Navigating Complexity and Learning with Agility: Recommended Reading

Dinwoodie, D. L., et al. (2022). “Navegar por la Incertidumbre y Aprender con Agilidad, Claves en el Trabajo del Futuro.” Harvard Deusto Business Review (327): 16-29.

What tools do you need in your future work? Two clear ones are how to navigate complexity and agile learning. With my co-authors Dr. David Dinwoodie and Suzie Lewis, we explore these questions in this month’s issue of the Harvard Deusto Business Review, bringing our decades of experience in leading organizations and what we are finding on the leading edge.

The article is in Spanish. You can also read it in other languages by applying GoogleTranslate.

Varieties of Vitality: Recommended Reading

Lomas, T., J. Ritchie-Dunham, M.T. Lee, T.J. VanderWeele. (2022). “The Varieties of Vitality: A Cross-cultural Lexical Analysis.” International Journal of Wellbeing 12(4): 155-180.

Your own vitality. It is yours. You are able to experience many more ways of vitality than your own language can describe. People across the globe have discovered many of these ways, describable only in their own language, untranslatable in your own. And, you can experience them.

In this just-published article with Dr Tim LomasMatthew T. Lee, and Tyler VanderWeele, we explore how many of these untranslatable ways might fit together to paint a richer mosaic available to all of us.

Something Greatly Determines What You Do, Your Values: Recommended Reading

Bertini, M. and O. Koenigsberg (2020). The Ends Game: How Smart Companies Stop Selling Products and Start Delivering Value. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press. [more about the authors]

Carney, M. (2021). Value(s): Building a Better World For All. New York, PublicAffairs. [excerpt]

Guillén, M. (2021). Motivation in Organisations: Searching for a Meaningful Work-life Balance. New York, Routledge. [open-access version]

Polman, P. and A. S. Winston (2021). Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take. Boston, MA, Harvard Business Review Press. [booksite]

Most everything we do, if not everything, is guided by some principle. Whether we know what that guiding principle is or not, doesn’t stop it from guiding our actions. On a street, we have guardrails to help us stay on the road or lines to stay in our lane. We have incentives at work to guide us toward specific activities. We say nice things to someone because it is part of our culture. These are all values.

The task of identifying your values is an ever-present task, in all cultures, at all times. Because they can be different for each of us, and they can change. I recommend a few recent books exploring this topic.

Professor Manuel Guillén develops a robust map for motivations, providing a matrix of extrinsic, intrinsic, transcendent, and religious motivations, each with forms that address the useful, pleasant, moral, and spiritual good. This roadmap guides how you can explore your set of values, in different contexts. For example, which values most influence thinking about a meaningful job versus a meaningful career or a meaningful calling? Motivations in Organizations connects each of these values to a history of where people have developed their understanding of that specific value, as well as exercises for applying this to your life today.

Economist Mark Carney explores different ways of looking at values, from the political to the economic, from finance to philosophy, disentangling what we mean when we say something has value or our values. “Values represent the principles or standards of behaviour; they are judgements of what is important in lfe…Value is the regard that something is held to deserve–the importance, worth or usefulness of something. Both value and values are judgements. And therein lies the rub” (p4). He applies his exploration of value(s) to three major, current crises: credit; COVID; and climate, seeing them as crises of values. How people respond to these crises “could begin to recast the relationship between values and value.” Having served as the governor of the Bank of England, Carney brings depth and precision to his assessment of the values driving the value(s) crises.

Professors Bertini and Koenigsberg look at value and values from the business perspective, exploring the importance of understanding another’s values to know how to generate value for them, which ultimately generates value for the business. Instead of focusing mainly on the outputs of the activities you do in an organization–the means–they argue for also focusing on the actual outcomes generated for the customer–the ends. Customers want nutrition, not groceries. They want better health, not more medical care. This book highlights advances in technology that let you know how and where your customers are using your products and services, and how well they are performing. With this information, you can turn your “means” products into “ends” services. The key added element here is actively getting the other’s feedback, to understand what they actually value, and not just what you think they should value. For many groups, this is a radically different approach. The books shows how some organizations have implemented structures and processes that allow them to make this shift.

Paul Polman and Andrew Winston ask a broader question. How would one need to understand their ecosystem to be able to inquire into the values of many different stakeholders? Is it possible to develop a strategy that creates value for multiple stakeholders at the same time? Leaving them better off than they started? They argue that “five core principles that center on responsibility will take company performance to a new level…(which when) fully embraced separate the net positive companies from the merely well-run and well-meaning businesses. (1) Ownership of all impacts and consequences, intended or not. (2) Operating for the long-term benefit of business and society. (3) Creating positive returns for all stakeholders. (4) Driving shareholder value as a result, not a goal. (5) Partnering to drive systemic change. Five guiding principles, with plenty of examples of how Polman tried to implement them while CEO of Unilever.

