NextNowNetwork and MediaX explore Service Science with Jim Sphorer

Yesterday, NextNowNetwork (NextNowCollaboratory‘s resource base) met with Jim Sphorer of IBM’s Almaden Research Center and MediaX at Stanford for a discussion on Service Science. This is an emerging field that recognizes the migration of so much of the world’s activity to the service sector; in fact, Jim told us that 2006 was the first year that the service sector met or exceeded agriculture and manufacturing sectors in terms of percentage of worldwide activity (I believe it was 40-40-20.)

Service Science is concerned with how service systems interact to create value. Many of us in the room seemed as concerned with how value is being defined. Fortunately, Jim Sphorer is one of the fathers of the movement to establish this discipline and is himself a very thoughtful person who recognizes and attends to the deeper questions.

For example, in the book The Real Wealth of Nations, Riane Eisler writes about a study conducted in either Switzerland or Sweden (I’ve forgotten) that revealed that if that nation included the value of caregivers in its GDP, that the number would represent about 70% of all economic activity. This represents an awareness that should revolutionize economic policy.

At the end of this post are links to articles for those interested in learning more about Service Science. As importantly I reprint here a review of The Real Wealth of Nations by Mal Warwick published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review this summer:

The Real Wealth of Nations:
Creating a Caring Economics

by Riane Eisler

  • From the author of the bestselling classic The Chalice and The Blade
  • Proposes a dramatic new economic model that could help resolve many of the most critical problems we face today
  • Offers concrete steps for putting this model into practice

Review: The Real Wealth of Nations

THE REAL WEALTH OF NATIONS: Creating a Caring Economics

Riane Eisler

318 pages (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007)

Mal’s review was originally published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Summer 2007).

Allegedly, according to some seemingly trustworthy person whose name I’ve long since forgotten, the amount of new human knowledge now generated in one year is equal to the sum total of all knowledge generated throughout time. It matters little whether that’s literally true. The point is, we can barely keep our heads above the flood of new information that threatens to drown us. Anyway, whether or not you believe the assertion would depend, I suppose, on what you call “knowledge”.
These days humanity produces incalculably large amounts of data. We can measure anything, from the inconceivably small to the unbelievably large; and we can define every imaginable attribute of its nature. We can describe the relationship (or lack thereof) between almost every single thing and every other single thing. But, as the information technologists have taught us, data is not information. And information—whatever that really is—can rarely be equated with knowledge.
In a world of splintering specialties, where a physician may focus entirely on the pituitary gland, and anthropologists are labeled cultural, physical, social, industrial, or paleo (each speaking a distinctive and often mutually unintelligible argot), we have largely lost sight of knowledge, and its ultimate expression: wisdom.
Now, I won’t presume to define knowledge and wisdom. I’ll leave that to those who are, well, more knowledgeable and wiser than I am. But, like the Congressman who can’t define obscenity, I know wisdom when I see it. I found it in abundance in the latest book by interdisciplinary scholar Riane Eisler.
The Real Wealth of Nations tackles the dismal science of economics, and proves conclusively that it deserve that description. She wrestles conventional “wisdom” to the ground, challenging the assumptions that have supported the practice of business and economic policy for the last two centuries, since Adam Smith’s original Wealth of Nations. Instead, Eisler prescribes a “caring economics” that assumes the obvious—people really matter. As she argues, “the real wealth of nations consists of the contributions of people and our natural environment.”
If you learned economics as I did—imperfectly and with little enthusiasm—you may dimly recall talk of capital, which was paramount, and the widgets that lots of capital permits us to produce. We were assumed to be excited about the prospect of turning out lots of widgets. After all, making lots of widgets is the only way to make big profits, which in turn allows us to accumulate lots more capital, and later, produce more widgets. It was never clear to me where people fit into this scheme, except as “labor,” which is little more than a commodity like iron, coal, or oil.
Eisler’s “caring economics” draws upon two themes that are emerging among the critics of contemporary economic theory and practice. On one hand, her approach owes a great deal to advocates of “full-cost pricing”—most recognizable among them environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken and European business leader Stephan Schmidheiny—who recognize that natural capital has fundamental to our economic wellbeing, and that the destruction of the environment imposes great costs on society. Like these visionaries, Eisler wants to factor such value and costs into a rational economic theory.
On the other hand, Eisler pulls from other feminist thinkers, who have long argued that caregiving—or, as it is traditionally mislabeled, “women’s work”—is the foundation upon which all economic activity rests. Caregiving and the “productive work” of traditional economics should be given equal weight. Eisler’s contribution is to weave the environmental and feminist values into a cohesive approach—an economic theory that comes as close to the Native American ideal as contemporary society can manage: Every action must be considered in terms of its impact on the next seven generations.
The Real Wealth of Nations sets forth “six foundations for a caring economic system.”

1) A “full-spectrum economic map,” which encompasses the household, unpaid, natural, and illegal economies, as well as the traditional market and government economies;

2) a set of cultural beliefs and institutions that value caring and caregiving, shifting the reigning social paradigm from one of domination to partnership;

3) caring economic rules, policies, and practices for business and government that meet basic human needs, direct technological developments to life-sustaining applications, and consider effects on future generations;

4) inclusive and accurate economic indicators that reject benchmarks like the GDP, which grows larger with every massive oil spill and every bomb and bullet used up in war;

5) partnerships between economic and social structures that don’t result in the concentration of economic assets and power at the top; and

6) an evolving economic theory of what Eisler calls “partnerism”, human interaction that goes beyond capitalism and socialism to recognize the essential economic value of caring for ourselves, others, and nature.
Yes, most of this territory has been covered by others. But Eisler’s art—her wisdom—lies in her ability to integrate learning from many disciplines, and translate her vision of the future into vivid prose that awakens our sense of possibility. It’s no accident that such an insightful synthesis has come from a social scientist who is unrestricted by the boundaries of a single discipline. Eisler’s venture into the realms of economics, sociology, history, political science, and other fields underlines the value of interdisciplinary inquiry in an era when so many of our best and brightest minds are peering obsessively into the minute. If the world is to be saved, salvation will come from people like Eisler, who have made it their business to think outside the proverbial box. Let’s hope Eisler’s wisdom finds its way into the decision-making circles in government and business before it’s too late.



  1. […] summer’s NNC entry on Service Science, “NextNowNetwork and MediaX explore Service Science with Jim Sphorer,” is still one of the most-read entries.  Clearly, there’s a lot of interest in the […]

  2. I would like to see a continuation of the topic

  3. For everyone that is a Paul Hawken fan, I recommend checking out his latest book, Blessed Unrest. Which is both a description of the unprecedented number of organizations and people working towards social justice and environmental restoration and a history of the intellectuals that inform their work.

    I think one of the most important analogies Paul makes is between this new type of social movement and the immune system. The success of the immune system depends on the quality of its connections and the social movement’s success depends on the same. Connections, rather than the strength of any individual organization or person, will set the stage for our success. And as a result of Paul’s research, his staff created WiserEarth, an online tool to improve the quality of the connections between the millions of organizations and people that work in social justice, the environment and indigenous rights.

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