(2017-11-28) Ellsberg Narrative Wealth

Michael Ellsberg on Narrative Wealth: The Story of the $100 Million Urinal

The most valuable urinal the world has ever known was created in New York City in 1917.

In 1917, an artist calling himself R. Mutt signed his name to such a urinal

A photograph of the urinal—the only remaining record of the original—appeared in an obscure art journal called The Blind Man, along with an editorial denouncing the board’s decision

In 2004, in a survey of five hundred British art experts, The Fountain was voted the most influential piece of modern artwork

Mr. Mutt, it turned out, was a young artist named Marcel Duchamp, associated with an emerging avant-garde art movement called Dada. The Fountain, as the work was titled, took on a life of its own. The original was lost, but over the years Duchamp authorized fifteen replicas, one of which is now held in the permanent collection of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, another in the Tate Modern in London.

The authorized replicas of Duchamp’s original are now worth as much as $3.6 million each

In 1961, Manzoni tinned 90 cans with 30 grams each of his own excrement, labeling the cans “Artist’s Sht.”*

In 2007, one of these ninety cans sold at a Sotheby’s auction for around $160,000—implying a valuation of $14,400,000 for the entire, uh, “load” that Manzoni dropped.

Actually, he priced his 30-gram cans at a floating rate based the daily market value of the cans’ equivalent weight in gold

These artists developed something I call “narrative wealth.”

Now, artists are being valued not for the craft of making things.  Rather, they are being valued for the craft of making stories about the things they make. (StoryTelling)

Narrative wealth is the ability to make things more valuable by weaving them into a story. It’s the story that creates value, not necessarily the things within it.

both good news and bad news

It’s bad news, because it upends almost everything we know about “wealth,” which we usually think of as inherent to “things” that are solid and easy to predict, manage and measure.

This is also good news, however, because those who begin looking at wealth in terms of stories, instead of quantities, have a huge leg up.

Because I find these trends so fascinating and important, I’ve decided to write a new short book entitled The Richest Story for the Fewest Dollars: The Strategy of Narrative Wealth.

This guy turned a single piece of office trash into $100,000+

In 2005, Kyle MacDonald was a 25-year-old unemployed guy in Montreal

Pondering what he should do, he remembered a game he played as a kid, called “Bigger, Better,”

He spotted a red paperclip on his desk (see book One Red Paperclip)

The main lesson is, once you are part of an interesting story, people want to help you fulfill that story

This is a key to what I call “narrative wealth”: When you start valuing things in terms of how much they’ll contribute to the value of the stories in your life, rather than how much they’re worth on the market, common objects such as paperclips, fish pens, doorknobs, camping stoves, and generators, and snow globes—and even larger things such as snowmobiles and trucks—become vastly more valuable than their market values. They become central plot points in life-altering stories.

While playing “Bigger, Better” is probably not the most reliable way to get a house, or anything else of high value, the story does have a lot of replicable lessons.


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