Money + Meaning =

The organizers of the Social Capital Markets conference, whose tag line is “at the intersection of money and meaning”, are asking what does Money + Meaning =. My answer is below. What’s yours?

According to a Google Images search for “Money + Meaning =”, the answer is:

Google Money   Meaning

Since Google’s job is to “organize the world’s information” the search result makes it quite clear that humanity has yet to figure out what exactly adding meaning to money is all about.

So, I guess I’ll take a crack. Money + Meaning = the transformation of great ideas into real world results. Money is a store of energy. Money was invented so that the energy created through humans’ hard work and ideas could be transformed into various types of results. Money allows a person who has the passion, energy and ideas to create incredible works of art, build homes or teach children, to package the value of their efforts into a fungible currency that can then be used to obtain those things they don’t have a gift for creating.

Money takes us from ideas that exist only in our heads, like this…


… and helps us turn them into real world results like this…

(Click here to see the video if you’re viewing this in an email)

Money is such a loaded word. People tend to focus on the question of “how much” instead of thinking about what it is. Money doesn’t capture all of the value of human ingenuity of course. But in the case of Bill Gates, money allowed him to take the value he created bringing computing to the masses and transform that value into meaning infused social value.

For Bill Gates, Money + Meaning = eradicating the world of diseases that affect the poorest among us.

What does Money + Meaning = for you?


  1. Ina says:

    Well, that is definitely a strange interpretation of money & meaning, but that picture is soooo cute!!! I just couldn’t help it 🙂

  2. Tom Mallard says:

    While this is very good, everyone has a dream, so, great wealth at the expense of the common dream has no reward regardless of how it’s used.

    It is the average wage that needs raising to allow the poor to fulfill their own dream by no longer being poor, society cannot depend upon the ability of the rich to do good deeds and fulfill society’s potential.

  3. Liz Krueger says:

    For me, money + meaning = earning a paycheck for work that improves the world, and spending & investing my pay in ways that enable me and others to improve the world, too. It’s a virtuous cycle that needs to be created, and in the current economy, it’s quite a challenge.

  4. kevin jones says:

    so sean i see what meaning means to bill gates. what does it mean to you?

  5. kevin jones says:

    or i guess you did answer it. but is the answer different for the wealthy than for the average person? (just started asking this question. not sure how the conversation goes

    • I answered the question for myself on a meta level; “Money + Meaning = the transformation of great ideas into real world results”. I used Gates as a more specific example.

      Is it different for the very wealthy or more everyday people? I don’t think so. Earning and using money in ways that have meaning to you individually shouldn’t be terribly different based on the amount you are earning/spending/investing.

      One way to think about impact investing is that Money + Meaning used to = giving away your money in a meaningful way. Today, it means earning, spending, investing, and giving your money in meaningful ways. See Liz’s comment above.

      • Kate Lang says:

        I agree with this. I’ve grown to see the intersection of money and meaning in a much more holistic way, where the two are integrated rather than compartmentalized. When I was growing up my Dad always emphasized the importance of volunteering, but when I left a corporate career for a job with a nonprofit he thought I was making a terrible mistake (and still does).

        I have to admit I actually felt ashamed for a minute, because my immediate reaction to the question of Money + Meaning was on a personal level (“doing well by doing good”) rather than a grand concept of saving the world. But imagine how much good we could do if more people chose career paths that were deeply meaningful.

        • I agree Kate, so long as we are very inclusive when we talk about “meaning”. I’ve long be struck by the way Google employees feel that the work they do is deeply meaningful. Given how useful Google is to me and the access to information it provides to people across income levels and geography, I too see working at Google as deeply meaningful.

          I think the key is to not focus on categorizing what qualifies as meaningful and instead simply encourage people to think about money and meaning as intertwined and not too totally separate domains. Many people have felt that they can have a meaningless job or even work at a company that destroys social value, but that their work is divorced from meaning so long as the make it up outside of work. I don’t think that works anymore.