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.
Value. What something is worth to you. I just finished reading the book The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy by professor of economics Mariana Mazzucato. The book explores how the understanding of what value is and the implications for our daily lives of that understanding has evolved throughout history, how the evolving discourse of what we value has fallen off, with most people blindly accepting economic values as given facts, and with many people saying that they are creating value when they are extracting it.
We know, from the framing of the ecosynomics of abundance, that the cultural lens we use for our agreements focuses on what we value, in outcomes, in developing relationships and capacities, in potential, and in the interweaving of these perceived levels of reality. We also know that much of what we accept in life leads us to low-value traps, to many sets of agreements —agreements fields–that extract value, some that create value, and a few that release potential.
We also observe that there are at least two ways to see these value processes. In exploring Mariana’s focus on how value extractors have appropriated the value-creation term, I realized that the value-process terms of destruction, extraction, creation, and regeneration are slippery, because they can be used to mean multiple things, some of which seem to increase value and others which seem to decrease value.
Value destruction—when a value-giving substance is taken out a system. Its value is no longer accessible. Value destruction can be seen negatively as destroying value in the current system. What was valued is no longer valued. It has become rubbish. Seen positively, new interactions have been generated, which made the old interactions obsolete. Think smart phones as one device replacing five devices (cellphone, voice recorder, camera, PDA, GPS).
Value extraction—when a value-giving substance is shifted from one system to another. Value extraction can be the appropriation of value away from someone else. One group generated the value and another group took it from them. Negative connotation. And, for someone to take on a higher risk in how they use their resources, they expect to receive a greater return for that risk, extracting more of the overall value generated than others. They might also see that they need to protect the value of something, like a forrest, so they take it out of the realm of real estate development. Extraction from one value set to another. A positive connotation for some.
Value creation—when a new value-giving substance is realized, made real, in relationship to one or more systems. Value creation can be the generation of something new that is valued, which is now accessible. Think of the Internet or a new highway, which everyone can now use to do something new. Value creation can also be the imposition of hidden structures of access that extract value. Think of the new highway access, with an imposed toll paid to a private company.
Value regeneration—when a system is able to generate its own value-giving substances. Value regeneration can be seen positively as the capacity of a system to self-generate the resources it needs to survive. Think of partially open ecosystems like rainforests or self-sufficient communities. Self-sufficiency in value regeneration can also be seen negatively, with one group of people excluding others from their self-focused resources, such as systems where money generates money for those who have more than they need, extracting it from those who do not.
Each of these value processes can be seen positively or negatively, depending on your relationship to them. It is not that one is necessarily better than the other, rather it depends on how you relate to them. What you can do is to be clear on the dynamics in each value process and on the perspective you take.
If I had the time, I would… How would you complete the sentence? Why does it seem like time can go by very slowly, at times, and sometimes it can go by very quickly? How do we get lost in time? How can we have such different experiences, and often different from others having the same experience, with this thing we call time? What is it?
The short answer is that nobody knows. What time is and why it exists have perplexed people for as long as people have asked questions. We know that we can measure it. Until we can’t, because it is relative to the observer, as Einstein taught. At least we know it exists. Until we don’t, as physicists have taught us. So, what do we experience, why do we experience it, and is this experience useful? Or does this experience mislead us? In these recommended readings, two physicists and a philosopher explore these questions.
MIT philosophy professor Bradford Skow guides us through frameworks that describe our experience of time with the block universe and moving spotlight theories. These theories provide possible ways of understanding, robustly, what it means to experience the passage of time. Is time moving, or are we moving? Is there one time or branching time? Why does time seem to speed up or slow down? Professor Skow invites us to explore the rigor of the underlying philosophical claims that these frameworks bring to these questions about our experience.
Physicist Julian Barbour invites us to explore time as a series or set of “nows,” where “time is nothing but change…change is the measure of time, not time the measure of change” (p2). How can we understand our experience of time, if “time does not exist at all, and..motion itself is pure illusion” (p4)? Building on Einstein and Mach, Barbour suggests that “The proper way to think about motion [change in space over time] is that the universe as a whole moves from one ‘place’ to another ‘place’, where ‘place’ means a relative arrangement, or configuration, of the complete universe…the universe…does not move in absolute space, it moves from one configuration to another…History is the passage of the universe through a unique sequence of states” (p69).
Cal Tech professor of physics Sean Carroll provides a relatively user-friendly exploration of the physics of the arrow of time, through an understanding of entropy, Einstein’s special and general relativity, quantum theory, and black holes.
For me these readings have opened up my awareness to what I am experiencing when I think it is time. Seeing choice points, choices that otherwise I tend to lose in time.
In a set of lectures, given in 1927, astronomer Arthur Eddington described an emerging understanding of what was known, at the time, about what was real–the nature of the physical world. Eddington’s journey to the west coast of Africa to observe the 1919 solar eclipse provided initial proof for Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. One of the first in the English-speaking world to begin to see the new picture of reality suggested by Einstein’s work and the emerging work in quantum theory, Eddington used his ability to explain very difficult concepts and mathematics in simple analogies, without losing the rigor of the shift in perspective.
