Good News! Humans Can Flourish: Recommended Reading

Briggs, A., & Reiss, M. J. (2021). Human Flourishing: Scientific Insight and Spiritual Wisdom in Uncertain Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.

Waldinger, R., & Schulz, M. (2023). The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Good news. It is possible for human beings to flourish. Now there are lots of examples of how people are figuring this out. To measure how well someone is doing, Andrew Briggs and Michael Reiss propose we look at the material, relational, and transcendent dimensions of the human experience. Their book explores what we know today, from research and practice about what these three dimensions are, how they show up in human life, the great diversity of ways people express them, and how they all three contribute to a life well lived. It is not about achieving a high level of one of them, but rather the coherence in all three of them.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores ancient wisdom and modern research to see what causes this flourishing for humans, what gets in the way of flourishing, which of those obstacles are self-inflicted, and how we might take ancient wisdom and apply it to our lives today. In our thinking, in our social relationships, in the purpose that organizes our lives, and in how we develop the capacities we need to flourish along the way.

Directors of an 85-year study of the lives of 2,000 people, covering three generations in the same families, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz tease out the biological, psychological, and sociological factors that most determine a good life, as determined by the participants, over a long life. While many factors affect one’s experience and choice of a good life, their study shows that strong relationships are the most fundamental predictor. Your intimate partner, family, close friends, work colleagues, and neighbors. They all contribute to your “social fitness.”

This is exciting terrain, into which I too have jumped. I am part of four large-scale efforts to describe human flourishing. The Harvard-Baylor-Gallup-COS Global Flourishing Study looks at the conditions affecting the flourishing of 240,000 people in 22 countries over 5 years, where my teams will be looking at the “close social relationships” across the globe, as well as all of the questions for Mexico and Spain. At Harvard’s Center for Work, Health, & Well-being, we are looking at what drives the level of thriving of workers and how that influences enterprise-level outcomes. In the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience, the Institute for Strategic Clarity is using (1) the Agreements Health Check survey to identify the positive deviants who are experiencing high levels of human flourishing across the globe, having already surveyed 132,000 groups in 126 countries, as well as (2) a longitudinal dataset across the ecosystem of a large microfinance bank to measure the total value generated across an organization’s ecosystem. And, through the Harvard-Oxford Leadership for Flourishing initiative, we are assessing the characteristics of leadership for flourishing and how it manifests across a wide variety of organizations, and we have proposed the Global Flourishing Goals for the UN Agenda 2050, which will be publicly presented in May 2023 by UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development.

What Numbers Could Show You: Recommended Reading

Harford, T. (2020). How to Make the World Add Up. London: The Bridge Street Press.

Seeing what is in front of us. Sounds easy. Often it is. Sometimes it is not. What tools can help us know when what we think we are seeing is indeed what we are seeing?

You know the old saying that you can tell any lie with statistics. Another way of framing that is that, “It’s easy to lie with statistics–but it’s even easier to lie without them” (p19). By “cynically dismissing all statistics…we’re admitting defeat to (those)..who want us to shrug, give up on logic and evidence, and retreat into believing whatever makes us feel good” (p20). Instruments that help us measure can be useful–X-rays to see bones, microscopes to see bacteria, and telescopes to see far away stars (p19). Instruments don’t show us the “truth”: they can help us see more clearly. They can help us not let our emotions trick us. Our emotions are very useful, most of the time. Sometimes, we allow them to trick us into believing something because we want to, independent of the evidence facing us. Here is where evidence can help us, and numbers can provide an entryway into understanding what the evidence shows.

Hartford provides a process for using numbers to clarify what we are seeing.

  1. Search your feelings. Are you trying to convince yourself? Are you trying to see a specific answer in the evidence? You might be pulling a confidence game on yourself.
  2. Ponder your personal experience. Does what you are seeing in the numbers add up with your experience? Where is the evidence coming from? Why might your experience be different than what the evidence was describing? A different context, a different time of day, a part of a bigger pie, or a bigger pie?
  3. Avoid premature enumeration. Before accepting the interpretation of the numbers, look at what is actually being counted and how it is being counted. Often it is in the very definition of what they are measuring to answer their question that they have done something completely different than what you thought.
    • When I ask the leaders of a company how much inventory they have, they all pop off an answer. The answers can vary tenfold. Because they are measuring different things. Because of their role in the company, some see inventory as the total amount of work in process, while others see inventory as the amount of completed product that is packaged and ready to send to a specific customer. They can both be right, and defining the question and what to measure in very different ways. The problem isn’t in the definitions or the measurement, but rather in me asking the question and getting an answer, without the clarity in definitions.
  4. Be curious. Hartford then walks you through how to look at the numbers provided. How to understand the back story. Look at who is not included in the data gathered. Keep an open mind.

The point is to see what is right here to see. To see what it shows us about the question we are asking. There are lots of traps along the way. Many of them we inadvertently create for ourselves. Some of them are created by others. This process helps us use our own emotions and curiosity to understand what we are looking at before we let it influence what we see in what is right here to see. Thank you, Tim.

The Value of Purpose: Recommended Reading

Spence, Jr., Roy M. and H. Rushing (2009). It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven By Purpose. New York, Portfolio.

Everywhere you turn today, there are “nice” stories about the power of purpose. Roy Spence is a seasoned marketing and advertising executive who is very serious about the success of his business and those of his clients like Southwest Airlines, BWM, Wal-Mart, and the University of Texas. It is because he takes their success so seriously that he and his team have researched what leads to consistently stable success. He finds that a key driver is purpose, and taking that purpose seriously is what differentiates the most successful groups. “Human beings are a passionate species. We want to engage in meaningful work” (p25). Having this purpose helps organizations “attract ‘a certain kind of energetic person'” (p25). “Imagine what the culture of your organization would look like and feel like if everyone had knowingly and intentionally signed up for the purpose at hand” (p27).

The continuous practice of that purpose matters. “As human beings our minds easily wander off track. It’s easy to lose focus. A strong sense of values, beliefs, and purpose will keep everyone on track” (p22). We found a process that supports this in the Institute for Strategic Clarity’s global research of high-performing groups in 126 countries. We call it the “O Process,” which we describe in a case study in the book Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance (2014). The O Process focuses a group, whenever it gathers, on its purpose, as a group, and how that purpose relates to the organization’s deeper shared purpose. Spence and Rushing found that what seems obvious is seldom done well–“the company has to have something of genuine value to offer to consumers…When you have a purpose at the heart of the company, it will drive the business and ensure that something remarkable is happening with the product or service” (p23).

Spence and Rushing provide a very practical guide, with lots of examples from their work with leading organizations, to discover and articulate your purpose, then build an organization and leadership around the purpose, ultimately engaging your customers with that purpose. They provide examples of how this works for businesses, membership organizations, nonprofits, universities, and sports organizations. I highly recommend this practical book.

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts in 2022

In 2022, the 5 most viewed posts on this blog were:

Why Human Flourishing Should Be The Purpose of An Economy: Humanity 2.0

Are you better off today than yesterday? Physically, emotionally, socially, mentally, ethically? Because of your interactions with others? Many people say they are better off after a good workout or times with good friends and family. What about after a day at work?

What is the role of leadership for flourishing? Should flourishing be something we consider in our work life? My colleagues in Harvard’s Center for Work, Health, & Well-being, where I am a department associate, are discovering the elements of the work environment that lead to thriving experiences for workers.

Humanity 2.0 and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, with the Harvard Human Flourishing Program, where I am a research affiliate, invited me to give a talk this past November at the 2022 Human Flourishing Forum in the Vatican addressing the question of why human flourishing should be the purpose of an economy. You can see the talk by clicking on the link below.

Basically, I suggest that when we take human flourishing into account in our human interactions, we see greater engagement and better results, throughout the ecosystem of your organization. When we do not consider the whole-human experience, we see lower engagement, massive energy loss, and thus worse results. It is that simple. I show how we can measure this.

I invite you to see the other talks by my colleagues Matthew Lee, Brian Wellinghoff, and Katy Granville-Chapman, as well as Fr. Ezra Sullivan, and Jonathan Lever, as well as panels on each theme. I am grateful for this experience, seeing how to accelerate what is possible for humanity.

Truly Circular Economies Require Deep Collaboration: Recommended Reading

Ritchie-Dunham, J. L. (2023). Truly Circular Economies Require Deep Collaboration: The Principles Underlying Successful Circular Economies. The Impossibilities of the Circular Economy: Separating Aspirations from Reality. H. Lehmann, C. Hinske, V. de Margerie and A. Slaveikova Nikolova. New York, Routledge.

Zero Waste. No longer a fantasy, people are starting to figure this out. How to not generate waste and pollution with the products we consume.

To do this requires systemic logic, replacing the more commonplace linear logic. Design it out from the beginning.

How do you do this? We are excited to share a chapter we have written, “Truly circular economies require deep collaboration_The principles underlying successful circular economies” in the just-published book “The Impossibilities of the Circular Economy” (Routledge 2022).

You can purchase the print book []. An Open Access version is also available, at the same link.

Navigating Complexity and Learning with Agility: Recommended Reading

Dinwoodie, D. L., et al. (2022). “Navegar por la Incertidumbre y Aprender con Agilidad, Claves en el Trabajo del Futuro.” Harvard Deusto Business Review (327): 16-29.

What tools do you need in your future work? Two clear ones are how to navigate complexity and agile learning. With my co-authors Dr. David Dinwoodie and Suzie Lewis, we explore these questions in this month’s issue of the Harvard Deusto Business Review, bringing our decades of experience in leading organizations and what we are finding on the leading edge.

The article is in Spanish. You can also read it in other languages by applying GoogleTranslate.

Varieties of Vitality: Recommended Reading

Lomas, T., J. Ritchie-Dunham, M.T. Lee, T.J. VanderWeele. (2022). “The Varieties of Vitality: A Cross-cultural Lexical Analysis.” International Journal of Wellbeing 12(4): 155-180.

Your own vitality. It is yours. You are able to experience many more ways of vitality than your own language can describe. People across the globe have discovered many of these ways, describable only in their own language, untranslatable in your own. And, you can experience them.

In this just-published article with Dr Tim LomasMatthew T. Lee, and Tyler VanderWeele, we explore how many of these untranslatable ways might fit together to paint a richer mosaic available to all of us.

Do You Know Your Business?

“If you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business.” You probably believe this.

If you don’t know your people, you’re not engaging what they bring. You probably believe this.

You measure their outputs, not engagement of the unique capacities they bring. Because of this, you miss out on the benefits you paid for, and your costs of disengagement are very high.

Net net, this inefficiency is very expensive. If you measure this, you’ll have the numbers, and better understand your business. And, it is easy to do.

FLOW Africa: Living Labs

FLOW Africa with Anna Cowen and John Ziniades

The FLOW project is a two-year long, University of Cape Town African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) research project that took place in two South African municipalities – the Greater Kokstad Municipality in KwaZuluNatal, and the Bergrivier Municipality in the Western Cape, from August 2014 – September 2016. The project engaged out-of-work, out-of-school local youth – the FLOW Ambassadors – to build both individual and community capacity to thrive and innovate in the face of the growing challenges of climate change, resource depletion and inequality. Key activities included asset mapping, local storytelling on mobile phones, personal development, local government engagement and the introduction of two community currencies.

Initial Project Description

In this 34-minute exploration, Anna and John provide an overview of the project, the 2-year process, key insights, key experiences or shifts in the participants, and potential and documented impacts.

Video (or audio-only version)

ISC Live Lab Co-investment and Return on Co-investment

Context.  In 2014, we had just published the book Ecosynomics.  We were exploring the integration of multiple forms of abundance-based agreements, as well as identifying positive deviants, groups achieving far-above-normal impacts through vibrant experiences.

Co-investment.  In this multi-year project, we co-invested in the development of innovative processes for engaging a community in its own regenerative capacity.

Return on Co-investment.  The return on this co-investment was learning about the challenges in complementary currencies and the very creative ways of engaging a community to engage its own creativity.

Further References