where does it come from? how do you make it? can we have some?
If we consider minimum viable products, cost reduction, customer engagement, and the many other mechanisms and metrics of contemporary business, we find our current economic regime embodying the Freudian pleasure principle: what smallest amount of effort will yield the greatest returns?
And from here we can observe modern culture as a mobius strip, the myopic instant-gratification psychology of the consumer bleeding into the psychology of the producer, the business owner, the entrepreneur. The object of desire shifts, while the desiring itself remains the same.
Any attempt to dislodge or reconfigure this pattern (for one person, let alone any group) is at best dubious. The logic of value generation as a form of extraction—of always taking more than you give—reverberates through our psyches as an almost immutable law. How else is value made?
This question, whether we are conscious of it or not, will continue to haunt our era, determining a whole host of runaway effects prophesized by climatologists and labor activists alike.
The good news is that an enormity of answers exist.
Many, new and old, have dedicated themselves to this question of value and how its current logic of extraction must change if we are to avoid further planetary disharmony. The answers they come up with are as diverse as you might expect. Some have taken dives into the history of monetary theory, while others have revealed the smoke screen of modern economics, while still others have taken a fine-toothed comb to contemporary business practices and their feedback loops of expropriation. The overwhelming verdict, however, is that our conceptions of value must be broadened.
What this means is that we must move away from what economists have spent centuries referring to as "externalities" and recognize that these variables (e.g., ecological disequilibrium, industrial waste, weakened public infrastructure, mass migrations, civic unrest, social malaise) must be incorporated into our measurements of personal and collective success. It means our current value metric has excluded broader conceptions of value that we are now coming to see as critical to sustaining life, and that it is therefore our responsibility to find ways of incorporating these forms of value into current economic structures.
How do we even begin to approach a problem that big? Well, a good starting place would be to ascertain what these other forms of value are. For example:
All other forms of value generation rely on the natural environment, directly or indirectly. Our future as a species will depend on our ability to treat our planet as both a finite resource and a site of boundless collective significance.
In practice, this could mean creating a valuation model that raises the price of scarce natural resources to always exceed the purchasing power of society's wealthiest, thus placing self-regulating limits on the harvesting of finite raw materials. (Or, as one post-growth memer put it: let the gas prices go up—pillaging irreplaceable natural resources should be cost prohibitive!)
The labor involved in family life and homemaking provides a foundation for all other forms of labor involved in conventional value generation, yet historically this (predominately female) labor has gone ignored and uncompensated.
To put this in economic terms, the care work that enables all other forms of societal cohesion (i.e., the ability to show up at your job everyday) remains a trivialized form of labor undeserving of valuation and thus undeserving of investment.
Take the example of the working mother, who must allocate time and energy to both raising children and showing up for her employer. She may receive little to no material support for the former, yet her economic system will one day come to benefit from the labor-power of her children as employable adults. Thus, from the prospective of employers, a large part of social reproduction often comes as a free service. Whereas from the perspective of the worker, this labor continues on as an invisible, unremunerated expense they must shoulder in private. (While the notion of welfare programs has sought to correct this situation, the prospect of material remuneration for care work remains an unresolved issue—especially as we shift more and more to a dual-earner system, where care work becomes a matter of outsourcing for the well-off, meanwhile publically-funded social services continue to experience extreme budget cuts to make room for corporate cash grabs.)
It is imperative that our broadened conception of value not limit its image of human life to the quantitative. There is an irreducibly qualitative aspect to human flourishing that our economic system must make room for if it is to not only be sustainable, but enjoyable.
