Over the last 18 months, the Bento Society has hosted a series of experiments exploring values and self-interest. In April we experimented with an event called “Collaboration Club” that invited participants to read something together, then meet to collaborate on ideas learned as a result.

For this first Collaboration Club, we paired the concept of the Bento with Doughnut Economics. Participants were instructed to read one article — Kate Raworth’s original paper proposing “Doughnut Economics” — and to listen to one podcast — my interview with Kate about the idea. 

Twenty participants in seven countries (the UK, US, Netherlands, Ireland, Canada, Turkey, Italy, and Germany) joined. Read on to  learn what happened “when the Bento meets the Doughnut,” as Kate Raworth put it in our interview.

Watch a video. An edited recap is below. 

YANCEY: This is an experiment in strangers collaborating. I literally have no idea what the outcome will be. As we’re all familiar, the Bento is an idea I introduced and Doughnut Economics is a concept by Kate Raworth that we’ve all learned about. 

Both of these models are responses to parts of the world around us. The Bento is a response to the hockey stick concept of growth.

The Doughnut is a response to the planetary boundaries diagram that showed how we were overusing critical resources. 

In our conversation today, we’ll focus on three questions:

  1. What views do the models share?
  2. Where do the models differ?
  3. What ideas occur when the two ideas are brought together?

As we work, we’ll collaborate together on a virtual whiteboard.

YANCEY: What similarities do you notice between Doughnut Economics and the Bento? How do they fit together? 

JIM HILL: What brought me to the Doughnut is the idea of measurement in GDP and how limiting that is, and how the values of human worth, essentially, are outside of GDP. What I love about Bento is it’s really focused on the human value and how we keep our eyes on that, as opposed to skewing towards dollars and cents all the time.

SHARON RICHMOND: What I’m struck by is how they correct misassumptions that underlie the accepted common wisdom of Adam Smith economics. I’ve always felt that that was an incomplete model, and a large part of my interest is Future Us of how we shift the common wisdom and assumptions of the business world to remind us that the business doesn’t exist separate from the planet. 

CECILIA WESSINGER: Both the Bento and the Doughnut are a great illustration of what holistic and system-level thinking looks like. It’s the whole picture. It’s all the parts. The focus is more on balance and wellness as opposed to solving problems. The 20th century thinking was how to get growth — that became the most important thing. It’s a deficit model. This is more holistic, saying we can do this and we can do that. 

JOE TANKERSLY: What they have in common is they’re both simple tools that empower people to understand they have the ability to design their vision of the future. Two sets of skills you need if you’re going to actually create the future. It’s like riding a bike. You have to learn how to pedal and balance. The Bento is one set of tools and Doughnut Economics is another that complement each other.

YANCEY: What are the differences you notice between them?

JIM HILL: The Bento is a measurement of collective self-interest that crucially adds a measurement of time. These goals that humanity needs to set, which the Doughnut lays out, fit neatly around the outside of our Bento that shows our collective self-interest. It forces us — binds us in — to a set of metrics. But that time element that the Bento brings is really important.

JULIAN COHEN: What was missing for me in the Doughnut Economics paper was narrative. It was statistics, but I would have loved to have heard the story about the family that were impacted by something. For me, and I think for a lot of us, stories are really important. In the Bentos we’re telling our stories. The me and the us are stories about ourselves now, and our aspirations. 

ANNA QUAGLIATA: The main model of everything is indeed storytelling. We need to bridge to the future, but we can’t without learning a common language. Each of us needs to have a story that will bring us there. Everyone needs to get there. 

JASEN ROBILLARD: The Doughnut feels more like a dashboard. It’s a responsive, dynamic dashboard that gives us an indication of what the current state of the world is. What I’d love to see with that dashboard is: are we making progress on those spikes of the wheel? Are we making progress? Or are we regressing? That would be a great way of enhancing that dashboard tool. Whereas Bento feels more like a dynamic process. It’s more verb than observation. 

JIM: In our group we were talking about dashboards and how you know you need to look at your dashboard when you’re driving your car to get to the destination. The bento is like the journey and it’s planning the destination but you’re gonna keep coming back to that dashboard every now and then because if you don’t you’re probably gonna crash. 

YANCEY: What happens when we bring these two ideas together? 

DAVIDE: A Bento of Doughnuts is an opportunity for a scorecard. A Doughnut of Bentos might be a kind of meta-bento. All of our individual Bentos create a global whole.

CHRIS CAIN: While I was trying to figure out how the Bento and Doughnut fit together, I was thinking about when I do my Weekly Bento, and when I set up my intentions for the week. A Bento with my daily, weekly monthly interactions are how I see myself moving in the world. Depending on what I’m working on, I can take bites of the Doughnut and be cognizant on the ripple effect that my actions have on others. There’s something about taking bites of the Doughnut and using that as a guide to how you do in your personal life. Rather than taking a macro perspective, I’m looking at what I can do individually in my day to day life using the Bento as a guide on when and where to take the bites of the Doughnut.

MICHELLE HOEXUM: The Bento and Doughnut could frame your future self goals to obtain something. Climate change, let’s say if that was a goal that you picked, the Bento might give you day-to-day instructions like walk or take my bike instead of drive my car. It’s a simple way to execute towards achieving climate control on an individual and a smaller “Us” basis. Hopefully that would trickle over, because people that you were around would see you doing something different, inquire about your new behaviors, and maybe they would adopt them as well. How do I make the world a better place? Where do I start? Practically speaking, you could pick one of those eight boundaries, and then use the Bento to make your daily habits essentially match one of those, or three of them or however many you think you could handle.

CECILIA: I cut and pasted the UN SDGs and layered them on top of the Doughnut. It’s interesting, what parts are the goals compared to what’s represented in the Doughnut. Most things are in the middle.

YANCEY: One idea I had combining the Bento and the Doughnut is that we don’t want to have an unhealthy center in our Bentos. We don’t want to fall below the social floor, we need enough water and food to survive. Perhaps there’s a similar idea in each dimension of the bento: there is some minimum level of now me necessities you need a minimum level of community, etc. If you overshoot one of those things, you become too selfish or too Now Me oriented, which is also problematic.

SHARON RICHMOND: The opportunity I see is that the Doughnut is quite abstract, but it’s possible to simplify it into a combination of stories and specific small actions and popularize those small actions so that individuals can make small daily choices or large daily choices that can shift us in this direction.