Contemporary Currencies: Does money still matter most?

Contemporary Currencies: Does money still matter most?

Contemporary currencies are a vivid idea! Come and join the conversation at my workshop on 25th May at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, at the Vivid Ideas Festival

Warm up with 10 questions on why contemporary currencies are changing the value of money


1.     What if … money isn’t the only currency that many people take into account when they’re making decisions, and doing things?


2.     What if … a growing number of people perceive their attention, time, energy and values to be contemporary currencies, increasingly equal to and sometimes more precious than money?


3.     What if … people, whether consciously or not, are treating attention, time, energy and values like money, as currencies they can not only spend but also save, invest, waste or give away?


4.     As people’s attention, time and energy are becoming more precious are they using these currencies more consciously, when making decisions and when doing things, which is making some things more – or less – easy or attractive to do?


5.     As more people want their values to count, are values driving an increasing proportion of decisions about where they spend their money, as well as what they give more or less of their attention, time and energy to?

6.     What if … they feel this even when they have little or no choice about most decisions because they’re short of money as well as some of the contemporary currencies?


7.     What if … this is a futureNOW rather than just a style trend with the capacity, as it moves from the margins to the mainstream, to bring into question many of the assumptions that underpin attitudes, behaviours and systems?  To disrupt and transform large areas of life and the economy?


8.     As a futureNOW trend, how is the way more of us are using contemporary currencies alongside money, being influenced by, and influencing, other futureNOW trends – like mobile digital – that enables us to use our currencies quite differently?


9.     What are some likely future impacts of all of this for me, personally and professionally, as these futureNOW trends disrupt the way things are done around here?


10. What’s the best way for me to start finding out?


If you’re short of time, need to save your attention for other things, or don’t have the energy right now to read on, I understand. And I hope that you’ve got a good ROI on the currencies it took to read so far.
If you want to invest some more attention, time and energy, here’s another question, or two, and a roam through each contemporary currency. About a five minute read


How important is it that I start to understand all this?”

Maybe you’re asking yourself, “OK, makes sense but, really, how important is it that I get my head around Contemporary Currencies?” Or, maybe you’re thinking, “Actually, that makes sense because I’m starting to feel the preciousness of my attention, time, energy and values. Not just my money”.


Very, and here’s why

I’m pleased if you’re the latter but, regardless, my answer is, “Very important”. And here’s why.

Because whatever enterprise you’re running or service you’re providing – commercial, social or government; whether you’re a start up or well established; whether or not you have a role with a specific future focus; regardless, changing attitudes and behaviours around the relative and absolute value of our attention, time, energy and values –and therefore money – are disrupting the “way things are done”.

They’re also disrupting “when and where” things are done, with implications if you invest in, own, regulate, manage or rent property. Or provide professional services to someone who does. Or a council or government with responsibility to get overall best value – socially, economically and environmentally – from an area.

You and your stakeholders need to start thinking about how contemporary currencies, in combination with other futureNOW trends, are changing the value propositions and uses, not only of undeveloped land and new buildings but also existing places and spaces, and infrastructure. Across: housing and neighbourhoods; commercial properties, retail and cultural precincts; public spaces, streets and footpaths; signage; and transport.

Equally important is the impact on the existing value propositions, uses and demand for nature, both landscaped and wild; close to home, in city centres, and on the periphery.


What are the dynamics of Contemporary Currencies?

It depends …

I’ll start by stating the obvious. How someone assigns relative and absolute values to each currency, including money; selects ways to use currencies; and combines them, depends … on a variety of things, like.


  • Personal preferences

  • Group identities

  • Influence of other futureNOW trends

  • Nature of the choice

  • Degree of flexibility a person has

  • Amount of information they need and can access.


People’s calculations and combinations vary


Some people operate default combinations for specific decisions but not for others.

Some people always value a certain currency most highly, through preference, circumstances or lack of choice.

Some people are consciously trying to change, for a range of reasons, how they value and combine currencies.

What I’m tuning into, with my Contemporary Currencies framework, is the ways that, consciously or unconsciously, more people are calculating the value to them of more than money. A trend I believe will only become more influential, and therefore important to explore, as it moves from the margins to the mainstream, and interacts with other futureNOW trends. The subject of a future blog but you can get a sense of some of them in my other work, which you can find elsewhere on the site.

Let’s go exploring, currency by currency


There’s a reason why attention is the first currency I explore, and it’s not because it begins with the letter ‘A’. Attention is top of mind because we can only cope with so many calls on our attention and, as they’re getting more frequent, we’re feeling increasingly frazzled, stressed out, and anxious.

From our own experience, and through research, we’re starting to understand the benefits of mindfulness, of investing rather than just spending or wasting our attention, and the dangers of always being ‘mind full’.

We’re recognising that investing attention can save us energy, time and money. We’re realising that multi-tasking is in fact continuous partial ‘inattention’, and actually not that productive a way to spend attention.

We can more easily tune out of the interruption (advertising) economy and into the permission (smart digital media) economy, and save attention. At the same time we’re often happy to waste a lot of attention – cats on Facebook – because it relaxes us.

We’re also recognising the value of being able to give someone or something our full attention.


That’s easy, there’s never enough of it. Despite being connected 24/7 wherever we are, able to time-shift and automate tasks to save time, able to socialise or do business ‘at the speed of thought’, wherever we are, a day still only has twenty-four hours.

