'Eden' is a concept and manifesto written during lockdown that attempts to imagine the possibilities of authenticity in the cultural and creative economy
Finance and fashion have collided. This manifesto calls for a new approach to money and finance via the metanarrative of ‘design’. It is an exercise in applied imagination, systems thinking, and collectivism; and it aims to develop a rich intertextual story that authentically reflects the mindset of the Recession Generation.
The following fragments set our trajectory…
Eden is a utopia
‘Design’ is our metanarrative, not technology or economics. As designers, we need a a utopia to design towards and a dystopia to push against. Eden is our trajectory.
Eden is a dream
Finance is a fiction we all agree to follow. It is a dream; the American dream.
Eden is a paradise, lost
‘Utopia’ has an ambiguous etymology. It means both the ‘good place’ and the ‘non place’. Therefore, we accept and embrace our inevitable failure. It is the journey that will count.
Eden is fashion
Bankers have swapped suits for sneakers. Payment cards have become accessories. This is a weird collision of categories, and it should give us pause for thought. At present, the cultural logic of athleisure is operating within finance. This will change: fashion moves fast. How to prepare? By knowing that it is philosophy, built on history, and mixed with craft, that distinguishes an authentic luxury fashion brand.
Eden is a story to be told
So far we’ve explored how Islamic philosophy bridges spirituality and business; outlined the anarchist ideas that fuelled Occupy Wall Street (the same ideas that gave us feminism, punk and Banksy); critiqued American consumption through the lens of thrift; and imagined the conversations that took place when the Medici bankers invited Michelangelo to stay at their home, sat to dinner, and, at the birth of capitalism, collaborated to create the ‘city of art’ we can still admire today by visiting Florence.
Eden is next-gen branding
We are developing a richly interconnected story. Our objective is to design a complex collage of moving themes, characters and concepts to stimulate imaginative thinking. This is how fashion works, reinvigorating itself with each season of the year.
Eden is not a corporate imaginary
Consultancies, with their cold market logic, tell us the familiar ‘happy-ever-after’ story where technology solves every problem. This lacks criticality and authenticity. It fills new technology with old ideas. Nightmares disguised as dreams. Eden explores technology as a double edged sword. As Paul Virillo explains, ‘the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck’.
Eden is partnership
Over the past three years, in partnership with institutions such as the London College of Communication, we have been diagnosing digital pathologies. These are investigations into the corrupting power of money online. Stories where children are turned into influencers by powerful brands; where incivility is provoked for clicks; where romance is monetised; and many other stories about the alienation of our (dis)connected lives.
Eden is pedagogy
The most radical way to change the status quo is through the slow process of educating others. As John Henrik Clarke put it: ‘Powerful people cannot afford to educate the people that they oppress, because once you are truly educated, you will not ask for power. You will take it.’
Eden is progressive
We are imagining a bank that features on the front cover of cultural magazines; one which intellectuals and taste-makers brandish as a symbol of identity; which small festivals use to manage their financial infrastructure; which movements like Extinction Rebellion use to build momentum.
Eden is against neoliberalism
In the eighties, Reagan and Thatcher launched their economic doctrine of ‘neoliberal’ policies that unleashed individual self-interest. This defined the next forty years. It created certain types of people, as represented in the movies ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Psycho’. In the nineties, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this doctrine was cemented: there was no alternative to capitalism. This was the decade when Kurt Cobain would kill himself, caught in the cruel logic that, as Mark Fisher puts it, ‘nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV’. This was an era of capitalist realism, an era of cultural stagnation, an era when utopias could not be dreamed.
Eden is the recession generation
Then, in 2008, greed, unleashed by neoliberal policies, caused the recession. It is estimated that there were 10,000 economic suicides during 2008–2010, and an extra 500,000 cancer-related deaths in the US from people unable to afford healthcare. Eden is not interested in maximising ROI for shareholders. We are for the many, not the few.
