymail.co.uk.

Robots mixing drinks in a bar online a luxury cruise ship.  Image from dailymail.co.uk.

When a college education doesn’t necessarily translate into a higher income bracket anymore, and the jobs that provided those middle class wages are being replaced by robots, it's no surprise, then, that a recent Pew study found that only 64% of Americans now believe they have a chance at upwards economic mobility, the lowest it’s been in 30 years.  [Source]   

It would be one thing if Canadians and Americans were just feeling squeezed by the economy, but simultaneously, the bar has been raised on how much time we spend raising our children as well.  Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, says,

Just as expectations for how many hours people will work have risen dramatically, so have expectations for how many hours mothers will spend focused on their children. In 1975, stay-at-home mothers spent an average of about eleven hours per week on primary child care (defined as routine caregiving and activities that foster focused play.)  Mothers employed outside the home in 1975 spent six hours doing these activities.  Today, stay-at-home mothers spend about seventeen hours per week on primary child care, on average, while mothers who work outside the home spend about eleven hours.  This means that an employed mother today spends about the same amount of time on primary child care activities as a nonemployed mother did in 1975 (Sandberg, 2013).

 Image from unsplash.com

Image from unsplash.com

As of 2015, the workforce in Canada and in the United States is now made up mostly of Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000.  Although they make up such a large part, employers don't seem to want to hire them, and certainly have trouble relating to them.  Millennials are often described as lazy and entitled by older generations, owing in large part to their habit of texting while eating, walking, and even socializing.  One survey of Canadian Millennials says that they would rather lose their sense of smell than their cell or smart phone. 

Soon, Millennials will be holding up two of the world's biggest economies, trying to prevent further widening of the income gap while at the same time, balancing their social media and texting habits.  To do so successfully, they will require a new level of self-awareness of how they respond to the many stressors in their lives- if they respond in constructive or destructive ways.