To decide is a movement towards a future. Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon framed decisions as including value judgments about a desired future state and factual judgments about how to achieve that goal.
A tribute, to a great friend, an advocate for abundance-based agreements, an entrepreneur who brought “more life” to millions of people through care for their feet, a philanthropist. My mentor Jim Throneburg passed last week. We met 16 years ago. He inspired me with his work, his vision for what a community—a business—could be. For what self-discovery leadership could be, every day. We learned, we evolved, together. He provided a first example of and a laboratory for ecosynomics. Jim, I will miss you, we will miss you. Thank you for the many experiences we had together.
Does it matter whether you experience being seen and appreciated by others? Recent studies, described in the Harvard Business Review, show the value to you and to the group of experiencing that your presence matters, that you are seen, and that you connect with others in the group.
In the EY Belonging Barometer Study, with survey data from 1,000 employed adults in the USA, when people experience belonging at work, they are 3.5 times more likely to contribute much more in their work. This belonging is stronger when colleagues check in with them regularly, acknowledging them both personally and professionally.
In a survey with 1,789 full-time employees in the USA, and in experiments with 2,000 participants, BetterUp scientists found that high belonging correlates with 56% higher job performance, 50% less turnover risk, 75% fewer sick days. They calculate that for a 10,000-person company, this equals $52million a year in savings.
Both of these descriptions of belonging correspond with the experience of the relationship to the other between the inner and middle circle (see figure below). You and I see each other for our capacities (inner circle), and we begin to accompany each other in our own learning experiences. This means that these huge savings come from simply seeing the other, for their basic capacities, by acknowledging and accepting them.
What would be the value of a much deeper experience of belonging, of supporting each other in one’s learning process, through continuous check-ins around one’s own learning (middle circle of the other)? And, if you and I were to support each other in exploring our deeper potential, to be able to make our own deeper contribution to the group, learning more about myself, because you accompany me, in trust? If the relationship to the other at the level between the inner and middle circle is as valuable as these studies show, being much more likely to contribute and to be much more present, what is the value of being fully present, as seen in the outer circle? What do you think?
I have observed lots of conversations lately where people talk about who belongs and who does not. They often talk about how long they have been here, wherever that is, as compared to the tenure of others. A technical term for this tenure is a generation.
The word generation comes from generate, which means to give birth, from PIE root *gene-,” thus meaning born here. Born here can mean born here in this time, or born here in this space. In the context of the physics of space-time, it means born in this space-time, this energy field.
Which energy field (EF)? To keep things simple, let’s call the physical, material EFA, the biological, living EFB, the social, relational EFC, and the cognitive, mental EFD.
From the EFA perspective of physics, matter is energy [E=mc2], and you are from herenow if your material is from herenow. Most of the matter in your body is replaced every 7-10 years, more or less. If you have been somewhere specific, for more than 7-10 years, your physical, material body, the body you inhabit, is indigenous to that place–you are made up of matter from that place. Indigenous means sprung from the land, from Old Latin indu (prep.) “in, within” + gignere (perfective genui) “to beget, produce.” That makes an EFA generation about 7-10 years long. How many EFA generations have you been where you are?
From the EFB perspective of biology, life is energy, and the EFB that defines your life energy patterns expresses in your genetics. Your genes–once again, from PIE root “gene-“–come from your parents, basically. An EFB generation is the time between when your parents had you and when you had your child, which tends to average about 25 years. How many EFB generations has your family been here?
From the EFC perspective of social relations, the relational energy defines a generation as belonging or identifying with a specific worldview. Groupings of peoples by their worldview characterizes generations in 10-20 year blocks, averaging around 14 years. What EFC generation are you part of? How many EFC generations have been birthed in your lifetime?
From the EFD perspective of mental cognition, the mental energy that defines a generation as those with the same form of aligning reality, of a way of perceiving reality within a sphere of influence–how long people are influenced by a set of ideas. Humans seem to carry much of what they are taught early on with them for the rest of their lives. In the distant past, these mental generations might have spanned thousands to hundreds of years. In the past century, the span of a mental generation is getting shorter and shorter, now lasting less than 10 years. What was taught as obvious a decade ago is quite different today. How many EFD generations have been birthed since you were in school?
