How Do You Organize for Collaborative Action?

How does one organize for collaborative action?  It seems that only a small percentage of lots of attempts at collaboration are being successful.

Sometimes people naturally segregate, with each one basically doing his or her own thing, singing their own song.  Sometimes people flock, flowing as individuals somewhat together, singing the same song.  And, sometimes people become a whole that brings out their individual best, creating a harmonic through a specific synthesis of their unique voices.  Three very different ways in which people interact: (1) segregating; (2) flocking; (3) uniting.

Does the difference matter?  As people we tend to organize our interactions to increase our ability to achieve greater impact, resilience, and creativity with a more engaging experience.  People seem to find these characteristics critical to being able to work together, and to being able to achieve movement on large-scale social issues.

What drives this difference in how people come together?  Whether they segregate, flock, or unite?  Current theories suggest this is driven by an endowment effect, leadership, or luck.  The endowment effect suggests that the difference is because of something special the people have—they are smarter, wealthier, better educated, more experienced.  The leadership effect suggests that an individual or group was able to envision and engage people in a specific form of interaction.  The luck effect suggests it just happened somehow.  Each of these three is hard to replicate.

Is there another, simpler explanation of why people tend to segregate, flock, or unite?  Maybe complexity theory can show us something.  Complexity theory looks for the simplest explanation: what is the simplest set of rules that guide the behavior of an individual can explain the observed social behavior when many individuals interact?  Can a high variety of behaviors be better explained by (1) complexity in the way 3-4 simple principles intermingle or by (2) the complicated number of ways in which a wide breadth of number of variables with a depth of details interact?  Complexity theory has shown that bird flocking can be explained by 3 principles: keep in the same general direction of the others; keep some separation from the others; and do not run into anything.  Ant trails can be explained by 4 principles: take a couple of small steps and turn; smell for pheromones; follow pheromone trail to food (where pheromones get weaker); drop pheromones on way home (where pheromones get stronger).

Likewise, maybe complex human behavior can be explained by 4 simple principles—how people consciously or unconsciously answer four big questions:

  1. How much is there (Economic)
  2. Who decides and enforces (Political)
  3. What criteria (Cultural)
  4. What rules (Social)

Can we explain the 3 observed behaviors with specific kinds of responses to these four questions?

  1. Segregating. Assume scarcity of resources—there is not enough—with one primary relationship deciding and enforcing (like the boss for the whole group), focusing on the outcomes to be achieved with the scarce resources in a way that satisfies the primary relationship (in this case, the boss).  Designed to separate, interactions are transactional, to improve one’s own health and growth.  Get people to do the jobs required to achieve the outcomes through their own specific tasks.  Each replaceable person is made to focus on doing only their own part.  These tend to be the principles when you find dozens to hundreds of small groups each working on their own part of what seems to be a higher principle, like how to reform education or health care.
  2. Flocking. While assuming sufficiency of resources – there can be enough for me and for you – primarily for your own self or your own group, pay attention to your relationship with others, moving generally in the same direction, toward a similar outcome, focusing on how being aware of others can help move you towards the desired outcomes.  Designed to flock, interactions are relational, working on one’s own together.  Everyone focuses on doing their part, as it relates to others.
  3. Uniting. Assume abundance of resources – in relationship to the potential and dynamics of systems of resources, there is enough for all – with vibrant relationships for self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  Designed to collaborate, focus on the interaction of the unique contributions each person makes to their own development and to the whole, as it tangibilizes the available potential.

What outcomes are we seeing?  With segregation-based principles, paying attention only to one’s own outcomes, individual efforts are able to achieve moderate levels of impact, usually with low resilience to the ever-changing environment.  Seeming success comes in spite of the huge costs of scarcity of not paying attention to others, creativity, and potential.

Many people are well aware of this experience, and experiment with flocking-based principles, where they share information with others, and attempt to work generally in the same direction.  We find through cooperative coordination these efforts are able to achieve more significant impacts with a bit more resilience, as long as each of the involved groups is also successful.

We are also finding groups working with uniting-based principles, who are able to continuously bring out the best in each other, constantly exploring each other’s individual and collective potential, resilient in shifting with the ever-changing environment, often generating those changes.

