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Interview: Heather Vescent, The Future of Currency Design – Cultivating Flows

Interview: Heather Vescent, The Future of Currency Design

Heather Vescent, thank you for taking the time to share with us here. I have been following your work for several years now, and I find it so informative! Thank you for that effort. I would love to share with our readers some of your learning and insight.

Can you tell me how you got involved in the currency field? What triggered you to be so curious – even fascinated – by this field?

 

Of course, life is a journey. I started out working in Silicon Valley as a product manager in 1996-2004. From my work, I learned that companies often failed but eventually the products succeeded.

I loved technology, and I wanted it to be used by people and consumers. But the technology had to be practically applied. Most of those companies were ahead of the curve. I wanted to explore how to work, with some financial stability, on these ideas. I went to school to get my masters in Strategic Foresight in 2010. And so I became a trained futurist.

When I started my MA, I was working for a fintech startup.  They were developing disruptive financial technology. My coursework was hands-on — applied — and I wanted to pick a topic that was relevant to my day job. So I began exploring the question, “How is technology disrupting the financial industry?”. I started researching and found there was a lot happening. It was sort of random to pick this topic, but once I started, I was fascinated by the changes happening.

 

I think we might first have met through your surveys. What is the history of your currency surveys?

 

From my work in product development, I had conducted a lot of surveys. So, along with my regular research, I put out a survey. I think the class assignment was to get 10 people to reply to your survey, but I took it very seriously and reached out for 300 responses. The more responses I read, the more curious I was about what was happening. When the initial survey was done, I realized how solid the research was, and I could track the trends over time by repeating the survey each year to track trends. I have done three years now.

As media hype increased about Bitcoin, I held a bitcoin specific survey in 2011, because I was interested in the marketing hype on it. I wanted to dig in deeper.

It was never my intention in 2010 that this would be a project that I would do for many years. But, the momentum keeps it going. It has given me a solid understanding of the industry and the impact of these changes.

 

You have a new project about the Future of Money video series. I pitched in on kickstarter for it. Can you tell us what is that about?

 

The Future of Money series is the next step in taking my work and moving it to the next level. I want to get the word out to the mainstream community. As I was doing this work, people were so affected on a visceral level. When people responded the way they did, I realized this is powerful stuff. I wanted to impact more people.

I went through many years of believing in dystopian future and then realized we are living a dystopian present. Seeing a negative future sparked a fear-based reaction, instead of seeing how the future is getting better. We live in amazing times, there are challenges. There always have been challenges and there always will be. I put down my war on the dystopian future, and I wanted to put forth a positive story about money.

I am not concerned by change. I want to know what kind of changes will happen and choose how they could impact me. I want to show how the  changes that are happening can have a positive impact on people’s lives.

Part of this is seeding the collective unconscious with a positive perspective of the future. Moving from a consumer based economy that is fear based — that you aren’t good enough so you need to buy this product — to a vision where  you are not lacking anything, but you can choose to augment yourself with this awesome product or services that will make you better. This is really my mindset and way of seeing things.

I actively trained myself to think this way. Conscious effort and mindfulness.  Another trend emerging in human consciousness now. What does that have to do with money and currency?

We are expanding our capacity to name what we value in more complex and nuanced terms.

Examples. Linkedin. I have a pretty robust account. A lot of people have vouched for me. And before that I had a lot of recommendations, like 50 or 60. When it comes to paying my rent in Hollywood, I can’t go to the ATM and say I need to pay my rent. But those skills, vouchers, and recommendations do have an impact on my cash flow. I can get projects, choose the projects I want to do, and earn money that I can then use to pay rent. I can’t go cha-ching on the Linkedin recommendations to get money out.  But there is a conversion. Through kickstarter, I am finding out how much my network values what I am doing. I ask them to value me in the old paradigm: Here is new paradigm – and I have lots of currency in the new paradigm. So I need you, who value me in the new, to give me currency in the old one. Kickstarter, for me in this specific thing is an exchange from old to new. Linkedin can’t be. Kickstarter is my atm exchange converter.

I am going for a mainstream global audience – so I picked topics that are interesting in six areas. My challenge is going to be layering the information of the series, so people can stay shallow or go deep depending on where they are at. I have been able to do that with my shorts so far, so I am excited to do this at a broader level. Ultimately, I want to keep doing more series.

 

Our project on cultivating flows is less about money, per se, and includes more about using a whole spectrum of “current-sees” such as tokens, credits, certifications, and metrics to modify flows in a system. Can you say how you see this broader range of “currency” touching the future?

 

Research set me up to understand what was changing. You watch it emerge. And I did that through the survey and interviews. Pattern recognition — as someone familiar with systems thinking. Then you put a model. Keep scanning, does it fit that?

At SWIFT, I did workshops and speaking and by putting the information out and then let it come back to me. I wanted to do an IIW (Internet Identity Workshop) for the financial industry…. and this was what Innotribe was trying to do for SWIFT and the financial industry. The idea was to expose people to a lot of pieces – let the community digest it – get hands on with activities, to get engaged with the content and material they heard.

The Culture created when people came together is a different culture – and it is very challenging for that to go back to those organization. With IIW, they live in the TECH world, which still embraces experimentation… the financial industry doesn’t experiment a lot – as a value.

What is your favorite story of currency innovation?

 

I heard this story about a tech community in Chile. They were building a tech community where people would support each other and give advice, modeling a lot of what happens in Silicon Valley. I asked them about how they deal with people who give a bunch of lip service but don’t actually bring value.

When you join this community, you have to earn a certain number of “points”. To “earn” those points, you can mentor someone, offer a workshop, and if you don’t earn those points in a given time, you are out of the community. This is a mechanism to strengthen and fertilize the community with your participation. Your points were earned a variety of ways.

Thank you for sharing with us, Heather.