Yesterday Arianna Huffington published an important article for HuffPost. It's an article that I have been hoping somebody would write for a long, long time. In her post entitled GPS for the Soul: A Killer App for Better Living, she wrote: "I was asked to 'gaze into the crystal ball' and predict what the game-changing inventions would be during the next 25 years of the Internet. One of mine was less of a prediction than a hope -- that one day someone would create an app that would gauge the state of your mind, body, and spirit, then automatically offer the exact steps you would need to take to realign all three aspects of your being. So why can't my fantasy become a reality?"
Why is Arianna's idea so powerful? The answer is simple: it's a precursor to a new operating system and incentive structure for the global economy. Stick with me here, because this is really important stuff.
Five years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts -- an idea came to me in a flash of inspiration... one of those life altering moments: why, with this amazing new technological eco-system that we've created, can't we rewrite the code of the global operating system so that our economic incentive structure attaches a tangible, fungible value to the things that are really important in our lives -- and then integrate this value creation mechanism into the mainstream market system that today governs our lives. As I discussed this idea with others, I realized that this idea was big... really, really big... and entirely possible.
To pursue this big idea, I proceeded along three parallel paths: The first path was research. I read everything I could get my hands on about the nature of the global operating system... money... banking... finance... networking... coding... cloud computing... and new measures of value, that are incorporated in this burgeoning field called social capital. I wanted to know how the current operating system works and how the one percent use that system to their own advantage. I wanted to know why our existing system ignores the value of the environment, the value of creativity, the value of our health. The first tangible product was a book entitled: Wall Street Versus Main Street: Understanding Why "The System" is Broken.
But this amazing odyssey had just begun. The more I learned about the current system, and how old systems were giving way to new systems, the more probable the sort of transformation many of us were imagining appeared to be. Arianna hints at in her article. he current trajectory of technological innovation, with young entrepreneurs disrupting entire industries, now makes this transformation of "the system" all but inevitable.
As I did more research into what a new system might look like, some amazing things happened. First the old operating system for the global economy started breaking down. In 2008 we came within hours of a complete meltdown of our financial system. The trust that is the foundation of our money and banking system started to dissipate. Stocks tanked and trillions of dollars of tangible value evaporated in a matter of months. The people took to the streets and that amazing, leaderless Occupy movement captured the attention of the mainstream media. But that movement started to stall for the lack of a plan. I wondered, how could all these people... whose anger was directed at "the system" translate anger into action. That lead to the writing of a second book entitled:Main Street Versus Wall Street: Transforming Raw Anger Into Purposeful Action.
The second path I pursued was in the realm of creative imagination. The mind is an amazing thing. Once one opens up one's mind to an authentic need, the universe responds. People usually don't believe something is possible unless they can visualize it. My need was for a story-a new narrative for our time... a story that imagines what a new operating system might look like and how it could come into being. Ideas started flowing towards me from amazingly diverse sources. The first idea was a framework for this new story. That framework was based upon perhaps the most beloved story in the annals of literature: The Wizard of Oz.
I studied this story and learned that there is an entire body of scholarly research that holds that Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz as an allegory about our money and banking system. Their analysis... breathtakingly detailed... suggests that Baum was channeling the prevailing ideas of his time... a time roughly 100 years ago when the country was in the throes of financial crisis ... a time when the farmers (the scarecrow) were deeply indebted to the bankers... when the factory workers (the tin man) were being displaced by the industrial revolution... a time when the leading politician of their time William Jennings Bryan (the cowardly lion) was a pacifist... and when the ordinary citizens (Dorothy) just wanted control of their country and currency to be returned to them from the Eastern bankers (The Wizard of Oz)... bankers who had used artifice (fractional reserve banking) to create a system of financial alchemy that projected and magnified the illusions of power.
Slowly a new story started to come to me in which a new operating system utilizing a new kind of money and new kinds of banks could be realized. The result was a 2.0 version of The Wizard of Oz entitled: The Wiz of Iz. The Wiz of Iz, is a short read at 120 pages and it's based upon an even shorter story about four good buddies who set out to change the world along the Route of the Rainbow. The story is one you might have heard:
There was a very important job to be done and because this job was so important, Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. So Nobody did it. Somebody got mad about that because it was Everybody's job. In the end, Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
These four buddies... represent the four major catalysts of change in our society:
• Somebody = wealth and influence;
• Anybody = technology;
• Everybody = media;
• Nobody = youth i.e., the face of the future.
