Top 4 Reads of 2018

The top 4, most-read blogposts of 2018 focused on the big questions that guide how we understand impact, collaboration, and leadership today.

Top 4 Blogposts

  1. 4 Questions that Changed the World, Again and Again
  2. From a Theory of Change to a Theory of Impact Resilience
  3. Collaboration Basics: Essential Agreements
  4. Leadership — How We Get to What We Have and Where We Could Be

The 1st blogpost looks at four questions that have repeatedly changed the world, continuously asking what resources we see as real, who decides and enforces how we interact, what values we use, and what rules guide our interactions.  The 2nd shows how these four questions highlight the linear, short-term logic of a theory of change, and that leading groups are actually working with a systemic, strategic theory of impact resilience.  The 3rd, with my colleague Ruth Rominger, describes what we are finding to be the basics of collaboration, why many groups do not collaborate, how they could, and the benefits of that collaboration.  The 4th differentiates three very different types of leadership, using the four big questions and three levels of perceived reality to show what leaders at each level are able to engage and transform into value.  This makes a set of explorations into how some people are beginning to lead their groups collaboratively towards great impact and greater resilience, by asking the big questions and choosing different agreements.


Impact Resilience with Network Power

“Complex systems have somehow acquired the ability to bring order and chaos into a special kind of balance. This balance point–often called the edge of chaos–is where the components of a system never quite lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into turbulence, either. The edge of chaos is where life has enough stability to sustain itself and enough creativity to deserve the name of life,” according to author Mitchell Waldrop in Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.  What does this mean for social systems, systems of human beings?

As the most complex system that sustains us as human beings, life’s stability is found at the interface of outcomes and development, of the already-finished state of nouns that are balanced by the becoming state of verbs.  Life’s creativity is found at the interface of development and potential, of the becoming state of verbs and the possibility state of light energy.  Finding this interface, where life is creative and manifests, evolving as some innovations work better in the ever-changing environment, is the power of healthy networks.  Embedding a process of evolutionary discovery and alignment with a deeper shared purpose scales network power into tangibilization power, where deep collaboration brings orders of magnitude greater impact and resilience.

Confusing Unison, Harmony, and High Creativity

Recent studies suggest that too much harmony or collaboration is bad, killing creativity and value-generation.  They find that too much time spent agreeing with everybody else and minimizing differences leads to lower creativity and innovation.  While they might be right, I suggest they are confusing interacting in unison with interacting in harmony.

Unison means one sound.  Monophony.  This is where everyone makes the sound, the same note.  All the same.

Harmony means an agreement of sounds.  Polyphony.  This is where everyone makes different sounds, with different notes, that combine in a specific way.

It seems to me that the studies are criticizing too much unison and too much submission.  Too much process focused on getting everybody to the lower common denominator, where they can find something that they all agree on, and then submitting to someone else’s will, in honor of the group’s health, over-processing everything.  Unison and submission lead to people shutting down their creativity, their insights into new, unique contributions they can make towards the health of the group, and the others, and themselves.

It seems to me that the studies are then suggesting that people need to find ways to efficiently bring out their best, unique contributions, together, in a way that creates new value for those participating and for those who are recipients of the efforts.  These are the definitions of harmonizing and collaborating.  Bringing out the best of each other’s unique contributions (what makes us each different), each other’s own note, in a highly efficient way that generates something new.  To do this, efficiently and effectively, requires listening to one’s own voice, to the other’s voice, and to the resulting harmonic for the whole, continuously improving all three.  Not doing so is a waste of time.  So maybe the recent studies mean to say (1) that people are mislabeling harmony and collaboration [they mean unison and submission] and (2) that too little harmony and collaboration is bad, killing creativity and value-generation.  Maybe.

The Ooos of Impact

Impact is the energy transferred, from one thing to another.  You can look at impact in three ways.  The 3 “O’s” of impact.  Outputs, outcomes, and opportunities.

Outputs. If you focus only on the noun level of agreements, in ecosynomic terms, you can only see your outputs.  You are only focused on the specific outputs, the observable nouns, of the resources in your immediate environment.  You might be able to make assumptions about the impact of your outputs, but you cannot see the impacts, because that would require seeing over space in your relationships with others and over choices made in time.  These over-space-time capacities are not allowed in noun-only thinking.  The math of noun-only thinking integrated out movement over space and time to see how much noun is available.  You can see your outputs, as you react to what is happening.  You have some impact (X).

Outcomes.  If you focus on the verb and noun levels of agreements, in ecosynomic terms, you can see the outcomes of your activities, as they impact others over time.  At this level, you can see the  outputs, the activities, and the outcomes–a much richer picture than just the outputs.  You can learn from your outcomes, improving your activities to get better outcomes.  You can multiply your impact (nX).