In this very accessible set of lectures, Eddington explores the new reality, where there is simultaneously perceived forms that extend over space and time and nothing there. He walks us through the framing and consequences of special relativity, general relativity, matter, space, time, entropy, gravity, and quantum. He then explores what this shift in perception of what is real in nature means for consciousness. While many scientists in the 20th century began to define reality as only that which is physically observable, Eddington who worked with the people who initiated the physics revolution suggested that the physicist is describing some dimensions of reality and the explorers of consciousness are describing other dimensions, of the same reality.
Having read dozens of books on these topics, I find this to be the best entry point into these difficult topics. I now have a much clearer map with which to enter this exploration, for which I am grateful to an astronomer from ninety years ago.
We participate in political systems, when we vote, and when we talk about our favorite politicians and about our least favorite. We say that decisions that we don’t like were made politically. What do we mean by this term “political”?
The word comes from the Greek polis, which means city, state, people. Interesting that people, city, and state come from the same word. Aristotle used the word as the title of his book Politics, where he describes the decision making process for the principles, standards, rules, and actions of a people. Political then just means “who decides.” Who decides how to allocate resources and how to enforce those decisions. Who has the power to make those decisions, who gives them that power, and what backs up that power? Big questions. Ranging from philosophical to practical, theoretical to empirical, valuing freedom, equality, or solidarity, these eight authors provide different avenues into these questions.
Evolution of Political Frameworks
What we mean by a political process varies greatly over spacetime. Over space, every culture has a different perspective on who decides and enforces, and how they should do it, with practically every individual everywhere holding different views on the particulars of how it is applied within their specific culture. Over time, every culture’s political process has evolved, dramatically, often experimenting with political systems based on royalty, church, military, individuals, small groups, large groups. None are exactly the same, over time and space. Interestingly, most of us seem to assume that our system is the right one, now and for everyone, extending our current system infinitely over time and space, though our own grandparents might have disagreed vociferously, as they lived in a different space and time.
Political scientist Steven B. Smith and philosopher Lawrence Cahoone map out large swaths of time in the development of western political systems, ranging from the Greeks with Sophocoles around 441BC, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, to the Christian bible in the early 100sAD, the Italian Machiavelli in the early 16th century AD, the English Hobbes and Locke in the mid to late 17th century AD, and the Genevan Rousseau, the German Kant, and the French Montesquieu and Tocqueville in the late 18th and early 19th century AD, coming to today with modern political philosophers. A broad sweep, showing the dramatic changes in western political philosophy over the past 25 centuries. Professor Smith frames the evolution of political philosophy, “The proper subject of political philosophy is political action. All action aims at either preservation or change…[A]ll action presupposes some judgment of better and worse…The oldest, the most fundamental, of all questions of political life is ‘What is the best regime?…Every regime shapes a distinctive human character with distinctive human traits and qualities'” (p5-6). Political systems change, according to the context of their own here (space) and now (time) because there is always a “tension between the best regime and any actual regime…[the] zone of indeterminacy between the Is and the Ought, between the actual and the ideal” (p9). People have always ended up giving the decision and enforcement power to someone, because cooperation and agreement are required to establish predictable order, and people seem generally incapable of doing it themselves, reliably (p11). Hobbes, in the mid-1600s, brings in to the design of political systems the question of what the human being is like in a state of nature. Were it not for this state of nature, humanity would not need to be governed, to have decisions made and enforced for them. This logic runs through to the middle of the 20th century. Professor Cahoone shows how each new political philosopher borrowed and built on earlier philosophers, carrying some elements forward, disregarding others, and adding some new ones.
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin brought focus to the language we use and how it confuses our understanding of what we are supporting. Two different people can both say they support freedom, and mean contrasting things. “Almost every moralist in human history has praised freedom. Like happiness and goodness, like nature and reality, it is a term whose meaning is so porous that there is little interpenetration that it seems able to resist” (p168). In this set of lectures, he distinguishes between negative liberty and positive liberty, where the negative is the freedom from and the positive is the freedom to. Freedom from the interference of others in an individual’s decisions. Freedom to pursue one’s own potential. Freedom from what limits what we can do, the freedoms we must lay down, to not interfere in another’s freedom. “I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my activity” (p169). Freedom to describes what we are allowed to do. “I wish to be the instrument of my own, not of other men’s, acts of will” (p178). Very different decision making and enforcement processes emerge, based on which definition of liberty one uses.
Philosopher John Rawls framed a different path by exploring a different inquiry. He explored “‘justice as fairness.’ The central ideas and aims of this conception I see as those of a philosophical conception for a constitutional democracy…a reasonably systematic alternative to utilitarianism, which in one form or another has long dominated the Anglo-Saxon tradition of political thought…I do not believe that utilitarianism can provide a satisfactory account of the basic rights and liberties of citizens as free and equal persons, a requirement of absolutely first importance for an account of democratic institutions” (pp xi-xii). Professor Rawls sets up that “the primary subject of justice is the basic structure of society, or more exactly, the way in which the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation” (p6).
