‘If five years ago somebody had said to me, “So you know, Kate, are you ever going to write a book?” I would have said, “No, no, no, no, no. I don’t write books. I draw pictures.”‘
But when Kate Raworth doodled a doughnut shape to capture her vision of how economics is bounded by human and ecological constraints, she unwittingly started a revolution in macroeconomic thinking.
In this conversation we explore the extraordinary power of drawing for opening up thinking. And as Kate points out: ‘You don’t have to be Picasso to create something that has massive impact.’
We also touch on video, animation, the 60-second summary and the one-page overview – high-impact ways of getting your message across quickly and memorably – and the importance of bringing your own humanness to your book.
Shortlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year in 2017, Doughnut Economics is an extraordinary book. And here’s how it happened.
(Here’s the doughnut itself, with thanks to Kate for permission to use it:)
Alison Jones: Hello and welcome to The Extraordinary Business Book Club, and I’m delighted to be here today with Kate Raworth, who describes herself as a renegade economist – you see, you’re there already, isn’t that brilliant? – a renegade economist focused on exploring the economic mindset needed to address the 21st century’s social and ecological challenges.
She researches and teaches at top institutions, including Oxford University and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership, she speaks and writes widely on the topic, and her book, “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist,” was shortlisted this year for the Financial Times McKinsey Business Book of the Year, for which many congratulations, Kate.
Kate Raworth: Thank you.
Alison Jones: Really good to have you on the show. I’m going to start off with a really obvious question. What does doughnut economics look like and how is that different to every other flavour of economics out there?
Kate Raworth: Yeah. So, it’s a ridiculous kind of sounding title, isn’t it?
Alison Jones: Oh, it’s glorious. I love it.
Kate Raworth: Well, I always say to people, “Look, doughnuts are bad for you, but this is the one doughnut that actually might turn out to be good for us.” It’s the kind of doughnut that has a hole in the middle, and it’s a picture of what I think is prosperity for humanity in the 21st century. So, the hole in the middle is a place where people are left falling short on life’s essentials, from food, housing, healthcare, water, and education, and yet over the outside of the doughnut is the place where we overshoot our pressure on the planet, causing climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, breaking down the integrity of our planet.
We want no one left in the hole in the middle, but we can overshoot the outside of the doughnut. It’s about finding a balance where we can meet the needs of all within the means of the planet, within that doughnut shaped space. The idea is actually something I first drew in 2012 when I was working at Oxfam, and it was published in a discussion paper, and it hit the sustainability community in a way that actually completely amazed me.
People started coming up to me, “Oh, you’re the doughnut lady.” Of course, I thought, “What have I done to my career? I’ve lost any sense of gravitas now.” But over time I realised that this was the beginnings of a new conversations, the doughnut diagram was opening up new possibilities of conversation. Having spent 11 wonderful years working at Oxfam, I knew that the most effective piece of advocacy I could do next was to leave my job and write a book, and so it came out as “Doughnut Economics.”
Alison Jones: And here it is. Brilliant. Now, there’s two things I want to pick up there, because that’s really fascinating, and it’s great that you had that sense of, “Huh, this has really hit a nerve. The doughnut lady, they get it.” I love the fact that you say you first drew it in, was it 2011 did you say?
Kate Raworth: Mm-hmm.
Alison Jones: That’s really key. I notice that strongly in your book, that sense that it’s not just the words that we think and the words that we use, but it’s the visual imagery that we use, too. So, tell me a little bit more about that process of articulating your thinking visually.
Kate Raworth: Oh, five years ago if somebody had said to me, because my husband’s an author, and he writes books all the time. If somebody said to me-
Alison Jones: He’s been on the show, hasn’t he? He probably recommended you.