However, digital is revolutionising how many of us are spending, saving, investing, wasting and giving away our time. And where and when we’re doing this.

While it’s always been an occupational hazard for new parents, sleep deprivation is a fact of life for more and more of us who aren’t new parents. So we can’t snatch more time from our sleep without dangerous consequences.

We sometimes willingly waste time on social media but hey it’s actually an investment: isn’t it? Sometimes, there’s no question, we always invest time to save money now or later. We also recognise the pricelessness of time: when it’s preferable to give time rather than spend money.


We use it four ways – physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. And, like the other currencies, we can invest, save, waste, or give it away.

What’s interesting is the ROI you get from investing rather than just spending energy: or from giving it away. You have to wait a few minutes, ok multiply that several times, to feel the ROI from a workout but you feel it straight away when you’ve invested emotional (intelligence) energy with colleagues, family or friends. And it pays long-term dividends. Keeping on investing mental energy in study usually pays back in multiples over a lifetime, not just work-wise but in keeping us mentally fit long after we’ve finished paid work.

Similarly, simple, quick and frequent gifts of kindness – emotional energy – as we go about daily life have an instant yet surprisingly long lasting ROI on our health, individually and collectively.


Increasingly we’re conscious of the intrinsic and extrinsic value of our values, whether they’re based on the importance of family, friends and community; sustaining the planet for future generations; equality of opportunity, faith or spirituality; collaborating to compete; food as the basis of wellbeing, or life balance. We want to do the right thing, for ourselves, and for others.

Some values change over time, becoming more or less important, to us individually or at a collective level. Irrespective of what our core values are, we’ve become increasingly conscious of the benefits of spending a bit – or a lot more – of our attention, time and energy to ensure we can invest our values well when we spend money.

A lot of marketing has always been values driven, but it’s getting easier to become an ethical consumer as more and more businesses understand the economic value of these types of values, and change to more ethical supply chains and production. And as the greater availability of clear information enables us to spend less time and energy when we invest our attention in comparing choices.

So what about money?

Where does money fit in? We often say two things about money. That we can never have enough of it. And that it doesn’t buy happiness. Depending on who we are, one or both are closer to either reality or rhetoric.

Clearly money is very important in providing the combination of necessities and choices that most of us consider essential for a decent life. And, clearly, not everyone has enough money to achieve this.

But, increasingly, having certain amounts of attention, time, energy and values, and being able to exchange them in ways that suit, is considered essential for a decent life by more and more people. And this common sense is being backed up by research.

Ironically, we’re facing a scarcity of some of these currencies at the very time that we’re getting evidence about their importance to a healthy, well-lived and longer life. At the same time as, increasingly, we have the digital means to manipulate their exchange rates: how we spend, save, invest, waste or give them away. And there is a greater social understanding of the value of valuing more than money. Together, these are changing the absolute and relative value of money.


What’s the influence of other futureNOW trends on how we calculate, combine and use our contemporary currencies, and our money?

I know you’ve got limited currencies of attention, time and energy to invest in reading this so I’ll save the discussion on other futureNOW trends for another blog!

Digital and more

Suffice to say that digital-everything is affecting contemporary currency dynamics but so also is a variety of other futureNOW trends. I hope you’ll get a sense of them from the names but I’ll be explaining in a later blog.

In this I’ll be exploring the impact of futureNOW trends ranging from Mindfulness to Always-On. From Localism to Globalism to Retrostalgia. From Not-Acting-Your-Age to Living-longer-better whatever your age. From the Collaborative Economy to the Precarious Economy to the Circular Economy.  From Sustainability to Nature-as-nurture.

Whatever the predominant futureNOW trend, in combination they effect not only the what, why, how and frequency but also the when and where of both our decision-making processes and the way we then action our decision: do things.

Changes to the when and where are likely to have significant flow-on affects, as I’ve already noted, to the future value propositions and uses of not only undeveloped land and new buildings, but also existing places and spaces, and infrastructure. And nature, both landscaped and wild.


So how do I start to get my head around what this means?

Find a way to explore the continued relevance of assumptions about how people value and use money relative to how they value, combine and use attention, time, energy and values 

I suggest these assumptions as your starting point because they underpin just about everything in an organisation, enterprise or service, yet they rarely feature deliberately in discussions.

While some services and products are designed for people who are time-poor, and there’s popular recognition that many people trade-off time against money, there’s not a particularly nuanced approach to time as a contemporary currency, and its relative value to our attention, energy and values currencies.

Many current assumptions are likely to be from once upon a time: before your time. Regardless they need to be explored.

Next, look at how these assumptions about Contemporary Currencies are being, or are likely to be, challenged by other futureNOW trends. Digital is an obvious one but there’s an equally influential range of other trends, many of which disrupt as they cross-pollinate.

Exploration isn’t complicated to start. Just ask provocative questions. Questions that are designed to take you to more questions before they lead you to possible answers, and the best options to test out for implementation.

Questions like those at the beginning of the blog.

Email me if you’d like to discuss opportunities to explore these questions more, and the questions they bring up. I run workshops on Contemporary Currencies, tailored to exploring particular angles of inquiry, as well as doing individual consultations.