Opportunities.  If you focus on the light, verb, and noun levels of agreements, in ecosynomic terms, you can see the opportunities, in what is being learned from previous activities and from the new possibilities emerging.  The intersection of what was learned from the outcomes of past activities and the emerging possibilities is where you find opportunities, potentials that you can experiment with, finding pathways of relationships with which to manifest the potentials.  At this level, you can see the outputs, the activities, the outcomes, the lessons learned, the emerging potentials, and the opportunities to manifest them.  You can evolve your learning and your activities, asking new questions, scaling the impact you can have (X^n).

When you look at impact, you can choose to look at outputs, outcomes, or opportunities.  You can have an impact, multiply your impact, or scale your impact.  What is the return on your impact investment?  Is the investment for opportunities much greater than for outcomes or outputs?  Which is more efficient, more effective?  It is a choice, a choice that depends on your agreements.

A hat tip to HA for the distinction of outcomes and outputs.

The 3 Co-s of a System as Parts-Related-in-Whole

When we look at our agreements through the social lens of how we Homo lumens interact, we find three very different, often-confused Co-s: coordination; cooperation; and collaboration.

Coordination comes from the Latin coordinare “to set in order, arrange,” from co– “with, together”  + ordinatio “arrangement,” from ordo “row, rank, series, arrangement.”  Cooperation comes from the Latin cooperationem (nominative cooperatio) “a working together,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see com-) + operari “to work”.  Collaboration comes from the Latin collaborare “work with,” from assimilated form of com “with” (see com-) + laborare “to work”.

Coordination is about segregating, arranging separate pieces–it is only just about the parts.  Cooperation is about flocking, working on one’s own together towards a similar goal.  It is about the parts and their relatedness.  Collaboration is about uniting, bringing together unique contributions towards a deeper shared purpose.  It is about the parts and their relatedness and the whole.  Parts coordination, parts-related cooperation, parts-related-in-whole collaboration–the 3 Co-s of parts-related-in-whole, the definition of a system.

People Aren’t Dumb. The World Is Hard.

People aren’t dumb. The world is hard.”  So says Professor Thaler, the 2017 Nobel laureate in economics.

From an ecosynomic perspective, the world is hard, for two reasons: the environment and the individual.  The environment is the exterior experience of the embedded agreements we live in.  The individual is the interior experience of our perception of our existence in the world.

Professor Thaler uses this quote to point at what we can do to improve our outcomes and experiences.  It you think people are dumb, then you can either make them smarter or deal with the fact that they are dumb.  If you think people are not dumb, and the world is hard, then you can try to make interacting in the world less hard.  Thaler suggests it is more the environment than the people.  We agree.  

We can understand the embedded agreements, in a way that works with our ability to perceive.  We can develop lenses on our agreements and processes for shifting them, which we can test, to see if they lead to the behaviors (outcomes and experiences) we want to have.

[To hear Professor Thaler describe what he means with this quote, listen to the July 11, 2018 Freakonomics podcast.]

Be Yourself—Which Self?

Two sayings.  One recent.  One very old.  Just be yourself.  Know thyself.  While some people might be referring to the same thing with both of these statements, most people intend very different worlds, processes, experiences, and outcomes with these two sayings.

Is this psychobabble or relevant in everyday life?  I suggest that choices are being made for you in every instant of your life.  I also suggest that you are not involved consciously in most of those choices.  Choices that greatly affect your life.  And, you could be.  One way of looking at this is, who is choosing.  Thus, the two sayings.  Just be your self, and know thyself.

This kind of “just” statement–just be yourself–means only or nothing but.  You only need to be yourself.  Nothing but yourself.  Just be you, in whatever comes out.  If you are thinking, just be yourself.  If you are feeling, just be yourself.  If you are following your gut, your intuition, just be yourself.  No worries, just be yourself.  That is one way of looking at it, at being your self.

Know thyself, expressed in the Ancient Greek as gnōthi seauton (γνῶθι σεαυτόν), means to know your whole self, which includes your thinking, your feeling, your willing, your lower self in waking consciousness, your higher self in your soul, and your highest self in the I AM.  The task of know thyself is to integrate these different dimensions of your self into one whole knowing, self-aware here now.

We can expand on the description of the “know thyself” task, using the three ecosynomic levels of perceived reality (light, verb, noun).  At the noun level, we only perceive outcomes.  What we can  pay attention to in this instant of what we perceive through our senses.  At this noun level, we see only the capacities we have in this instant, the capacities that are already finished, already here now.  This self contains what is already finished in our lives, what we have already created and manifested.  These capacities are amazing, and that we are able to manifest them in this reality is even more amazing.  These are our sacred nouns, the marvel of everything the universe needed to do to have that much energy hold those capacities together right here right now in the way they do.  While what it took to get to this instant is amazing, there are no choices for us, as this instant is already finished.  The choices were already made.  All ways always.  That is what we see of our self, when we focus at the noun level.

