This is a book review of an exceptional book I recently finished reading: Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution by Marjorie Kelly.
Kelly has also written The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy, which I have not read…yet. I will get to it soon enough.
I want to get right into the content of Kelly’s work, and for the most part, I am going to be paraphrasing Kelly to summarize the book.
Kelly suggests that there are structures that shape organizational behavior. These structural archetypes are deeply embedded within an organization. Underlying structure is the design that gives purpose to an organization.
Most organizations today, especially financial organizations, have an “Extractive” design. The underlying structure of these organizations, their design, their purpose, is to extract financial gains- from anywhere- and minimize financial risks. In these organizations, the deeper value is maximizing individual stock holder wealth and avoiding risk and responsibility to others. This is the behavior of most publicly traded companies and banks, the financial sector, today.
In Extractive organizations, publicly traded companies, the pressure is to grow profits to generate high rates of return for investors. Extractive organizations do not see limits, the idea is to continually and endlessly generate wealth with no regard for the deleterious effects upon society. It is why extractive companies run rough shod over the planet, over people, and why our country often goes to war- to generate wealth for stock holders.
Extractive businesses are no longer concerned with living communities, they exist only to generate wealth into increasingly fewer hands. Ownership is not community-based, the ownership of extractive companies is held by anonymous investors with little stake in communities. Employees don’t matter, the local community does not matter, environmental regulations do not matter, and employee safety does not matter
With this in mind, what Kelly proceeds to present is the coming revolution in Generative organizational design. Generative business models, or generative organizational design, has deeply embedded structures, archetypes, that support kinship, community, sustainability, and rooted membership.
In generative organizations, the underlying purpose is to live well together, support the human community, steward resources well, and generate reasonable and fair profits in the process. Generative organizations care about employees and the local community.
In generative organizations, the idea is that ownership is disaggregated, land and other capital assets are owned in community. In this sense, ownership is embodied generosity.
Generative organizations “silently embody a different model of ownership- not about dominion but about belonging.”
In the book, Kelly offers several excellent examples of Generative Ownership design that are currently working in the world. The number and scale of organizations around the world holding ownership in common and living in ways that generate sharing and caring is profound; and the number continues to grow daily.
For a student of society, this world, and especially someone trying to make sense of this crazy world we are living in, Marjorie Kelly’s Owning Our Future is well worth the read. I easily give this book 5 out of 5 stars.
I think what I most like about this book is that is offers an alternative to the otherwise only known system that I feel like I am trapped within: Extractive Capitalism. There is an alternative, Generative Ownership, and several organizations around the world are using this model today, and several more are transitioning to generative designs.
Stated simply, the mantra in Western US society that we have to continually generate wealth with every spare cent we have, via investing in the stock market, is bullshit. The stock market is overvalued because investors are no longer investing in the physical capital and assets of corporations, but the fake money, the derivatives, of said capital. The whole thing is going to come tumbling down soon.
There is a different archetype; a different system; a different way; a different purpose to life. Living in community, investing with others close to home, and thinking long term about others and the planet have far greater value than extraction.
Say what you will about Karl Marx and communism, but this was his genius. He called out the limits to capitalism- extractive design- long before we began to experience them as we are today. Marjorie Kelly emphasizes the same thing that Marx did in the 1800s, and that is that the underlying archetypes give rise to how we relate to each other in society and how our societal structures build up around these archetypes.
It is easy for me to observe that unless more and more organizations, and especially the Elite .001% in this world, begin to embrace generative archetypes, there likely will be a physical and violent revolution in the world. I see and sense the anger and desperation of the masses and while I am not calling for a physical revolution personally, I observe that one is coming unless something changes.