Are You Low-skilled Labor Or a High-quality Craftsman? Depends on What You See

From one perspective, hundreds of millions of people working on the manufacturing floor, in offices, and in service jobs around the world are low-skilled labor.  They are filling blue-collar jobs.  Applying the agreements evidence map to the agreements underlying this low-skilled labor perspective, we find assumptions that people only bring the capacities to do work that they have.  This is an expression of resource power, focusing on the nouns, the capacities available right here right now.  From this logic, whoever has more resources to bring to the game has more power.

The agreements evidence map points to another perspective, one where many of the people in these jobs bring capacity to do work and they are experts at their craft, bringing deep levels of experience in collaboration, and very high-quality processes to their efforts.  They know what they are doing, and they are very efficient at it, continuously learning and furthering the craft.  The agreements evidence map shows agreements based on network power, focusing on learning and development of capacities and relationships, as well as outcomes, the verbs and the nouns.

Are the people in these hundreds of millions of jobs, low skilled or high skilled, labor or knowledge workers, replaceable cogs or expert technicians?  Is a knowledge worker only a professional, or might it depend on the level of craftsmanship brought and the level of agreements underlying the position?  It might depend on what you see, on the underlying agreements.

Still Using Your 8-Track Player and Your 1950s-based Agreements?

Are you still using your 8-track player to listen to music or do you stream music online?


Do you still use a 1950s washing machine?


While some of you might, most of you are probably not.  Yet, many of you are probably still using 1950s agreements of what human interactions look like.

Why would most of us update our music and laundry technology and not the technology for human interactions?  We update the first, because the benefits of the newer technologies are obvious.  Much cooler and much more efficient access to much more music, or better clothes-washing care for the price.  When it comes to human agreements, we tend not to see the implicit, embedded assumptions in our agreements.  We still unconsciously accept the 1950s idea that most people are cogs in a machine that bring specific, interchangeable capacities to a task, and that they simply need to be contracted and compensated for the pound of flesh exacted from them at work.

Current research shows that, across the planet, people working under these 1950s agreements are disengaged at work and that the costs of this disengagement are huge.  Alternatively, we have documented tens of thousands of cases of groups that are working with 2010s agreements, updated technology, that assume people are quite competent, excited to engage, and ready to learn, all of the time, and that when they are treated this way and invited to contribute their best, they most often do, and that the net benefits to groups working this way are huge.

If you periodically update the technology that plays your music and washes your clothes, maybe you should consider updating the technology for how you interact with others at work.

Deep Collaboration Requires Three Kinds of Listening, Twice

Sometimes we find that no matter how hard we work at something, we are not capable of achieving our goals.  Our own experience and efforts are insufficient to the task.  We realize that we need others.  Other perspectives, other experiences, other energy to get it done.  In these circumstances, we find that we need to collaborate.  We need to bring our best, unique contributions together in a way that releases great synergies.

My colleagues and I have found in our field research in dozens of countries that this deep collaboration is best supported by three kinds of listening, each done twice in a continuous process, a process that we have come to call the O Process.  These three kinds are intentional listening, relational listening, and imaginal listening.  While there are many technical expressions of each of these forms of listening, here I will describe them briefly, what they do, and what they look like in practice.

Intentional listening.  Listening for intent, for the deeper shared purpose, for the motivating will force common to the group that brings everyone together to achieve one bigger goal that requires all of us to participate.  Here we listen for the “why” we are coming together.  It is most useful when made explicit, and when everyone gets clear on what it is and whether it is important to them.  When this deeper shared purpose is clarified, amongst all in the group, you have a very strong motivating force that also provides a container, a set of guidelines, for what is to be worked on as a group.  As the group moves into working together, they now have a clear standard to check whether the group’s exploration serves this purpose or serves another purpose.

Relational listening.  Listening for connection, for why each other individual in the group both (1) connects to the deeper shared purpose, and (2) what their unique contribution is to that purpose–why they care and why they are needed.  Since you already listened for the deeper shared purpose, you are now listening for why you want to be deeply curious about and interested in what this person has to contribute to your ability to achieve the deeper shared purpose, after all their perspective is critical, which is why they are part of the group.

Imaginal listening.  Listening for what possibilities the other people see from their unique perspectives.  Since their contribution is unique to the group, it is different from yours.  They are seeing something different, which begins to highlight different dimensions of the challenge the group is working on.  Through your listening, you can begin to see an image of what they are seeing, you can begin to imagine it.

As we come to the top of the O Process, we have used three different kinds of listening, with clarity now on why the group has come together, why each person is needed and what they contribute, and now what they see.  We can now begin to materialize–to tangibilize–what we see together.  We can now use the same three kinds of listening again, to now tangibilize, to make tangible, the possibilities we saw together.

Imaginal listening, part 2.  At one moment in the creative process of seeing possibilities together, we reach a point where we begin to see the same reality, and the possibilities converge into a probability.  At this moment, we bring our imaginal listening to seeing what each unique perspective sees of the emerging probability.  This emerging probability, which begins to feel real, has many different dimensions to it, which the different perspectives we have can help us see.  What image can you begin to perceive, as you build up the different dimensions each person sees?

Relational listening, part 2.  With a clearer image of what we are collectively looking at, from multiple perspectives, we can now begin to make this ours, to bring it into what we can each commit to.  Since what we are now imagining is in service of the deeper shared purpose we started with, which part of what we are seeing is mine to take up?  What part is yours to take up?  This is where we again use relational listening, to listen for how we each relate to the emerging image, each from our own unique contribution.

Intentional listening, part 2.  Now that we know how each of us is relating to what we saw together, we now move towards what we are going to each do, how we are going to each engage our own will, our own intentional force, to begin to do something to move this image into a reality.  Here we use the intentional listening to hear what each of us is going to do, the actions that we need to take up, aligned with our new commitment to our unique contribution to the image we are realizing.  What energy will I give to moving closer to the image we saw in service of the deeper shared purpose?  What will you give?

In this process, we see why we are coming together to collaborate, what perspectives are needed, what they can see, what we can see together, what that begins to look like as we manifest it, what we can each commit to in realizing that image, and what we can each do.  A great step forward in collaboration, supported by three kinds of listening, each used twice.

Seeing What I Actually Know

I know what I know.  Right?  Two authors I have been reading summarize research showing that we typically are not very good at knowing what we know now or recalling what we think we knew before.

In his 1976 classic Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Columbia University professor Robert Jervis summarizes research that shows, “People often not only have a limited understanding of the workings of others’ arguments, they also do not know the structure of their own belief systems—what values are most important, how some beliefs are derived from others, and what evidence would contradict their views.  Particularly dangerous is the tendency to take the most important questions for granted…This often involves..failing to scrutinize basic assumptions” (410-411).

Highlighting a vast amount of recent research into the neuroscience of memory in his 2015 book The Brain, Stanford University professor David Eagleman writes, “Although we don’t always realize it, the memory is not as rich as you might have expected…The enemy..isn’t time; it’s other memories.  Each new event needs to establish new relationships among a finite number of neurons.  The surprise is that a faded memory doesn’s seem faded to you…Our past is not a faithful record.  Instead it’s a reconstruction” (23-26).  “Our picture of the external world isn’t necessarily an accurate representation.  Our perception of reality has less to do with what’s happening out there, and more to do with what’s happening inside our brain” (38).

If we are not good at knowing what we know or remembering accurately, then what can we do?  These same lines of research highlight two human strengths: (1) our partial perspectives and (2) our error-correcting ability to calibrate.

Our partial perspectives.  We each perceive a rich world of sensations, inputs that we each are uniquely able to perceive and process.  Combining a set of rich perspectives different individuals have about an experience can lead to a more nuanced, multi-dimensional understanding of a given phenomenon.  This integrated set can then be tested against evidence: how the system actually behaves.  Systemic, multi-stakeholder processes, like the ones we have tested and developed, at the Institute for Strategic Clarity, are one method for capturing, integrating, and validating this kind of richness.

Our error-correcting ability to calibrate.  Our brains seem to focus on correcting errors in the mental representation it already has of the world.  The brain is calibrating.  “Instead of using your senses to constantly rebuild your reality from scratch every moment, you’re compaing sensory information with a model the brain has already constructed: updating it, refining it, correcting it” (53 The Brain).  ”The brain generates its own reality, even before it receives information coming in from the eyes and the other senses…(For example, the) thalamus simply reports on differences between what the eyes are reporting, and what the brain’s internal model has predicted…what gets sent back to the visual cortex is what fell short in the expectation” (51-52 The Brain).  This act of calibration is a strength.  Using evidence-based mapping, we can see what actually exists more rigorously and use that mapping to calibrate our individual mental representations, the mental models we use all day long to make decisions.

To apply these concepts of partial perspectives, weak memory accuracy, and calibration to complex social issues like human agreements, we need rigorous frameworks for integrating and validating what we know.  Especially since we also know that human agreements can be very hard to see, tools like Agreements Evidence Mapping are ever more critical for (1) capturing and validating partial perspectives, (2) integrating them into one whole, strategic representation that can be validated, around (3) often hidden agreements we have unconsciously accepted, that (4) we agree to shift.  Maybe I do not know what I know, most of the time, but I can.

Agreements Field Mapping

You interact to have experiences and to get results. That is why you do what you do. The agreements you consciously choose or unconsciously accept define how you interact. Those agreements are based on embedded, interwoven assumptions.

Our experiences, outcomes, agreements, and assumptions form an “agreements field.”  A field is the environment in which individuals or groups interact.  This concept is widely applied in physics, and less so in the social sciences.  By an agreements field, I suggest that in looking at our experiences, outcomes, agreements, and assumptions, we are describing one entity, from multiple perspectives–one field where we can perceive the outcomes and the experience of people interacting based on conscious or unconscious agreements founded on underlying assumptions.  One field.  One agreements field.

To describe the different perspectives within the agreements field, to map the social topography of agreements fields, we have developed and globally tested a set of mapping tools.

Together these four mapping tools describe four key perspectives of an agreements field.

Our work at the Institute for Strategic Clarity now focuses on further developing and applying agreements field mapping to map the global social topography of human agreements, through the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience (MEDIR).  With our colleagues around the world, we are beginning to see that the social topography of human agreements is as varied as our earths’s geological topography. Peaks and valleys in many forms. Treasures abound. Things we have never imagined around every corner. The flatearthers of human agreements are missing out–there is a lot of treasure out there, ready for all of us to discover, marvel at, and learn from. It only takes the quest(ion) to find it.  If you are interested in contributing to this global initiative, please contact us.

A Common Object-ive Is Not a Deeper Shared Purpose — How to Know the Difference

A common object-ive is completely subject-ive.

My colleagues and I find that most people who tell us that, in their group, they have a common objective they are all working towards are actually working at cross purposes, at best.  What most people call a common object-ive is completely subjective–they are actually working on their own subjective understanding of what the means and ends are.  This common object-ive is not a deeper shared purpose, and here is why the difference between a common object-ive and a deeper shared purpose matters.

To co-host collaboration, we start with uncovering, understanding, and naming the deeper shared purpose that pulls a group of people together and guides their interactions.  We are trying to find out why these people come together to work together towards something they hold together.  A common object-ive does not answer this question.