We are trying these principles ourselves.  Most of our work at Vibrancy focuses on taking on collaborative efforts based on uniting principles, whether large-scale social change, such as regional food systems, complementary currencies, toxic-free economies, retrofitting regions, or small-scale, community-based efforts, such as schools, companies, government agencies, or local communities.  We are learning about how to apply these principles in a wide variety of settings.

We synthesize what we are finding about co-hosting collaboration in the O Process, where highest impact resilience starts with the “we” available in a shared deeper purpose, then clarifies what specific voices are needed to make unique contributions to achieve the deeper purpose.  We can then understand together where to dedicate our individual and collective efforts to achieve the outcomes we desire collectively and individually within the resilient dynamics of the system of our interactions.  It turns out to be much easier than most of us think, once we shift the principles guiding our interactions.  From separating principles, we can only move alone, never together.  That would be impossible, blue-sky thinking.  From flocking principles, we can only move with others, never united.  That would be impossible, soft and fuzzy process.  From uniting, we can achieve our own health and growth, in relationship with others who are also contributing with us to what we want.

Is Your Awful Day Better Than My Okay Day? — The Hills and Valleys of Human Agreements — Seemingly Similar Terrain, Different Map

plSometimes we have great days, sometimes okay days, and sometimes downright awful days.  Most of us seem to experience all three.  Some experience more great days, others more okay days, and others more awful days.  When we experience great, okay, or awful days, we experience similar realities, right?  Our emerging picture of the social topography of human agreements suggests that maybe we are not all having the same experience at each of these levels: maybe these are very different experiences.

We have started to map the terrain of human agreements, along with the experience, impact, and resilience achievable at each level of this terrain, from valleys to hills.  We can simplify this terrain with 4 levels: the top of the hill, the middle of the hill, the bottom of the hill or on the plain, and the valley.  These four levels correlate with the four levels of vibrancy.

  1. At the top of the hill, people describe a very engaging, energizing experience of high vibrancy in all five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit), usually achieving very resilient and high impact.
  2. In the middle of the hill, people describe an engaging, often energizing experience of vibrancy in most of the primary relationships, usually achieving quite resilient and effective impact.
  3. At the bottom of the hill or on the plain, people describe experiencing oscillating between somewhat engaging and somewhat disengaging, with some vibrancy in a couple of the primary relationships, achieving some impact for their effort.
  4. In the valley, people describe a very disengaging experience of quite low vibrancy in all five primary relationships, usually achieving some impact only with extra effort.

Same experience?  Four levels, all experienced in the same way?  From most of what we read these days and the from the descriptions of most people we meet, it would seem that the description of these four levels of engagement, experience, resilience, and impact is the same; different degrees of overcoming scarcity and being able to engage people, towards greater impact and resilience.  We have found, however, two completely different descriptions of what is happening at these four levels.  It seems to depend on your starting point: scarcity or abundance.  It turns out that the world looks very different at each of these four levels depending on the map you are using–a map based in scarcity or a map based in abundance.  Let’s see what the two different maps show us about these four levels of the topography of human agreements.

Starting from scarcity, we tend to find three levels described.

  1. The first is the “normal” state of affairs, disengaged, highly ineffective people who lack motivation and need to be managed so that they can be more efficient in their contribution to the group effort.  This would correspond with the valley experience.  From this perceptive, there is not much there.  No motivation, no special capacities, and the need for a high degree of management of interchangeable people.
  2. An improvement on this typical level comes when one moves up out of the valley onto the plain or the bottom of the hill.  Here people tend to bring some basic capacities, are able to work side by side amicably, sometimes being more engaged and achieving higher efficiencies.  From this perspective, people bring more capacities to the game and are able to make better contributions.  Some motivation, strong capacities, and the need for coordination among efforts.
  3. The top of this game comes when one moves up to the middle of the hill, where people tend to cooperate much more, working together to achieve more together than they can apart.  Here people tend to bring great skills and experience with a thirst for learning and cooperation, energized and engaged, working hard to achieve much greater impact and often quite a bit more resilient to the changes life throws at the group.  From this rather-rare perspective, there is a lot there, ready to contribute dynamically to the task at hand.

Starting from abundance, we also find three levels described.

