In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky speaks at length about the nature of power. He discusses various instances of creating leverage, thus creating power.
One of his central tenets is the idea of not waiting for permission. In the struggle of radicals of any stripe, it’s almost a given that the establishment will be resistant to surrendering any of their power. Those who want to change the world and those who actually do are divided by their level of inventiveness. In every situation, Alinsky argues, there’s a fulcrum point that you can leverage to gain traction, and eventually control.
One of the easiest leverage points in contemporary society is money, and often it becomes conflated with power itself. Money is a tool to gain leverage, for certain, but it’s a double-edged sword.
If you depend solely on that money for power, if a boycott, taxes or bad business practices drain your supply, you’ll be stuck up a creek. Money is a tool of exchange and a system of valuation; a single form of currency. Rather than focusing on the sense of dollars, the real innovators of the world focus on the concept of currency as a whole and utilize its complex ecosystem to leverage their success.
Those in the creative sphere are all too familiar with the concept of being “paid in exposure.” The idea that in the dizzying 24-hour information cycle we live in, that a glimmer of exposure acts as a flare, guiding your proverbial ship into your harbor.
This is, of course, a myth, and horror stories or twitter accounts like @forexposure_txt lay bare the assumptions made about the creative class. However, myths are often founded on facts, and notoriety can be great currency, just not something that can put food on the table. When you’re trying to change the world, it’s important to stay hungry on all fronts. Working for exposure is rightly lampooned as a joke, but be aware that you’re always working for exposure.
The way you comport yourself professionally and publicly will directly impact your exposure bank account. There is no such thing as working for free, and knowing this can free you to utilize time, your most important currency, to make smart investments. Being proactive and choosing your investments doesn’t put food on the table immediately, certainly, but it does help speed the process. Creating or working for a cause or idea you believe in is an amazing way to sharpen your skill set, make connections and yes, get some spotlight action.
Never put all your eggs in one basket, and balance your time accordingly. It may feel great to volunteer, but if expenses are dictating another reality, diversify your time portfolio. On the reverse of this coin, never give up the passion projects, and always make time for what fuels your fire. Paying bills and accumulating a bit of financial freedom is great, but it’s simply a means to an end, another tool in your belt. Being time-rich isn’t very fulfilling unto itself, and ultimately, neither is popping bands to the exclusion of everything else. There’s more to the picture than making it rain.
Personal branding is a popular topic addressed in entrepreneurship and new agey self-improvement alike, but at its core, it’s simply another form of currency. Your social standing can open doors, and your professional and personal networks can be the stilts that allow you to reach the highest of goals. Making a point of paying favors forward is another great way to invest. Surrounding yourself with supportive and positive individuals does more than provide a drum circle; it’s a force-multiplier, another form of currency, that will allow you to leverage situations to their most advantageous outcome.
It’s difficult to talk about money or currency without referring to time, and it’s commonly accepted wisdom that time is money. In fact, it’s the most important commodity you have at your disposal. As you invest it, you can turn it into actual dollars, social currency, a killer bod or a new skill set. Having more actual money allows you to follow your passion projects, but chasing the dragon’s tail of a fat bank account will likely leave your bankrupt in so many other respects. While it’s easy to make a budget based on categories with dollars, it’s nearly impossible to do so with time and everything else on the ledger that adds up to you.
If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, especially the near-impossible. Sometimes it can be made easier, but you have to crack the code. There’s always a new way to do things, and as the recent advent of cryptocurrency proves, new methods and technologies are inherently disruptive. You either adapt and learn the new rules of a new currency, or you end up in the poor house. Disruption is the ultimate opportunity, the perfect time to create leverage and establish some power in a new situation. The key is to never wait for permission, to always be looking for the chinks in the armor of business-as-usual. If you dig deep enough, you’ll strike gold, and find a new way to get your personal ledger well into the black.