When most people say they have a common objective, they are actually saying that they are each working on something that influences the same distant object.  Group A works on building schools in poor regions, so that kids can go to school.  Group B trains bilingual teachers, so that kids from different cultures can have access to a basic education.  Group C provides free lunches as incentive to parents to let their kids go to school.  All three groups are working on a common object-ive of giving kids an education.  When the leaders of Groups A, B, and C came together, they told us that they were clearly working on the same object-ive, educating children.  And, it was clear that they were not working on a shared deeper purpose, as they were not working on these three seemingly interrelated dimensions of access to education together, as they were often not even working in the same regions of the country.  Yes, there were schools, with no teachers or students.  Or yes there were teachers, with no schools or students.  And, there were students, with no schools or teachers.  The three groups were not working on the same, deeper, shared purpose.  Working apart, from different perspectives, in different areas, towards a common object.

Seeing parts and a common object does not make a system of interrelated parts towards a common purpose.  Moving different parts at a common object is not leveraging a system of interrelated parts towards a shift in systemic behavior.  By a deeper shared purpose, we mean working together towards leveraging a system of interrelated parts to shift a systemic behavior–showing up in the same place, in a coordinated fashion, to provide schools and teachers and students with access to an education.  This coordination requires a different kind of theory of change, one that we have called a theory of impact resilience.

How do you know whether you have (1) a common object-ive or (2) a deeper shared purpose?  I suggest you immediately have three pieces of evidence you can use to triangulate to determine which you have.

  1. Language.  Start with the language of what the groups holds to be common.
    • If it is a common object-ive, it might sound like, “We work on X to get Y–building schools to educate kids.  We do W to get Z–developing bi-lingual pedagogy to give bi-lingual children access to schooling.”  Each is working on a means to what looks like a common object.  No mention of working in a coordinated way with other means to that same ends, as a system.  For similar examples, see our Guatemala project.
    • If it is a deeper shared purpose, it might sound like, “We are working with the groups that develop all of the required dimensions of the educational system for kids in this region, all of which are necessary to provide equitable access.  We are trying to figure out together how to shift our work, together, to get a different outcome for these children, in the same place at the same time.”  For similar examples, see our Guatemala project.
  2. Experience.  Describe what it is like to work within this group.
    • If it is a common object-ive, we find that most groups describe an experience of competition amongst the different members trying to achieve the common object-ive or low levels of co-operation amongst the members–often competing to get funding from the same sources.  These often feel like the inner to middle circle of the vibrancy experience, tiring and an endless struggle.
    • If it is a deeper shared purpose, we find groups usually describing an experience of collaboration amongst the different members, inviting and inspiring each member to make their best unique contribution.  This is often described as the outer circle of the vibrancy experience, invigorating and life-giving.
  3. Expectations.  Observe what the group and the members of the group expect of each other’s contributions to the group.
    • If it is a common object-ive, we find that most groups either (a) do not have clear expectations of what you could or should contribute, or (b) see the contributions as interchangeable–if you won’t do it, we can find someone else who can.
    • If it is a deeper shared purpose, we see that most groups are very clear on why you are specifically invited to make your unique contribution to the group–you are needed and your contribution is unique and critical–you are not interchangeable with anyone else.

As you look at your own group’s “common goal,” here are three guiding questions, which frame the process we call the harmonic vibrancy move process.

  1. Do you have a shared unifying objective for the whole system?  We call this the deeper shared purpose.
  2. Do you have a shared unified theory of how all the parts fit together and influence the dynamics of the whole and how to shift the dynamics of the whole?  We call this the systemic view of why the different voices are required.
  3. Do you have a unified theory of intervention for each perspective’s best contribution to collaboratively and collectively shifting that behavior efficiently?  We called this systemic leverage.

Differentiating and Integrating the “We” — What We Share and Why We Work Together

People show up, in support of each other, to achieve together what they cannot achieve alone.  This happens every day, everywhere.

Sometimes, to take on really audacious issues, we need other people.  In many cases like this, someone often says, “They won’t come talk with us.”  Agreeing, someone else says, “Even if they do show up, they will not agree with us.”  Someone else then chimes in, “Even if they agree with us, there is no way they will be able to do anything about it with us.”  The invitation is dead on arrival.  I hear some version of this at the beginning of almost all “multi-stakeholder” processes.  And, so far, in over two decades of attempts, it has never been true.  People will show up, agree, and act together.  It depends on the invitation.