Kate Raworth: I know, Roman Krznaric. So, I’m surrounded by authors and the world of books, and if five years ago somebody had said to me, “So you know, Kate, are you ever going to write a book?” I would have said, “No, no, no, no, no. I don’t write books. I draw pictures.” All my career I worked for the United Nations for four years, I worked for Oxfam for over a decade. I was slightly teased, but very playfully, by people who would always see me sitting an open plan area, endlessly doodling. Apparently doodling, drawing images, because I have always thought in pictures.
Whenever we were working on campaigns at Oxfam and I was in the research team, trying to communicate to the whole of the Oxfam team what it was we were campaigning around, I would draw it as a picture, and so many people would say, “Oh, that picture really helps me. I get it.” I’ve always known the power of pictures but never really realised how revolutionary they can be.
Everyone talks about we need new narrative, it’s all about the story, well yes, it’s all about the story, but think back to being a child. The most memorable, powerful stories are the ones told with pictures. In the church, the stories of the bible, well they’re told in pictures, in Frescos on the wall, in stained glass windows, we’ve also known in our different cultures that if you want to tell a powerful story, show what it looks like.
Because over half of the nerve fibres in our brain are linked to our vision, and our vision is useful not just for picking words up off the page, but for actually seeing images. They go into your visual cortex and sit there for decades, long after the words, and the equations in economics have faded. So, I think so many ideas actually begin as images and it couldn’t be more true in economics textbook.
If you pick one and flip through it, you’ll see graphs and diagrams jumping out at you all the time. So many economics professors in universities would tell you, “Well, these are merely illustrations. The real theory is in the equations or in the sentences, the paragraphs. These are just illustrations of the idea.”
I don’t believe that. I think this is the most influential place where students’ minds are formed in the pictures that we see. So yes, I first drew the doughnut… I’d actually just come back from maternity leave in late 2009. I’d been out of the world of international development for a whole year and a colleague showed me a set of slides, of what had been going on, and there was this one picture that just jumped out of me. I had this rush of adrenalin.
It’s a diagram which is called “The Nine Planetary Boundaries,” drawn by leading Earth system scientists such as Johan Rockström and Will Steffen. I knew nothing about them. I’d never heard of these guys, I knew nothing about Earth systems science. But this picture to me, it just jolted me. It was an image of the different Earth system processes that we have to take care of so we don’t tip our planet out of balance, and the amount of pressure we’re already putting on them.
It was like I was seeing the diagram that had always been missing in my economics education, the diagram that recognises that the economy is a subset of the living world, and puts pressure on it. It was seeing that picture that I literally felt this adrenalin run through my body and I thought, “Right, that’s natural science throwing down the gauntlet to economics saying, ‘Thus far, and no further.'”
Here’s us. I’m sitting in a social justice organisation in Oxfam, colleagues are responding to droughts in the Sahel, they’re responding to food crises, health and education campaigning for all. What would it mean to put a social story on this picture? I literally got out a pen and started doodling and drawing, until I turned the circle, which was this planetary boundaries picture, suddenly I had a hole in the middle. It was a doughnut. I drew it, and that’s where the idea came from.
Alison Jones: Was it that second you drew it and went, “Oh, it looks like a doughnut” and the word stuck?
Kate Raworth: Well, it wasn’t me, actually. I would never have said such a silly thing. I drew it, and I thought, “I find that diagram quite pleasing.” But I stuck it in the bottom drawer of my desk, to be honest, for about six months, because it wasn’t what I was supposed to be working on. Every time we had big conversations, I would occasionally show it to people and they’d say, “That’s really good. You should do something with that.”
By complete coincidence, I found myself invited to a meeting with planetary boundaries scientists. It was so life changing for me I remember the date, it was 18th of October, 2011. I was at this meeting and I was thinking, “I’m not a scientist. I don’t know. What am I going to say?” I didn’t even bring the picture with me. It hadn’t occurred to me.
In the meeting, somebody turned to me and said, “Well, I’m looking at our colleague from Oxfam, because my trouble with this planetary boundaries diagram is it doesn’t say anything about humanity.”
Alison Jones: “It’s funny you should say that.”