One compelling vision for what this would mean on a practical level comes from Kate Soper, who has written on the diminishing merit of GDP as an accurate metric of prosperity, both in the context of the two alternative forms of value mentioned above and with respect to more holistic definitions of collective wellbeing:
"More recently, recognition that a time-scarce, work-dominated society is bad for the physical and mental health of workers has led to many calls for GDP (sometimes dubbed the 'Grossly Distorting Picture') to be displaced in favour of other indices of social wealth. While the huge contribution of unpaid activity such as household and volunteary work is discounted, GDP includes profits made from dealing with the consequences of mishaps and disasters such as air pollution, plane crashes and car accidents. A number of alternatives have been proposed, including the Human Development Index, which now recognises, alongside living standards measured by income, the role of life expectancy and knowledge in advancing well-being. The Genuine Progress Indicator (developed by Herman Daly and John Cobb in the late 1980s) also adds in the value created by domestic and voluntary work while subtracting the costs of crime and pollution. More recently, the Ecological Footprint, measures how much land and water a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its waste under prevailing technologies. The Happy Planet Index uses the Ecological Footprint along with life expectancy and reported experience of happiness to calculate national levels of happiness. It thus includes ecological efficiency in providing for well-being as a key criterion of its achievement. Nations score well on the index if they achieve high levels of satisfaction and health with low levels of damage to the environment. To date many of the most industrialised nations, including the UK and USA, have scored pretty poorly on the index." 
Surely, many books could be written revising and adding to this list. But rather than attempt an exhaustive taxonomy, my aim here is to illustrate how impoverished our current definition of value is, and how much room there is for improvement. Once we are able to grasp these other forms of value generation, be it as an individual, organization, or society, we can begin the work of developing metrics to account for these variables and incorporate them into our frameworks for success.
The Double Bind
The real meat of this conundrum arises in the context of running a business. When maximizing shareholder value governs an enterprise, all other conceptions of value are all too easily jettisoned as irrelevant. But, more importantly, accounting for alternative forms of value in this scenario would seem to be, by definition, experienced as a financial loss. (Who in their right mind would invest time, money, and energy into an initiative that promised no returns?)
This is the double bind the business world experiences: the pressure to stay afloat directly impedes its ability to give back. Or so it seems.
My combined interests in consulting and political economy has driven me toward imagining this exact possibility. Given what we know about the structural limitations put on businesses, what strategies would allow businesses to follow through on a broadened conception of value generation and invest resources back into the collective, while simultaneously ensuring some kind of ROI?
Some might call this a contradiction in terms, but I see it as an open-ended question. As I mention in my post on heterodox business strategy, there is always the possibility of piloting an initiative which yields indirect rewards to your business.
The key here would be to start thinking sociologically: "How might an investment in the material wellbeing of my workers, community, or society trigger a trickle down effect that my business would feel?" Maybe it's as simple as better benefits sparking higher morale, productivity, and retention rates. Maybe you offer employees student debt forgiveness. Maybe you lobby for affordable, green energy housing for your remote workers. The point, however, is devising what we might call a dual-purpose investment: on one hand, you're pouring resources into an initiative that will boost competitive advantage, brand recognition, and retention; on the other hand, the initiative is producing tangible good for a larger community that transcends conventional value generation. It's no easy task, and would most likely require tremendous collaboration, but the rewards could be unparalleled—especially when we consider how these kind of initiatives could completely rewrite the rules for an entire industry depending on who's leading the charge.
Narrative Strategy and the Future of Value
As for consultants, there are ample opportunities here for what Tom Critchlow, Toby Shorin, and others have been calling narrative strategy, a style of executive coaching which mixes editorial production with 1-1 advising in order to craft cohesive and compelling visions for organizations. Its application spans everything from internal memos, team-building, product design, partnerships, company missions, and more. In my eyes, it's the perfect modality for translating potentially complex initiatives which attempt to address multiple needs, as described above, into actionable gameplans.
And the best part is, the tools to do it are already in abundance. Many strategists already specialize in storytelling, cultural analysis, and design. Narrative strategy allows these skills to align with a larger purpose. It's the connective tissue needed to bridge radical new entrepreneurial frontiers with on-the-ground organizational hurdles and interpersonal roadblocks.
As Brian Dell puts it: "Articulation is the first product." It jumpstarts workers, investers, users, and every other stakeholder. And, as we know, it'll also jumpstart governments, interest groups, and public audiences. So the question becomes: what new kinds of stories are going to allow today's leaders to reposition their business for success while recalibrating their operations for a more egalitarian world?