At the verb-noun level, we perceive the development of capacities and relationships, and we perceive the outcomes of that development.  Both development and outcomes, verb and noun.  This self contains what is becoming and what is already finished, what we are creating and what is already created.  What is changing over time, and what is also in this instant.  What we are learning and what we already know.  At this verb-noun level, choices enter.  We can choose how we develop these relationships and capacities.  We can learn from what we observe in this instance of the noun, and we can choose to alter the verb. At the verb-noun level of our self, we experience our becoming and our already finished.

At the light-verb-noun level, we perceive the potential, the development of that potential, and the outcomes of that development.  Potential, development, and outcomes.  Light, verb, and noun.  This self contains what is in beingness, becoming, and already finished.  The potential to create, what we are creating, and the already created.  The infinite energy in potential, the energy being used to manifest the potential, and the capacity present in the already finished, the outcome.  We can choose what potential we see, what potential we bring into existence and begin to manifest, and what we learn from the feedback presented as the sacred noun, the outcome.  What we could learn, what we are learning, and what we already know.  At the light-verb-noun level of our self, we experience our potential, our becoming, and our already finished. All three levels are always available to us in all ways.

In addition to the three levels of perceived reality, we also experience our self through different dimensions of reality.  In earlier explorations of our multi-dimensional reality, we saw that physicists to philosophers suggest that maybe we live in and are made up of many more dimensions of reality than the three we are most accustomed to–length, width, depth.  My current research explores what it would mean for us human beings to be made up of these dimensions: how being constituted that way affects the choices available to us.  One way to see this is to play with our human capacities of thinking, feeling, and willing.  What if the thinking capacity is a reflector, where the light inputs of our senses have a surface to reflect off of, so that they can be perceived.  [Remember, we don’t see light directly, it is passing by all of the time invisibly; we perceive the reflection of light off of something.]  The feeling is the witness that observes what is reflected off of the reflector.  The willing is the chooser, engaging our body in action.

If our self is purely in our thinking, engrossed in a feedback loop amongst our own thoughts, then our attention is only in the reflections of our reflector, without the witness (feeling) or the chooser (willing).  We get stuck in our thoughts, oblivious to what is happening in this world, until we “come out of it.”

If our self is purely in our feeling, witnessing our witnessing, we get caught in the infinite spiraling up and down in our emotions, our witnessing of witnessing.  While we are purely in our being present with what is emerging, the only emerging we are presencing is our witnessing.  Again, we are lost in the world of our witnessing, oblivious to the reflector’s sensory perceptions of what is happening and to the chooser’s choices engaging our will.

And, if our self is purely in our willing, with the chooser, then we are following our gut, which means that it–our gut, our intuition–is leading: we are not.  We can put our awareness in our chooser, in our willing, our gut, and watch it being chosen for us, oblivious to our reflector and to our witness.

Another option is to put our awareness in the simultaneous integration of all three.  What our reflector is showing us about what is being perceived through our senses, what our witness observes from the reflector and from what is being chosen in the will, and how that aligns with our deeper purpose, then consciously choosing how we want to manifest, from the potential, into the context we perceive from our reflector, into the choices being made in our willing.  Through this integrating process, we can align our reflector thinking, our witness feeling, and our chooser willing with our self that is perceiving the environment we are in right here right now, with our higher self that guides our deeper purpose toward the future we love and to which we give our will, with our highest self that guides our service in the unique contribution we are uniquely constituted and contextualized to make.

Coming back to where I started, “just be yourself” leaves completely open the question of which self.  The invocation to “just” might lead me to pay attention to any one of the many dimensions of the self we explored above.  “Know thyself” invites me to bring my awareness to all of these dimensions at the same time, which I can do, because they are all me.  My self.  The trinity of me, myself, and I.  Always all ways.  All in one.  So, the next time you make a choice, who is making it?

Seeing Inside Bodies–Humans, the Earth, Groups

To understand how something works, we watch how it behaves–response.  If its responses are consistent, we take a guess at how it behaves.  This is what it does.  If its behavior is not consistent, we need more information.  We then test how it behaves by observing it in different circumstances–stimulus and response.  If the responses are consistent with the stimulus, we take a guess at how it processes the stimulus and responds.  If they are not consistent, we need more information.  We look at how it works, internally, by taking it apart–stimulus and organism and response.  With bodies of humans, the earth, and groups, this means cutting open the body and poking around.

In 1895 the invention of X-ray radiation revolutionized medicine.  Doctors were able to see inside human bodies without cutting them open.  Much safer and less intrusive.  Without this dangerous invasive procedure, they were now able to observe behaviors and see how the human body worked internally.