Me? I have lived in western Massachusetts for the last 9 years, so most of my material EFA is from here, indigenous to western Massachusetts, just like anyone else who has lived here physically for the past 7-10 years. My relational EFB has been in the northeast part of the USA since the early-to-mid 1600s, meaning my genetics have been here over 375 years or 15+ generations. My social EFC is from 1965, which means I was born almost 4 worldview EFCs ago. My cognitive EFD is at least 5+ generations old. This all shows that I am from here (EFA), have been of this genetic stock for quite awhile (EFB), and that many new social (EFC) and cognitive (EFD) perspectives have been born since I appeared. I have been here awhile and much new richness has come along in that time.
So, when someone starts to talk about belonging, and whether they belong more or less than you, you can ask what they mean, from 4 different perspectives on generations of belonging. EFABCD. Also, when you think about the richness of your heritage and the richness of indigenous, from-here perspectives leading your communities, you can ask how many of the actual EFAs, EFBs, EFCs, and EFD in your groups are represented in leadership. The heritage and the richness are there for your enjoyment. It is your choice whether you engage with it.
Equity must be a central feature of regeneration. And, equity work can be done in such a way that is degenerative. Diversity, inclusion, equitable involvement, and valuation are crucial to regenerative capacity, and regenerative approaches are key to equity, at the individual, inter-personal, organizational and larger systemic levels.
Regenerative capacity is the capacity to generate again. To generate the resources needed for one’s system, from within one’s system. High regenerative capacity means that the system generates all of the resources it needs for its own sustenance, from within the system. Low regenerative capacity means that the system depends on external sources for its sustenance.
Regenerative capacity invokes capacity (the nouns we have), with which we can generate (the verbs we have), again and again, (from the potential we have) as we grow and learn. While the capacity to work depends on our nouns, generative capacity depends on our verbs and nouns, and regenerative capacity depends on our potential, verbs, and nouns. Regenerative capacity is qualitatively different than generative capacity or capacity alone, in that it requires continuous alignment of our potential, verbs, and nouns, as we evolve over time. This continuous alignment of potential, verbs, and nouns requires full engagement of all of those people who are responsible for the potential, verbs, and nouns. This full engagement requires equitable participation in the continuous alignment.
Why is equitable participation critical for the continuous alignment of potential, verbs, and nouns in regenerative capacity? Let’s first clarify what equitable participation means, and then what happens when equitable participation is weak, medium, or strong. Equitable participation requires inclusion, diversity, and equitable involvement.
Inclusion is having relational access structures to resources, being part of the set of relationships with structures of access to the definition of desired impacts in the community, to determining who is to be impacted by specific efforts, to the factors that are used to decide these impacts and what is learned along the way. This is to be included, from the Latin for being made a part of.
Diversity considers the requisite voices, those who have the required unique contributions needed to serve the group’s deeper shared purpose. Diversity considers the processes for how these unique voices make their contributions to the group, honoring what they each bring. Diversity in the contributions needed, in determining what is of value to the community and how the value is to be generated and received. This is diversity, from the Latin for turning different ways.
Equity is treating everyone equally, in how they are invited for and engaged with their unique contributions. This is equity, from the Latin for being equal, treated fairly.
Through ISC’s global research in 125 countries and over two decades of experience in social change systems, we find that the degree of equitable participation determines the degree of regenerative capacity, and that these are both fundamentally determined by the strength of the system’s agreements field.
The system’s agreements field is a whole, a whole that one experiences as a unity, a whole that includes the system’s deeper shared purpose, how it engages people in that purpose, in their unique contributions, in the creative energy their connection and service releases into the system, in the agreements of structures and processes that work with the potential, development, and outcomes in that engaged creative energy, in the ways that the system’s structure transforms that creative energy into the energy of products and services that other stakeholders value and desire, in the resilience of the systems in its capacity to generate access to the resources it needs for this purpose. These are the dimensions of an agreements field, in how it engages and transforms energy into an energy that it transfers to others. These dimensions and their levels within a specific system reflect the choices the people in the system make, either unconsciously accepting someone else’s agreements or consciously choosing their own agreements.
The strength of the system’s agreements field directly determines the degree of equitable participation it is capable of, and the level of regenerative capacity it can manifest. A weak agreements field is degenerative, destroying or extracting value. A strong agreements field is regenerative, creating and regenerating value. This is why the strength of the agreements field is so critical to equitable participation and regenerative capacity, it shows where the choice points are.
The following table highlights the difference in low, moderate, and high agreements field strength for the harmonic generated from the synergy of the unique contributions, the basis of the economic power, the leadership’s focus, what is valued in the culture, the forms of equity, and what people understand by regeneration.
|Low AF Strength||Moderate AF Strength||High AF Strength|
|Harmonic||remains unexpressed in counterspace (E3=0.0)||expresses E3<1.0 in experience||expresses E3=1.0 in experience|
|Economic-power basis||resource power||network power||tangibilization power|
|Leadership focus (political lens)||“the book” – one voice, of the founder||processes of voice inclusion, to the best we can, for now (2-3 primary relationships)||what I/you/we want and commit to for us|
|Cultural lens||Value extraction||Value creation||Value regeneration|
|Social lens||Coordination in value-exchange gesture||Cooperation||Collaboration|
|Equity form||“hard,” difficult, at best, lacking AF to engage and transform||works sometimes, in pockets||“normal” part of who we are|
|“Regeneration” =||embedded resource-extraction structures EFA||explicit processes of resource co-generation||transparent resource-regeneration structures EFABCD|
When a system is able to generate a sustainable net positive flow of resources in the system, meaning that more is flowing in than is flowing out, the system is more resilient in its regenerative impact. This net positive flow requires equitable participation. The key inflow, whether it is revenues or other required resources, is determined by the value perceived from those who receive the value generated by the system, which requires a clear and continuous relationship with them to understand what they value. This is the degree of impact of the system. The key outflow, in some form of costs, is determined by the responsible ownership of the people who make up the system. As the system grows and ages, unattended costs tend to rise, unless people are creative and responsible in the ways they work with the outflows, continuously learning how to improve the value generated from resources more efficiently. Responsible ownership of all stakeholders within the system requires authentic participation, access, transparency, and communication. Finally, the ability to maintain a net positive surplus of inflows less outflows requires resilience, the ability to shift with changes in the context over time. This resilience requires that the existing elders and powerholders work closely with the emerging and rising leaders, all four generations, building on what has been learned, is happening today, is emerging soon, and will live on in the distant future. These three ingredients of net positive flow—the inflows, the outflows, the ability to continue to generate a surplus—highlight the critical nature of equitable participation.
The weak agreements field is a system of embedded resource-extraction structures. As examples, in the USA, we have the 2008 too-big-to-fail banking bail out. In Europe, we have the residual artifacts of global colonialism. In Africa, we have traditional aid examples from the IMF and the World Bank.
The moderate strength agreements field is a system of explicit processes of resource co-generation. In the USA, we have town meeting in New England. In Europe, we have the BUILDUPON initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the building stock by 50% in the next 25 years, across all member states of the European Union. In Africa, we have the Bokaap initiative to generate its own electricity, food, and water, creating independence from the national grid.
The strong agreements field is a system of regeneration as transparent resource-generation structures. In the USA, we see RE-AMP and EAN VT, where states have taken on sovereignty of their own energy future, moving towards 90% self-generation by 2050. In Europe, Renovate Europe has integrated the legal structures to support “nearly net zero” building standards for the whole EU, drastically reducing energy consumption. In Africa, the SHIRE Alliance in Ethiopia developed local innovation ecosystems for the self-generation of electricity, run and maintained by the local community.
Regenerative capacity is the capacity of a system, of a group of people, to generate its own life-sustaining energy, a key proxy of its resilience. Equity is a critical part of that equation. A system’s regenerative capacity is reflective of the strength of its agreements field, which means that it is a matter of choice. A choice of inclusion, diversity, and equity. Your choice.
A hat tip to my colleague Curtis Ogden for inspiring this reflective exploration of regenerative capacity.
When you engage with a group, you feel the excitement about its potential. When you connect with a group’s purpose, you experience the energy it can bring into the world. You know these are real–you experience them directly. You know how that experience feels, inside of you. It is probably what connects you to the group in the first place, to the purpose they aspire to, to the impact they can have in the world.
And you also experience that the group is not manifesting everything that you know, somewhere within yourself, it is possible for them to manifest. In our group, we care, we try. Why isn’t it happening to the level that we know it could? ISC’s research finds these questions living in most groups, in most places where people come together to do something in the world.
What’s happening? My colleagues and I have been working with these questions over the past 30 years, evolving our understanding of what is happening and how to deal with it. Over the past 5 years, we have been deepening our understanding into the energy field of a set of agreements, which we call an agreements field. We find that this energy field of agreements ranges from weak fields to strong fields. This agreements field is a multi-dimensional energy field.
We have found that you can unlock the full energy of the agreements field with 3 keys. Each key is uniquely configured, and you need to use all 3 to unlock the deeper potential energy residing within the agreements field. The 3 keys unlock the flow of energy through the agreements field: (1) engaging the energy; (2) transforming it; and (3) transferring it. Our global field research finds that people who use these 3 keys simultaneously unlock far more of the energy already within their agreements field. Said another way, we find that most groups either (a) don’t use any of the 3 keys, leaving almost all of the available energy untapped, or (b) they use only 1 of the keys and only partially, unlocking a little more energies than others, but still far, far less than they could. It does not seem to be a matter of being smarter, richer, or more experienced: it seems to be more a matter of consciously choosing your agreements.
We have developed a tool and process for assessing how well a group unlocks the impact potential already residing in its agreements field. We call this the Strategic SCAN, as it lets us diagnose the group’s Systems understanding, Collaborative Capacity, Added value, and Network Readiness (SCAN). With it you can assess how weak or strong your agreements field is, and what keys are needed to unlock more of its energy.
The potentially infinite energy available through human creativity and manifestation is available to you in every agreements field. The question seems to be in whether you know how to unlock that potential. The groups we have found that do unlock far more of that potential get far better results from the massive amount of energy they unlock. These groups are not better endowed: they are consciously choosing to use these 3 keys, simultaneously. It is a choice. Your choice.
Abraham Maslow is famous for his view of human developmental needs, progressing in a hierarchy of needs from physiological needs to transcendence. I just found, in his later writing, how he saw this development in terms of what we refer to as the five primary relationships–the experience you have in the vibrancy of your relationship to your own self, to the other, to the group, to the creative process of nature, and to the creative source of spirit, five ways you relate to one experience.
“Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos,” (A.H. Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1976, Penguin: New York, p 269).
What is a system? A system is a set of interrelated elements. Elements that interact. Another word for how elements interact is an agreement. Human interactions form a field of agreements, an agreements field. An agreements field engages the energy of people connected to a purpose, changes that energy into another form, a form that others want and are ready to receive. From whom, how, to whom. That is how systems metabolize energy: systems that are fields of agreements.
We distinguish four types of energy fields in an agreements field.
- EFA. Material energy fields (EFA) are the physical dimension we experience as tangible. Crystalized, mineral structures. We live in a world made physical through the structures of material energy fields, of which humans are also made.
- EFB. Accessing energy fields (EFB) are the reaching out within an energy field, as structures of access, to get the needed resources. As humans, we are also EFB, reaching out with accessing structures for resources.
- EFC. Relational energy fields (EFC) are the energy fields that relate one energy field to another. Mobile in space and time. Humans are also EFC, relational energy fields.
- EFD. Aligning energy fields (EFD) are the energy fields that align an entity’s purpose with what it experiences, what it remembers, and what it chooses. Humans are also EFD, aligning how they relate to other energy fields (EFC) with accessing (EFB) structures (EFA). EFABCD. Human systems. Agreements fields.
What is change? Change is a shift in behavior. A shift in outcomes and in experiences.
Systems change is a shift in the outcomes and experiences of an agreements field, of its interactions in its four levels of interpenetrating energy fields, EFABCD. A shift in its structures, its material energy fields (EFA), is a change in the amount of material resources it has. A shift in its accessing energy fields (EFB) is a change in its capacity to reach out towards other resources. A shift in relational energy fields (EFC) is a change in its ability to relate to other energy fields. A shift in aligning energy fields (EFD) is a change in the ability to align the agreements field with its intended purpose, its relationship with other fields, and with its accessing structures. A change in human systems requires a shift in all four energy fields, EFABCD.
How ready is any given system for change? How ready is the agreements field ready for a shift? The agreements field’s readiness for a shift assesses its state of all four energy fields, EFABCD.
- Added valuation. What is the current added value of the available resources (EFA)?
- Network readiness. What is the current access to basic structures (EFB), to form a network of nodes?
- Collaborative capacity. What is the current relational capacity, to collaborate with other energy fields?
- Systems understanding. What is the current ability to align one’s own energy fields?
These four capacities SCAN form the Strategic SCAN, a strategic assessment of an agreements field’s (S)ystems understanding, (C)ollaborative capacity, (A)dded valuation, (N)wetwork readiness.
Where are you in your readiness for systems change? The Strategic SCAN assesses the four energy fields (EFABCD) of your agreements field, to let you know where you are with what capacities you have, and what you need to do to shift to the capacities you need for the desired experiences and outcomes.
A group’s impact, the value it generates, is a common measure of its success. Groups that generate greater impact and value tend to have greater access to the resources they need to continue generating impact and value.
We can understand a group’s impact and value generated as the energy it is able to engage, transform, and transfer. This energy engagement, transformation, and transfer is described by the geometries of the agreements field. The transferred energy can then generate even more energy, a surplus. Who ends up with the energy and the future impact it generates depends on the agreement about the energy transfer–the giver who engaged, transformed, and transferred the energy or the recipient to whom the energy was transferred.
- Transaction. In a transaction, energy flows towards the giver (payment) and towards the recipient (transferred energy). Energy flows both ways, in the moment. The giver no longer has a relationship with the transferred energy: the energy transferred now belongs to the recipient. The recipient keeps any future surplus generated from the energy received. The recipient now has the energy, and can use it to generate new impacts and value. The giver receives energy, in another form, for having engaged, transformed, and transferred energy.
- Loan. In a loan, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient, for awhile, with the requirement that the amount of energy transferred plus some surplus be returned to the giver in the future. Energy flows first to the recipient and then back to the giver. The giver receives the energy and surplus for having let the recipient use the energy for awhile.
- Gift. With a gift, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient. Any future surplus generated is for the recipient. Energy flows to the recipient. The giver receives the awareness of the future impacts the recipient generates and retains.
- Reciprocity. In a gift ecology, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient. The recipient generates surplus value with the energy, and transfers it to someone else. The energy transferred, plus the surpluses generated along the way, eventually are transferred to the initial giver. The energy and accumulating surplus flows around, through the circle, with all participants receiving and generating more.
People often label what they are doing as a gift, a loan, a transaction, or reciprocal. Sometimes it is what they say it is. Other times, they are not. For example, what is labeled a gift might have expectations of return, thus it is a loan. By looking at what the giver receives back and who receives future surplus the energy transferred generates, you can see what is actually happening. All four forms are valid. The point is to be clear on the intention, and what is actually flowing. Who do you want to benefit from the value/impact generated? Who do you want to end up with the energy generated? It is a choice.
Collaboration. The impacts of a group’s efforts seem to be much greater when people collaborate, as compared to when they cooperate with shared resources or compete with each other. A key to collaboration is engaging a set of unique contributions with everyone involved, towards a deeper shared purpose. This collaboration drives the synergistic harmonics, the new resulting wholeness, everyone seeks. This working together, by respectfully engaging the best, unique contributions of everyone involved is the simultaneous expression of freedom, equality, and solidarity. Working together, for the health of the whole (solidarity), by respectfully inviting and engaging with each other (equality) the best, unique contribution each has to offer (freedom).
A big part of this is your unique contribution. What is a contribution? The word “contribution” comes from the Latin for “to bring together,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” and tribuere “to allot, pay.” The root seems to come from the Latin tribus for tribe, possibly derived from the place from where one comes (PIE root *treb-). One understanding could then be that a contribution is what is given to the group. Another understanding could be that a contribution is what flows with others into a larger body, like a tributary river. Yet another understanding could be that a contribution is the act of being with (com) sacred space (tribus, treb), connecting with one’s own creative source and flow, with one’s own expression of purposeful energy.
Everyone seems to engage more when they are invited to contribute something that is uniquely theirs to contribute, a creative act. When people are completely replaceable or not even needed, they tend to engage far less, everywhere. Working with all three uses of the word, maybe your unique contribution is when you engage your own creative process, letting your creativity flow through you, with the creative flow of others, for the benefit of the group, of everyone in it, and of everyone impacted by the work of the group. You can choose to make this contribution–the flowing of your unique creativity–or not, it is your choice.