I see the invitation as an issue of differentiating and integrating the “we”–what we share and why we work together.  Here is a recent example from my work in health.  What we share–a passion and deep commitment to healthy community.  Why we work together here now–to address the disparities in health outcomes in vulnerable communities.

Technically, we can differentiate between a higher-order, overall purpose (the ends) and an immediate, local purpose (the means).  The higher-order purpose, our deeper shared purpose, provides the context for what we see, the field of our Yes!  I find that when we get clear on the deeper purpose that we share, what we really care about, then the invitation gains a life of its own.  I often hear from folks coming together, often for the first time, “I didn’t know, after all these years, that you cared about this too.”  It seems that we tend to observe the intermediate goals of others and assume their deeper purpose, which it turns out we usually get wrong.

The immediate, local purpose provides the specific within the general–the specific game within the rules of the game.  This is the problem we are coming together to address, within a bigger  opportunity envelope, the game we are going to play in the sandbox.  When we can agree on the sandbox, and we can agree on how the immediate, local purpose connects to the higher-order purpose of the sandbox, we can begin to play together.

This distinction between what we share, described with the higher-order purpose, and what we come together to do, described with the immediate, local purpose helps us delineate the general from the specific, any game we might play together from this game we are agreeing to play right now.

What does this look like in practice?  In our work in Guatemala, everyone wanted a healthy, safe Guatemala.  We worked together on understanding the dynamics of generating self-determination for every Guatemalan.  In Vermont, everyone wanted sovereignty for Vermonters in deciding their own energy future.  We worked together on how to realize a 90%-renewable-energy portfolio across electricity, heating, transportation, and efficiency in the next generation.  For Food Solutions New England, everyone wanted an equitable, healthy food system.  We worked together on how to get half of the food consumed in New England being produced in New England, a 5x shift.  In the World Green Building Council, everyone wanted to redefine access to healthy buildings.  We worked on the dynamics of experiencing regenerative buildings for everyone everywhere every day.  In our organization Vibrancy, we want a world where everyone has more vibrant experiences every day, achieving better results every day.  We are working together to figure out how to leverage everyone’s capacity to do that, starting with our own research and services.

There are many processes available for exploring these two “we” questions.  One that frames how I work with the question of “what we share” acknowledges a hierarchy of values in a conversation.  We each have means to the ends we want to achieve.  We each have values that guide these means and ends.  Many of these values, means, and ends overlap with those of other people.  Approaches to values hierarchies structure these overlaps, showing what is common in what we want, either along the way to an ends or the ends itself.

For framing the question of “why we work together,” I often work with the behavior over time graph to determine what problem behavior we want to understand and shift.  In mapping out this behavior over time, we begin to see the dynamics that generate that behavior, leading us to insights into the dynamics needed to shift that behavior.  I use these insights to see how the interactions of whose perspectives influence both the current and desired behaviors, and how shifts in the interactions of these perspectives might lead to the desired behaviors.  This lets me know who needs to be in the exploration and how I can invite them to work on a problem together, which is why we work together.

I find that people will show up, in support of each other, to achieve together what they cannot achieve alone.  It can happen every day, everywhere.  It is an agreement.  The invitation to an agreement is a choice.

How Many Voices Can You Perceive at a Time? — the “Cocktail Party Effect”

Recent research shows that where most of us hear noise, the din of a lot of people speaking at once, some people, in this case musicians, can pick out a single voice and the overall harmonic.  Researchers call this the “cocktail party effect,” where lots of people are speaking loudly at the same time, making it hard to hear anything.  That most of us cannot pick out what one voice is saying in the noise of a lot of loud conversation doesn’t mean that nobody can.  Maybe it is a matter of intention and training; the desire to hear different voices and the practice at doing so.  In this case, the musicians need to be able to pick out specific voices or instruments in the mix, and they have a lot of practice doing so.  Intention and practice.