  1. The first is the “normal” state of affairs, highly committed people coming together in service of a deeper shared purpose, bringing their best, unique contributions every day.  This is their normal day, just showing up as they are, creative, committed human beings wanting to make their contribution to something beautiful that they care about deeply.  From this level, which corresponds with the top of the hill, leadership focuses on co-hosting, supporting everyone in bringing their best every day together.  The abundant potential available through each person and through their interactions is evident to all.
  2. And sometimes life throws a curveball and people forget to be at their best, and they forget or fall asleep to their own unique gifts and those of others.  In the middle of the hill, these people describe how they are usually aware of the group’s deeper purpose and of each other’s gifts, and they often tend to focus more on what is happening in the moment than on the possibilities each other is seeing in the moment.  Less on how to collaboratively realize a common potential and more on the process for achieving what was seen.  Still lots of possibility, with more focus on how to manifest it.
  3. Then there are the times when everything seems to fall apart.  It is hard to say connected to the potential and to the shared inquiry.  This bottom-of-the-hill experience might focus more on just getting the job done, on just moving forward.  It is often difficult, because while still aware of the others, their needs, and the group’s deeper shared purpose, the experience oscillates between somewhat vibrant and somewhat not vibrant.  Here it is hard to see the potential and unique contributions the people know are there.  Still lots of potential available, it is just harder to see and harder to connect to.

Two different maps, each with three different “typical” levels.  And completely different realities. Whether the human-agreements map you carry is scarcity or abundance-based seems to completely change the reality you experience.

  • For the scarcity map, normal starts in the valley and great effort is expended to get up the hill.  When energy to push up the hill fails, the resting position is back in the valley.  It also seems that push as hard as you want, when starting from scarcity in the valley, you can only get up to the middle of the hill.
  • For the abundance map, normal starts at the top of the hill.  As life happens and people “fall asleep, they can slip down to the middle or bottom of the hill, but life from this perspective, when someone wakes back up, will pull them back to the resting point at the top of the hill.  From this perspective, it seems that the lowest position normally experienced is the bottom of the hill, not the valley.

So, it seems that we all can have great days, okay days, and awful days.  And, it seems, we can mean completely different things by them, because we are experiencing completely different geographies of what is “normal” and of what is available at each level of the topography.

Orbiting or Crash and Burn — Belief-planets and the Gravitational Pull of Coherence

We stick with many things because they seem to work.  Or because that is just the way it is.  That is the hand of cards you were dealt, so stop whining, join in, and play. If and when we even try to rise above the daily slog and question why–why we play by these rules, if I don’t like the experience or outcome–the world’s response slaps us back down to the ground.  If we try and try, again and again, the response gets stronger and stronger, experienced eventually as a crash and burn.  Gravity wins.  In this case, the strength of the argument that slaps us back down is in its coherence, the way it holds together and the way it corresponds with our experience.  “See.  Here is the evidence.  This is the way life really works.  And, because of that, this is also true.  See.  It works.”  This internally consistent story is very hard to argue with, thus the crashing back to the ground.

And, the experience of the questioning mixed with the experience of a crashing back down might also be indicating not that gravity always wins, rather that you haven’t risen high enough to get into outer orbit.  Gravity wins; until it doesn’t.

In recent reading on a different topic, I came across a really helpful characterization of this phenomenon, described by a writer I have cited a few times recently, for the ideas that he has sparked in me.  So, while he applies this idea to another context, I thought his description was so well written, that I would rather cite it in full than try to paraphrase it.  In The Big Picture (2016), a theoretical physicist at Cal Tec, Sean Carroll writes:

No analogy is perfect, but the planets-of-belief metaphor is a nice way to understand the view known in philosophical circles as coherentism. According to this picture, a justified belief is one that belongs to a coherent set of propositions.  This coherence plays the role of the gravitational pull that brings together dust and rocks to form real planets.  A stable planet of belief will be one where all the individual beliefs are mutually coherent and reinforcing.

Some planets are not stable.  People go through life with a a very large number of beliefs, some of which may not be compatible with others, even if they don’t recognize it.  We should think of planets of belief as undergoing gradual but constant churning, bringing different beliefs into contact with one another, just as real planets experience convection in the mantle and plate tectonics near the surface.  When two dramatically incompatible beliefs come into direct contact, it can be like highly reactive chemicals being mixed together, leading to an impressive explosion–possibly even blowing the entire planet apart, until a new one can be reassembled from different parts.