Kate Raworth: Everybody looked at me and I thought, “My goodness, what am I supposed to do?” I said, “Can I draw a picture on the wall?” and I jumped up, rather nervously, in front of all these scientists, and drew this diagram, very quickly, because I thought they’d said, “Yes, dear. Go back to your NGO.” But one of the Earth systems scientists notion specialists called Tim Lenton, who was part of the planetary boundaries team, he looked at it and he said, “That’s the diagram we’ve been missing all along. It’s not a circle, it’s a doughnut.” And that’s where the name came from.
Alison Jones: Boom.
Kate Raworth: And it stuck.
Alison Jones: And it makes the concept so accessible, doesn’t it? I love as well that it’s so organic, and I think that when you flick through any economic document, textbook or GDP reports, or anything, you’re stuck with those linear graphs, aren’t you? That classic upward shooting arrow of growth, growth, more growth, and it does completely transform the paradigm to put it into a circle suddenly.
Kate Raworth: Yeah. It’s funny, because you could just take the same words that are in the picture. You could right health, education, food, water, climate change, biodiversity loss. You could just write those as two lists and everybody would shrug and say, “Yeah, I’ve heard of all of those issues before,” but draw it as a circle, and label them in the circle, and the image itself is doing work, and people start saying, “Oh, oh, my goodness. I’ve always thought of sustainable development like this. I’ve just never seen the picture before. Now I can have conversations and ask questions I felt I couldn’t ask.” It really astounded me the power of imagery to open up our thinking.
Alison Jones: And I think it’s important to be, and I’ll try and put this on the show notes if I may, actually, just so people can get a sense of it, because it is so key-
Kate Raworth: Oh, please do.
Alison Jones: … but it’s not a complex diagram, particularly. I think that’s a really important lesson for people. You don’t have to be Picasso to create something that has massive impact. A really simple visual diagram that communicates your point is often exactly what you need, so that you can just draw it on the back of an envelope when you’re talking to someone.
Kate Raworth: Absolutely. Some of the world’s best diagrams have been drawn on the back of envelopes and first tip is, keep that envelope, because one day you might want to frame it and say, “That’s where it all began.”
Alison Jones: “That’s where it all began.”
Kate Raworth: I went back through my notes and I found the funny little scratchy piece of paper on which I drew this, and underneath I’d written, “How seriously to develop this idea?” Never thinking, “My goodness. I’m about to spend the next five years of my life and more, working on this concept.” So yes, they can come off the back of an envelope and often when I talk with people, and they’re trying to articulate an idea, I’ll sometimes say, “Can you draw it? What would it look like to draw it?”
Or even offer a shape on the page or something for them to start drawing on top of, because we’re so schooled in writing, and to be a creator, you have to write in sentences. Really? Aren’t there different ways of ideas beginning? One of the most lovely responses I’ve had to my book was a young professor actually, who said, “Ever since I’ve read your book, I’ve committed myself that the first time I come up with a new idea, I’m going to draw it first,” and he pulled open his desk drawer, and it was covered in the most incredible doodles.
I said, “Can I take a photograph?” He said, “Oh, no, no, no. These are my best ideas.” But he had really totally shifted and realised there was a whole other creative part of him, and this was really relevant for authors of books. Not just to have to generate the idea, but what images are you going to put in your book that are really a powerful way of telling the most important stories of that book? For me, that was a very hard choice.
Because I was so visual at the beginning, i just thought, “Well, I just want to show a stream of images and a little bit of commentary in between,” and then I realised, “No, I need to write a book.” Then, very, very thoughtful about the images that I choose to put in there.
Alison Jones: Yeah, absolutely. They do want some words in there, don’t they? I think there’s a graphic novel to be done here, don’t you?
Kate Raworth: Oh 100%.