Similarly, Professor Ellen Langer finds that more mindful people are able to notice new perspectives, that someone else brings a different perspective.  In the noise of a conversation, one can perceive that somebody else has a unique perspective to contribute.  And, one can get better at doing this over time.  Intention and practice.

My colleagues and I work with many groups that are taking on very complex social issues.  To address these complex issues, in a resilient way, collaborative processes often require many stakeholder groups to contribute their unique gifts and perspectives.  They are part of the problem and part of the solution, so they need to be involved.  And, they bring quite different perspectives, by definition, of the issue and what they can contribute to the shared intention.  Like with the “cocktail party effect” research with musicians, I find that while most people find it difficult to perceive and value different perspectives in complex social issues, some people can do this.  They have the intention and the practice.  Our ecosynomic processes for working with complex social issues support people in building the capacity to do this, both the intention and the practice–learning how to listen for other unique voices and the practice in doing so.  I see that this is a required skill for addressing complex social issues, a skill we can learn from the example of the musicians.

Being Curious — Most Viewed Posts

Something piqued my curiosity about the most viewed posts of my blogging on ecosynomics and vibrancy since mid-2009.  Of 282 posts, the two most viewed looked (1) at the big questions every culture has seemed to explore for thousands of years, and (2) at the process we observe when people are able to align in a deeply collaborative way.  As both posts seem very appropriate to much of the work the global Vibrancy community is co-hosting with groups around the world today, I thought I would repost the links to them today.

Some people have shared with me that they have favorite posts that they like to share with others.  Do you have a favorite one?  I would love to know.

GRASPing Ecosynomic Lenses

My colleagues and I have developed, over the past two decades, a systemic approach to strategic understanding of complex social systems.  We frame this work with the term GRASP, which reminds us of the five key elements of the strategic systems mapping: Goals, Resources, Actions, Structures, and People.  You can learn more about the GRASP framework and the strategic systems mapping process in our free online course (click here) or in a paper we published in the British journal Long Range Planning (click here).  Essentially, GRASP integrates the five big questions of strategic thinking:

  • Goals. Identify why the organization exists and what its global goal is. Identify stake- holders and their goals.
  • Resources.  Identify those resources that drive value (value-driving resources) for stakeholders and those that enable value (enabling resources). Balance the resource needs for all key stakeholders.
  • Actions.  Act at the level of enabling resources.
  • Structure.  Identify the linkages between goals, resources, and actions.
  • People.  Bring the organization to life. Identify the incentives of those groups that control parts of the organization. Align the organization’s structure and incentives to max- imize the organization’s potential.

In the Agreements Evidence Map, Ecosynomics suggests four lenses for looking at human agreements, asking the questions:

What does the GRASP map look like, from the perspective of the four lenses in the Agreements Evidence Map?  The GRASP map describes each of the four lenses, and how they fit together in a social system.

From the perspective of the four lenses in the Agreements Evidence Map:

  • the Resource lens looks at the enabling and value-driving Resources in the GRASP map
  • the Allocation lens describes the decision and enforcement policies and perspectives used by the People, the stakeholders, in the GRASP map
  • the Value lens highlights the Goals of the stakeholders in the social system, how the value-driving resources describe those Goals in the GRASP map, and the criteria People use to make the decisions they enforce
  • the Organization lens captures the Structure of the relationships amongst the goals, resources, actions, and people, as well as the Actions described by the rules of interaction, in the GRASP map

From the perspective of the GRASP elements:

  • the Goals describe what can be seen through the Values lens for the different stakeholders in the social system
  • the Resources describe the enabling and value-driving resources seen through the Resources lens
  • the Actions capture what people can do within the rules of interaction in the system, as seen through the Organization lens
  • the Structure describes the relationships amongst the elements of the system, as seen through the Organization lens
  • the People describe who makes decisions and enforces them, as seen through the Allocation lens, with what criteria, as seen through the Values lens

Thus, GRASP frames the agreements evidence mapping in integrated, strategic systems terms.