Four recent books on values that generate value, for individuals and for organizations today. Well written, clear, and relevant today.

What Is the “Interesting Index” of Humanity?: Recommended Reading

Henrich, J. (2020). The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. [wikipedia, author Q&A, excerpt]

Graeber, D. and D. Wengrow (2021). The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. [wikipedia, excerpt]

What gets your attention? What do you find interesting? The “Interesting Index” ranges from low (no interest) to high (lots of interest). In wondering what was interesting, sociologist Murray Davis suggested that people give their attention to that which surprises them. The unexpected gets our attention: we seem to be wired that way. We rarely notice everything else.

And, we tend to assume that everyone else’s world looks just like ours. You think the same things, feel the same things, have the same intentions, values. Physics and biology have shown us that we are all made out of the same physical components, and that our biological elements are very similar. Psychology and sociology have shown us that we each, in fact, are completely unique. We each grow up in a unique context–no other being can stand in the exact same spot at the exact same time as another, so they receive different inputs through their organs. Always. So, we are each in our own unique context. And, from the first instant we are created, we start with different genetics, mature in different wombs, as different bodies, in different settings. We are uniquely constituted. This means, as individuals, we are each uniquely contextualized and constituted. Everything we perceive, process, and do is from a uniquely constituted context and a uniquely contextualized constitution. If this is true for individuals, what happens when we interact with other people?

We tend to think that other people, individuals and groups, think, value, and act like us. Yet, if we are all individually unique, when we interact, our interactions must also be quite unique. Maybe in subtle ways or maybe in not-so-subtle ways. Many current stories about what humanity holds to be important and, therefore, how we should organize assume a common context and a common evolution for everyone. This is what is important and real now, and this is how we all got here. Simple. And, possibly very wrong. Two recent books detail what we actually know now about (1) how people perceive, process, and engage in the world, and (2) how we got here.

Professor Joseph Henrich describes, in The WEIRDest People in the World, what most Western, Educated people in Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) groups think everybody else does. They all look WEIRD–some are better or worse at being WEIRD. Henirch dives deep into the ample evidence of actual belief systems and the institutions we build to support those beliefs. He starts by looking at what might have happened along the way to being WEIRD today, pointing many particular choice points and events that might have led to this particular form of WEIRDness today. He then looks at how differently contextualized and differently constituted people, over time, developed different beliefs and different institutions, based on those different beliefs. In terms of my initial question about the “Interesting Index” of humanity today, Henrich suggests that most people assume the world is WEIRD in similar ways, and thus not that surprising or interesting–people assume a low Interesting Index for humanity. And, Henrich shows the ample evidence for very different and surprising forms everywhere, a high Interesting Index for humanity. To quote Professor Murray Davis, “That’s interesting!”

The Davids, in their book The Dawn of Everything, take on a similar question, from the perspectives of archaeology and anthropology. They tackle the assumption that “everyone on earth shared the same idyllic form of social organization” (p8), where we assume that “no one..experimented with alternative forms of social organization” (p8). They invite the reader to assume that “We are projects of collective self-creation…What if we treat people, from the beginning, as imaginative, intelligent, playful creatures, who deserve to be understood as such?” (p9). What if their uniquely constituted and contextualized responses to life led to different forms? Lots of different experiments. That would be interesting. They proceed to share what is known and what is not known from the archaeological evidence, around the world, to show vast experimentation, in parallel pathways, for thousands of years. That’s interesting.

If the Interesting Index of humanity is high, maybe very high, then there very well might be lots of people already figuring out how to organize our interactions together to achieve what we want. Maybe they are everywhere, now. The issue might not be that there is no answer to our challenges, rather that we haven’t looked. We can find them and learn with them.

Bleak or Promising? Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Findings

“Do employees find their work meaningful and rewarding? Do they think their lives are going well? Do they feel hopeful about the future? The short answer is that most employees around the world would answer “no” to all three questions.” [Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report].

Whether this is bleak news or promising news depends on that one key word, “MOST.” From the positive-deviant perspective, that not all of the people have this experience means that some ARE engaged, and feel that their work is meaningful and rewarding. They feel their lives are going well, and they are hopeful about the future. This aligns with my current research where we have found thousands of groups living this way, every day, all over the world.