Alison Jones: That’d be so cool. Now, let’s just take the idea of the image a little bit further, because another thing you have on your site that I absolutely loved was that you have a whole page of animations. I think they’re such an effective tool for these really chewy concepts, getting them across in an accessible way. Just tell us a little bit about how you went about putting those together, and what you learned in the process, and where they’ve really worked?
Kate Raworth: So they started with a subtitle of the book, so the book’s title is “Doughnut Economics” and the subtitle, “Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist.” The moment I knew that that subtitle was right was when I started testing it out on people, and they would literally pull out seven fingers and say, “Go on then. Tell me what they are.” I thought, “Oh, this works.”
Alison Jones: Yeah. We like numbers. We like a nice quantified, “Okay, this is not going to take me forever. It’s only seven things. I can do this.”
Kate Raworth: Yep. “I can do this. I’ve got seven fingers. I probably can” … In a way, my book is a big long listicle, and I think they can be really effective. I’ve structured the chapters in my book around these seven ways, and for each of the ways in my book, I was really, really restrained with myself. I allowed myself to have one image that showed the old way of thinking, that I wanted us to move away from, and one counterpoint image that showed the new way of thinking.
Once I got these images and I lined them all up, I thought, “Well, this is the beginning of art. This is an artistic representation of the book in itself.” But drawing them with little icons, that’s just one artistic form. What if you were to do it as a puppet show or standup comedy, or a film, or theatre, or poetry, or an animation?
I know the power of videos and the use of short little videos online, so I spoke to friends and colleagues of mine who worked at Oxfam and said, “Okay, if I’m going to make videos, what are the rules I should follow?” They said, “Okay number one, keep it short. It’s got to be 90 seconds.” You think, “90 seconds? I’ve got so much to say” but it’s a really great discipline. 90 seconds.
They said, “Do you know that about 80% of videos that are watched online are watched with no sound?” So, you have to make it possible that people can watch it and get everything with no sound, so that’s about having space of subtitles. I took these constraints and I thought, “Come on, work with them, work with them. Don’t fight them.” And the first thing I did was say for each of the ways of thinking, everything I said in that chapter, what could I tell in a minute? I wrote myself a script, which was one minute long, to read out loud.
Which was incredibly frustrating, but once I got into the stride, I realised, it’s just one big idea from each chapter. What’s the one story I want to tell? So I wrote that script, I went to a recording studio, I recorded it professionally with a really nice, clear audio files, and then I spent a morning having a wonderful time online, just looking up the best animators I could find in the world, until I came across animations that I just thought were brilliant.
I contacted those animators and I’ve been very privileged to have funding from a US foundation called The Kendeda Fund. They have given me some funding to help promote the book above and beyond what a commercial publisher will do, so that is where it’s really come in useful. I could go to these animators and say, “I’m writing a book about rewriting economics to make it fit for the 21st century. Would you animate this chapter for me?”
The lovely thing is, they would often say, “Are you kidding? I usually spend my time making animations about a new kind of shampoo. I would love to animate 21st century economics.” So, the first thing I would do is just send them the recording. I said, “This is the story. This is the soundtrack. Here are my ideas. Here’s some visuals that have already come to me, but I don’t want these in any way to inhibit you” and they would come back with their proposals. Sometimes building exactly on what I’d said, sometimes completely different.
Then, we worked together, and it was just a joy, because there is a part of me that really always would have loved to go off and be an artist, and maybe this is my way of combining art and economics. Working with artists, and representing ideas that most people would think, “I’ll never understand economics. I was never really good at maths.” I always say, “Look, the only numbers in my book are the page numbers, and we can all manage those.”
So, making the animations fun and silly and irreverent, and capturing it in one minute. One minute flat. What’s the essence of? I’ve just been delighted by the reception they’ve had. The number of newspapers who’ve said, “This is fantastic. We’re going to” … When I’ve written a blog for a newspaper site, or a comment piece, they’ve embedded the animations. So, it really helps spread the ideas of the book, and it’s a way that people can tap in first online, discovering it online, and then they say, “Oh, what is this book?”
