A Perspective of Abundance

A jade plant at our office demonstrates a model of abundance; with patience and care, one plant propagates many.

After having the pleasure of hearing environmentalist and economist Winona LaDuke speak at the Newberry Library in 2016, I started contemplating how businesses might practice a perspective of abundance. When sharing her work on sustainable development, she showed a slide that read:

Abundance is the true nature of life. One seed turns into thousands; nature’s true economy of abundance…an economy that grows from values and ethics of generosity instead of control; of service over slavery. 
 — Winona LaDuke

Here, Ms. LaDuke may be at odds with traditional market capitalism. Typically, businesses operate within a market economy dictated by supply and demand. Economists believe that everything is scarce, and our economy requires a correlation of consumer desire and availability of goods to administer resources, i.e. via pricing. Furthermore, in a zero-sum game, one’s consumption of a resource is necessarily at the expense of someone else’s ability to access it. Then, it is the role of government and the public sector to manage fair and equitable use of certain scarce goods.

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I believe that a scarcity mentality dictates too much of business operations. Many companies, including consulting firms, create value for customers by depending on and perpetuating the perception of scarcity of their goods and services. If you believe that I hold the one and only key to your success, I can command an immense price for access to that key. Any operation outside of that formula, e.g. giving away the key or making it drastically more affordable and scalable, falls into the realm of government regulation or charitable giving.

However, if we turn the scarcity model inside out, where the keys become abundant and everyone is empowered to use them, what would it look like (besides a hippie aversion to market capitalism)? Is it possible for a for-profit business to practice radical generosity?

We can upend traditional definitions of competition to encourage further ingenuity and innovative thinking by generously sharing aspects of our work. By operating from a perspective of abundance, businesses can dismantle relationships based on scarcity and instead create environments of equity and sustainability. We can contribute to a system “of generosity instead of control; of service over slavery.”

Here are four ways that Greater Good Studio uses abundance to guide our work with mission-based organizations:

  1. Creativity. As long as it is exercised and shared, creativity is continually regenerative. Making creative ideas transparent and available for people to access them can further the field of social change.
  2. Power. Power grows in strength when given away. This may be counterintuitive, but George Aye writes more on this concept here. He explains how at Greater Good Studio, our designers cede power to the people affected by the design. By recognizing clients and the people they serve as experts in their own fields, mere “solutions” become much more powerful engagements.
  3. Capacity. Much like power, if our end-goal is for a client to have capacity to function without us, then capacity multiplies by a factor of end users.
  4. Optimism. (The pissed-off kind, of course.) By uncovering assets, rather than focusing purely on needs and lacks, optimism accelerates the ability to discover more assets. In fact, it becomes contagious.

These are not trade secrets and there is no closely-guarded recipe. Creativity, power, capacity, and optimism aren’t things you can steal; instead, these tenets of abundance are tools that are intended to be shared. By this model, value is not created via an expert conferring an answer, or a key, to a client. This framework, instead, empowers the client with tools to do the work on their own. Furthermore, radically generous work voids the zero-sum game; it benefits all parties, not just one party at the disservice of another. This mindset is hard, but not impossible. By practicing abundance, companies can subvert models of scarcity and cultivate social equity and sustainability — with more than enough for everyone.

Want to learn more about Greater Good Studio? Send us a note at change@greatergoodstudio.com. We’d love to hear from you.