In the mid-1900s, the invention of muography revolutionized how scientists observe the inside of large structures, such as Egyptian pyramids and volcanoes.  They can now see how the large structures behave and what is happening inside, without destroying them or tearing into them.

In the mid-2010s, the invention of pactoecography revolutionized how people observe the inside of groups, their internal agreements.  In addition to seeing how groups interact and behave, observed through their experiences and their outcomes, they can now use ecosynomic lenses to see the unconsciously accepted and consciously chosen agreements fields within which group interactions happen.

If Every Human Is Uniquely Constituted and Contextualized, Always All Ways, Then…

As Homo lumens, a being of light, you know when you experience being alive.  You experience many dimensions of aliveness. Energy, attraction to something, your senses, reflections on what you are perceiving, potentials, activities, outcomes, choices, physicality in 3 dimensions (breadth, width, depth), groups, others, your own self.  You experience all of this.  And, you are unique in what you experience and in how you experience it.

You are uniquely contextualized.  You are the only human being that can be in the exact place where you find yourself in space and time.  Nobody else can be in the exact same space at the exact same time.  So, everyone else is in a different space at any given time, or in a different time in any given space, therefore their experience, their perspective, on any experience is different, even if only a little bit.  You are also the only human that has grown up with the exact set of experiences you have had.  Nobody else has had the same whole set of exact experiences you have had.  This chain of experiences has influenced your context.  Your contextualized experience throughout life is unique.

You are uniquely constituted.  You are the only human being that was born to the parents you were with the exact genetic code that you have, which has expressed in the particular way your genetic code has.  Even identical twins have different experiences, which cause different expressions of the genetic code to show up over time.  You are uniquely constituted, with different gifts, developed capacities, potentials, and learning opportunities.

Since you and I are each uniquely constituted and uniquely contextualized, I cannot be having the same experience that you are having.  They are different experiences.  Different in what I see in the experiences.  Different in how I relate them to elements in my lived context.  Different in what I can do with them.  Not at all like your experience.  Ever.

Sometimes that our experiences are different is irrelevant.  That your experience is different does not add to my experience.  At the park, you experienced soaring with the eagles and smelled the pine trees, while I remembered making tunnels in the dirt in that same park as a kid.  The difference does not matter.

Sometimes that our experiences are different is relevant.  We work together, because you are creative, and so am I.  That your experience is different does add to mine.  In our conversation at the park, you were thinking of who to invite to dinner and games we could play.  I was thinking about what we could eat, weaving in the food preferences of our guests.  I need you to be different and relevant.

Since your experience is different than mine, there is only one way to know and benefit from the difference.  I cannot directly experience your world.  I can be with you in your world.  I can ask you about your experience, and I can listen.

Straightforward and valuable.  And, we humans seem to rarely do this.  Maybe we could start.

4 Strategies for Tangibilizing Societal Agreements — Recommended Reading

Waddell, Steve. “Four Strategies for Large Systems Change.” Stanford Social Innovation Review 16, no. 2 (2018): 40-45.

To achieve societal outcomes for everyone, everywhere, everyday within any given social system requires bringing together peoples with access to different economic resources, different political decision making and enforcement systems, different values, and different organizing forms.  It requires uniting in collaboration at a whole new level.  Long-time action researcher of societal change, Steve Waddell, shares in the reading referenced above what he observes in how people end up weaving together four large-system-change strategies to achieve a desired societal impact resilience.

In ecosynomic terms, the first step in any societal effort to change the agreements at the foundation of human interaction is to understand the deeper shared purpose, the love for a future to which people give their will. The second step is to bring together the people who are necessary for realizing that deeper shared purpose.  Dr. Waddell finds four strategies for who is necessary to change societal agreements to achieve that deeper shared purpose.  These four strategies are based on two continua: from confrontation to collaboration; from destruction to creation.  One can work to shift agreements working apart (confrontation) or together (collaboration), and generating new agreements (creation) or removing old agreements (destruction).  The article provides two case studies of large systems change, where all four strategies played out in the system over time.  A key insight is that changing major systems of agreements probably requires a range of pathways to tangibilize the deeper shared purpose–different ways to achieve the same impact.  These different ways require different capacities, ways of interacting, ways of seeing the world.  In large-systems change, the entrepreneur, the warrior, the missionary, and the lover–the four archetypes Waddell identifies with the four change strategies–all bring their particular worldview, organizing forms, and energy at particular times.  One form is not superior to the others, rather they each bring a part of the overall game.

The ecosynomic strategist, tangibilizing agreements field potentials, pathways, and outcomes, would do well to appreciate and embrace these four forms, seeing how they weave together to change foundational societal agreements.