But let’s be realistic. Many authors don’t have a budget, and the funds, so I don’t want people to sit there thinking, “I can’t do that.” Long before I had the funding from Kendeda to make animations of this quality, I’ve been making videos myself and just posting them online. I use a software called Camtasia, where I can just use PowerPoint slides or you can record yourself. Talk for one minute, or show three fantastic pictures, and talk over the top of them. Turn it into a video, post it on YouTube. Anybody can do that. I do that late in my study at night.
The videos have been watched by thousands of people, so we can create false barriers and thinking, “Oh, it’s too expensive. It’s too difficult. It’s too technical. I don’t have the time or funding or resources.” Yes, you do, because actually, the beautiful thing about digital technologies is we can all produce our own videos in our own home studios, sitting in your own little bedroom or your study. So, anybody can make a basic fun, compelling, one-minute message about their book, and I really would recommend any authors to do that.
Because it just goes around in a whole different way, and gets on the internet, and gets tweeted, and you’ll reach so many other people. Also, it teaches you to tell people what your book is about is one minute, which you have to be able to do.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. I think that’s the crucial bit. I think in a sense, that the tools are there. Anybody can use these tools, but it’s the real value in it is distilling, “What is it I want to say in a minute?” That’s a real discipline. How do you go about choosing, as you say, from this vast amount of things that you could say, what was the criteria? What was the heuristic that you were using to say, “This is the thing that I need to get across in 60 seconds?”
Kate Raworth: At first when I was doing it for the animations, I was trying to summarise the whole message of the chapter. Then, I realised that that would be too theoretical, too heavy handed, and it was much better to go in and pull out individual metaphors that I’d used in the chapter. Again, metaphors are mental images that we put in our brains, and so they’re like drawing pictures.
So, I tried to think, “What are the metaphors I’ve used in this chapter? Ah, what could I pull out?” For example, I’m actually currently making the last of the animations at the moment, and it’s about rethinking the future of economic growth, and one of the metaphors in the book is about growth is like an aeroplane, an aeroplane that takes off but GDP has to always grow, so it’s this aeroplane that’s never allowed to land.
Then in my book I say, “Actually, I think we need to get away from the aeroplane metaphor and become more like kite surfers who go bobbing across the waves and working with the winds.” So, the animators, I said, “Look, strongly, visually, I really want the animation to go from the aeroplane ride to the kite surfer.” It’s that simple. There’s so many other things in that chapter, but if you can convey one idea, and what’s the metaphor, the visual that would explain it to somebody who thinks they’d never understand it otherwise?
But if you explain this metaphor, they say, “I get that. I get that already.” The way I tried to distil the ideas, I mean, when I was even just writing the proposal for my book, and again, I learned this from my partner, Roman. When he’s beginning a new book, I would always hear him… somebody would come around and say, “So, what are you writing about at the moment?”
He would always try telling them in one sentence, but always in a different way. One week he’d try saying it this way, and the next week he’d try saying it that way. I remember being at a Christmas party at my parents’ and there was an elderly gentleman of my parents. “Oh, what are you doing, young lady?” I remember just saying to him, “Oh, I’m writing a book about 21st century economics, because I think the challenge we face is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet, and what kind of economics is going to give us a half of chance of doing that? Because the economics being taught in university right now certainly isn’t.”
He looked at me and he wanted to have this conversation. I thought, “Oh, I’m onto something there.” I just kept repeating that again and again. “What mindset would give us half a chance of doing this? Because the economics that are being taught today isn’t going to get us there.” It’s about trying it out and seeing where people, their eyebrow goes up, or they say, “Oh, tell me more.” You realise you’re finding a succinct, snappy way that tempts. It doesn’t try and tell everything. It’s tempting somebody to say, “Oh, I want to know more about that.” Then, you’ll know you’re onto something.
