What’s your currency?

My good friend Ian Tracy is one of the more passionate guys that I know. He double majored as an undergrad in Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering. These majors are usually just plenty on their own. Ian thinks deeply about what he wants to achieve, which is something that I admire, especially when matched with his love of learning.

We got into a deep multiple-hour conversation yesterday night that changed something about the way I think.

He asked, “What is your currency?” He noted that for academics around MIT, money ceased to be the currency. As long as they were basically taken care of, their currency had to do with research, papers, side projects, students, and their larger impact on the world.

Wow. That’s an incredible idea, isn’t it? Currency - such a word often is defined as something that is tradable, but I would like to think that it simply means an object that has value to a group of people.

That is currency. Is currency not what simply matters to you? Cake - I’m allergic to the eggs in cake. Most cakes do not exist as currency to me.

Please don’t mistake this as a barter system. Not at all. It simply asks what does indeed matter to you? What characteristics does it have? And is it something you can possess?

Certainly, planets can’t be a currency for me. Unless the rules change….

My currency - is expertise, products, and companies. To me - a company is the ultimate tool. Within the scope of law, a company can do just about anything. Legally, companies are considered entities, much like you and I as people are. Except that a company is an assembly of people, and ideally, really intelligent and inspired people. A company has the ability to hire someone with any expertise that the company decides it needs. And companies can group the gains of the people working for them.

Steve Jobs created a company that has, as one of its many functions, the ability to create just about any prototype he deemed important. A classic story that my friend told me when we interned there in 2009 was when he had forgotten to edit a feature on a part he was asking them to make. The way he had 3D modeled the piece, it involved extremely complex tooling, and most people would have simply refused to make it and correctly surmised that it was an error.

At Apple, however, they made it, undercut and all. He stared at it, dumbstruck. Just another day at the fruit company.

That is why companies fascinate me. The good that they can do. The things they can create. The meaning they can provide. Allowing for the fact that it is way too difficult to create something like a nation or even a state, I will go ahead and say that a company is one of the most impactful organizations one can create. I’ll rank it above non-profits, if only for the fact, that it has the intrinsic power to be self-sustaining.

Returning from that rant to Ian’s question: I believe it’s one of the most important questions you can ask. It is not dissimilar to the question, “What do you care about?” and yet feels somehow so much more tangible. So much more real.

For the Jaipur Foot Organization, it could be victims that can now walk. For a kind caretaker, it could be the smiles of the cared-for. For a career office, well-placed candidates.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I stand at a turning point in my life. I’ve tried enough things to know that the system will generally provide things that I ask for if it is able and I do good work, and so it becomes so important to understand what my currency is. My currency is and has to be companies.

Scary, but exciting.

 
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