Eden is next-gen fintech
We like tech. We like seeing how much we’re spending down the pub; freezing our lost card through an app; chatting instantly with customer support; linking bank accounts; tracking spend; sharing saving ‘pots’ with friends; navigating a seamless user interface; managing my invoices for my business; accessing easy overdraft facilities; using gamified nudges to save; exploring financial cognitive biases; interacting with visualisations that communicate financial complexity with clarity; and chatting with friendly AI sidekicks who give me financial advice. But we’re going beyond that. All this tech stuff will become commoditized and standard anyway, and not a way to differentiate in any meaningful way.
Eden is post-digital
When Queen Elizabeth asked the London School of Economics to explain the global recession, they replied it was the failure of the ‘collective imagination’ to understand the risk to the ‘system as a whole’. We embrace this: systems thinking and applied imagination make us truly post-digital.
Eden is insight-centric
We are designing an advanced and sophisticated model of holistic listening. This is an insight system that blends together ethnography, netnography, cultural cartography, new humanities, user journeys, emotional mapping, coolhunting, creative coding, immersive debriefs, psychogeography, digital safaris, culture jamming, visual cultures, urban asset mapping, cognitive design, data science, applied art theory, international comparison, depth interviewing, research communities, online focus groups and so on. But most importantly, at the centre of this system is the concept of meaningful, reciprocal, gift-based connection with participants.
Eden is reimaging the bank manager
Banks are, uniquely, a business that says ‘no’. They have a friction built into their business model. A resistance. In design, we would call this an ‘affordance’. Presently, this friction is used to set limits on gambling and alcohol spending. But from a post-digital perspective, this could herald a new age of responsibility and self-care.
Eden is wellness
Wellness is multidimensional. It is emotional, physical, social, spiritual, and intellectual. It is also digital. Us humans are still working out how our brains are being rewired by digital forms of narcissism, addiction, polarisation, incivility, envy, anxiety, uncertainty, distraction and so on. We need to rethink personal and collective wellness beyond corporate yoga sessions and WFH days. This is deeper. More structural.
Eden is rhythm
The start-up ideology is to move fast. We disagree. We experiment with flow, pattern and time. We have found that ‘rhythm’ provides a powerful vocabulary for understanding mental health and transformative innovation. We must slow down the pace, get ready for a marathon, not a sprint. It is time to chill.
Eden is new leadership
Existing routes to leadership are disproportionately based on privilege, nepotism, and individual assertiveness: this leads to managerial narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism (the ‘dark triad’ of psychological personality traits). This toxic tendency needs to be cleaned from the gears of management in order for civic business to emerge.
Eden is civic business
The rise of populism around the world has triggered a reconciliation between the centre and far left. This is reflected most clearly in business campaigns where organisations take a stand. This story is just getting started, but to be navigated responsibly, it requires institutional partnerships.
Eden is moral
Whilst ‘ethics’ are the rules that regulate our behaviour in speciﬁc practical areas, ‘morals’ are the underlying principles shaping these ethics. In today’s lexicon, this is a value system. For us, this means placing ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ as our foundational pillar, not as an afterthought. In addition, all our workstreams will align with the eight principles for purposeful business as outlined by the royal academy; the UN sustainable development goals; the LSE inequality institute and other frameworks.
Eden is fair exchange
We do not exploit and extract ideas from cultures, students, and communities to enhance profitability. We develop structural and trusting relationships with all participants and stakeholders. This is essential to the development of a robust creative and cultural economy. And it encourages the emergence of innovative business models based on networked individualism.
Eden is social
Money is a way of making social relationships. It is blood pumping through the social body. This is a more useful than conceptualisation as money as a driver of growth. We are determined to make money useful. Use it as a tool to build social relationships. To exchange as-yet-unimagined forms of value. And to entangle art, society, and communication in healthy new ways.
Eden is post-capitalism
To be 'post' is to rethink: Max Weber, the sociologist, defined capitalism as ‘the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise’. Joseph Schumpeter, the economist, called it ‘creative destruction’. David Harvey, the Marxist geographer, mapped its destructive ‘laws-of-motion’.
Eden is play
Before humans spoke, they played. We will play.