Ideally, we should be constantly testing and probing our planets of belief for inconsistencies and structural deficiencies.  Precisely because they are floating freely through space, rather than remaining anchored on solid and immovable ground, we should always be willing to improve our planets’ old beliefs and replacing them with better ones…The real problem is that we can imagine more than one stable planet–there can be multiple sets of beliefs that are consistent within the sets, but not among them (117-118).

Is the scarcity-only-based planet-of-beliefs the only experience we have?  Or is there another planet-of-belief forming, one based in abundance also?  What will it take to rise high enough to orbit one, to see the other?

The Memetic Code of an Agreements Field

Juanita has worked for two years with a high-performing, very engaging team developing website ads for local nonprofits.  She is very comfortable in the creative processes and high-participation expectations of this team.  She has worked hard and really enjoyed it.  Over the summer, she is recruited to a new company and asked to join a new team.  This team achieves much lower performance and is less engaging, with a strong hierarchy where people are expected to follow directions and only speak up when asked to do so.  Will Juanita’s disposition to higher performance and engagement bring greater vibrancy, performance, and outcomes to the team or will the team’s lower engagement, outcomes, and vibrancy win out?

It turns out that Paul was recruited over the summer by Juanita’s previous company.  While Paul was very comfortable working on a low vibrancy team with poor performance and low engagement, he was asked to join the high-performing team that Juanita used to work on.  Will Paul’s disposition to lower engagement and results lower the team’s vibrancy, performance, and outcomes or will the team’s higher vibrancy win out?

In these two examples, we are looking at the agreement disposition of both the individual and the team.  Which one dominates?

We can provide hypotheses for both.  Clearly an individual predisposed to greater engagement and performance can inspire a team to higher performance in a more engaging way.  Or, clearly the team culture provides the stronger influence on what is possible.  That we can argue either way, individuals dominate groups or groups dominate individuals, makes it an exploratory question.  We don’t know the answer, and it could go either way.

Under which conditions does the higher vibrancy disposition dominate?  When does the individual disposition dominate?  The group disposition?  To assess these questions, we can assess the agreement-field memetic code of both individuals and the collective, and see how the agreement field evolves on a fitness landscape, where fitness is assessed by the outcomes (impact resilience) and experience (harmonic vibrancy).

First of all, if we start with the assumption of Homo lumens, then we assume that every person has the potential to experience all levels of harmonic vibrancy.

Second, the agreement field that an individual or a group is most comfortable with–they know how it works and how to interact successfully in it–is distributed over a range of lower to higher vibrancy and agreements.  They usually function at one level, some times at a higher level, and occasionally at a lower level.  We can label the higher as (P)otential, the middle as (L)ikely, and the lower as (C)ollapsed.

These three levels are probable states of the individual’s or group’s agreement field.  Over time, one can assess the probability of the agreement field being experienced in its (P)otential, (L)ikely, or (C)ollapsed state.  We might find that Juanita’s group experiences the (P)otential level 20% of the time, (L) 65%, and (C) 15%.  Or that Paul experiences P 8% of the time, L 87%, and C 5%. We could then say Juanita’s team’s agreement field probability is 0.2P/0.65L/0.15C, and Paul’s is 0.8P/0.87L/0.5C.  This is a rough estimate of the distribution of experience states available to Juanita and Paul’s teams.

We can then map the level of agreements that are (P)otential, (L)ikely, and (C)ollapsed.  Each of the 4 lenses can be characterized along a 9-point continuum, from low to high.  The Economic Lens of how much varies from levels 1, 2, and 3 of scarcity to 4, 5, and 6 of sufficiency to 7, 8, 9 of abundance.  The Political lens of who decides, likewise varies from 1-3 of one primary relationship to 4-6 of multiple relationships to 7-9 of all 5 relationships.  The Culture lens of what criteria varies from 1-3 of low vibrancy, 4-6 of medium, and 7-9 of high vibrancy.  The Social lens of what rules varies from 1-3 of melody of one voice to 4-6 of chord of multiple voices to 7-9 of harmonic.  We then have an agreement field distribution for the individual or group. (See Paul’s in the table below.)