Alison Jones: I love that. I think it’s so true. So many people can hug their book close to them and their idea. They’re very precious about it. But actually it’s when you start talking about your idea. A, you help clarify it in your own head, but B, you get to see how it lands, and you get to see how people respond, and then you can hone your description, can’t you? As you just described. I love that.
Kate Raworth: Oh, you learn so much, and I really learned not to hold it tight and secret and don’t show anybody. Because you think, “Oh, they’re going to take it away.” No, no, no, no. They’re going to show you what doesn’t work, they’re going to say, “That word doesn’t really make sense to me. That doesn’t seem” … “Oh, you’re arguing about that. Have you read this whole body of literature?” Or, “You should read…”
I mean, the incredible generosity of other people’s minds is something not to miss out on, and so you have to be willing to show it. When I worked at Oxfam and I was continually writing campaign reports for Oxfam, there was that feeling of, “I don’t want to show anybody the draft of this report because it’s really in a bit of a mess.”
I had to learn to overcome that and say, “Listen, I know what I’m showing you is like a half-baked Christmas turkey. It doesn’t look very good when it’s only half baked. And I know it’s only half baked, but I’m still going to show it to you because I know I’ll bake it so much better with your input.” I’m a real advocate actually of sharing and learning how to describe a book by articulating it.
Even writing blogs based on one of the chapters in advance, because then the feedback you get, if people comment on your blog, will really help you incorporate that and make sure you don’t make that mistake when you come to write the chapter. Make sure you cover this issue. It’s like a testing ground, and it’s a very smart way of trying out ideas before you press them on paper and have them running through printing presses and into bookshops.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. Then it’s a bit too late to get that feedback because you can’t do anything about it, yeah. Brilliant, and I feel a bit churlish asking this, because I feel you’ve given us so many great tips already, but if I had to pin you down and say, “What’s your one best tip for a first time author?” I’m going to say business book author, because that’s most of the people listening are like that, but what would you say is the single best bit of advice that you could give to someone listening?
Kate Raworth: I’ve got two, but if you only want one…
Alison Jones: I want two. I’ll have three or four if you can give ’em. Go, go, go.
Kate Raworth: I’ll give you two. Okay, the first one. Again, this is something I learned at Oxfam, so if anyone writing a business book, if you’re writing a business book, you’re an advocate, right? You’re trying to communicate ideas about the way things should be done, or the way things could be done. You’re trying to educate, inspire, encourage, promote, so you’re advocating a way of working in the world.
If you’re an advocate, the most powerful thing you can put in your book is a one-page summary, so that people can photocopy it, or tweet it, or take a photograph on Twitter and send it out, so that people can get the big message. When I was writing my book, I thought, “I’m going to have a one-page summary” and what that summary is, for me, is a set of 14 little images. Seven showing the old way of thinking, seven showing the new way of thinking.
Sure enough, I know it works, because I’ve seen it plenty of times on Twitter, people take a photograph on their phone and they say, “I’m reading Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics'” and they get it, and again, we all like to see the overview. It helps us dive into the detail if we can see the overview of where we’re going.
What would it mean for you to write … Not write. To produce a one page summary? Whether it’s in words or in pictures. Something that people say, “Aha. I see the whole.” That to me is an advocate, that’s a real takeaway.
The second piece of advice, when I was about, well, time-wise, when I was about halfway through writing my book, I had a great big crisis. I thought, “I just can’t do this. I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew. I have been ridiculously over ambitious. ‘Oh, I’m going to write a book about 21st century economics. I’m going to rewrite economics.’” I was so spinning in the ideas I couldn’t see which way was up.
I fell into a real low. I couldn’t write. I was totally dejected. I actually had a list on my desk of all the people who I was going to write to, tomorrow, to tell them, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do this.” It was my agent, my publisher, my funder, my partner, my parents. All the people who I was going to have to say, “Sorry, I just have to call this thing off.” I was so on the verge of doing that.
