In this disruptive age for business, growth is often dependent on remaining relevant to a customer base, and reflecting changing consumer attitudes and behaviours. In order to get a better handle on value calculations, we spoke with future-now researcher and consultant, Marianne Doczi, about her work on contemporary currencies.
Business Connector (BC): Marianne thanks so much for your time speaking with Business Connector.
Marianne Doczi (MD): My pleasure, thanks for having me.
BC: Your exploration and business is based around the concept of contemporary currencies. Can you explain what these are and why they matter to businesses?
MD: Money has always been only one form of value exchange. Just as networked technologies have disrupted so many business models, new and reimagined forms of value exchange are now disrupting money itself; challenging the status of formal national currencies as the primary definer of value.
These new forms of exchange include digital currencies, crowdfunding, collaborative consumption, and customized currencies and barter systems. And these new currencies both reflect and influence the rising value of our more ‘contemporary currencies’: attention, time, energy and personal, social and organizational values.
When you consider the growing realization that we have to live more sustainably as humans, and how emerging research on wellbeing has identified experiences as being more aligned with happiness than consumption, it’s not hard to see the competition money is facing as the primary measure of value.
Smart enterprises understand that the best way to remain relevant to customers and employees, as well as to ensure ongoing profitability, is to have tools that provide nuanced insights into what people value most, and systems that translate these insights into value propositions and actions.
In order to remain smart in these disruptive times, businesses need new tools to make sense of people’s changing value propositions. Money still matters: it just doesn’t always matter most, or is the only value exchange people use. My Contemporary Currencies and my 3F:futures insight frameworks enable people to understand what’s changing, and how to start making sense of it.
BC: How did you identify these currencies? And how are you prioritizing them?
MD: As William Gibson said in the mid-1990s, “The future’s already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” I think we’d all agree, these days the future’s a lot more evenly distributed because change is happening on multiple fronts, faster, and having greater impact.
Our lives are becoming more stressful and less conventional. Digital is disrupting traditional exchange rates for our attention, time and energy; it takes a lot less time and energy to do many things, and we can choose where, how and when we do them. Values are becoming more visible in everyday life. And particularly money (in terms of cost or price) is losing its historic monopoly as the arbitrator of value, and the primary exchange mechanism. It’s not just value for money we want, we increasingly want value – as we define it – for our attention, time, energy and values.
So when it came to determining the contemporary currencies I had to take these trends into account; how they are changing both our perceptions of what matters to us, and how, where and when we combine and use these currencies.
Time and energy are obvious historical currencies to include among the contemporary currencies, but I’m giving them a new value because their metrics and impact are transformed by digital-everything. For example, seconds and minutes now have unprecedented personal and commercial value. And we want more meaningful ways to use our energy; for thinking, feeling, relating or for physical activity. We resent wasting these currencies, or something costing us more of our attention, time or energy than we want to use. And, we’re also more willing to give them away if the value proposition is right.
Personal values, and integrity, are becoming even more important to communities and organizations. We are questioning the value systems demonstrated by the conduct of many institutions – government; commercial; cultural; community. We want to, and can, be more in control of our lives, through what we do individually and collectively. So values are a key currency that smart businesses respond to.
But the highest priority contemporary currency is attention because it’s our scarcest currency. We can outsource, time-shift and automate many activities, to save time and energy: money. But we get the best value from our activities where we are physically and mentally present. Research is increasingly demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness and the cost of a full, or over-full, mind not just to us as individuals, but also to enterprises where employees are distracted and overloaded.
So time, energy, personal values and attention are the forces which are coming to bear on traditional currency and exchange systems. And they are, without a doubt, impacting on value calculations.
BC: Is it possible to quantify currencies like value systems and time?
MD: Contemporary currencies can all be quantified but I caution enterprises against racing to do this before fully exploring the qualitative value of them.
There is a range of research tools to enable you to explore the meaning of emergent patterns that make sense of things that look ‘unusual’, or could mean something quite different to what your current analytics suggest.
A qualitative approach is essential for understanding the relative value of currencies, and how people make trade-offs, including when they’re less willing or able to do so. It will provide you with more sophisticated quantitative measures.
Begin with a blend of empathic and provocative questions; engage with a diversity of people; collaborate with customers and employees to test your thinking. From this qualitative data, you can either adapt your current quantitative tools, or adopt new ones. Numbers are meaningful only if they reflect what is meaningful rather than assumptions that have reached their use-by-dates.
You might need to operate dual systems for a while, until you have a clearer sense of the best blend of existing and new. Then you can integrate them into one analytical and metrics framework. Think of it like having a responsive web site, one that provides the user with a quality experience regardless of the device they’re using.
BC: But business is still focused on raising revenue and paying bills. How can companies reconcile the drive for cash with these contemporary currencies?
MD: Any business that understands the dynamics between their customers’ and their employees’ contemporary and traditional currencies is well placed to remain relevant and profitable. If the total package you offer enables someone to get a good return for their overall currency exchange rates, you’ll get not only their money, you’ll get something even more valuable: their loyalty and agency on your behalf. Both are invaluable to your business for marketing and innovation.
Digital has transformed the monetary value of seconds of attention, so it goes without saying that a smart business understands that in order to make a profit, they must first get, and keep, someone’s attention.
BC. How can individuals in business environments begin to accommodate contemporary currencies?
MD: A good place to start is put yourself in a space that enables you to absolutely “get it”, that when someone is spending their money with you, you’re also requiring them to use their attention, time, energy and values. And, that when you’re paying an employee to invest their attention, time energy or values with you, money doesn’t always guarantee they will.
You can be in that space as soon as you like; just start thinking about how you value and use your contemporary currencies, when they have an absolute value to you, when you trade them off against one other, and against cost or price.
I explore these ideas in my workshops by asking questions that enable people to explore the continued validity of their strategic and operational assumptions against the contemporary currencies framework.
BC. What is the likely impact on business if managers fail to accommodate contemporary currencies?
MD: Well, as you know, customers have lots of options, so they’ll go wherever they get a better return. Not just by shopping more online but also by finding creative alternatives to stay healthy, have fun, learn, and manage family responsibilities.
Employees might stay with you but they will be among the increasing percentage of those who are unengaged; in attendance but not truly present. Or they’ll trade off money for a better return on their attention, time, energy and values, and leave.
And somewhere, be assured, someone is developing a value proposition that will give your customers the exchange rate they want or need.
BC. Finally, in your workshop at Vivid Ideas you’re exploring the impact of contemporary currencies on the value propositions and uses of places, spaces and nature. Why this angle?
MD: As you know, we no longer have to be in places traditionally associated with an activity to perform it, whether the activity is earning money, getting professional advice, socialising, staying healthy, or learning. Increasingly, we can choose from a diversity of blended zones; physical and online locations.
But conversely, the value of public parks and green spaces has risen as we live in smaller dwellings and denser neighbourhoods, and spend more time online.
The net result is that we’re choosing only to go to physical locations that provide a great return for our contemporary currencies, as well as our money and exchange rates.
I’ve designed the workshop to give people an opportunity to explore what this means for their business or service, whether it’s commercial, cultural, community or government. To give them the head-space to think innovatively about how to ensure that their places and spaces stay relevant, and therefore viable, in these disruptive and transformational times.
BC: Sounds like a great workshop. Thanks for your time Marianne.
If you are interested in learning more about contemporary currencies, you can register for Marianne’s workshop at VIVID on 25 May 2015 at 11am – 1pm. Tickets: $30/$35. Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay. More information: http://www.vividsydney.com/event/ideas/contemporary-currencies-does-money-still-matter-most