Pauls Table 081516post

While Homo lumens ultimately has the whole spectrum available to be experienced, knowing how to interact within a specific set of agreements seems to be distributed across a narrower normal range.  This assumption remains to be tested.

This agreement-field memetic code assessment will allow us to see what happens when an individual or a group is exposed to a memetic code of higher performance and vibrancy.

Vibrancy Is A Choice Checklists — Re-membering Abundance-based Agreements

You invite some colleagues to work together with you on something you feel is really important. Knowing you, your passion, and what they can contribute, they enthusiastically say yes. You come together for the first time.  For the first 2 hours, the vibe is electric and the pulse is quickening. Then something shifts, and some people seem unclear about the process, they quickly start to disengage. Trying to re-engage the group, someone has an idea and proposes a different, “more engaging” process. A couple of the others agree, and feeling a little lost you agree. After all, you trust everyone in the room. A few minutes later, you notice a few others starting to check out. One of them calls for a brief point of clarification. The enthusiasm starts to breakdown quickly, accelerating into a collapse. You decide to stop the freefall, and call for a break. What happened? Great intentions, trusted colleagues, a great start, then rapid collapse. Have you ever experienced something like this? I have, frequently.

While some people I know are extraordinarily gifted at seeing what to do in these breakdowns, converting them into breakthroughs, I wonder if many times it is possible to not collapse in the first place. A book I just finished reading by a well-known surgeon who studied surgery units, airline pilots, and large-scale construction projects, proposes a simple, elegant solution–the checklist.

To align what we perceive in the world with what our best mental models suggest, I have long been a proponent of CRISP frameworks and processes. CRISP means that the frameworks and processes are designed to be obvious and how they are comprehensive, rigorous, integrative, simple, and purposeful. From this thinking emerged the GRASP, 5 primary relationships, 3 levels of perceived reality, 4 lenses, the O Process, and the Harmonic Vibrancy Move 4-step process. And yet, I continue to experience the kind of collapse I described at the beginning of this post. Enter the Vibrancy is a choice checklist.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande shows how the checklist helps highly trained experts in complex situations prevent the avoidable failures that still haunt the activities we humans organize. What would this look like for abundance-based agreements, where we still experience frequent collapse?

Gawande finds that people who have successfully used checklists with experts in complex situations often have checklists for process and for communication–what to do in what order, and who needs to talk about what and when. The point is to remember to do all of the critical steps, some of which are often forgotten in the heat of the moment. According to what Gawande found, the checklist should be designed for a specific situation. It should be short, with 5 to 9 items. The language should be simple, precise, and familiar to the professionals. And then, most importantly, it needs to be tested in a real situation. All checklists always need to be refined.

Returning to the initial situation, before we start the meeting, we can create two checklists: one for the proposed process; and one for how we want to communicate when something else emerges. While the first might initially look like an agenda for the conversation, thinking of it as a checklist gets us thinking about the most critical elements to be addressed, some of which are often forgotten, and the different perspectives on what needs to come together.  In addition to the basic process, what other assumptions do we need to be sure are clear to all and not missed, especially the ones we have experienced as being missed in the past? What roles need to be taken up, and who will take them? What are the most frequent avoidable failures that we experience? We want to make sure we address them consistently.

In processes where we are working out of abundance-based agreements, we are engaging with high complexity–high vibrancy in self, other, group, nature, and spirit, with clarity about how much we see, who decides and enforces, with what values, and how we interact, in a highly engaged, interactive group. Lots of potential, with lots of emergence, ripe for checklists.

In the next weeks, I will be sharing high-vibrancy checklists we are finding. If you have checklists for these situations, please share them with me. Vibrancy is a choice, and a checklist can help us remember how to invite, see, and honor that choice, especially when we forget.

The Whole Agreements Field Is Always Active — Sometimes Towards Purpose, Often Not

All elements in an Agreements Field are always active.  Always.  This is the picture of Homo lumens interacting with the self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  All five relationships are always there, whether consciously included or not.  The three levels of perceived reality are always there, whether they are perceived or not.  People are having an experience of less or greater vibrancy.  The interactions are resulting in outcomes, of lesser or greater impact and resilience.  The agreements, whether consciously chosen or unconsciously accepted, are there.

Agreements Field Mapping 071916a

This means that the whole experience of Homo lumens is always present.  The whole agreements map is active.  That only part of it is seen by the people interacting means that the other part is active and not seen.

