Do you know the situation when you feel completely stuck, whether with your team, you organization or any group you are a part of? You experience the lack of possibilities and innovation, and it just feels lousy. During our 7 years of working with and for organizations, large and small, in business, government, civil society, and inter-sectoral networks, we figured out that being stuck is not the end of something, but a perfect starting point for the beginning of something profoundly new. Embracing “stuckness” enables us to “think out of the box,” to start to create paradigmatic innovations and to explore different, better solutions. We find the core of this shift in the initiating assumption, do you start from scarcity or abundance? This article is about a simple method that supports groups in making the shift from being stuck in scarcity-driven structures proposed by Economics to abundance-based structures proposed by Ecosynomics.
Ecosynomics (pronounced “ee-co-si-nom-iks”) is the social science of abundance or, said another way, the principles of collaboration. [The term comes from the rules (nomos) of relationship (eco) together (syn).] As a framework, Ecosynomics is a model of health that describes what people are learning about how to move from perceived realities of scarcity, characterized by ingratitude, anxiety, apathy, mistrust, and anti-social competitiveness as well as a high level of organizational redundancies to perceived realities of abundance, characterized by gratitude, joy, enthusiasm, creative capacities, effectiveness, efficiency, trust, and social solidarity. Our research shows this to be a universal and basic experience every human being knows. Consequently, we believe that literally everyone knows when he or she is experiencing a scarce or abundant situation, whether alone or in a group. Groups that live in the abundance scenario are much more effective, efficient and innovative, achieving much better outcomes and experiences, sustainably. In our practice, we find it difficult for people to see what we are pointing at when talking about Ecosynomics and abundance-based agreements. It is hard to show people the reality they are living. Few people want to acknowledge that they unconsciously support agreements based on the principles of scarcity, leading to “stuckness.”
The difficulty seems to be in the direction of the imaginative exercise. It seems difficult to see a better reality from one’s own current reality. It seems to be easier to imagine one’s currently reality from the better (abundant) reality. We figured out that working with concepts that are “out of our current thinking” requires us to build a bridge for people. However, that bridge does not start on the shores of our old or common thinking.
Since this scenario sounds “strange” and “not real” to many of our stuck clients, we needed to find a simple and straightforward method to create an understanding of what abundance is and what it is not. Thus, we started to use the Kopfstand (German for headstand) creating an experience of “the world beyond the walls of the box.” By doing so, we challenge mental models and uncover visible and invisible agreements that drive human interactions in the system.
Borrowed from processes we use in product innovation and design thinking, the Kopfstand enables the participants to leave their current thinking and look at it from the other side.
SIDE BAR – The underlying framework
Image 1: The five dimensions and three levels of perceived reality, as proposed by Ecosynomics. The outer circle represents the experience of abundance and the inner circle the experience of scarcity (leading to stuckness). It is used as the framework to apply the Kopfstand.
SIDE BAR – The method
- Sharing of scarcity to abundance continuum: We start by sketching the chart of the five relationships and three levels of perceived reality on the wall (see side bar). Derived from Ecosynomics research, it provides a comprehensive explanation of the experience of scarcity and abundance. Why five relationships and why three levels? The literature and years of experience show that any social system consists of at least those five relationships. Try it out for yourself, by asking a person to, “Describe a situation where you felt richness in possibilities for yourself and/ or the group you are in.” We find that people start to describe the situation by unconsciously referring to those five relationships – the relationship to self, other, group, nature, and spirit. Their experience describes one of the circles in the image, ranging from scarce to medium to abundant.
- Envisioning a high-performance organization: We then gave participants green sticky notes and pens. We instructed them, “Imagine you are the responsible decision maker in an organization that is extremely efficient, effective and innovative. An organization where the individual is able to express her highest potential and the group moves towards a shared vision by living high levels of mutual trust (see also the images in the outer circle). Describe this kind of organization in your own words, using the sticky notes. Come to the image and stick your note to the respective dimension in the outer circle.”
- Destroying the high-performance organization: “Now your assignment is to lead your organization away from abundance (since it is considered as not business-relevant and sort of “soft”). Please do this step in a team of two. Use your red sticky notes and note down what you can do to destroy the abundance-based reality. Before putting the sticky notes on the graph, discuss your strategies and actions with your teammate.” Within 5 to 10 minutes, people note down ideas and post them on the image. Our experience is that people get really creative and eager to fill the wall.
- Relating destructive activities with day-to-day experiences: Once completed, we ask people to read out and explain their ideas. Destructive and inefficient behaviour as well as dysfunctional organizational structures are described. Most of the actions and strategies are characterized by ingratitude, angst, apathy, mistrust, and anti-social competitiveness. At this moment we often experience a radical shift happening. As the list continues, people start to see that they are actually describing their own organizations.
On the individual level, people react with either silence or contemplation. Others burst out laughing, since they know this kind of behaviour just too well. Some protest by saying, “Who would ever want this? Why would I choose to work this way?” Many participants note, “We just described our organizational context. It hurts, and I just got clear that it is the scarcity-based mindset that leads us to the agreements creating this kind of inefficient and ineffective organization.” There are always a few that say, “Finally I understand why my organization is so effective, innovative and efficient.” If you have such a statement we recommend using their stories as benchmarks throughout the rest of the workshop. At a group level, people start to realize that they are not alone with their experience of scarcity-based agreements and decision-making.
The Kopfstand method helps to create a container of understanding and allows for group reflection from a completely different standpoint because you start from an experience that everyone in the room has. The method gives an intuitive frame that helps to see the concept of relationships based on assumptions of abundance. The findings of Ecosynomics are much easier to understand this way, because participants describe the circles and relationships unconsciously in their own stories.
When you start to gather the voices of the whole group and someone else says something that you also had in mind, this creates a whole picture of an organization. However, it is important to avoid finger-pointing and assigning statements directly to a specific organization. People should be empowered to state their ideas and thoughts themselves instead of you presenting them with their unhealthy proposals. Participants thus have the chance to have their own experience of abundance and scarcity in that very moment and deduct their own conclusions about the concept. The method has been applied in this way in dozens of different settings throughout Germany, Ghana, Mexico, The Netherlands, Romania, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the USA. It has been applied in different sectors and with very different target audiences with amazingly similar effects.
In case you want to take the next step, we propose to continue with a Doppel-Kopfstand or reverse scenario to identify measures of how to improve the situation once the underlying assumptions have been changed. A personal experience with an abundance-based reality can help people to start questioning and changing existing agreements about how they relate to oneself, others, groups, innovations, and creativity. Be careful… our experience shows that people start to find they no longer agree to work in unhealthy and scarcity-driven environments.