Together these four catalysts of change are lead by Izzy... the big idea... on a journey towards the Castle of Change where they will meet The Wiz of Iz (guess who he represents) who has promised to flip the Soul Switch of Society from negative to positive thus transforming the Land of Izn't back into the Land of Iz, releasing a powerful wave of positive energy and prosperity. The whole message of The Wiz of Iz might be summed up simply: The next big wave of wealth creation will come when we discover how to value the riches of the soul." (You can "like" The Wiz of Iz on his brand new Facebook fan page.
The timing of Arianna's story today is almost eerie. Last Friday, April 13, marked precisely 100 years since the birth of my mother, (Isabel) upon whom the character Izzy, in The Wiz of Iz was based. Izzy represents the power of an idea ... a big idea like the idea Arianna has proposed. On April 13, 2012, exactly 100 years after my mother, Isabel Ince, was born, The Wiz of Iz was published on Amazon.
The third parallel path I took pursuing this big idea was was in the real world of startups and technology. As a business journalist who has covered the world of finance and technology for nearly four decades, I know how the start-up game is played. I outlined a business plan for the creation of a new kind of system... an extension of the one Arianna imagines.
That path eventually lead me to entrepreneurs, engineers and investors - some of the same ones who have already disrupted major industries like media and entertainment. My business plan was simple, create a robust software platform that integrates the use of new forms of money into a "social banking system" where money ... diverse currencies, I generically call "new Moneeey" ... flow through mainstream commerce with the same ease and convenience of old money, using many of the same channels that old money uses.... credit cards, smartcards, online banking, emerging mobile payment solutions, and ATMs.
This business idea started to win converts. One unnamed "rockstar" of Silicon Valley, vetted the idea with several of his colleagues and got back to me saying, "My colleagues see no reason why this wouldn't work." Two legal entities were formed: one a for profit called Moneeey, Inc, (www.Moneeey.com); and another nonprofit called Credit Commons, Inc. (www.CreditCommons.com)
The implementation of this idea is a hybrid "social enterprise." It's both very simple and exceedingly complex. Here it is in a nutshell. The most powerful motivational tool man has ever created is money. Today all money is created as debt by commercial banks in an ill understood financial alchemy called fractional reserve banking. Banks today only extend credit using one criteria: the financial criteria, i.e., ... whether the credit they extend is likely to be repaid with interest.
Now imagine a new operating system in which the power to create money is extended to nonbank institutions that have a larger mission is society: institutions like universities, nonprofits, foundations. It's even extended to non bank institutions like retailers, technology companies and government agencies. When new Moneeey is created by new kinds of banks, suddenly something profound changes: the incentive structure built into society through the issuance of money changes. Many of these institutions come together in a kind of industry consortium and pool their resources to write the code for this new software platform that might be called a MaaSS Movement... that is Money as a Software Service. That's basically all that most money is today... informational digits... software.
All these partners, both issuers and redemption agents, of new Moneeey are connected in this system through the non profit Credit Commons, whose mission is to insure the stability and integrity of the system and the new Moneeey that flows through it. Many individually branded and diverse forms of privately created currency are issued into circulation by "social banks." Social banks are certified by the Credit Commons and become part of the system using plug and play architecture. Social banks are, in effect, adjuncts to respected institutions in society that have a store of legitimacy. Once certified, they're all empowered to issue their own currencies to advance their mission and meet the unique needs of their consumers, clients, customers, communities or constituencies.
The bottom line here is that the revolution Arianna imagines is happening right now and the building blocks of a new operating system are being put into place. This is a system that democratizes perhaps the most important power that can be delegated in civil society. Historically that power was the exclusive domain of commercial banks, but this is rapidly changing. Private non-bank entities are issuing their own currencies: Facebook credits, Linden dollars, airline miles, community currencies, on and on. There is an explosion of money substitutes that we call points, rewards, coupons, badges, airline miles etc. Everywhere you look on the Web new apps are being created that establish measuring mechanisms for social capital... apps for the gamification of websites... apps for contests... apps for reputational currencies... apps for new check-in systems... apps for new payment options... apps for new connective tissues... apps for new networks. All these apps will one day be integrated into one new operating system. There are many more killer apps need to be written. Obviously there's a lot more beneath the hood here, all detailed in: The Code of Common Cents: New Money Versus Old Money and the Next American Revolution.
To some this is just a crazy big idea with no hope of ever becoming a reality. Those are the people who will only believe it when they see it. The code of a new operating system that is more holistic, caring and economically sustainable is being written right now. As I write these words, a whole new world is taking shape. These are exciting times... and it's all being created by Nobodies of the world... like you and me.
Follow John F. Ince on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnince