Are You Productive at Lifting Things (labor) or Creating Things (elaborated nature)?

We all want to be productive.  To produce stuff with our creativity.  We vary greatly in what we are creative at producing.  That leads to 2 questions.  First, are you being productive?  Second, are you productive at lifting or moving things (labor) or at creating things (elaborated nature)?  How do you know?

As a human being, you do two things. As a being made out of matter–having a physical body– you move matter around. We measure matter and its movement with calories, a unit of energy.  As a creative being, you transform energy, from one form into another.  You have an idea, which you can choose to transform into a process that becomes a new outcome, a different form of matter.  We measure energy and its transformation with lumens, a unit of energy flow.  Said another way, as a human being, you move energy around and you transform energy.  One is measured in calories, the other in lumens.  

Another way of saying this is that you are both moving things that already exist (labor) and you are adding your labor to what exists (eLABORated nature).  There is a long history of thought around this. You can start with the labor theory of value. 

When you are being productive at work, are you measuring (1) the calories of moving already-existing things around or (2) the lumens of transforming something with your creativity?  Calories-equivalent measures tend to look at the monetized equivalents of inputs and outputs, like wages, hours worked, units produced, units moved.  The inputs and outputs are often in the same units of measurement.  They are usually expressed in the ecosynomic form of capacities and outcomes, also referred to as nouns.  The already-finished.  They all have a direct translation to material forms, often monetized.  Lumens-equivalent measures tend to look at the energy put into changing of form, from possibility to probability, from idea to process to thing, from outcome to insight to new idea.  The creative, evolutionary process. The inputs and impacts of that creative transformation are often in different units of measurement. They are usually expressed in the ecosynomic terms of (1) the development of new capacities and relationships, (2) the possibilities seen and manifested, and (3) the insights gained from observing what happened and evolving to new possibilities, processes, and forms.

If you are measuring the moving around of already-existing things, in calories equivalents, you are probably being productive in lifting-moving things (labor).  If you a measuring the changing forms of energy, as ideas, processes, outcomes, and learning, you are probably being productive in creating things (elaborated nature).  They are different processes, measured in different ways, adding different kinds of value. Which are you doing?

Inviting a High-vibrancy Data Artist–Communicating a Unifying Framework for the SDGs

Making It Obvious. How do you tell the story of the great challenges facing humanity? In a very simple and clear way that both shows the challenges and what you can do about it? As an individual, a small group, a large group, a nation, all of humanity?

OUR INVITATION. We would love to work with a high-vibrancy data artist to tell a 4-principles story, in a simple, clear graphic. Starting with the ideas described below, bringing your creativity to how to tell that story.  We are writing an article on this unifying framework, which we intend to publish in a prominent journal in 2022. Your art would be part of that article, acknowledged as your contribution.  If you are or know that high-vibrancy data artist, who would love to figure this simple, clear graphic out with us, please contact us.

What is the project?

The Challenges Humanity Faces. Many, many people around the world have taken up the work of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were laid out by the United Nations. They provide 17 goals of a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” Many have also taken up work on the planetary boundaries, a framework providing “a set of 9 planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come.” To figure out how to meet the 17 SDGs, while respecting the 9 planetary boundaries, some groups have started to work with the donut-economics framework providing planetary and social boundaries for the performance of an economy, that must meet the needs of people while not overshooting the planetary boundaries. This provides 26 boundaries.

A Unifying Framework. My colleague Adam Hejnowicz and I suggest a simple way to understand 4 underlying principles of the 26 boundaries, making it simpler and clearer how to deal with all 26 in anything that you do, and in any way that you choose to directly contribute. The idea works with the 4 spheres of the earth system: the mineral lithosphere, the water hydrosphere, the air atmosphere, and the life biosphere. Talking about them as spheres shows how they are both separate and how they mix. We suggest that all 26 boundaries deal with (1) the mixing and depletion of the spheres, faster than they naturally balance and replenish, and (2) equitable human access to those balanced and replenished spheres. Equitable access to clean minerals, water, air, and life.

The following links show how other groups graphically show these 4 spheres and how they influence each other.

Lopsided Value Generation: Who Is Better Off?

Look, she’s doing well. She made lots of money. Look, they are doing well. We helped them. Are they better off? How do you know?

One way to assess whether someone is better off is to see how much is flowing into their lives. These are inflows. Another way is by looking at what they are able to do, which you can assess through how much is flowing out of their accounts for products and services, for experiences. These are outflows. Whether they are better off can also be looked at by the wealth they accumulate, how much is in the stock of money, things, or experiences they have. This stock goes up when the net flow (inflows minus outflows) is positive–more inflows than outflows–and goes down when the net flow is negative–more outflows than inflows.

While the three ways of looking at better off might all be valid, they tell different stories. Based on what story you want to tell, you would use a different one of these three. They are better off because we gave them inflows. Inflows sound good. More is better. And, to know if someone is better off from the inflow, you need to know their outflow as well. For example, we helped them get 1,000 calories of food. Good. More is better than none. We can also see that these 1,000 calories are to feed 4 people for a day. They need to consume 8,000 calories (4 people times 2,000 calories/day/person). The net flow is still very negative–1,000 in and 8,000 out. They are better off with the inflow, but not enough to cover the outflow. Likewise, we can focus on the outflow narrative. They purchased 8,000 calories of food. Good. Did they have the inflows to cover that, or did they deplete their reserves to do that?

While both the inflow and outflow narratives seem powerful, they are usually partial narratives, often to the benefit of the storyteller. A fuller narrative looks at the stock with the inflows and outflows. They are better off when the stock stabilizes or increases, improving their resiliency, their reserves for a future day, and when their access to inflows is greater than their outflows. To summarize, the stock increases when the net flow increases. You are worse off, now and going forward, when that stock decreases. You are better off, now and going forward, when that stock stabilizes or increases.

That is a focus on the individual. Expanding the view to include multiple individuals, a different question arises. When these individuals interact, who is better off? We can look at their stocks, their accumulations of inflows and outflows.

Most better-off narratives focus on the inflows, outflows, or stocks of one of the individuals in the mix. Rarely do they focus on the net effect of the interaction on all of the individuals in the mix. They avoid telling the fuller story. Look at the massive amount of press on the accumulated wealth of the rich. Or how they helped the poor. All of these narratives focus on one of the inflows or outflows or stocks, not on the whole mix.

To know if people are better off because of someone’s actions, a simple thing to ask is whether all of the individuals in the mix are better off. At time zero, this was what was in each person’s stock. After the action taken, at time one, this is what is in each person’s stock. If all of the stocks have increased, everyone is better off. If one or more of the stocks have increased, and others have decreased, then that value was taken from one and given to another. It was redistributed. The total amount of value in all of the stocks stayed the same, moving some from one person to another. This is extraction. People don’t like extractive narratives, so they tell the story of how one person’s stock increased. They don’t tell you where it came from. Did it come from an overall increase in everyone’s stock or by extracting it from one person’s stock?

A straightforward calculation of the total amount in everyone’s stock is to look at the Total Value Generated for those involved in the ecosystem of the interaction. Sum up the stocks of all those involved at time zero. Sum up all of the stocks at time one. Is the value generated in each person’s greater? Is the total sum of the value generated greater? If yes, then everyone involved in the interaction is better off. If no, then someone gained at the other’s expense.

It is often challenging to know which scenario is playing out in a story you are being told. More value generated for all or extracted from some for others. Often this is because they are telling you about specific inflows or outflows or stocks, and not about the net effect on all involved. An easy way to do this is to talk about outputs instead of outcomes or impacts. This is what we did, our output. It hides what happened, the outcome, what that did, the impact of the net effect on everyone involved in the interaction.

Northwestern professor Gillespie and Harvard professor Bazerman formulate this as parasitic integration, where a win-win agreement contains losers. The net effect of the interaction is lopsided. Someone gains from the others. It might be a win-win for some, but not for all.

By asking the question of the Total Value Generated, you are providing a principle that suggests that a person’s actions within any ecosystem can leave the whole ecosystem better off. Instead of accepting the narrative of how someone is better off because she made lots of money, you can ask the question of whether she is better off because what she did increased the value for everyone involved.

This could change your understanding of what actually happened. Did you buy the food because it was cheap, or was the food cheap because the people doing the work were underpaid and the quality of the food was very low? Or was the food cheap because the company figured out how to profitably pay the workers well for high quality food, in a way that was less expensive to you. Were you and the company lopsidedly better off, while the workers were not, or was everyone better off?

By measuring the Total Value Generated, you can look at the Value Generated for each person (the net effect on their stock of their inflows and outflows) and for the whole of those people involved in the ecosystem. If the Value Generated for each increases, they are all better off because of what you did. A more efficient interaction.

Flourishing from Work: Good or Bad for Business? For You?: Recommended Readings

Clifton, J. and J. Harter (2021). Wellbeing at Work: How to Build Resilient and Thriving Teams. New York, Gallup Press. Dig in a little deeper here.

Pirson, M. (2017). Humanistic Management : Protecting Dignity and Promoting Well-being. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Pope Francis (2015). Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of The Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home. Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Sisodia, R. and M. J. Gelb (2019). The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World. New York, HarperCollins Leadership.

Wiener, N. (1954). The Human Use of Human Beings. Cambridge, MA, Da Capo Press.

Can you flourish from work? Because of work? Is flourishing from work good for business? Or is it bad for business? What about for you?

While a lot of people are talking about flourishing at work today, there is no consensus. Many people think it is either (1) inefficient to bring feelings and vulnerability into the rational process of efficiently converting inputs into outputs someone will value, or (2) it is just plain dangerous to do so. And, there is growing evidence that flourishing at work leads to flourishing in life. So, what is flourishing at work, and how does that flourishing impact business results? These five books address these questions, providing many case studies and lots of data, from across the globe on what flourishing is, how high-performing organizations are evolving their capacity for flourishing at work, and why this is required to address some of humanity’s large-scale issues. Let’s explore the five books, briefly, by alphabetical order of the authors.

Clifton and Harter synthesize lots of data gathered recently by the Gallup organization, looking at their five elements of wellbeing (career, social, financial, physical, community), with chapters dedicated to lots of data and examples about what healthier and higher performance looks like. They also frame four risks of NOT creating a net-thriving culture, as well as provide a roadmap for you to take on your own net thriving. Very accessible.

Pirson interweaves scholarly research in business with classic philosophy to build a framework for thinking about a more humanistic management, putting human dignity and well-being at the core of business practice and research. For those seeking to frame why and how they are proposing more humanistic ways to manage their business, Pirson provides an entry way to that logic, peppered with references to robust thinking about why and how a humanistic approach is more powerful.

Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Lauato Si’ puts the flourishing human being, in community, at the center of the process for dealing with massive issues in our common home, our living earth. Our current choices are damaging this common home, which is causing a decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society. There is another path, of creativity, collaboration, and dialog. The consequences of flourishing from our organizations might be our capacity to creatively collaborate on addressing these massive challenges to our common home.

Sisodia and Gelb find that not only can people flourish at work, how we come together can actually be healing. Healing individually and as groups. Across companies and communities. They provide many examples of groups that are thriving and having huge impact, through their healing processes at work.

In his classic piece, Wiener shows how understanding humans as living feedback systems emboldens how organizations and society might engage them. People are more “patterns that perpetuate themselves” than “stuff that abides,” capable of extending themselves through their attention and intention into greater-than-self purposes. While quite technical and theoretical, at the founding of cybernetics, Wiener provides solid and simple frameworks to remember that people are amazing, evolving beings, and using them as cogs in a machine is a huge waste.

From the very practical to the very theoretical, from the very grounded to the very spiritual, these five books suggest that we humans can indeed flourish from work, and that human flourishing is good for business and good for you.

Leadership for Flourishing

Reimagine leadership as empowering human flourishing. A group of us have come together, from across the globe, to work on this. Human flourishing, leadership, character, and actual impact.

How do these elements fit together? Do people who figure this out and practice this every day do better? These are the questions we are asking. Find out more about how by visiting us at https://www.leadershipforflourishing.com.

You can also see an overview of this emerging thinking in the free online “Leadership for Flourishing” course offered by our colleagues at the Oxford Character Project and the Harvard Human Flourishing Program.

Guest Post — The Science Behind Our Yes!

What is the science behind your Yes!?  

For those of you who prefer audio or video, Maureen and I explore this in a radio interview.  If you prefer text, Lou and I explore this in a blogpost.

We welcome your insights.

The NocHoIce Placebo — You Might Have Just Been Given One, and How to Counteract It

You know about medical placebos. That is when they give you a sugar pill instead of the real thing. Medical research uses the placebo to see if the real thing actually has the intended effect, or it was something else that did it. They do this by giving you something that has no medicinal value, a placebo.

Placebos are used in a lot of places, not just in medicine. The word “placebo” comes from the Latin for “I shall please.”  Is that really a thought you had (the real thing), or did someone else put it there (the sugar pill)?  That is the thinking sugar pill (cognitiva placebo).  Do you really like your friend or love your partner, or did someone lead to you feel that?  That is the feeling sugar pill (emotive placebo).  Are you really get nutrients out of that food or the caffeine out of that coffee, or did someone give you a sugar pill, masquerading for an incomprehensible list of ingredients?  That is the biological sugar pill (biological placebo).  Is that a real door you are knocking on, or is it a Pauli-exclusion-principle space you cannot pass through?  That is the material sugar pill (materia placebo).  Placebos are everywhere.  Are you getting the real thing or a sugar pill, something with no actual value?

You probably took a NocHoIce placebo recently.  Did you get the real thing, or a sugar pill?   The thinking, feeling, biological, and material are all ways that you relate to and make sense out of your experience.  You know this.  You create a story, in your head, of how the world really works.  While as humans we don’t actually know how most things in the world actually work, we are really good at knowing that they do work.  [For example, physicists don’t know what time actually is, just that it works, relatively.]  We humans can also be good at knowing, from our own experience, whether we are experiencing a placebo or the real thing.

You have multiple ways of sensing what is happening.  In your thinking, your feeling, your sensory perception.  These are different systems that you can use to perceive and differentiate what is real and what is a placebo.  Integrating these different systems gives you a fuller perception of what is happening.

When you are NOT pay attention, you might be accepting the NocHoIce placebo (non election placebo). You are letting someone else use your attention.  To counteract the NocHoIce placebo, you already have what you need.  You have the YesChoice.  It is in your thoughts, your feelings, your intentions, your biology, your matter.  You can see the NocHoIce placebo and choose reality with your YesChoice.

Measuring Success 2.0: Recommended Readings

Keller, S. and B. Schaninger (2019). Beyond Performance 2.0: A Proven Approach to Leading Large-Scale Change. Hoboken, NJ, Wiley.

Phelps, E. (2013). Mass Flourishing: How Grass Roots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.

Stiglitz, J. E., et al. (2019). Measuring What Counts: The Global Movement for Well-being. New York, The New Press.

Nobel laureates in economics, economists, and strategy consultants. They have spent many years thinking about how society today measures success. They all suggest that today’s “obvious” measures of success miss huge amounts of value. They leave most of the value on the table. They even plain miss the mark. Basically, we are measuring the wrong things, in that the things we measure don’t tell us what we want to know.

We want to know both how well something has done and its capacity to keep doing this. Its performance and its health. Our current measures of performance focus mostly on performance–how well we did. We made money, we scored a goal, we got a 10/10 on the exam, we were promoted. This performance data only tells how we did. It doesn’t tell us anything about how we got the resources we used, how well we used them, or whether we can continue to get them. In other words, these performance measures don’t tell us whether we extracted all of the value out of the system to get our past results, or we have nourished an even richer system from which we can continue to produce great results. Did we extract value from the future to get results in the past, or did we generate a rich future while performing well in the past?

A common measure of sustainability looks at the net value an ecosystem generates today and its capacity to continue to do that in the future. In simple evaluation, this is called the net present value. The value generated now plus the potential values generated in the future, discounted by the risk of getting to that future. The performance these authors look at measures what we have done. The health they look at measures what we will be able to do. To know whether we are better off, now, we need to our performance and health. These authors plow through massive amounts of data, from the very macro to the very micro, to show how measuring performance and health leads to far better outcomes and far higher well-being.

McKinsey consultants Keller and Schaninger show that a robust, comprehensive organizational health index guides an organization towards strategies and actions that generate greater performance over time. This provides a way for aligning the organization internally, with higher quality execution and constant renewal. The practices that support organizational health also lead to greater awareness of one’s environment and the capacity to respond to changes in it, leading to more probable and greater performance.

Economists Stiglitz, Fitoussi, and Durand show that macro-economic initiatives guided by well-being are far more successful than GDP-only designs. They use data to show why we need to move beyond GDP, compiling many examples of how different countries are integrating well-being into their measurement systems.

Economist Phelps finds that prosperity is best measured by flourishing, the ability of people to engage their fullest capacities in a a task, as well as their ability to express themselves creatively, growing into their greater potential. While these factors are critical to understanding what has driven past growth and technological development, they are not usually included today in economic thinking. They need to be.

To measure our success, from the very micro level of individuals to the very macro level of whole societies, we are better off when we understand and evolve the systems we have that drive our performance, managing them in ways that continuously increase the health of these very systems. Performance and health are not tradeoffs, extracting the value from one for the other, rather they are indicators of the generativity of the system, and indicative of the underlying agreements than support that performance and health. These are great reads, full of data, with clear frameworks for what we can measure going forward.

Your Grit (perseverance and passion): 4 Levels

In this podcast, Freakonomics UChicago economist Steven Levitt explores “grit” with Grit UPenn psychologist Angela Duckworth. Characterizing grit as perseverance and passion, they explore different ways people think of their own grit. Listening to this podcast, having reading Duckworth’s book, I realized that you could think of grit from an ecosynomic perspective from four different levels.

Noun level, where I focus on agreements based in what is already finished. At the noun level, grit (nGrit) is about my own node, the immediate space around my own self. I have an executable goal that I can achieve with my existing capacities. I have enough grit to read a book today, or climb that mountain this week.

Verb-noun level, where I pay attention to agreements based on what I am developing in relationships and capacities (verbs), as well as the outcomes (nouns). At the verb-noun level, grit (vnGrit) is about my own node and its links to other nodes. I have an intermediate-level, developmental goal, that I achieve as I grow. I have enough grit to strengthen my capacity to read more and more deeply, or climb that mountain, coming out stronger than I started.

Light-verb-noun level, where I focus on agreements based in my beingness, my potential, what I am becoming as I develop relationships and capacities, and the outcomes of that tangibilizing process. At the light-verb-noun level, grit (lvnGrit) is about my node, links to other nodes, and the centers of the circles of linked nodes. I have what Duckworth refers to as a top-level goal, often a deeper shared purpose to which I have the grit to contribute, that is in my potential to grow into being able to achieve. I can see that I will be able to read ever-more challenging books, and even begin to write books. I can see that I could climb ever-more challenging mountains, and maybe in different ways.

Ecosystems-of-sacred-hospitality level, where I focus on agreements based in the deeper purpose I feel called to serve. At the ecosystems-of-sacred-hospitality level, grit (eshGrit) is about the liminal space generated by the double pull of transcendence away from herenow and immanence completely in herenow. In my grit, I have an existential-master goal, which defines and guides every aspect of who I am and what I do. I am in service to reading or climbing, continuously in the process of cotangibilizing my service to that purpose, evolving what I understand is in my potential to realize along the way.

Grit. Perseverance and passion. What that means to me depends on what I see as my reality. Nouns only. Nouns and verbs. Nouns, verbs, and light. Ecosystems of sacred hospitality. Each level of reality engages orders of magnitude more grit, all which is inside of me to choose.

What Should I Measure? What Am I Measuring? Inputs, Outputs, Outcomes, Impacts?

You are NOT measuring what you want. You want your efforts to do something, to mean something. You give your will towards a future you love. When you don’t consciously choose how you engage your will, your creativity, your efforts, your attention, you feel disengaged, like most of the people seem to feel most of the time at work. If you want your efforts to have an impact, then measure your efforts and their impact.

What are you actually measuring? Your impact? Probably not. Lots of research on evaluation shows that most people are measuring inputs or outputs. Not outcomes and impacts.

Two questions. What is the difference? Does it matter? There is a difference, and it does matter. In fact, What You Measure Is What You Pay Attention To (WYMIWYPAT — pronounced “wimy why pat”).

What is the difference? First of all, you get resources to do something that impacts someone else. In organization-speak, you engage and accumulate assets, which you transform into a service or product that others want. In the figure below, there are inputs that flow into the Asset Accumulation, and there are outputs that flow out. These outputs of resources generate outcomes, within the organization, which have impacts for the recipients outside of the organization. [Here are OECD definitions of these terms.]

Differentiating Inflows, Outflows, Outcomes, Impacts

Does it matter? What are you measuring? Most people are measuring INPUTS. Their story is about the number of people they have working, the number of service offices they have, the number of products they have, the inventory available. We are a 12,000-member company with 450 fully-stocked storefronts in 210 communities, providing dozens of services.

Some people tell a narrative about their OUTPUTS. The number of hours worked, the number of meals served, the number of units sold.  Last year, with 120,000 hours of service, we provided 234,000 meals to 56,000 elderly in 700 communities.

With a famous example, you can focus on the number of drills you have (inputs), the number of drills sold (outputs), the sustainability of the profits from the drills sold (outcomes), or the holes drilled (impacts). The famous question is whether the customer wants the drill or the hole that the drill makes.

The main point is that what gets your attention gets your intention. Where you focus is where you act. If you really want your efforts to make a difference, if you want your work to mean something, then you need the feedback from the impacts your efforts have. You need to measure impacts. To be able to adjust what you are doing (outputs), and how well you are doing it (outcomes), you can also measure your outputs and outcomes. To know what resources you need for those activities, you can also measure inputs. The inputs, outputs, and outcomes are in service to your impacts. Understanding them can help you evolve what you do and how you do it to achieve the impacts you want. This gives your efforts meaning, and the ability to evolve your capacity to serve that meaning.

Your choice is to think about how you measure that meaning, the impact of your efforts, in terms of the recipient. Then you can choose how to assess what you do and how you do it to achieve those efforts, on an on-going manner, to continuously improve, to evolve. It is your choice.