I’ll admit. I think about money a lot. After high school, I worked with AmeriCorps, a national service organization. My rite of passage into adulthood was when the government gave me food stamps to supplement my AmeriCorps volunteer stipend. On my way to get groceries in my AmeriCorps asssigned community, I remember walking past tin houses where first generation immigrants from Laos lived and past children who were chubby but malnourished because there was lack of access to affordable, nutritious food. So when I handed my food stamps over to a cashier for my groceries down the street, I thought about money a lot.
Recently I was introduced to Laurie Kauffman whose life is dedicated to helping companies understand the meaning behind a transaction. What did this experience do for the customer? Did it feel “right,” or did it leave the customer feeling empty?
Laurie Kauffman leads Net Worth Consulting, a Washington D.C. agency dedicated to making the axiom give back more than you take a profitable part of a business. Kauffman says that when companies “touch money, they should also address the point of what a customer wants to get done.” This means to Kauffman making sure that every touch point with the customer delivers an experience that feels worth it. “I’m fighting cognitive dissonance!” says Kauffman. “It’s like when someone uses a product, it makes them feel good. But they aren’t really sure if it feels right.”
As a young adult, Kauffman started to see the worlds of money and meaning collide. She watched her friends struggling to start nonprofits and for-benefit businesses. The nonprofits pitched individuals with money so that they could make something meaningful, while the for-benefit businesses couldn’t figure out how to break past the noise of how consumers connected their money with meaning.
Kauffman went on to receive a Master’s in Finance to begin consulting companies about offering what feels right to the customer. Her journey took her to of all things, improv. Fully Invested, Kauffman’s book published in 2011, talks about how principles of improv are signposts to delivering something meaningful to a stakeholder. A focus on creating trust, thinking about the “we” instead of “me,” and an approach to interacting with others based on “yes.. and?” instead of “yes… but?” are key. This kind of emphasis on a participatory philosophy between the company and a stakeholder can dissolve the dissonance felt by a stakeholder. For the company and its stakeholders, these guidelines of improv creating something meaningful, and it drives profit too.
How did I make meaning from money out of high school when I thought a lot about money (and poverty)? I took into consideration others’ point of view and said “yes… and?” when I marched home with my food stamps from the grocery store knowing that my experience, what felt right, was more important than money.