What if we could step out of the culture of blame and victimhood into a reality that gave us freedom and agency to pursue our dreams? What if there was a way out of the isolation and the polarization that so many of us find ourselves in towards authentic connection with others, across all divisions and borders? What if we lived in a world that revolved around quality of life rather than economic winners and losers? 

In Person to Person, Joeri and Pim describe this world and they chart a clear path towards it. Grounded in research and rooted in reality, the world they describe is neither a utopia nor a fantasy. Person to Person presents an environment that incentivizes goodness, fairness and sustainability, freedom and it begins with the individual and then moves towards our collaborative relationships. 

Finally, Person to Person proposes a financial environment that would enable this quality-of-life world to flourish, one that is already underway. Here’s my conversation with Joeri and Pim.

Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Benji Block and today, I am honored to be joined by Joeri and Pim, new friends of mine. They’ve just authored a new book, the title of the book is Person to Person: Change Your Life and Fix the World. I love that title. Joeri, Pim, welcome to Author Hour.

Pim Ampe: Thank you, Benji.

Joeri Torfs: Thanks, thanks for having us.

Benji Block: Let’s start here — and Pim, maybe you can jump in here first. Just give a little bit of some background for each of you and the work you do and maybe the lead-up to this book.

Pim Ampe: Okay, I would describe ourselves as observers both in a different field. I’m educated as a drama therapist and so I mainly work in mental healthcare and welfare with clients — clients as well as with the staff who work with the clients. Besides that, I of course have other roles like being a mom or godmother, a friend, and all those things.

Joeri from his side, he’s an entrepreneurial spirit. I would call him a rebel with a cause to make this place a better place and he is very intrigued by how technology can enable that together with the human side, that is more my field of interest. So that’s a bit of who we are, the both of us, and how we combined our interests and skills in writing this book.

Benji Block: Joeri, tell me why was now the right time to actually take on a project like this with other things that you guys are doing? Writing a book is no small thing, so why was now the right time to write a book?

Pim Ampe: Because I think, with us, a lot of people can experience that the world is going to a wrong place, a difficult place. There are a lot of people suffering and experiencing difficulties and as we see ourselves as small readers in the bigger whole, we thought it might be a good time to explore how we as humans, with the help of technology, are able to bring different solutions, new solutions to this world, enabling us to make it a better world more centered around human values as in our current world, we experience that it’s mainly centered around economic values, the hard values like efficiency or yield and cost and benefits.

We thought it was the right moment to reflect on it and explore how we could do things different, how we could focus more on quality of life, so that’s why we thought this is a great time to get involved with that.

Rethink Your Life

Benji Block: I wonder for this book, for Person to Person, when you think of who you want to pick up this book and read it, who is your ideal reader? Who do you think will find this book most interesting?

Pim Ampe: As we’re hopeful people, we hope that youngsters have the ideals and then the good spirit to commit to life and invest their energy and their efforts to make this place a better place for them and all generations following. I think young people, late teenagers, beginning 20s but also experienced people that can bring their life experience and skills and exchange with younger people.

In the first instance, I would say youngsters and then again, I would suggest everyone to get involved.

Benji Block: Yeah, I love that. I would love to know just one more kind of behind-the-scenes question here before we jump into some of the content but I loved that you balanced all of your research and all the information that you provide in the book, also with a story format with some characters. You have these characters Jake, Leon, Lana, and Alex, these fictional college students.

How did you come up with that to want to balance some story, also, with all this information and research you both had collected?

Pim Ampe: Well, in the way towards writing the book, we experienced when we exchanged about the content with people, they often get confused or they didn’t really get the point or we mainly experience that we failed in explaining our concepts in an accessible way. As we both have four adult children, a young 20 years, we thought, why not reflect on how they deal with things, how they exchange information, and try to translate it to their context. 

We had, of course, the great pleasure of working with Greta Myers who is an excellent writer and she has so much imagination and abilities to translate it in an accessible way. So she mainly invested her energy in describing the narrative whilst she listen to the content that we provided. So it was our intent to make it accessible, that’s why we integrated the narrative in a book that includes a lot of research and theory.

