How to Thrive Economically While Living Your Values: Proposals for the Feminine Economy

Thriving economically while living your values is deeply disruptive to the current social and economic order.

Recently I watched two Creative Mornings talks and thought, “These are really two great tastes that taste great together.” That is, they’re even more thought-provoking when considered in tandem.

The first: Design is Capitalism by Jennifer Daniel.

Given in San Francisco, this talk was aimed at designers and other creative people working in tech, who can easily become complicit in perpetuating economic suffering in the world.

Historically, designers, writers, and other creative people had day jobs in advertising, product design, publishing—commercial enterprises with a need for creative thinking and skill. Creative professionals were expected to have creative pursuits outside of work (having such projects was a way to prove one’s bona fides). It was clear to both employee and employer what the creative staff was doing at work: selling their creative skills to those with a commercial interest in creative output. Art directors and writers understood that their creativity was used to sell cars, soup, cigarettes, or whatever.

Not anymore.

It’s no longer enough for creative people to put aside their internal conflicts about using their creativity to sell widgets. Today’s tech companies expect creative people to drink all the Kool-Aid: to demonstrate a giddy devotion to the fiction that the employer’s tech product or service is truly making the world a better place (hello, Airbnb and Uber).

In this new story, the enterprise is so inherently virtuous that no separation should exist between one’s own creativity and the company’s commercial need for that creativity. When it comes to serving the Empire (and make no mistake, Silicon Valley money is just secondhand Wall Street money), one is expected to earnestly repeat the words of Darth Vader – “There is no conflict” – and have a 100% complete LinkedIn profile.

Amazingly, these companies don’t just put themselves in the place of honor once reserved for organizations that actually do make the world a better place (the ones with no stock options on offer). They’ve taken it a step further and elevated themselves above those organizations. For example, Jennifer Daniel’s talk includes a moment where we learn that a worker at Google declined to see a presentation by President Obama because:

I’m making more of a difference than anybody in government could possibly make.

Yeah, Google Wallet is more important than anything the president could even contemplate.

Corollary to this self-congratulatory culture is a glib acceptance of the most ridiculous libertarian ideas. This reflexively anti-government view (which is antithetical to Left Coast values) springs not only from the repeatedly disproven neoliberal dogma (“Government IS the problem” blah blah), but also from the views of Google’s own Eric Schmidt. Schmidt once said (while serving on Obama’s innovation advisory team, no less) that innovation does not come from government, it comes from the private sector (apologies if you choke on your sushi). Obviously, Google wouldn’t exist without certain government innovations like, say, the Internet. And fiber optic cable. And satellites. And…

Here’s the video of Daniel’s talk:

↑ Jennifer Daniel: Design is Capitalism

The second presentation—which could be read as a response to Design is Capitalism—is Jennifer Armbrust’s Proposals for the Feminine Economy. Given in Portland, the talk outlines Armbrust’s personal transformation as a business owner. Here’s my favorite quote from this talk:

Thriving economically while living your values is deeply disruptive to the current social and economic order, since our personal values are often in direct conflict with larger socio-political systems.

Yes, unlike what Darth Vader told us (which we always knew was a lie), there is a conflict. What Armbrust tells us (along with other people doing new and exciting work in this area) is that we can decline the Kool-Aid, envisioning and building an entirely new way of singing Business Time.

What aspects of our economy would we change? Armbrust identifies the key traits of our current (masculine) social and economic order:

Masculine Economy

By contrast, we’re offered these traits for the future feminine economy:

Feminine Economy

And here’s the video of Armbrust’s talk:

↑ Jennifer Armbrust: Proposals for the Feminine Economy

For those paying attention, this proposal is part of an emerging web of new voices, ideas, and forces that are self-organizing to transform the economy into something far less barbarous, something we’re glad to be complicit in.


Jennifer Daniel is a designer, editor, and illustrator. Pursuing a career in illustration, she left Kansas and moved to New York where her work has since been published in a variety of publications including The New York Times, Wired, and New York Magazine. Recognized with fancy awards including D&AD’s Gold Pencil (London), Art Directors Club Gold Cube (New York), and Society of Publication Design Gold Medal (New York), Jennifer also teaches Visual Narratives for SVA master’s program and occasionally speaks at design conferences. Jennifer moved to San Francisco last year but still has all her clocks set to New York time.

Jennifer Armbrust is an artist and advisor living in Portland and California. She is the principal of Armbrust & Co, a creative consultancy where she advises artists and creative entrepreneurs, and produces conceptual projects. She writes about feminism, creative process, economics, and their collisions and leads workshops on values, visioning, and professional practices. The owner and director of Motel (an art gallery in Portland’s Chinatown 2002-07), founder emeritus of PORT, and former principal of a small interactive studio, Armbrust has long been interested in the intersections of business and art and more recently, business as art.

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