Overcoming the extractive mindset through generatively feeding the network

We exceptionally republish Seth Godin‘s editorial, pointing to the need to overcome the extractive mindset:

“For generations, places with significant oil production have developed a different culture than other places. This extraction mindset occurs in environments where profits are taken from a captive resource. It doesn’t matter if it’s coal, tickets or tuition, the mindset is the same.

It’s not about oil, it’s about the expectation.

They’re not making any more oil, of course, and the race is on to get it all. Get it now, or someone else will take it. Take it all, because there’s no reason to leave it there. Make sure others don’t take it, because what they take isn’t something you can take. And when the reserve is exhausted, move on. To the next field, to the next market.

Not everyone in any given community has an extraction mindset, but the worldview is: Anything that slows down, impedes or interferes with more extraction is nothing but a challenge to be overcome.

Debt amplifies this urgency. And so some industrial farmers race to dig deeper wells to take the last remaining water because if they don’t, the mortgage due on their farm might wipe them out. And so public companies race to maximize their short-term profits (and CEO bonuses), even if it comes at the cost of the long term.

Thirty years ago, I asked the fabled rock promoter Bill Graham a question that I thought was brilliant, but he pwned me in his response. “Bill, given how fast a Bruce Springsteen concert sells out, why don’t you charge $100 a seat and keep all the upside?” (In those days, $100 was considered a ridiculous sum for a concert ticket).

“Well, I could do that, but the thing is, I’m here all year round, and my kids only have a limited budget to spend on concerts. If I charged that much for one concert, they wouldn’t be able to come to the other shows I book…”

Bill wasn’t just spreading the money out over time. He was investing in a community that could develop a habit of music going, a community that would define itself around what he was building.

Joel Salatin is a farmer, but he doesn’t seek to extract first, instead, he’s building a network, creating a long-term, sustainable culture that feeds itself as it benefits him.

In the words of Kevin Kelly: Feed the network first.

The network, of course, doesn’t always want to do what you want it to do, as fast as you want it to happen.

This chasm between the mindset of extracting and the alternative of feeding becomes more urgent as networks (online ones, environmental ones, tribal ones) become ever more powerful.

The chasm is so deep, people on each side of it have trouble imagining what the other side is thinking. Some people show up in your email box or social network intent on taking what they can get (can I have a guest post? wanna fund my project? made you look…) while others are patiently weaving together a cohort of meaning.

It’s expensive and time-consuming to choose a path that doesn’t deliver maximum value today. Unless you do the math on what happens tomorrow. Tomorrow, the network is either more productive or less. Tomorrow, the network is either trusting or suspicious. Tomorrow, the network is either healthier or sick.

The promise of our connected economy was that it would reward the good guys, the long-term players, the people who cared enough to contribute. The paradox is that this very same economy has become filled with people who are easily distracted, addicted to shiny objects and too often swayed by the short-term sensation or by short-term profit.

The extraction mindset leads to intelligent short-term decisions. If it costs too much to exploit a resource, move on. The network mindset values the long-term impacts of co-creation.

The network (that would be us) then needs to decide if it will continue to reward short-term thinking in order to enhance extraction, or if we care enough about the long-term that we’ll act up in favor of sustainability, raising the costs of short-term (selfish) action so it becomes ever more profitable to focus on the long-term instead.”

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