Benji Block: Let’s dive into some of the content here and feel free, both of you can kind of ping back and forth if you have things that you want to add. But you talk a lot about thinking outside the box and in fact, kind of throwing out all the boxes, right? Starting with what you could perceive as people’s primary needs. For both of you, what were the origins of those conversations? What’s the origin of the passion for both of you around this work?

Joeri Torfs: I think it actually started in the side of friends where I grew up as a kid. We went on a stroll and discovered some very beautiful properties and very — locations that gave you such an energy when you were there but they were totally abandoned and in a very bad shape and that made us think about if everything that we see around us is always focused only on economic results, yeah, gains and it’s only about investment opportunities or not and things appear and disappear based on if you can make a buck out of it or not.

We are so far away from the quality of life that we experienced like walking around in those locations and this actually was the starting point of the whole story, trying to figure out how we can we look at things differently and so differently that we can put humans first and put quality of life first.

Obviously, while doing that kind of move required us to, it was much more than thinking outside of the box, it was really rethinking the very basics of why we do things and how we do things and then trying to figure out a different way of doing it. Apparently, the good thing is that we were not alone down this path, so a lot of people have already worked on parts of the puzzle, and while we kind of combined those. 

Benji Block: I wonder as you’re going down this road, you see this gap and I think many sense and feel that are listeners — I know I do — I sense that gap between where we are and what it would look like to put people first or to live from this quality-of-life space. What did you come to find were the primary needs that we as people have and how do we kind of begin to lean into those things?

Pim Ampe: I think when we talk about box one of the boxes is the competitive spirit of that we’re in these days and we thought, we don’t think, we only see the results in the world is that it makes people sick. So we thought, what could be an incentive for people to engage again in their own health and their own happiness.

How could we enable people to rethink their lives because I think that’s necessary. We have to rethink our lives and change our mindsets for us to be able to change anything. We started researching on what does help us make, cultivate quality of life and there are different parts in it that are important. It’s that we not only understand quality of life as being happy, it’s more about being able to deal with the challenges that life offers us.

It’s about growing resilience in dealing with difficulties. It more depends on being in a state of a good spirit and that’s the mindset part but it also involves our behaviors. It helps when we realize ourselves that we are capable, we as humans, we are capable to do things, a lot of things. In that way, quality of life is also a dynamic thing. It’s actionable, it’s about feeling fulfillment about feeling satisfaction, or a sense of control over how you steer your life and that’s what we want to try [to] help people see that happiness or quality of life is both objective and subjective. 

It is about the circumstances that we’re in, of course, but it is also about how we approach life, how we give ourselves the opportunities to impact our own lives and with that, the lives of others of course. Yeah, I think that’s what we found valuable enough to deal with others and to bring in the book.

Finding the Balance

Benji Block: Yeah, I loved the quote here and I’ll read it but you guys say, “The ingredients for robust quality of life is a defined core purpose, core values, abundance in each of the life domains,” which you go into detail in those core areas and then freedom to pursue one’s goals and personal agency to self-steer towards those aims, which self-steer. I love the language there and I love your writing there but I think those ingredients are so well-defined in the book. 

I really appreciate it and we’ll talk about this for a second here but where my brain went automatically was to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and I’m sure, for many, that’s what we grew up with, right? It’s like, this is what’s familiar to us but then, we’re still left in a space of wanting where we’re going, “Well, why are we still so unhappy? What’s missing?”

You can climb that and still find yourself in a place where you’re going, “Man, there is something clearly missing here” and you lay out numerous, helpful examples that show how quality of life is constrained in certain ways by whether it’s systems or power plays, fear, greed. Would you talk about a few of the things that you feel like are in the way or are getting in the way of, and kind of constraining our current quality of life?