While this is not good news for the 79% of the workers not engaged at work, we now have a way of (1) finding people who are engaged at work, and (2) we can begin to learn with them about what drives their engagement. These engaged people work in the same geographies, in the same industries, and often in the same large companies as the disengaged people. We can study what makes them different, within the same or very similar circumstances. Our research suggests a key difference is in how they agree, consciously and unconsciously, to interact, which we can measure with the field of their agreements.

I see this as inspiring news. We have found a way to identify people who are figuring out how to live the way more of us want to live, in the same circumstances we live in, and we have found a way to learn with them. Two weeks ago I shared recent studies highlighting some of these initial findings.

Insights on Human Flourishing Are Flourishing

Lots of insights on human flourishing. While people everywhere, for a very long time, have explored what it is to be human and what it is to live successfully as a human, lots of recent work is exploring what it means for us around today, all over the planet.

Here is a small sample of recent work that I know of from my own networks. You can share in the comments where you see flourishing insights coming up as well.

REPOST — Guest Post — The Science Behind Our Yes!

With over 5,000 “listens” to this radio interview with integral rock star Maureen Metcalf from September 2021, I thought I would re-share it.

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.

Guest Post: Mapping and Shifting Our Readiness for Change

by Joe Bienkiewicz

The Strategic SCAN framework is a structured set of concepts and associated questions that enables one to determine a group’s potential effectiveness in working together to meet a common goal. It provides directional guidance to the user as they assess their specific answers so that they can strengthen their team’s relationships, dynamics, and abilities.

I applied the Strategic SCAN framework to my primary working group, the Senior Leadership Team of a US subsidiary of an international medical-solutions company. My goal was to assess our team’s readiness for change against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has presented our team and our customers with many challenges over the past year. Our business, like thousands of others, was confronted with new challenges that required us to radically change how we make decisions to deliver products to our customers and the patients that rely on our life-saving technologies. We are experiencing change, whether we recognize it or not.

Our business success is evaluated, at the top layer, by traditional financial-performance metrics. Beneath this layer are dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure patent disclosures, product complaints, and almost everything in between. KPIs are used by many companies, factories, departments, and project groups to measure performance against standards that we think are important in contributing to our success. Meaningful KPIs are a tried-and-true tool that allow us to monitor and correct the factors that contribute to our business performance at a frequency that is greater than the frequency of required financial reporting. So, how do we effectively influence the operational factors that we care about BEFORE they negatively affect our business? Well, first, we must acknowledge that there is a layer that the first two layers, above, are built upon. This layer of business performance is our people, and the performance metric is contained in the feelings and unique perspectives of our employees, our peers, and the people we report to. 

I have to admit that this is a perspective that I did not have prior to applying the Strategic SCAN framework to my current work situation. I am a Chemical Engineer by training, and I operate within the relative certainty that science, technology, and engineering provide. While seldom absolute, the things I work on are correct, acceptable, complete, or incorrect, unacceptable, and incomplete, regardless of how I feel about them. The laws of chemistry and the principles of material science can easily be applied by another person to check my work for suitability to our technical problems. However, these principles offer little utility in increasing team engagement or addressing business and management issues that I have encountered as I continue to progress through my career. My thinking had become rigid and predictable, and thus limited in applicability to the majority of issues that I currently encounter in my management role.

I opted to apply the Strategic SCAN concept by interviewing my manager and each of my peers, using questions and concepts provided in the Strategic SCAN framework. The interviews were one on one and scheduled for 30 minutes in length. I emphasized that I was looking to explore each person’s feelings about their experience through a question-and-answer format and that there could be feelings of vulnerability that come along with such a request. The goal was to triangulate the group’s current situation by assessing what we say we do (procedures and agreements) against what we perceive that we do (interviews) against the third dimension of our results.

For example, to help identify whether our team has a deeper shared purpose to guide us in our decision making, I asked each participant the following questions: 

  • Why does our site exist, and what is our purpose?
  • Do you feel connected to that purpose?
  • Do you think the group is aligned with that purpose?

This relatively simple trio of questions proved to be quite powerful in determining alignment of the team and our perceptions of each other as we work together. We each had a similar definition of our site’s purpose, with predictable nuances that aligned to roles and responsibilities. The overwhelming majority of participants also felt a strong alignment to their stated purpose. Unexpectedly, most participants felt that others were not properly aligned to that purpose. These questions identified that my coworkers and I are passionate and that we connect to a narrative that speaks to “the why” of what we do. This process also helped to uncover an opportunity for our team to focus on improving and increasing our trust in one another as we align ourselves to a deeper shared purpose. Identifying and clarifying that narrative should be a powerful tool that we can use as a guide in our decision-making processes. 

To determine whether the intended recipients of our work want and are able to receive what we offer, I asked each person the following question: Does our group understand who we serve, and do we communicate with them frequently enough to know what they want? I did not expect that we would develop a high level of insight into our ecosystem from this process, and that while we all identified our customers and their beloved patients, many of us serve unique internal and external customers that were not universally understood by the rest of the team. This revealed that we do not share a common understanding of our ecosystem, nor do we fully understand how to reach our customers and their patients in the work we do every day. In addition, nearly all of us agree that we do not communicate with those customers often enough to know what they want. These personal perspectives are powerful in aligning the team to a meaningful mission to reach those we serve, but they are somewhat lost in the day-to day completion of our individual job functions. 

I also underestimated the openness that I encountered in the interview process and the resulting feelings of connection that developed in just 30 minutes. We are simply humans, and these are humans that I have spent thousands of hours with, solving problems and making decisions. We have agreed, disagreed, argued, and celebrated together over the years, but, I had never asked them how they felt, what they were experiencing in our interactions, in what we do for our clients. This simple act of asking about feelings, combined with the direction provided by the Strategic SCAN, resulted in a treasure trove of useful information about our perceptions of purpose, our connection to our customers, and how we work together. This has enormous utility for the group, and it has served as a foundation for our team to continue to work on the factors that contribute to our effectiveness and readiness for the inevitable changes that we will experience together. 

The unexpected result is that this simple, but powerful exercise has shifted my perspective towards recognizing the importance of shared experiences, and it has given me an additional set of tools to apply to what I previously considered intangible problems. 

Not Being Human-centered Destroys Value, for Everyone: Recommended Reading

Hamel, G. and M. Zanini (2020). Humanocracy: Creating Organizations As Amazing As The People Inside Them. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press. [Read chapter 1 for free here.]

The logic is simple. And so is the math. Treat people as less than what they are, and they produce less. Treat people like the creative beings they are, and they creatively generate. Start with a No! towards people, and your results will be net-negative: the system is worse off, with more energy extracted than added. Start with a Yes! towards people, and your results will be net-positive: the system is better off, with more energy added than extracted. Always.

The numbers are now showing this. Everywhere. On the leading edge of showing this, Hamel and Zanini provide the numbers with the whats and the hows to do it. What drives the numbers towards net-negative or towards net-positive. Most of the findings aren’t surprising: it is more surprising that they are findings. And, the findings are very timely, as leaders everywhere struggle to figure out how to manage big changes from a human-centered approach.

In Humanocracy, Hamel and Zanini start by busting the myth that people are resistant to change. “Fact is, we’re change addicts. We have an insatiable appetite for the new. All those changes that are roiling in the work, they’re our doing. We are the agents of upheaval” (p.8). It is not the people who are resistant to change, it is the organizations. Throughout their book, they describe why they think institutional inertia keeps organizations resistant to change and the huge costs that come with that resistance. At the core of their findings, “our organizations are less than fully human, because they were designed to be so” (p.17). “In bureaucracy, human beings are instruments, employed by an organization to create products and services. In a humanocracy, the organization is the instrument–it’s the vehicle human beings use to better their lives and the lives of those they serve. The question at the core of bureaucracy is , ‘How do we get human beings to better serve the organization?’ The question at the heart of humanocracy is, ‘What sort of organization elicits and merits the best that human beings can give?'” (p.20).

Numbers from their book. “We estimate there are 13.45 million managers and the equivalent of 9.5 million employees in the US economy who are producing little to no economic value…Excising bureaucratic deadweight would raise US GDP per employed person from $127,000 (the figure for 2018) to $148,000…If each of these individuals contributed $148,000 to the economy, rather than zero, GDP would increase by roughly $3.4 trillion” (p.59). A big number. Independent of whether GDP is a good measure of human creativity, the point is that treating people as creative beings would unlock huge potential.

In ecosynomic terms, humanocracy shows how to move an organization FROM focusing only on extracting value from others to achieve its own outcomes TO an organization that recognizes the capacities its people contribute and focuses on unlocking their learning and connection to generate far greater value, for everyone. While this blog describes many examples of organizations that are highly developed in engaging the best of humanity towards deep systems transformation, evolving mission-driven impacts, Humanocracy goes for the jugular of the vast majority of organizations that still disengage most of their people, showing how to take the critical and necessary first steps, with lots of examples of practices, with the numbers to back it up. This is a huge first step. I highly recommend this book.

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.