Image: Kim Pearce
In Economics101 students will be taught a 'law of scarcity' and in order to avoid failure they will have to believe that human wants are unlimited but the resources used to satisfy them are limited, and it's with this scarcity mindset they will spend the rest of their time figuring out solutions to the world's most pressing problems! They will examine solutions for unemployment, poverty alleviation, climate action, hunger, disease, all the time believing modern society will never have enough to get what it wants. It is a hopeless situation. The real lesson here is that if you want to solve problems you need to unlearn the majority of what you're told.
My unlearning came when I left economics teaching to start a social enterprise. I soon realised that not all resources are limited, indeed 'enterprise' - the most undervalued and neglected of economic resources, is also the most renewable, freely available and powerful resource humans have to create potential. I consider enterprise a mindset, it is a willingness to accept that there is possibility in everything, not just some things. At what point did we allow other human beings to determine the value of the creative spirit? Economists for example, dismiss this resource because imaginative capacity is near impossible to quantify, the next biggest lesson here - don't rely on others to tell you what is valuable and what is not.
Our enterprise, The Possibility Project, promotes social justice and is designed to address the environmental and human rights violations associated with the fashion industry. Although our slow clothing label slumwear108 offers a tiny example of material possibility, it's actually the mindset behind the brand that has the power to transform all problems. In the journey to replace scarcity thinking with infinite possibility I have witnessed entrepreneurial thinking as a resource that is available to every human being, in equal and abundant proportion and one that transcends gender, income, religion and race. The willingness and ability to think creatively crosses all boundaries. It's cost effective too, because it's simply a matter of owning your creativity that makes it valuable, you do not need to rely on an outside organisation to tell you what your choice is worth, (hang on, maybe it was in the Garden of Eden where creative choice became a punishment not a possibility)
Ink and paint: James Stibilj
Applying entrepreneurial thinking to problem solving was never the propriety of high tech companies and qualified professionals. From our work in the slums of Jaipur it is basically the 'mother of necessity' and the closer a community is connected to its resource problems the more innate are the common sense solutions. Might it be that the further we move from knowing where our food is made, how our clothes are manufactured, how our utilities are sourced- the more disconnected we feel from the solutions each require. At the same time this solutions gap has been commandeered by experts - professionals - (economics teachers!) for prescriptions. As the supply chain between our problems and solutions widen, we risk forgetting simple, grassroots, common sense solutions. The more we separate ourselves, the easier it is to forget we belong to the solution.
Take the issue of sustainability. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, in Australia alone we throw out 6000 kg of clothes every 10 minutes, the fast fashion supply chain has created clothes that kill people and the environment. Let's get something straight, being able to produce without violating earth's resources is not rocket science. The poster below was written 100 years ago by the US Food Administration and adapted by Britain to enhance national security.
Image: with permission Imperial War Museum
Apply the above to your wardrobe and you not only have the sustainability manifesto of any slow clothing enterprise, but you have solutions that every human being can implement across every choice they make. ReThink, ReDuce, ReCycle, ReFuse, ReUse. In today's separated ways of living there is plenty of handing over of responsibility to others, whilst we must push companies to demonstrate dignity within their supply chains, what's to stop each of us from actioning the above? Only a scarcity mindset would believe you don't have the ability to transform problems. Of course educated authorities might suggest that no matter what we do, resources are finite, but it would do them good to be more hopeful. I'm (sort of) being playful here but guess the top five professions that have the highest rates of burn out? physicians, nurses, social workers, teachers and school principals! Could it be that if these professions embraced the infinite possibility of people's imaginative capacity to solve problems they may allow for more positive outcomes at work with doing less? surely this would help towards sustaining life at work, at the very least theirs.
Entrepreneurial thinking allows us to disrupt consensus. As conventional power structures break down, we are invited to think of owning our ability to respond to our problems. It takes some re-booting to accept responsibility, we feel familiar with a scarcity mindset and it allows us to blame others for our woes, but so many of us want to be positive change makers, so here is our little piece of advice. Be curious, be creative but most of all believe in possibility. It is becoming obvious why the Ancients saw Pandora with hope whilst all the ills of the world were released around her, hope is the winged possibility needed for us to think outside the box to solve our problems. It's the reminder that we are divine and we've already got what we need to solve our problems when we think creatively (not realistically).
Ink and paint: James Stibilj