“Money is fuel” says Simon Sinek. This is a creativity-stifling myth that needs to be debunked.
What money really is
Money is the greatest, most powerful storytelling device humans have ever created.
Money does not exist until humans tell a story that it exists. Bank notes; the money in your current account; debt; Bitcoin. None of that is money until someone says it is by projecting a story onto it.
Whether we like it or not money touches all of our lives and is woven into almost every human endeavour.
Money stories can be incredibly useful. They have allowed us to create a means of exchange that’s compatible with absolutely everyone, for virtually anything you can imagine.
This is pretty incredible if you think about it. As my wise friend Charles likes to say, humans haven’t even been able to create a universally compatible mobile phone charger.
The danger is that our money stories feel so real that we forget they are just stories.
We can easily get attached to our money stories, and we can end up working for them, not getting them working for us.
What money becomes for each of us
Ask a room full of people what money is, and you’ll get a room full of answers.
You’ll hear both positive and negative stories about money, and some complete opposites.
It’s not that some of these stories are true and others are not. Or that some are superior to others (like Simon Sinek mistakenly believes that ‘money is fuel’ is the best story.) The truth is far more personal.
Money becomes for each of us whatever stories we tell about it.
If you believe money is security, freedom, an enabler, evil, dirty, or fuel, that’s how it shows up in your life. It becomes true for you. Yet money itself has no fundamental nature of its own — good or bad. And it has no will of its own to do good or evil. It’s humans and our stories which create the good and the bad.
There will inevitably be times in our lives when money is not working the way we’d like it to. Perhaps we’re broke. And even if we have a lot of it, that can create a feeling of guilt, burden or fear of losing it. That’s the downside of getting attached to a story about money.
Because the things we are seeking which we project onto money — Security, freedom, enablement, fuel, success, whatever — are ultimately not created by the external world. They are available to all of us, all of the time, with and without money. Money never truly gives them to us.
The Western bias towards looking externally to the material world and to our life circumstances for fulfilment and happiness is disempowering. Ask a Tibetan buddhist where happiness comes from and they will tell you to look inward not outward. And whereas we cannot always change our life circumstances immediately, there is always opportunity to strengthen our inner world, right now.
Why money is not fuel for organisations
Unlike a car which cannot start without fuel, money is never the thing that starts a new creative endeavour.
Every initiative starts with a person, who has an idea worth realising, and enough passion for it to invest themselves in getting started.
It’s this combination of a person, an idea and passion that attracts the resources an endeavour needs. It creates a compelling story that people want to be a part of and the conditions for money to flow in and out of it in service of the idea.
Creative people who believe they need money to have fuel to get started are severely limiting themselves. There is always a first step with or without money.
What really fuels human endeavours
Not only is money not the thing that starts new endeavours, it’s not the thing that sustains them either.
People provide the fuel. Just like at the start, the fuel is ideas and the passion to realise them. This is what keeps all human endeavours going.
An empty tank isn’t the end
If your car runs out of gas, it will stop dead. Yet that doesn’t mean the end of your journey unless you choose to give up. It’s an opportunity for a creative way forward. You can hitch-hike, flag down a passing car, call the AA, walk to a service station, or phone your mother for a lift. If your breakdown causes you to miss a flight, then beyond the frustration and disappointment there is an opportunity to do something else with your week’s holiday. Who knows, it may end up being the best week of your life. It’s up to you.
Journeys are not always easy and there are difficulties on the path. But there is always a next step — with and without money.
Companies can collapse, but while there are still people with ideas and passion, creative endeavours will continue in new directions, or create space for new things to emerge. When a company goes bankrupt, its assets don’t vanish — they’re available for the future. Perhaps a better future than if the original company had survived. Again, it’s up to you.
You can have an empty tank and love it
So it’s not just that you can be fuelled with and without money. If you choose to, you can also have an empty tank and love it. It could become the most creative time of your life. Money doesn’t decide that. It can’t. Only you can.
A huge credit goes to Peter Koenig, author of 30 Lies About Money, who spent over three decades researching the nature of money and the human relationship to it. Peter trained me in his work so I can write articles like this. Thank you Peter.