I talked to several friends in this process. People who saw me and said, “Are you okay?” They could see I was struggling. One couple of friends who I spoke to, who just happen to be psychotherapists, it was kind of handy, we had tea in their garden. They said, “Well, these stories you’re telling us of the struggle you’re going through and the pain you’re feeling of trying it…” I was trying to write about growth, I was trying to reassess this deep addiction to growth-based economics that our culture has, and I’m so part of that culture, it was really painful to get out.
I was telling her all these stories about how I couldn’t breathe, or I felt trapped, or I was in these meetings and I didn’t know what to say. She said, “But this is all fascinating. Can’t you bring this into the book? Can’t you make a chapter the chapter in your book a bit like the Pompidou Centre? Show all the emotions on the outside. That’s what makes it gripping.”
That was a complete release for me, to realise that the story of my own personal struggle and the pain and the uncertainty that I’d gone through, that that was compelling, and that was part of the story. Again, I wrote this into chapter seven of my book, it’s one of the last chapters you come to, but the number of people who’ve come back and said, “Oh, I really like the start of that chapter. It helps me, because to know that you’ve been struggling with this, ’cause I’m struggling with things, too, and it makes me feel reassured that there’s this emotional transformation and struggle going on. It’s not just a leap into different kinds of thinking.”
That goes a long way. I should say, not just … Well, what enabled me to do that was that I had learned to write with “I”, because I worked for the UN for four years, with Oxfam for 11 years, so I had spent my entire professional career writing “We.” “We, the United Nations”; “We, Oxfam.” I was part of a very big “We” and I loved it. When I printed the doughnut paper in Oxfam, at the beginning, they said, “Well, this isn’t Oxfam policy, so you actually have to say ‘I’ when you present this.”
The first thing, it was a horrible feeling. I felt like I was being told I wasn’t allowed to use my family surname anymore. One of my colleagues, they said, “No, no, no. Run with it. That’s an amazing opportunity.” It meant that I could start blogging for Oxfam, but using “I” and discovering the voice of I rather than the institutional of “We” was a huge breakthrough for me.
It was a real release to writing about very serious issues, much more playfully, because it was just me, and after all, I started talking about doughnuts. I mean, there’s no gravitas left here anymore. I could just be really playful. I started blogging and I learned how to blog with “I” and I think the best blogs have “I,” the voice “I”, in it. There is a person who admits it’s coming from a person, but having developed that “I,” it really helped me segue from being somebody who writes reports for institutions via blogging with the “I,” into being an author in which “I” is very present in my book.
Then, because “I” was present in my book, my emotions could be present in my book, too. So, I think if people are stuck, I think it’s really important to ask yourself, “What’s the voice in which I’ve written this book? Is it a third person objective voice, as if this is just how things are in the world?” Is there any way you can allow yourself to come in and show some of your own journey, your own exploration, your own uncertainties and your own struggles that have led you here?
We love stories. We love the story of the person on a journey, struggling, and battling. So, bring it into the book.
Alison Jones: Yes, I love that, and I love the way you balance the authority. I mean, you wear your authority very lightly, but it’s clear you’ve got massive authority in this space, but you’ve also got that vulnerability, and I think that’s fantastic. It reminds me of that phrase, I can’t remember who said it now, but for a writer, a good day’s a good day, and a bad day’s material.
Kate Raworth: I don’t know that one. All I knew was that when I started to write, my partner told me the quote … Oh, gosh, who is it from now? One of his favourite writers. Somebody like George Orwell, who said, “Writing is simple. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”
Alison Jones: “And bleed.” That’s right. I think it was Orwell. Do you know, I edited a dictionary of quotations once, and I’m full of half remembered quotes. It’s terrible.
Kate Raworth: Right. You get the gist.
Alison Jones: I do, absolutely. Since we’re talking about other writers, another question I want to ask you, and I’m afraid, you’re not allowed to nominate your own book, although I’m sure other people would do it for you. But what business book or self-development book would you recommend that everyone listening to this should go out and read right now, if they haven’t already done so?