AEMap 072516a

In their latest book, An Everyone CultureHarvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, suggest that most people are actually engaged in two jobs at work: (1) the contribution they are hired to make; and (2) protecting themselves.  “Imagine you’re paying a full-time wage for part-time work to every employee, every day” (p.2).

“In businesses large and small; in government agencies, schools, and hospitals; in for-profits and nonprofits, and in any country in the world, most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations.  Hiding.

We regard this as the single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day” (p.1).

In measuring the impact resilience of a set of agreements, we have identified the “costs of scarcity,” the costs of not engaging the full human being.  The costs of Kegan and Lahey’s “second job” are just the start.

Another way of understanding this is to realize that the agreements that are seen and in the group’s awareness might be aligned with the group’s deeper purpose.  Often they are not, but they might be.  Our recent research suggests that those agreements that remain unseen, that are not part of the group’s awareness, where Homo lumens is not fully engaged, are usually not aligned with the group’s deeper purpose.  While unconscious competence might generate temporary alignment sometimes, it is not resilient to perturbations in the system, which always appear.  This lack of alignment has huge costs, much greater than the costs of the second job Kegan and Lahey highlight.  People are expending energy towards a purpose other than the group’s–vast amounts of energy.

If all elements of the agreements field are always active, they are doing something.  The question is whether this activity is aligned with the intended purpose or not.  Whether it is moving the group towards the purpose or away from it.  Most, if not all, of the elements that are not consciously part of the agreements exact a huge cost.

This changes the question, from whether it would be nice to incorporate more of the learning and possibility experiences, to whether it is highly ineffective and inefficient, when interacting with human beings, to not consciously choose to incorporate all three levels of perceived reality.  The first assumes an outcomes-only reality is more real and the development and potential levels of perceived reality are nice add ons.  The second assumes that humans are always in the process of being in potential and development and tangibilization.  For the first, engaging people requires a huge investment.  For the second, not engaging people has a huge cost.  Our recent research, and that of Kegan and Lahey, suggests that the second better explains why some groups have much better experiences and impact resilience than most.  Which do you choose?

Agreements Field Mapping

You interact to have experiences and to get results. That is why you do what you do. The agreements you consciously choose or unconsciously accept define how you interact. Those agreements are based on embedded, interwoven assumptions.

Our experiences, outcomes, agreements, and assumptions form an “agreements field.”  A field is the environment in which individuals or groups interact.  This concept is widely applied in physics, and less so in the social sciences.  By an agreements field, I suggest that in looking at our experiences, outcomes, agreements, and assumptions, we are describing one entity, from multiple perspectives–one field where we can perceive the outcomes and the experience of people interacting based on conscious or unconscious agreements founded on underlying assumptions.  One field.  One agreements field.

To describe the different perspectives within the agreements field, to map the social topography of agreements fields, we have developed and globally tested a set of mapping tools.

Together these four mapping tools describe four key perspectives of an agreements field.

Our work at the Institute for Strategic Clarity now focuses on further developing and applying agreements field mapping to map the global social topography of human agreements, through the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience (MEDIR).  With our colleagues around the world, we are beginning to see that the social topography of human agreements is as varied as our earths’s geological topography. Peaks and valleys in many forms. Treasures abound. Things we have never imagined around every corner. The flatearthers of human agreements are missing out–there is a lot of treasure out there, ready for all of us to discover, marvel at, and learn from. It only takes the quest(ion) to find it.  If you are interested in contributing to this global initiative, please contact us.

Surely Everyone Else Is Disengaged in the Same Way I Am

Equally disengaged and disengaged in the same way are not the same.

Equal.  We can both be disengaged.  We can experience this directly, in our body. None of me shows up.  I feel unseen.  My voice is not needed.  We can see evidence in the residual artifacts.  Only a small percentage of the people present are talking.  If you ask, most people don’t know why they or others are in the meeting.  We can be disengaged to the same depths.  We can both experience low vibrancy in the relationship to self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  And, I suggest, we cannot, by definition, be disengaged in the same way.

Same.  Every human–Homo lumensis unique in how life is experienced, in what is specifically experienced, in why one engages and interacts the way one does.  We might share generalities (we engage physically, emotionally, intellectually) and specifics about how the generalities combine (i.e., temperaments, specific lines of intelligence).  The properties that emerge along the way make each person unique, such as our own personality and life choices.  No two humans are the same, in the particular way they each engage in life’s most important and mundane questions.

If we are equally disengaged and not the same, then I should not assume that the pathway to engage–to get out of being disengaged–is exactly the same for all of us–which usually looks like what I want for me to engage.  Then, if I want us to be engaged, I need to inquire, to find out what is happening in the experience of these others with whom I want to experience being engaged.  From that understanding, it is often quite easy to find a way to engage all of us.

Another way of understanding this is to think about what engages each person and how we experience engaged people.  If Homo lumens is already engaged, then it must look different in the unique gifts and contribution each person develops and contributes, as they tangibilize their own potential.

So maybe, nobody is disengaged in the same way I am, and a more interesting exploration might be to inquire into how we might individually engage in our unique experience together.

A Common Object-ive Is Not a Deeper Shared Purpose — How to Know the Difference

A common object-ive is completely subject-ive.

My colleagues and I find that most people who tell us that, in their group, they have a common objective they are all working towards are actually working at cross purposes, at best.  What most people call a common object-ive is completely subjective–they are actually working on their own subjective understanding of what the means and ends are.  This common object-ive is not a deeper shared purpose, and here is why the difference between a common object-ive and a deeper shared purpose matters.

To co-host collaboration, we start with uncovering, understanding, and naming the deeper shared purpose that pulls a group of people together and guides their interactions.  We are trying to find out why these people come together to work together towards something they hold together.  A common object-ive does not answer this question.

When most people say they have a common objective, they are actually saying that they are each working on something that influences the same distant object.  Group A works on building schools in poor regions, so that kids can go to school.  Group B trains bilingual teachers, so that kids from different cultures can have access to a basic education.  Group C provides free lunches as incentive to parents to let their kids go to school.  All three groups are working on a common object-ive of giving kids an education.  When the leaders of Groups A, B, and C came together, they told us that they were clearly working on the same object-ive, educating children.  And, it was clear that they were not working on a shared deeper purpose, as they were not working on these three seemingly interrelated dimensions of access to education together, as they were often not even working in the same regions of the country.  Yes, there were schools, with no teachers or students.  Or yes there were teachers, with no schools or students.  And, there were students, with no schools or teachers.  The three groups were not working on the same, deeper, shared purpose.  Working apart, from different perspectives, in different areas, towards a common object.

Seeing parts and a common object does not make a system of interrelated parts towards a common purpose.  Moving different parts at a common object is not leveraging a system of interrelated parts towards a shift in systemic behavior.  By a deeper shared purpose, we mean working together towards leveraging a system of interrelated parts to shift a systemic behavior–showing up in the same place, in a coordinated fashion, to provide schools and teachers and students with access to an education.  This coordination requires a different kind of theory of change, one that we have called a theory of impact resilience.

How do you know whether you have (1) a common object-ive or (2) a deeper shared purpose?  I suggest you immediately have three pieces of evidence you can use to triangulate to determine which you have.

  1. Language.  Start with the language of what the groups holds to be common.
    • If it is a common object-ive, it might sound like, “We work on X to get Y–building schools to educate kids.  We do W to get Z–developing bi-lingual pedagogy to give bi-lingual children access to schooling.”  Each is working on a means to what looks like a common object.  No mention of working in a coordinated way with other means to that same ends, as a system.  For similar examples, see our Guatemala project.
    • If it is a deeper shared purpose, it might sound like, “We are working with the groups that develop all of the required dimensions of the educational system for kids in this region, all of which are necessary to provide equitable access.  We are trying to figure out together how to shift our work, together, to get a different outcome for these children, in the same place at the same time.”  For similar examples, see our Guatemala project.
  2. Experience.  Describe what it is like to work within this group.
    • If it is a common object-ive, we find that most groups describe an experience of competition amongst the different members trying to achieve the common object-ive or low levels of co-operation amongst the members–often competing to get funding from the same sources.  These often feel like the inner to middle circle of the vibrancy experience, tiring and an endless struggle.
    • If it is a deeper shared purpose, we find groups usually describing an experience of collaboration amongst the different members, inviting and inspiring each member to make their best unique contribution.  This is often described as the outer circle of the vibrancy experience, invigorating and life-giving.
  3. Expectations.  Observe what the group and the members of the group expect of each other’s contributions to the group.
    • If it is a common object-ive, we find that most groups either (a) do not have clear expectations of what you could or should contribute, or (b) see the contributions as interchangeable–if you won’t do it, we can find someone else who can.
    • If it is a deeper shared purpose, we see that most groups are very clear on why you are specifically invited to make your unique contribution to the group–you are needed and your contribution is unique and critical–you are not interchangeable with anyone else.

