Developing Human Interactions at the Verb Level

To begin to manifest what you started with by organizing at the possibility-light level, you need to transform the light into verbs.  When you integrate light, you filter out possibility.  You choose the verbs that develop and emerge over time.  Of the infinite possibilities you see at the light level, you choose what we want to manifest and begin to pay attention to its development.  The critical steps in transforming light into verbs are to maintain the connection to the light you see and to agree on how to begin to manifest it over time.

The Big Questions of Organizing at the Verb Level

In the why question, the light to verb transformation grounds the harmonic vibrancy in specific, developmental processes.  This transformation adds life to the possibility seen in the potential.  It also filters out possibility.  In the how, this transformation acknowledges where the five relationships are, where they can be, and the harmonic vibrancy move available to shift the harmonic vibrancy experienced in each relationship.  In the what, the light-to-verb transformation separates the incentives and structures for the different relationships, bringing in more focus and a paradoxical set of tradeoffs among them.

From the possibility-light level, a potential was seen in what the group could be and do, and in what the individuals coming to the group could be and do.   In transforming the organizing from the light to the verb level, a choice was made out of all the potential to manifest something specific.  The verb level of organizing focuses on the processes for developing that potential of the people and relationships in the group.  The verb level is where you experience the excitement in seeing the change over time in your own capacities, those of others and the group.  This is growth.  You enjoy learning and increasing your ability.  You also strengthen your relationships, for the sake of the relationships alone and because you can more efficiently achieve your goals when you work together with others more harmoniously.


In essence, the organizing principle, the why, at the verb level is to leverage the abundance in the system, the abundance available in the processes, people, and relationships in the group.  At the light level, we saw the infinite potential, which we leverage in the verb level.


The how at the verb level is cooperative-competition.  Cooperative-competition is when people bring different, unique contributions to the group in a coordinated fashion.  While in collaboration, people work together towards the same potential they see, the same light, in cooperative-competition, people work together towards different potentials.  This is the filtering out of the light you collectively see, as you transform the possibility-light level into the development-verb level of organizing.  In cooperation, you step further into your relationships with the self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  For your own self, the focus is on the gifts you bring, and how you can specialize in specific work to move up the learning curve, getting really good at specific tasks.  This improves your efficiency and consequently the efficiency of the whole group.  Specialization like this is critical, as it is the focus on specific activities, over and over again, over long periods of time, that enables people to reach high levels of proficiency.[1]  For the other, cooperative-competition highlights the relationship to the other, how you and the other influence each other, and how you can support each other in that relationship.  For the group, cooperative-competition is about the coordination of alliances of people with different contributions in a harmonious way.  This asks, who needs to do what, when, and with whom?  Coordination comes in many flavors.  A major distinction among the different flavors is about where to emphasize structure.  One way of looking at this distinction suggests that individuals with clear decision criteria interact.[2]  Over time, the dynamics of their interactions form emerging structures of agreements.  For example, in a market, some individuals show up to purchase food for their own weekly needs, and others show up to provide them what they request, changing the offer as the demand shifts, based on who shows up wanting what.  This leads to cooperation among self-interested individuals.  A very different way of understanding cooperative structures of agreements starts with the group-level of structured agreements, showing how they influence the emerging dynamics of interacting individuals.[3]  For example, the incentives given to different groups in a process motivate them to act in specific ways.  As they act in these ways over time, they begin to influence each other and the overall results.

These two perspectives focus on the individual’s agency, the ability to make a decision for themselves, and the group’s structure, the agreements about interactions.  The first example suggests that it is more fruitful to understand how structure emerges from agency.  This leads to a focus on the individual’s decisions, and then what emerges.  The second suggests that is better to understand how agency emerges from structure.  The agency-structure issue is an old one, with different practices promoting one or the other.  We can see from the ecosynomic lens that both perspectives reflect important dimensions of the verb-level manifestation of the light – the individual’s agency is important as is the structure of the group’s agreements.  It is not an either-or choice among the two schools, rather an integration of the two.

What — The Group’s Charter

Let us now look at the what of development-verb-level organizing.  This is the what of organizing the group’s charter, of developing people and relationships, and of motivating and coordinating individuals.  The group exists to achieve something the individuals cannot achieve alone.  I showed that the why is to leverage the abundance available in the people and relationships in the system.  At the development-verb level, groups define what they do, their specialty, by their charter.  The group’s charter defines what they agree to do, how they agree to do it, and the structures they can use to achieve it.  While at the possibility-light level, the inspirited group seeks higher harmonic vibrancy, at the development-verb level, the chartered group seeks to fulfill one dimension of harmonic vibrancy.  From the ecosynomics perspective, as reflected in the fundamental assumptions and agreements, a group’s charter is to grow its potential, its abilities over time, and the value they generate.  The group does this through building cohesion within the group, and with other groups that interact with them.  This is all done to increase the well-being of both the community the group serves and the community where the group resides.  This is a charter for growth, for social cohesion, and for societal well-being.[4]  These different dimensions of the group’s charter highlight different processes within the group.  These dimensions are required for the verb level to be able to manifest the potential seen at the light level.  While all groups, to exist, inherently have this multi-dimensional charter, current systems tend to define themselves by one of the dimensions, and in turn minimizing the value of the other two.

Groups today tend to take one of these dimensions as its charter.  Many legal structures and regulations exist to define and control these charters.  Those that identify with the for-growth charter tend to be great at identifying self-reinforcing structures, which lead to the ability to support their own growth.  These people are often very entrepreneurial.  The existing fiscal and regulatory systems support this seeking of self-growth mechanisms with incentives and controls that emphasize the business corporation.  They focus on the growth of value generated over time, giving great latitude to the dimensions of social cohesion and societal well-being.

Other people identify more with the charter of social cohesion, seeking to build stronger relationships and community through their work.  They look for stabilizing structures, which lead to a greater balance in relationships and less vulnerability to shocks in the system.  Some societies believe in the importance of these efforts and support them through a legal charter that focuses on the benefits of social cohesion, giving latitude to self-supporting growth and societal well-being.  Some of these charters even strictly restrict self-funding growth.  These groups are referred to as civil society or non-profits, as they are designed to not distribute profits from their growth.

As groups come together, they often discover that some services they want or need fall outside of their individual charters.  When it turns out that many groups want something that nobody wants to provide, a new group can be chartered to serve the well-being of everyone.  These groups are chartered to provide services for everyone, focusing on societal well-being.  These groups are legally structured to take a little from everyone for the benefit of everyone.  Often referred to today as government, the fiscal and legal structures promote redistribution of resources to the overall benefit, while minimizing the focus on self-funding growth and social well-being.

While there are many groups with these focused charters who do well, many more do not.  Why?  The study of ecosynomics suggests that it is the focus on one dimension and dismissal of the others that requires legal and fiscal control of these imbalanced forms.  These current structures all require legal charters and strong regulation, to make sure that their imbalanced structures do not hurt themselves and others.  Furthermore, ecosynomics suggests that the current “charter” focus not only promotes unhealthy structures, it also improperly names what is actually happening in those groups.  The fundamental assumptions of ecosynomics suggest a very different model of health for organizational forms.  While a multi-charter focus acknowledges that there are different perspectives of how to intervene in the world, it improperly labels them depending on whether one comes from a corporate, civil society, or government perspective.  Multi-charter thinking suggest the corporation focuses on growth of capital, civil society focuses on social cohesion, and government focuses on group health, through management of the commons.  The harmonic-vibrancy focus shows that there are not multiple perspectives, rather one intention, which is expressed as for growth (≠ corporate), for social cohesion (≠ civil society), for societal health (≠ government), for transcendence (≠ religion), and for balance (≠ ecology) – the inspirited organization.  Your health depends on your strength on all dimensions of relationship – they are all important.

How did this single-charter focus happen?  One possibility is that over the last two centuries, a strong distinction was made among groups that focused primarily on growth and accumulating wealth or societal health and bureaucracy – business and government.   When these groups did not meet other core dimensions of human health, such as social cohesion, transcendence, and eco-balance, civil society began to grow.  This led to a “moral clash,” among axially defined groups, which are actually just specialized forms of inspirited organizations.  Recent advances that have seemed to blur the lines among business, civil society, and government have actually only been stepping further into their implicitly acknowledged charter as a full-relational, inspirited organization.  Examples abound, with social entrepreneurs bridging the for-growth to for-social-cohesion gap, and with corporations and cooperatives bridging the for-growth to for-societal-health gap with extensive benefits.

What — Developing People and Relationships

So far we have seen the what of organizing the group’s charter.  I will now look at the what of developing people and relationships.  The potential seen, at the light level, in the individual, the relationships, and the group, are dynamic resources at the verb level.  The potential is the resource.  The resource dynamics influence how much of the potential is being brought into existence and into relationship with the group.  If you saw in me the ability, in the future, to be a good cook in our family, then this ability becomes the resource.  The inflows might be learning through books or classes and learning through experience.  The outflows might be forgetting, or obsolescence of things I learned that are no longer relevant, such as cooking meat if we become vegetarians, or cooking eggs if I become allergic to eggs, which actually happened to me.  Thus, what we saw about resources in previous chapters helps us live into the verb level of organizing.

The what level of developing relationships looks at the structures of influences among the motivations and actions of the different individuals in the group.  This works whether looking at a small family, a work group, a large community, a company, an industry, a nation, all of humanity, or the planet.  Resource maps, like the ones I developed in the “resources” chapter, show how the motivation of the individual influences the actions they take on the resources they use to achieve their desired outcomes.  For example, I gathered ingredients and used them to make a loaf of bread, as seen in Figure 14.  You can also see how my actions influence the actions another person can or needs to take to achieve their own desired outcomes, with the resources they influence.  So, in the same example, if my wife wanted to have bread for dinner, and did not know that I was making bread, she might gather the money to purchase a loaf.  We now have more bread than we need.  What I did influenced her ability to be successful – we were now collectively wasteful.  With the resource maps, you are able to see how a structure of agreements about your relationships influence your individual and group ability to achieve your goals.

What for Individuals

Both the consideration of a group’s charter and of developing people and relationships ask group-level questions.  Now I transition to the individual’s side of the same questions – the what of motivating and coordinating.  You first need to remember that the individual has this amazing capacity to be a holon, playing a functional role in the larger whole of the group while simultaneously being a whole onto herself.  You can contribute to the group’s needs, while meeting your own needs.  I will take that even further.  Throughout this book, I have suggested that the human being has to be able to simultaneously be a part and a whole.  It is in human nature.  This means, then, that any organizing that does not acknowledge this holonic nature of humans works against it or will be suboptimal, at best.  It will be fighting against the integrity of the very way of being human.  Key to organizing at the verb level for people’s motivation is understanding both their contribution to the group and their commitment.  The contribution needs to consider the flow, over time, of what each person contributes now and in the future, as well as how they can grow to be able to contribute from and towards the deeper potential seen at the light level of organizing.  You could organize the family kitchen for you to make scrambled eggs for everyone, all of the time.  That is the contribution you can make, now, in the beginning.  You could also organize to learn about and experiment with more advanced forms of preparing eggs, working into fried eggs, poached eggs, omelets, and quiches.  While you might not be able to do all of that in the beginning, organizing for your development, you could within months.  This difference steps toward the possibility-light-level potential seen earlier, as it manifests over time.  Another key to organizing at the verb level of motivating people is your commitment over time.  It is now becoming clear that a person’s commitment to making their contribution to the group is another way of understanding their relationship to their own self, the other, and the group.[5]  You make a commitment by stepping into a relationship, with your own self, with me, and with the group.  Part 3 provides a process for deepening and sustaining commitment.

Costs of Scarcity

While many groups work consciously with the verb-level of organizing the development and relationships of individuals and the group, some feel it is an unnecessary luxury.  Three direct costs at the verb level of organizing are: an incomplete or imbalanced charter for the group; the lack of cooperation; and the lack of a health work environment.  Having an incomplete charter means that the group thinks it is only about a one-dimensional charter and dismisses the rest in the way it organizes itself.  For example, if you only focus on growth, you will have an unhealthy organization (low social cohesion) and a weak to poor relationship with the greater community (low societal well-being).  Ultimately, this imbalanced focus is unsustainable.  You will literally wobble yourself out of existence.

The lack of cooperative-competition leads, in every case, to redundancy and to a massive waste of resources dedicated to infighting and correcting internally generated mistakes.  Redundancy means that you both accumulate resources to do your work that you could have shared with no additional costs to your individual or group efforts.  If you only use the kitchen to cook eggs in the morning, you can share the kitchen with me, so that I can make lunch.  If we do not cooperate-compete, then we both have kitchens that are very underutilized, for no reason other than our inability to cooperate.  Estimates of the amount of time and resource spent in groups correcting internal errors range from 60-90% — most of what you do on a day-to-day basis could be avoided by not making the mistakes in the first place, the first step in cooperative-competition.

Another major cost of ignoring the development-verb level of organizing is the lack of a healthy work environment.  The verb level is where you focus on development of the potential and ability to contribute seen at the light level.  In environments where you are not developing your potential and your relationships, you find it difficult to shine.  When you experience the continuing inability to shine, your light fades and eventually you leave.  It is not surprising, therefore, that many groups that miss the development-verb level of organizing experience very high levels of turnover and all of its associated costs, of constantly training new people, the lack of experience, and an environment that higher potential people avoid like the plague.  These are very tangible and measurable costs.

[1] Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the understanding of what happens when people spend many hours working on a task (Gladwell, 2008).  The 1978 Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon initially described this phenomenon.

[2] A large body of work, called chaos theory or agent-based theory, has emerged recently, studying the interaction dynamics of structured agents and the structures of agreements that emerge (Brown & Eisenhardt, 1998; Levy, 1994; Strogatz, 1994).

[3] An equally large body of work, called systems theory, studies the how structures of agreements interact to form emerging dynamics of interacting agents (Forrester, 1971; Senge, 1990; Sterman, 2000).

[4] In systems parlance, the three charters focus on self-supporting growth through the identification of reinforcing feedback loops that grow, social cohesion through balancing feedback loops that stabilize, and societal well-being through distribution of wealth among the other two systems.  For more on reinforcing and balancing feedback loops, see (Sterman, 2000).

[5] The word “commitment” comes from the Latin for uniting or connecting, with com being “together” and mittere being “to put, send.”


4 thoughts on “Developing Human Interactions at the Verb Level

  1. Pingback: Organizing the Why, How, and What of Satisfying Needs Now | Institute for Strategic Clarity

  2. Pingback: Enlightened Brainstorming or Collaborative Inquiry? « Jim Ritchie-Dunham

  3. Pingback: Organizing the Why, How, and What of Satisfying Needs Now « Jim Ritchie-Dunham

  4. Pingback: Transformative Organization of Human Interactions through Light-Verb-Noun Levels « Jim Ritchie-Dunham

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