Pim Ampe: I believe that we have to be more dialectical. I think if we get out of balance, if we only approach one side of the balance, we have to try to integrate both sides of the balance. If we’re aiming for quality of life, we should also be willing to deal with struggles in life to take good care of ourselves and our loved ones and our community to be able to identify tensions and make them worthwhile to discuss so we have to learn how to communicate with each other. 

We should be mindful of how we deal with our resources in life and I think there are many facets or aspects in life that we take for granted or maybe we’re not enough conscious or aware about them but they all help us cultivate quality of life. That’s why we introduced the different live domains to give people more agency that it doesn’t mean if you’re out of — if you don’t have a job that life cannot be meaningful because you can take up on a role in community and build meaningful relationships in voluntary work, for example, or it doesn’t mean if you’re sick that you’re — you cannot be happy in other domains and maybe you are talented in something and you share it with others and you find meaning in doing that.

With the introduction of the live domains, we want people to become more aware of all their abilities and all the different domains in which they can impact their own quality of life or to which they can contribute in and by doing so, increase the quality of life of others.

Joeri Torfs: There is actually research that shows that — to relate to your question about the pyramid of Maslow, where it doesn’t actually matter where you are on that pyramid if you balance your life domains, someone who is at the lowest levels can experience actually more quality of life than someone who has only — well, the most superfluous things to think about. So it’s actually, you can go to the different levels of your pyramids, each time, looking at your eight live domains and trying to find the right balance that helps you personally, where you want to put the emphasis.

Benji Block: I love that because I think it becomes applicable to all of us, right? We don’t put it off to the future because the life domains is something that we’re all experiencing right now and can lean into. While a lot of the image that you paint here, when we start talking about how we would maybe change things at a more systemic level or at a larger scale I should say, one of the things that I think people will — even I was internally going I don’t know if this is pushback but it’s just the way that my brain was thinking and you guys did a good job of considering this.

My question would be, does everyone have to kind of wake up in a sense to this new way of doing life and doing work at the same time — because if we want to see systems change and we want to see all of that, then what happens when there’s people that are incentivized in the box way of thinking, right — how do we begin to be the change when a lot of our systems or a lot of the things around us also feel so much bigger than us and we can actually change them? 

Pim Ampe: It’s certainly a question that we ask ourselves as well and that we’re get asked a lot but one thing that’s very important to realize is that systems don’t exist, people are the system. We built the system by expressing behaviors and making choices and how small they might seem to you, they can make a difference. I think it is about scaling up if we become aware of our ability to change something in our microsystem as a family or even much smaller in how we take care of ourselves and be mindful of what we need to be happy or to function or to be — yeah, experience wellbeing. 

If we do that and we scale it up, then it’s something that we bring emotion. So we often refer in the book as our person-to-person environment as being a “Heterotopia” and Heterotopia is like a place where things are different. We are not suggesting people to throw away everything that’s familiar or that they know, we are just suggesting that if all of us makes small changes, a lot of change might evolve from that. Yeah, being aware that you are the system and you’re part of the system gives you agency to steer. 

Benji Block: Absolutely and it creates a ripple effect. So I wonder and this is going to be a bit of a loaded question but, if you were boiling down some of your work on how to better cultivate collaboration so that this can begin to be bigger than just us, right? What do you see as some of those most important things that we need to understand? 

Pim Ampe: Well, we were highly inspired by the work of Elinor Ostrom, the economist, who wrote a lot about her core design principles and those are principles that you can use to inform the way you collaborate with each other and Paul Atkins also played with her information and with the things that she brought to the world and he made it even more accessible by using the acceptance and commitment therapy to make it accessible and doable for people. 

So we got inspired by that but we mingle it or mix it with a lot of other tools to help people deal with conflicts, to help people to be aware of their needs but also consider the needs of others, how they deal with money and how they distribute responsibilities and all those things, how do they deal with decision making. When we put all that information together, we came up with the idea of building a collaborative agreement. 

You can refer to it as a contract but we see it more as a shared agreement that you built together, consciously knowing who you are and what you bring to the table and getting to know each other and with that collaborative agreement, you find a lot of support in how you can better collaborate in a more sustainable way. If we could do that in our families or in our classrooms or at our workplaces, in our sports communities then that ripple that you mentioned will only get bigger and then we will reach a positive impact. I am sure of that, we just need the people. 

Benji Block: That’s right, it is all about people. I love the collaboration piece and commitment is a big part of that. We’ll get to finance here in a second but I will quote you here. You say, “Given that a person-to-person environment deliberately does away with organizational structures and hierarchies, the only thing that ensures groups will function in a productive healthy way is each group member’s commitment made at the beginning of the entire process.” 

Now I want to talk about just fostering commitment for a second because you do a lot of work there. Explain and even give us some examples of what it might look like but talk to us a bit about commitment and what that looks like in this model. 

Pim Ampe: For that, I want to get back to my background as a behavioral therapist. I was mainly inspired by Marsha Linehan, who evolved from struggling with a mental disorder to being a doctor and bringing helpful matters to the world. She herself proved how you can use your own information and experience to contribute something worthy to the world and she did that as her driving force to do that was to commit to life. 

She needed a meaning a reason for herself to commit to life and she thought why not turn my negative experience into something meaningful otherwise it doesn’t make sense to endure it. I found that a very helpful example to think about commitment what makes it worthwhile for you to invest your effort in something and if we all dive deep in our hearts and souls and think about that then I think that might bring a lot of beautiful results of what people are able to contribute. 

If we do it out of our heart, I believe we will have the energy to do it even when it’s hard or when it’s difficult or we get push-back from others. The heart is a powerful instrument so that is what I wanted to contribute about commitment but, maybe Joeri want to add something. 

Joeri Torfs: This is definitely more your turf more than mine but I think that it is important to and maybe I am stating the obvious here but to me, command and control is an illusion. It’s the thing when you think you have things under control and when you think that you can dictate how something has to evolve you are making something up for yourself. It’s like an illusion for you and I think the only real thing here is agency and freedom and the power to act but this also comes with responsibility obviously because then you have to — you are not alone on the planet. 

There is a lot of people to deal with and so I think if you remove every kind of power play, then the only way to commit to something or the only way to do something with others is to commit to bring yourself and say, “Okay, I want to bring this to the table” and those are my, let’s say, requirements for having a fulfilling collaboration and if everyone does that, then we’re no longer pretending to know what is going on. 

Then we bring ourselves to the table and I think that’s the key ingredient here and it is so important in the collaborative agreement, we even have in collaboratives, which are the forms that we think people are going to work in this kind of model. We even have the commitment session specifically dedicated to like talking things through because tensions arise and people are people and they have their flaws and that’s like perfectly normal. 

But if as long as everyone who is on the table commits to being there, then they will do the work and then it will make it work and the moment you feel you are no longer committed to whatever you are doing with that group, then well it is not about firing, it is about — you know, then you just leave because that’s the end of your road at that point and I think that is a very different way of thinking about working together. 

The Contribution Sessions

Benji Block: Well, if we are going to foster a collaborative environment, you spend the third section then of the book talking about how finance plays a large role in making this kind of future possible and you have a quote and I’ll read it here, “Collaborative finance affirms contribution and effort as having their own inherent worth. It seeks to expand access and equity and it looks to build person-to-person connections across the globe to increase the efficiency and personability of financial transactions.” 

I thought that what might be the best in this, for this section was be just to give us an example of what this might look like or how this plays itself out. 

Joeri Torfs: I think finance is obviously very large and complicated thing and we tend to oversimplify it and we reduce it to money and I think [that’s] the wrong thing because it’s way more than just money or let’s say differently, money came to be as a solution for all kinds of problems we had in the past and I am talking about thousands or ten thousands of years in the past.

We kind of made up this thing that would help us and we kind of anchored a whole other stuff on that but along the way, we forgot what actually were those different parts that represent our need way more than the solution we came up with. We only look at the solution we came up with and we try to make it better and we obviously are hitting a thing there and so from our perspective and that’s what we describe in the book, we start with when you work together on something then you produce effort. 

We want to contribute out of their own volition and this yields, let’s say, in a comparative amount of effort that sums up to 100% and so effort for us is expressed in collaborative points. It has nothing to do with money, it has to do with how my effort relates to your effort and to the effort of someone else. So that’s how we express effort but alongside effort, there is also impact and this is more like what kind of quality of life have you contributed to creating and how mindful are you of your environment and so on and that is also something that can be rewarded in a collaboration. 

Then we get to the financial part, which is also possibly divided in different parts like the very — the short term needs like “what money do we need today and this week and this month” to be able to live but also how do we plan for the longer term and how do we acquire value and so on and so forth. So this is also the decomposition and reconstruction I think of this entirety. It is also something that we have positioned in the collaborative agreement and that we have given a place in what we call the “Contribution Sessions”. 

Which is a place in which people also very openly and built on the different steps that we described earlier, really get this running. Obviously, there is also something like you would say that you are sure and why didn’t someone come up with that way earlier and I think people did come up with that way earlier and we’re definitely not inventing stuff here. I think what enables is today, is the technology that is being created now and so, especially everything that is blockchain-related, allows us to imagine systems that no longer require intrinsic trust between people while collaborating. I think that’s very important missing piece of the puzzle for many years.

Benji Block: Man, I feel like in 30 minutes as an interviewer, I can’t do a book of the amount of research you guys have. There’s just so many follow-up questions, I can’t do it justice but I love what you have both put together and I am so appreciative of the time you’ve taken to give us a bit of a peek behind the curtain here. Let me finish with this, when a reader is done with this book and they put it down and they’ve read all the content, what do you hope that the main takeaway is, maybe it’s an action item or a feeling but what do you hope that they walk away from this book with?

Pim Ampe: I would love that people find abilities to arrange themselves in such a way that their self-interest leads to better outcomes for all and leading to more equality, leading to greater quality of life or more environmental sustainability or even experiencing more passion and fulfillment, that would be great and it would be great that they felt the power to start an evolution or maybe even a revolution.

Joeri Torfs: Yeah, a revolution.

Pim Ampe: Yeah, that would be nice.

Benji Block: Joeri, what about you?

Joeri Torfs: Yeah, I totally agree. To me, it’s about I would be very happy if people — if we somehow managed to help people see the cracks in the wall, and that would already be something very good. I think that there is a lot of power and there is a lot of agency to be taken. We’ve been led astray and we’ve been led to believe that we are not able to change things and if there’s one hope for me with people reading the book is that they see that if you get rid of the boxes and you really think from a purely human perspective, that there are a lot of opportunities and a lot of ways. We in a way, we try to — we do not present a solution here, we do not present a framework or a method or tool or whatever. The only thing we present is, a view of an environment of how it could be different.

Benji Block: Well, it has been an honor to talk with both of you. I know there would be listeners that would like to connect with you further or see some of your work. What are the best ways for people to do that and to stay connected with you?

Joeri Torfs: I think that the main entry point would be the website which is, the Quality of Life World website and it’s https://qol.world.

Pim Ampe: But maybe, if they already read the book, they will have find the QR codes in the book that will direct them directly to the website and to the Discord platform where they can build community or where they can ask questions for us to be answered or to specify. We hope that some interaction will come from this book. Our intention was to inspire and light a fire and then get people moving. I think the website, the QR codes, but they can also find us on LinkedIn.

Joeri Torfs: On twitter.

Pim Ampe: Voila.

Benji Block: That’s fantastic and I love the idea of the QR code, it’s an easy way for people to go from the book format to the website format and I’ll read the title of the book here one more time, we want to encourage all of our listeners, you can go buy the book on Amazon. But the book is titled, Person to Person: Change Your Life and Fix the World. Joeri, Pim, thank you so much for being on Author Hour, it was a pleasure.

Pim Ampe: Thank you, Benji, for hosting us.

Joeri Torfs: Thank you, Benji.

Pim Ampe: And very nice to be here tonight or in your morning maybe.

Benji Block: Love it.