• John Ikerd

Beloved Economies -- A Review

Beloved Economies: Transforming How We Work

By Jess Rimington and Joanna L. Cea

If you work for a for-profit or nonprofit organization that focuses on performance with little regard for people or process, you need to read Beloved Economies. But be prepared to start looking for another job. If you are part of a committee, task force, or other group where diversity and inclusiveness are more about “checking boxes” than collaborative decision making, you need to read Beloved Economies. But be prepared for pushback from the defenders of “business as usual,” in the loveless economy. Or if you simply realize that “our current ways of work aren’t working,” you also need to read Beloved Economies. And be prepared to help change our current ways of life as well as current ways of work.


The authors of Beloved Economies identify the “loveless economy” as the root cause of dysfunctional ways of life—at work, in communities, and at home. They explain how a preoccupation with productivity and profits places a priority on competitive, impersonal, loveless relationships. They also explain how the loveless economy inevitably leads to concentration of wealth and power among the few at the expense of the many. The resulting culture of striving—for wealth and power by some and survival by others—permeates and degrades every aspect of American life, including our workplaces, communities, and homes.


However, over time, the authors began to find “breakthrough actors,” in workplaces and communities, who were rejecting the culture of lovelessness and were creating “beloved communities.” This led to an extended period of research to discover the characteristics that set these breakthrough actors apart from those who submit to the loveless economy. Their overarching conclusion was that breakthrough actors are “reclaiming their right to design.” They concluded that the outcome of any group process depends on the structural and procedural design that determines how groups function. If the outcome is to reflect the full potential of people involved in the process, everyone must be afforded their right to participate fully in the design.


In writing Beloved Economies, the authors relied on such a co-creation process by inviting other breakthrough actors to “claim a right to design.” They collaborated with dozens of groups and individuals to identify seven practices they refer to as the “secret of breakthrough innovation.” They are: share decision making power, prioritize relationships, reckon with history, seek differences, source multiple ways of knowing, trust there is time, and prototype early and often. Together, these seven practices empower groups to break free of the loveless economy and choose better ways of work and better ways of life.


Over the past six decades, I have worked with more than a half-dozen different organizations, for-profit and nonprofit, and have served as a member or leader of dozens of boards, committees, task forces, workgroups, and other formal group processes. These seven practices characterize the few successful organizational and group processes in which I have been involved and explain the failures or wastes of time of the rest. I have been involved in leadership as well as membership in both kinds.


The most successful groups were made up of racially and culturally diverse individuals who understood the history and culture of the organization, valued different ways of thinking, built strong interpersonal relationships, and perhaps most importantly, were willing to share in the decision-making process. The leaders were willing to take time to go through the “forming, storming, and norming” phases of group development before focusing on “performing.” They weren’t afraid to take the inherent risks of “breakthrough decisions” and treated failures as learning opportunities that eventually contributed to success. These are simply alternative ways of expressing the “seven practices of breakthrough innovation,” which are explained in detail in the book.


How do these seven practices create “beloved” organizations, communities, and economies? After some thought, I concluded that the effectiveness of each practice depends on an expression of love. Love has many definitions, but I believe the most inclusive is: Love is a belief in the innate or inherent goodness of a person, place, or other object of affection. To love, is to act on this belief. The loveless economy is a result of many people feeling pressured to suppress, rather than express, their inherent goodness in efforts to succeed, or perhaps just survive. They have been misled into believing that wealth is essential for well-being. The seven practices afford everyone an opportunity to express their inherent goodness—to love. The beloved co-creation process trusts that outcomes will reflect a love of each other and of the other living and nonliving things of the earth—upon which our collective well-being ultimately depends.


Virtually all of the successful groups with which I have been associated have had to cope with challenges by defenders of the status quo. In some cases, the successful groups prevailed in changing organizational cultures. In other cases, early successes eventually were erased and the organizations returned to business as usual in the loveless economy. Regardless, each successful group process changed those of us involved and those who were affected by our work. Those changes can never be erased.


As the authors point out, these individual and small group breakthroughs eventually bring about changes in organizations, communities, and economies. In fact, that is the only way lasting change ever takes place—one person, one organization, one community at a time. Changes rooted in love begin among people who know and care about each other and who know and care about the places where they work and live. The only way to build beloved economies is to begin by building beloved friendships, families, workplaces, and communities. This book provides both the reasons and a roadmap to join in the process of creating beloved economies.


I was reluctant to write this review of Beloved Economies because I am among several dozen people identified as “co-creators” who are quoted in the book. The book is filled with quotes and real-life stories of breakout actors and organizations. While others may be in a better position to evaluate the end product, we co-creators are in a better position to evaluate the co-creation process. The authors trusted that if they followed the same seven practices they advocate for others, Beloved Economies would be the book they needed to write—regardless of how others might evaluate it. In my opinion, their trust was well-founded.


John Ikerd


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