Recommended Reading — Realizing the Best Conversation Available in the Group

Ritchie-Dunham, James L., and Maureen Metcalf.  2016.  “Co-hosting: Creating Optimal Experience for Team Interactions,” Integral Leadership Review, (http://integralleadershipreview.com/15209-co-hosting-creating-optimal-experience-for-team-interactions/).

What level of conversation is available, where all participants can engage and contribute their unique perspectives?  One way of understanding this is what Terri O’Fallon calls the “roaming space.”  Extending that concept, my colleagues and I have found that there are two roaming spaces a conversation can play in: one where we find the least common denominator of shared awareness, perspectives, and language; and another where we find the highest available awareness, perspectives, and language we can share.  In the first, we find the overlap in the  awareness, perspectives, and language we share.  In the second, we access the unique awareness, perspectives, and language each person brings to the conversation.

This article highlights the five dimensions of the co-hosting roaming space and the co-hosting process for putting it in practice.

Local Peaks of Wisdom Everywhere

We tend to look to the “great ones” for wisdom about how to face particularly challenging situations.  From changing diapers to favorite recipes to schooling systems to health care.  We usually don’t know what to do when the world requires us to think afresh about what we want.  The world shifts, the old system doesn’t work as well, and we go to the “great ones,” who we usually look for in the “great places,” large mountain peaks in a very small group of places.  Global destinations.

What if the wisdom you needed was already in your own back yard?  What if you didn’t need to travel great distances to get advice that you then would have to customize to your own context?  For example, what worked for an educational system in Europe 100 years ago, or in a political system in Greece 2,400 years ago, or in an agricultural system in Egypt 5,100 years ago, or in an existing banking system in Bangladesh, or in a family down the street, will not work in the exact same way for you, here, with me.

My colleagues and I are finding that people everywhere are figuring out new ways to do things, within a very similar context to our own, every day.  They have figured it out.  They are local “great ones.”  They are everywhere.

UCLA professor Jared Diamond has observed a similar phenomenon across the globe, which he describes in his 2012 book The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?  “Traditional societies are far more diverse in many of their cultural practices than are modern industrial societies…Yet psychologists base most of their generalizations about human nature on studies of our own narrow and atypical slice of human diversity…Traditional societies in effect represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society.  They have come up with thousands of solutions to human problems, solutions different from those adopted by our own..socities…Perhaps we could benefit by selectively adopting some of those traditional practices…[While] we should also not go to the opposite extreme of romaniticizing..traditional practices..we can consider ourselves blessed to have discarded…[they] may not only suggest to use some better living practices, but may also help us appreciate some advantages of our own society that we take for granted” (8-9).

There is much to learn from the wisdom all around us, if only we could find it, understand it, and integrate it.  That is what the Global Initiative to map the social topography of human agreements is attempting to do: to help you see where the wisdom is in your own community, the local peaks.

Seeing What I Actually Know

I know what I know.  Right?  Two authors I have been reading summarize research showing that we typically are not very good at knowing what we know now or recalling what we think we knew before.

In his 1976 classic Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Columbia University professor Robert Jervis summarizes research that shows, “People often not only have a limited understanding of the workings of others’ arguments, they also do not know the structure of their own belief systems—what values are most important, how some beliefs are derived from others, and what evidence would contradict their views.  Particularly dangerous is the tendency to take the most important questions for granted…This often involves..failing to scrutinize basic assumptions” (410-411).

Highlighting a vast amount of recent research into the neuroscience of memory in his 2015 book The Brain, Stanford University professor David Eagleman writes, “Although we don’t always realize it, the memory is not as rich as you might have expected…The enemy..isn’t time; it’s other memories.  Each new event needs to establish new relationships among a finite number of neurons.  The surprise is that a faded memory doesn’s seem faded to you…Our past is not a faithful record.  Instead it’s a reconstruction” (23-26).  “Our picture of the external world isn’t necessarily an accurate representation.  Our perception of reality has less to do with what’s happening out there, and more to do with what’s happening inside our brain” (38).

If we are not good at knowing what we know or remembering accurately, then what can we do?  These same lines of research highlight two human strengths: (1) our partial perspectives and (2) our error-correcting ability to calibrate.

Our partial perspectives.  We each perceive a rich world of sensations, inputs that we each are uniquely able to perceive and process.  Combining a set of rich perspectives different individuals have about an experience can lead to a more nuanced, multi-dimensional understanding of a given phenomenon.  This integrated set can then be tested against evidence: how the system actually behaves.  Systemic, multi-stakeholder processes, like the ones we have tested and developed, at the Institute for Strategic Clarity, are one method for capturing, integrating, and validating this kind of richness.

Our error-correcting ability to calibrate.  Our brains seem to focus on correcting errors in the mental representation it already has of the world.  The brain is calibrating.  “Instead of using your senses to constantly rebuild your reality from scratch every moment, you’re compaing sensory information with a model the brain has already constructed: updating it, refining it, correcting it” (53 The Brain).  ”The brain generates its own reality, even before it receives information coming in from the eyes and the other senses…(For example, the) thalamus simply reports on differences between what the eyes are reporting, and what the brain’s internal model has predicted…what gets sent back to the visual cortex is what fell short in the expectation” (51-52 The Brain).  This act of calibration is a strength.  Using evidence-based mapping, we can see what actually exists more rigorously and use that mapping to calibrate our individual mental representations, the mental models we use all day long to make decisions.

To apply these concepts of partial perspectives, weak memory accuracy, and calibration to complex social issues like human agreements, we need rigorous frameworks for integrating and validating what we know.  Especially since we also know that human agreements can be very hard to see, tools like Agreements Evidence Mapping are ever more critical for (1) capturing and validating partial perspectives, (2) integrating them into one whole, strategic representation that can be validated, around (3) often hidden agreements we have unconsciously accepted, that (4) we agree to shift.  Maybe I do not know what I know, most of the time, but I can.

Guest post — Consciously Choosing Abundance-driven Agreements

by Christoph Hinske, ISC Contributing Fellow, and Eyal Drimmer, Certified Vibrancy Guide

You can download a PDF of this blogpost here.

 

Abundance and Scarcity-Driven Agreements

The problem with most agreements is that we don’t see them.  They just are.  Most often we are not aware that what is happening around us is based on an agreement that one could potentially change.  It seems that life is “just that way.” In our day-to-day interactions, either at work or at home, we are engaging in a set of agreements and relationships, whether we realize it or not.  Sometimes the agreements work, resulting in vibrant experiences and great outcomes, and sometimes they do not, leaving us feeling depleted, fatigued and disappointed about the lousy outcomes.

In addition to shifting agreements in everyday experiences, many of us work to shift agreements in large-scale social change issues, such as renewable energy, food systems, poverty, climate change, and social justice.  Decades of attempts to address these big and small challenges with approaches rooted in scarcity have proven insufficient to the task.

Research at the Institute for Strategic Clarity (ISC) has identified many groups that are finding success in addressing these issues, starting from a very different perspective, one of abundance in human potential.  Ecosynomics, the social science of abundance, offers robust frameworks that take what we have learned in scarcity-based agreements framed by economics and puts it within the much broader, much healthier context of abundance-based agreements.

But how can agreements be made consciously so that people can choose self-determined higher vibrancy in their agreements?  We present a case study from Europe where we are in the process of guiding a group to abundance-based agreements. In doing so, we follow the Vibrancy Living Lab approach, which combines a guiding process with scientific research and social-impact creation to enable a positive contribution to the group and the community where it is embedded.

Starting from a Collapsed State

The example concerns a Community Supported Business (CSB) in a village in Germany; nine people comprising two families and many associates. While the main focus of their work resides on their CSB, they are also engaged in local education and regional politics.

Despite a great vision, the group found itself over the last years in a critical state: the financial situation was getting precarious, the group underwent some hard and energy-depleting times and some were on the edge of burning out. Furthermore, they had already started to lose belief in the meaning behind their venture and to unconsciously accept their scarce reality as given and unchangeable. With those agreements, practices and mindsets they were not able to ensure their private and professional successes.

Based on initial conversations about ecosynomic research, in early 2014, the founders of the community invited us to support them in overcoming their scarcity-driven practices by working out their own abundance-based agreements. 

Raising Awareness for Agreements and Interdependencies

Our first step was to empower them and bring back the feeling of self-determination. We chose two different approaches for this. The first was to stop “just doing” and to start observing. The second was the kind of relationship we entered. In this we decided to step into an unusual role. In addition to being external coaches and consultants, we also agreed to become full members of the group. This gave us more possibility to deeply resonate with them by still being able to mirror them in their dynamics.

The goal of both approaches was to raise the awareness of whether they would rather act out of scarcity or abundance-based agreements and to assess the benefit-cost of devoting resources into the development of abundance-based agreements. The first step into this direction was done through a collaborative Agreement Mapping. This exercise allowed them to understand their unconsciously accepted agreement system and (unintentional) practices leading to perceived scarcity. They were able to do so by tapping into the wisdom of four seemingly very distant fields that humans have used for millennia to understand their interactions, experiences, and produced results:

  1. Resource or economic lens: “How much do we have, of what, to achieve our goals?”
  2. Allocation or political lens: ”Who or what is in power, and who or what decides and enforces?”
  3. Value or cultural lens: “What criteria do they use, and what is important to them?”
  4. Organizing or social interaction lens: “What rules do they apply and how do they organize?”

These currently very distant fields have been integrated by ecosynomic research, allowing a group to understand if it is “stuck in scarcity” or “boosted by abundance.” Why did we do this, and why is this relevant? ISC research conducted in 95 countries proves abundance to be a desired state for any social system. While this seems obvious, direct measurement of this abundance is not. Without measurement, the group could neither take strategic decisions nor convince possible capital providers and shareholders of the importance of “all this fluffy abundance stuff.”

Mapping out the quality of their agreement structure allowed them to create a first understanding of how their embedded and interwoven assumptions shaped their interactions and how those interactions created the basis for the quality of their experiences and results. Understanding that, they started to see that their unpleasant experiences and poor results were a direct effect of the agreements they made on a daily basis in the four fields by (unconsciously) answering the related questions in completely opposite directions. They also started to see that by changing their embedded and interwoven assumptions and agreements they would directly change the experiences they have and the results they produce.

SIDEBAR
Measuring the benefits of and capacity for abundance gets its inspiration from the quality movement. Initially nobody knew how to assess the benefits of quality programs; this made investment decisions difficult. The innovation was to assess the cost of “no quality.” The insight was that the benefit of quality had to be at least as big as the cost of no quality. Likewise, the benefits of abundance are at least as big as the costs of scarcity, which is straightforward to measure.

 

After having this higher-level awareness of themselves and their context, we employed embodiment and systemic practices to open up concrete pathways for change.

Consciously Choosing Abundance-Based Agreements

Let’s have a closer look at the groups’ interrelated agreements and practices, as we saw them the day we started to be engaged with them.

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After raising awareness of the current situation, the group collectively agreed to allocate resources into the development of abundance-based agreements and to explore practices that would allow them to intentionally start from abundance and collaboration rather than being unintentionally stuck in scarcity and antagonism.

Outcomes and Summary

Through raising awareness, we managed to close the gap between their wishful thinking and currently shared reality–that is, the difference between the espoused agreements and practices in contrast to the ones in use.  Some concrete outcomes are:

  1. They entered a mindset of “we do have more than enough of anything, we just have to find ways of how to manifest the potential we see into results benefiting our business and community.” They are now successfully innovating on their business model by exploring new markets, management, and leadership behaviors.
  2. They have a high-level AND in-depth understanding of their structures and how each individual drives them. Building on that, they realized the interdependencies between the different parts of their “system” and the importance of alignment within it. Both aspects are essential preconditions to relate in an effective, efficient, and abundant way.
  3. They have the awareness that with their scarcity-driven agreements they would by definition neither be able to have the kind of “healthy experiences” nor produce the kind of outcomes they envision.
  4. They are much more conscious and mindful in their daily patterns, leading to more thoughtful interactions. “We now know that we are not yet able to have everything we would like to have, but we also know now what the ground is we are standing on.”
  5. “I learned to respect my own needs and to share them with everybody in our community.”

Engaging with them, you can now a) see and feel the higher-level awareness of “why do I experience what I experience and how I can change it” and b) see and feel the positive energy and motivation to grow into the possibilities they see, which is completely different than the original drive to simply escape scarcity. They are able to do so since they experienced what it is like to work with abundance-driven agreements. Yes, they are now able to work out of this understanding and feeling, rather than just pushing away from something they do not like.

Furthermore, they not only regained trust in their own abilities and goals, but also started to reframe their shared purpose, as well as each individual’s unique contribution to the group.

We think the key learning of this case study is to take time to understand the agreements that (un)consciously drive the behavior of your business. Understanding your agreements builds the basis for lasting success and vibrant interactions, thus, having great experiences and producing above-average outcomes. Awareness, collaboration, and alignment seem to take a lot of time and energy, but there is a massive return for every minute of this investment. During our process the Japanese proverb “If hurried, go around” evolved as our guiding principle, because the fastest way is often not the straightest.

Your Creative PROCESS Is Not Her Networking PROCESS Is Not My Transactional PROCESS

Process.  Some love it, some hate it, some are indifferent.  There’s too much of it, too little of it.  Everyone talks about it.  Creative process, decision process, purchasing process.  Processes are everywhere. A process is a process is a process, right?  One thing, then another, then another.  Basically, all the same, right?  Wrong.

From the perspective of the three levels of perceived reality (potential, development, outcomes), we see three completely different understandings of what a process is.  Process as transaction.  Process as network.  Process as pathway.

Process as transaction.  When seeing process as transaction, the focus is on the outcomes, the nouns.  Process, here, is defined as, a “sequence of interdependent and linked procedures which, at every stage, consume one or more resources (employee time, energy, machines, money) to convert inputs (data, material, parts, etc.) into outputs. These outputs then serve as inputs for the next stage until a known goal or end result is reached.”  From this perspective of process, you might start by working on the outline of a paper we are writing, then giving it to me, I would write the first section, then I would give it to another person who would write the second section, then we might hand it off to a fourth colleague to edit.  A series of transactions, where we exchange parts of the whole with each other.  The focus is on efficiency of the process, maximizing outputs while minimizing inputs, in an orderly fashion.

Process as network.  When seeing process as a network, the focus is on the continuing development of relationships, the verbs and nouns.  Process, in this way, is “characterized by its: purpose, roles, responsibilities, entry criteria, inputs, next step, exit criteria, outputs, work instructions, tools, techniques, and special considerations.”  From this way of seeing process, you want to get clear, as a group and individuals, what the relationships are, how information and materials will flow back and forth, how the individuals will work together, and what the outcomes look like. A set of relationships, through which information and materials flow over time and space, resulting in outcomes.  The focus is on the core organizing principles of inclusion of each person, transparency in accountability and deliverables, and achievement of the desired outcomes.

Process as pathway.  When seeing process as a pathway, the focus is on the possibilities imagined, and the pathway of relationships to an outcome, which provides feedback on the possibility seen.  Process, in this way, “focuses on needfinding, understanding, creating, thinking, and doing. At the core of this process is a bias towards action and creation: by creating and testing something, you can continue to learn and improve upon your initial ideas.”  From this vantage of process, you want to imagine a new possibility, see what a possible outcome might look like, and find a pathway of steps to realize it, to make it real, then seeing how it worked, in reality, and learning about how that shapes what you imagined, and then rethink the process of manifestation.  An imagination of a new possibility, a pathway of relationships to manifest an outcome, with feedback to the possibility seen.  The focus is on choice–choice of one of infinite possibilities, of one of infinite pathways, of one of infinite outcomes, of seeing, understanding, and integrating the feedback from reality–all to see all of these choices anew.  Feedback-seeking imagination.

We mean completely different things about why and how we connect nodes in a process.  The term process is problematic.  Maybe we could simply state what we actually mean.  Transactions of resources. Networks of relationships.  Pathways of manifestation.

Note:  I thank my colleague JLT for inspiring and clarifying this insight, over breakfast, a few stories, and a couple of more cups of coffee.

 

Measuring Your Impact Resilience

Impact.  Resilience.  The impact you want to have in the world, as a result of your efforts.  The resilience in the ability to respond to internal and external changes, over and over again, sustainably.  We all seem to want greater impact resilience, yet most efforts seem to lead to low impact, with most efforts failing to achieve the desired impact, and people being less engaged after the effort than before it.  To compensate for the low results and engagement of the efforts, they have high direct costs.  Not the benefit-to-cost ratio most of us foresaw when starting the efforts.

Might a measure of impact resilience help, before, during, and after?  The current mainstream framing of impact resilience focuses on net profits or funds available from the effort.  Essentially, the direct benefits should be greater than the direct costs.  Profits = Revenues – Costs.  Funds Available = Funds In – Funds Out.   This kind of logic leads to the prevailing framing of strategy as the direct interventions that will lead to direct outcomes, often called a “theory of change.”  In explorations my colleagues and I have made into the agreements supporting the very high impact resilience of positive deviants we have found around the globe, we find an alternate framing, which seems to lead to much higher impact resilience.  We call this alternate framing a “theory of impact resilience,” where the focus is on the ability to engage the potential value present in any group, in a very resilient manner.

The measure of impact resilience, as we are using it today, encompasses:

  • impact:  what we want to achieve, the potential value available, the costs of scarcity, and the ecosynomic value realized in service of what we want
  • resilience: the ability to thrive in change, continuously, over time

We use three specific tools to measure the impact and two to measure the resilience.  We assess impact with the tools of (1) deeper shared purpose, (2) reference behavior pattern, and (3) ecosynomic value realized (EVR). We assess resilience with the tools of (1) probability of survival, and (2) the multiples of EVR.

Impact tools.  The deeper shared purpose is the reason why the group comes together in the first place and why it needs a specific mix of voices.  The process for the “deeper shared purpose” tool is described in the O Process.  The reference behavior pattern explores the group’s definition of how the deeper shared purpose is measured, how well the group has done at achieving it historically, the most probable outcomes of the deeper shared purpose going forward, the desired outcomes going forward, and the gap between the most probable and the desired outcomes.  The process for the “reference behavior pattern” tool is described in my chapter applying the tool to poverty alleviation.  Ecosynomic Value Realized (EVR) is the total value realized minus the costs of the utilized resources minus the costs of scarcity.  Said another way, EVR is the total value generated by the recognized resources less the costs of the recognized resources less the costs of the unrecognized resources.  The cost of the unrecognized resources is the total potential available in the available resources, as described through the three levels of perceived reality in an agreements evidence map, less the value of the recognized resources.  This accounts for the costs of not engaging the potential resources available–the costs of scarcity. The process for the EVR tool is described in the Costs of Scarcity framework.  We use the combination of these three tools to determine (1) what we are trying to achieve together–the deeper shared purpose, (2) how we are doing at achieving that impact, and (3) net results in value realized through our efforts.

Resilience tools.  The probability of survival is the probability that the group will continue to have sufficient resources to survive in the future.  Most initial efforts never even get off the ground, and most efforts that do, die within the first years.  This means that the probability of survival for most efforts is very low.  Resilience is the ability to increase the probability of survival.  The probability of survival is the average of the probability of survival for each of the three levels of perceived reality: the risk of stockout at the outcomes level; the risk of not learning at the development level; and the risk of obsolescence at the potential level.  The risk at each level depends on the level of conscious agreements at each level of perceived reality.  Where the agreements are conscious, the probability of survival (one minus the risk of not surviving) is much higher than where the agreements are subconscious, unconscious, or non-existent.  The multiples of ecosynomic value realized convert the probability of survival into a number of probable years of survival, which when discounted over time suggest a multiple of this year’s ecosynomic value realized (EVR).  This multiple times the current EVR suggests a valuation of the current set of agreements of what is valued and engaged, as seen through the agreements evidence map.  We use the combination of these two tools to determine (1) the probability of survival of the agreements in place, and (2) a valuation of the probable lifetime of the agreements.

With the measures of impact and resilience, we have a better sense of (1) the current state of the agreements, (2) the benefits of shifting the agreements, and (3) the costs of not.  We can also assess how the set of agreements compare to other sets of agreements, indicating both what is possible for groups and where to invest for greater impact resilience.  We do this assessment through the five levels of impact resilience.

The five levels of impact resilience range from simply achieving some impact over time to generating great impact resilience by engaging all of the potential value available.  The Institute for Strategic Clarity has set up a certification process for each of the five levels of impact resilience.  Level 1 Impact Resilience is achieved when a group is able to demonstrate that is has achieved its stated impact over five years.  Level 2 is achieved when a group achieves both Level 1 and measures its impact resilience, as described above, independent of whether its EVR is positive or not.  Level 3 is achieved when a group achieves Level 2 and its EVR is net positive.  Level 4 is achieved when a group achieves Level 2 and its Return on Potential Value (RPV = EVR/Total Potential Value) is greater than 0.3, meaning its conscious agreements are well into the development level of perceived reality.  Level 5 is achieved when a group achieves Level 2 and its RPV is greater than 0.6, meaning its conscious agreements are well into the potential level of perceived reality.

Coming back full circle, we find that groups that are able to achieve the higher impact resilience every group imagines, initially–yet few groups actually achieve–score much higher on impact resilience.  By examining what differentiates high impact resilience groups from lower impact resilience groups, we have developed the impact resilience measurement system.  Groups that want to know where they are in their impact resilience, with the desire to achieve much greater impact resilience, can now assess the specifics of what supports their current levels and what agreements are needed to achieve higher levels of impact resilience.  Those groups who are able to demonstrate that they can meet the higher standards of impact resilience can be recognized by impact resilience certification.  This provides that group with a cohort of groups at their level of impact resilience, mentors for the next level, and certification for possible investors and donors of the quality of their agreements in achieving higher impact resilience.

 

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, sometimes 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.