Kate Raworth: My mind does not start in the space of business. When I first started rethinking economics, I come at it from thinking about the importance of including the living world, the economy, and the importance of putting social justice at the heart of things. So, thinking about business, well business was something, were things that I’d always campaigned against. I’d done secret research about, and I tried to show their bad practice, and then write exposing reports about them.
I had always felt I had a very antagonistic relationship to business in the past. The book that really helped me see what I considered to be the DNA of how business is made and which informs every single conversation that I have today with businesses is a book by a brilliant analyst called Marjorie Kelly, and it’s called “Owning Our Future: Journeys to a Generative Economy.”
The theme of the book is fantastic. It’s about understanding the internal design or what I call the DNA of a business. What its purpose is, how it’s governed, how it’s networked, how it’s owned, and how it’s financed. If you understand those things of a business, everything else will make sense in terms of its impact in the world, what it cares about, whether it’s got a short term or a long term horizon.
So much flows from its DNA. The wonderful thing about that book, though, is that first of all she uses it in her voice. Each of the chapters in the book go through those five things I just mentioned. It’s so well structured her book. Look, I’m just literally reeling its purpose off to you. I’m going purpose, governance, networks, ownership, and finance. That’s how it’s structured.
Each chapter is a story of her going to visit somebody who works in a business that exemplifies what she’s proposing is a very generative design of enterprise. She talks about the people she meets there, their character, where they’re working, the human qualities. It’s a very, very human book, and it’s her journey going to see all these different people, and her asking questions since she’s continually searching through the book.
So again, she’s put her “I” and herself, and her own emotions and journeys in the book. But again, there’s like the one-page summary, there’s a little table of these five elements that I’ve named and she gives a name to what she would call the old extractive model of business, and a name to the new one. So, a company might have either a financial purpose, “Oh, we’re going to be the biggest player in our sector. We’re going to have the largest market share” or a living purpose, “We want to contribute to a prosperous Kenya” or, democratising mobility, or healthy food for all.
So, she has a little table that just summarises up. You can snap it with your iPhone and you’ve got the essence of her book in your phone, but more important, it’s in your mind, and that’s why I can tell you on the spot. So, that book totally transformed my ability to think about and engage with business and I use it all the time. I really recommend it, not only for the content, but for the way it’s written.
Alison Jones: That is an ace recommendation. Thank you. I can’t wait to read it. I’ve never heard of it before, so that, yeah, fantastic. I love asking these questions. This is brilliant. Kate, thank you so much. There’s so much more we could talk about, I have so many other questions I’d love to ask you, but we are out of time. If people want to find out more about you, more about “Doughnut Economics,” more about those wonderful animations, where should they go?
Kate Raworth: Oh, they can go to my website which is just my name. KateRaworth.com. If you click on the tab of animations, you can watch all those little one minute animations, and if you do, think of me recording the sound and imagine the conversation that want on between me and the animator to put the images to that story.
Alison Jones: You’ll know the backstory.
Kate Raworth: Yeah, but there’s also lots of videos of my giving presentations of the book, some reviews of the book, and all sorts of other materials if people are interested in the doughnut.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. I’ll put those links up on the show notes, so people can go there. Is it all right if I put the little doughnut illustration up there, as well? Because I think it is so powerful.
Kate Raworth: Is it all right? I’d be delighted!
Alison Jones: I have to ask permission, you know?
Kate Raworth: No point in having an idea if it doesn’t spread. That’s the aim. No, I’d absolutely delighted if you put the doughnut there.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. Brilliant. Good. Now I’ve got to go and have a doughnut I think. You’ve made me feel peckish. Such a joy to talk to you. Thank you so much, Kate.
Kate Raworth: My pleasure. Thank you. Great questions, and it’s always lovely to have a conversation where you say things you’ve never said before.
Alison Jones: Oh good. Well, that is part of the aim of the show, so that’s good to hear. Thank you.