As you look at your own group’s “common goal,” here are three guiding questions, which frame the process we call the harmonic vibrancy move process.

  1. Do you have a shared unifying objective for the whole system?  We call this the deeper shared purpose.
  2. Do you have a shared unified theory of how all the parts fit together and influence the dynamics of the whole and how to shift the dynamics of the whole?  We call this the systemic view of why the different voices are required.
  3. Do you have a unified theory of intervention for each perspective’s best contribution to collaboratively and collectively shifting that behavior efficiently?  We called this systemic leverage.

How Likely Is It that You Are Creative?

How many times a day do you think of something new, see a different way of doing something, choose an alternate path to your destination?  That is a real question.  Think of your own experience.  Once every 7 days?  Once a day?  Twice a day?  Every hour?  All day long?

My colleagues and I observe that most people seem to be “thinking up” new ideas, new questions, new observations, new possibilities, new answers all day long.  In actuality, everyone does all of the time.  It is in our nature as human beings, whether we consciously see it or our unconscious mind automatically does it–we are constantly otherwise-attracted (what others call distracted) by a constant stream of new inputs, some of which we share, and some of which we work through.  This is what we observe, as do our colleagues who focus on creativity.

Yet, it seems that most of the organizing forms prominent today assume the exact opposite.  The recent studies on the vast majority of people who are disengaged at work suggest that people are generally not seen as fountains of creativity, rather as meat suits of employable capacities.  From this perspective, it is very unlikely that you are creative, as only very few, very special people are.  The rest are here to implement what the gifted see.  “Do as I say.”

And, as I have shared throughout this blog, we have found thousands of groups that see that it is absolutely definite that you are creative, since everyone is, all of the time.  We find that in these groups, nobody tries to motivate and nobody worries about engaging people, because people come hardwired for creativity, engagement, and motivation.

I was reminded recently of a very technical field of statistics with a very deep insight into human observation, initially developed by the Rev. Thomas Bayes in the 1700s.  Essentially, he suggested that we should see what our individual, initial beliefs are about how probable something is (our priors) and then update those beliefs with the likelihoods of confirming or disconfirming evidence.  As described by Cal Tech physicist Sean Carroll,

“When we are trying to understand what is true about the world, everyone enters the game with some initial feeling about what propositions are plausible, and what ones seem relatively unlikely.  This isn’t an annoying mistake that we should work to correct; it’s an absolutely necessary part of researching in conditions of incomplete information.  And when it comes to understanding the fundamental architecture of reality, none of us has complete information.  Prior credences are a starting point for further analysis, and it’s hard to say that any particular priors are ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ (Carroll, 2016. The Big Picture, p.79).”

“To every proposition that may or may not be true about the world, we assign a prior credence.  Each such proposition also comes with a collection of likelihoods: the chances that various other things would be true if that proposition were true.  Every time we observe new information, we update our degrees of belief (Carroll, 2016. The Big Picture, p.78).”

Applying this Bayesian insight to whether you are creative or not, you can start with your prior beliefs.  From one end of the spectrum, you can start with the belief that you are not creative, and most people are not–only a very few, special people are.  Then look for the evidence.  If you are not creative, what else would also likely be true.  What evidence do you find, with which to update your belief?  Do you find that, indeed, people around you do not have ideas and are not creative, updating your prior beliefs that people are not creative?  Or do you find that people are having ideas all of the time, whether or not they share them, thus updating your beliefs more towards the belief that people are creative?  How would you know? [Hint. You might have to ask.] From the other end of the spectrum, you can start with the prior belief that people are creative.  You can then look for evidence of the likelihood that they are indeed creative, updating your beliefs.

What do you see, from your own prior beliefs, from your own experience?