Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Archimedean Theorem 2 – “Worth Doing” Metrics

Increasingly I find myself engaging with individuals and communities who are tuned into the realization that we are on the precipice of a great transformation. Incumbencies on all fronts are evidencing voids where confidence was once thought to dwell. And while many stand in awe of the crumbling icons, a growing number now believe that they are both observers and actors on the stage of what’s about to be. In many respects, a sense of a community of stewards of that-which-is-to-come is bubbling up in all corners of the globe and the notion of individuated identity is fading.

However, as façade crumbles, a tragic irony has emerged. And this irony struck me quite profoundly in two conversations I had over the past week with two different groups of transformation advocates and prophets. As we discussed the hospicing of the old paradigms of power and values in the interest of affording the immanent transition some degree of grace and dignity, we began to discuss what tentative first steps could be taken into the dawning transformation. And then, like the Medussa from the mist, the phrase was uttered, “We could really get this started if we could find the funding.”

If we could get it funded.

When was the last time you heard this? When was the last time you said this? What manner of idolatry have we come to? An idea is good, but it’s only actionable if it’s funded. Addressing a social need or humanitarian crisis is laudable but it only rises to a level of action if it can be funded. Deploying new forms of development initiatives for the most marginalized states in the world would have merit if only an NGO would step up and fund it. An enterprise may achieve global impact but it only is successful if it accumulated monetary artifacts because, “that’s the only scorecard we can measure at the end of the day.” The UN Development Goals are only actionable if they are funded. Each of these statements has been made in my hearing in the last 7 days.

Well, I am here to tell you that anyone who speaks of transformation and punctuates it with “if it gets funded” is animating money with an insidious power that will perpetually obstruct and destroy every impulse preceding the statement. I have been overwhelmed by those who, in the run up to the UNFCCC event in Copenhagen, believe that we will transform our extractive degradation of the public commons of land, air, water, culture, and community based on a balance sheet argument where money is the final arbiter. We could address carbon emissions with green investments and government incentives if the right political forces just give us our funding. I often wonder if we have invited our "if it gets funded" invocation into such conversations for the explicit purpose of having the faux comfort that we've secured our moral plausible deniability. "After all", we argue, "we would have done the right thing if it had been funded." I am repulsed when I hear NGOs state that they will back off of principled social justice and the rule of law regarding matters such as food production, medicine delivery, and infrastructure support because they cannot threaten their donor base by challenging legal abuses such as trade and industrial property legal violations. When one of the world’s largest NGOs chooses to ignore agriculture and medicine technologies which exist in the open source so that their multi-national donor partners can “participate” in public-private partnerships which are tax-deductible and laden with goodwill marketing, where is the voice that speaks for the millions who suffer and die at the hands of the moral bankruptcy?

Down this bizzare inquiry we find Archimedean Theorem II. Worth doing is a condition in which an individual or collective response to human need persists to a point sufficient to conclude that, with money it would be “worth doing”. An important corollary to Archimedean Theorem II is that whatever exists in abundance in the community discerning “worth doing” is the resource that is required to initiate action and this will never be money. It will often take the form of reputation risk, vocal endorsement, courageous leadership, a prophetic voice, an organizing or catalyzing act or other resources of inestimable and undenominateable value. And it is quite likely that the first measure of integral engagement will actually be marked with an invitation to execute “worth doing” with less money as the first step is likely to be unrewarded with a monetary endorsement. However, when the monetary metric incumbency sees that “worth doing” persists, untold resources will align for subsequent activity.

Living in the realm of Archimedean Theorem II is “worth doing”. As an itinerant in such a land, I can tell you that the consequences are beyond your wildest, wealthiest, imaginations.



  1. This is great and I really think you 'get it' (from my perspective, of course). But did you word the theorem incorrectly in the post? Living in the realm of Achimedean Theorem II when it states "Worth doing is a condition in which an individual or collective response to human need persists to a point sufficient to conclude that, EVEN WITHOUT money it would be “worth doing” Maybe I missed something...

  2. Your clarification is EXACTLY the core message! However, what I'm saying is that at the moment when "if it takes money" is the impulse - that's precisely the moment TO ACT. Most of the time, you will find that WITHOUT money was the ideal mode. You totally get it.


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave