We all have access to a vast competitive advantage most never see or use. The question of “competitiveness” seems to be ever-present, whether you are an individual looking to exchange money (wages) for a labor contract or grants for project impacts, or a group providing products or services in the marketplace, a community attracting homeowners and taxpayers, a state attracting job-creating industries, or a country attracting economic growth. In all of these cases, the focus is on being competitive. What is “being competitive,” and what might we see about it when looking through the lenses of Ecosynomics?
Competition is when multiple people, whether as individuals or organizations, interact for their own gain, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Economics. This definition highlights the net result of the transaction-exchange, which I have suggested in earlier blogs focuses on the outcomes-noun level of perceived reality. Being competitive in a transaction means that the other picked you over someone else, because you offered a higher net value to them, a higher value experienced for the price.
This is pretty straightforward. More value experienced for a lower price, on the consumer side. On the producer side, it is greater value received than the cost to produce the experience. This logic leads to common responses when others increase the competitive pressures. As a producer of the experience, you can lower your costs to produce the experience, or increase the value provided. Both of these possibilities work within the existing competitive environment. Another option is to change the existing competitive environment, by innovating in what experience is provided, or how it is provided, or by appropriating part of the value others in the system used to perceive, such as making the consumer print out their own forms, relieving you of the cost.
These are traditional forms of looking at how to be more competitive within a given exchange system or in changing the exchange system. In all of these cases, the focus is on the amount of resource available, whether labor, land, or capital, and using less — lowering costs — or increasing the perceived value of them — increasing price. This focus on available resources narrows your vision to what is available here now, what is available at hand. What can we do with what we have right now? How many courses can we teach with the staff we have? How many shirts can we produce with the machines we have now? How can we lower our costs to produce the same number and quality of courses and shirts? How can we increase the perceived value of those courses and shirts for the same costs?
These all assume focusing exclusively on the outcomes-noun level of perceived reality. This means I only look at the capacities, the stocks of what is right here right now. While this might make sense for a quick production decision, it is critically wasteful of a huge competitive advantage available to you, the value available in the development and potential of the people, processes, and natural resources within the organization. I refer to this thinking as working with all three levels of perceived reality: valuing the potential when it is recognized and engaged, engaging the pathway for developing that potential and the value perceived in that development, and realizing the value in the outcomes from that development. Instead of just valuing the outcomes level, you also perceive the value in the potential and development levels.
This simple shift, from seeing only what is available now to seeing the potential and development of what is available now and in the future, is a profound shift, especially when dealing with people. It is a shift from seeing “human resources,” exchangeable capacities that interchangeable humans bring to work, to seeing “Homo lumens,” human beings full of potential-light that they value developing over time, as well as using to deliver specific outcomes. For basically the same cost of inviting someone to work with you (their salary), you can either access the “human resource” in them — the capacity they have right now — or you can access, for the same cost, the “Homo lumens” in them — the potential capacity and energy they can value and develop over time, while they deliver today. Much greater energy and value for the same cost. That is a huge, mostly untapped competitive advantage available to everyone today, for little to no cost.
A couple of recent studies highlight the obviousness of this shift from seeing human resources to seeing Homo lumens. In its 2013 report on the “State of the Global Workplace,” covering 180 million employees from 140 countries, the Gallup organization found that only 13% of the workforce was “engaged,” while 63% was “not engaged” and 24% was “actively disengaged.” When I read through the methods Gallup used and the results they found, I see that people respond poorly to being treated as expendable, replaceable, interchangeable “human resources.” The study highlights the huge costs of having 87% of your workforce not engaged or actively disengaged.
At the same time, other studies have highlighted the impact of treating people like engaged people, seeing their potential, engaging the development of that potential, and acknowledging the outcomes they deliver daily. See examples such as Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey and Andy Fleming’s study on Deliberately Developmental Organizations, or research on high vibrancy groups in Europe, McKnight and Block’s work on the “abundant community,” the Zanders’ “art of possibility,” or my own research. All of these studies highlight how engaging Homo lumens is a much smarter way to achieve competitive advantage.