Building Political Systems
Political scientist Francis Fukuyama maps the terrain of “the state,” what it means, what dimensions are missing in weak states, and how state weakness influences the international system The role of the state is contested, with some wanting to give more power to the state and others wanting to reduce the power of the state. “The essence of stateness is..enforcement: the ultimate ability to send someone with a uniform and a gun to force people to comply with the state’s laws” (p6). Professor Fukuyama’s assessment of states distinguishes “between the scope of state activities, which refers to the different functions and goals taken on by governments, and the strength of state power, or the ability of states to plan and execute policies and to enforce laws cleanly and transparently…We can array the scope of state activities along a continuum..from necessary and important to merely desirable to optional, and in certain cases counterproductive or even destructive…Strength..includes..the ability to formulate and carry out policies and enact laws, to administrate efficiently and with a minimum of bureaucracy; to control graft, corruption, and bribery; to maintain a high level of transparency and accountability in government institutions; and, more important, to enforce laws” (pp7-9).
Philosopher Wayne A.R. Leys explored the ethics of policy making. Within the framework developed above that politics is the arena of decision making and enforcement, Professor Leys finds that, “The study of standards of decision making is the part of philosophy that has been called ethics” (p4). He maps the development of ethical frameworks with their practical tools, from the Greeks to modern times, for good judgment, utilitarian, morals, state of nature, precedents, consistency, and policies as means or ends.
Psychologist Dacher Keltner explores what power is, what it does, where it comes from, how it is given, how it is abused, and how to develop it. “Power [is] the capacity to make a difference in the world, in particular by stirring others in our social networks…Power is the medium through which we relate to one another” (pp3-4). With power comes the power paradox, “we rise in power and make a difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst. We gain a capacity to make a difference in the world by enhancing the lives of others, but the very experience of having power and privilege leads us to behave, in our worst moments, like impulsive, out-of-control sociopaths. How we handle the power paradox guides our personal and work lives and determines, ultimately, how happy we and the power we care about will be” (pp1-2). “The experience of power destroys the skills that gained us power in the first place” (p100). “Power makes us blind to our own moral missteps but outrages at the same missteps taken by others (0131). “People resort to coercive force when their power is actually slipping” (p21). Professor Keltner’s fivefold path to power is: (1) be aware of your feelings of power; (2) practice humility; (3) stay focused on others, and give; (4) practice respect; and (5) change the psychological context of powerlessness.
Author Orrin Woodward takes us to the workshop, looking across the ages for wise tools for developing a healthy process for deciding and enforcing in our daily lives. These tools group around the development of one’s character, wisdom, and humility. The human being “is a wonderful creature..[it] is mind..heart..and..will. Those are the three main constituents of [the human being]…Transforming one’s life, then, requires the whole person to be involved..mind..heart..and..will must be engaged in the process. True change isn’t just a mental (mind) assent, isn’t just a emotional (heart) experience, and is more than just regimented (will) learning…It’s only with a mind that understands, a heart that generates passion, and a disciplined will to follow through that change inside a person is generated” (pp22-23).
“We the people” are the polis, the people. We are the decision making and enforcement process. In all of its forms, in all of its contexts, over all of space and time, it is a human endeavor. That makes it an agreement, whether we unconsciously accept it or consciously choose it. Our participation in political systems is our choice.
To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter what direction you go. It seems obvious. Knowing what you want to achieve with your efforts, where you want to go on the journey. If you don’t know this, you probably won’t get there. And, though it seems obvious–getting clarity on your deeper shared purpose, on what you want to achieve in life and with others–many people cannot answer the question. My colleagues and I in the field of large-systems change find that very few groups have actually done the work of gaining clarity on what the group is actually all about, far beyond its mission, to its deeper shared purpose, the force that connects them all and drives the will to change. Within that same observation, we find that this lack of clarity at the group level stems from a lack of clarity within each of the individuals as well, clarity on their primary agreements, what they are in service to with their lives.
Not only does this influence the ability of a group to achieve its intended outcomes, it seems to also affect your physical health. A recent study published in JAMA Current Open found that, “People who didn’t have a strong life purpose — which was defined as “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals” — were more likely to die than those who did, and specifically more likely to die of cardiovascular diseases.“
How do networks work? How does influence spread amongst people, through human interactions?
Historian Niall Ferguson digs into the archives, exploring how people have spread influence for thousands of years. “Social networks have always been much more important in history than most historians, fixated as they have been on hierarchical organizations such as states, have allowed–but never more so than in two periods. The first “networked era” followed the introduction of the printing press to Europe in the late fifteenth century and lasted until the end of the eighteenth century. The second–our own time–dates from the 1970s, though I argue that the technological revolution we associate with Silicon Valley was more a consequence than a cause of a crisis of hierarchical institutions. The intervening period, from the late 1790s until the late 1960s, saw the opposite trend: hierarchical institutions re-established their control and successfully shot down or co-opted networks. The zenith of hierarchically organized power was in fact the mid-twentieth century—the era of totalitarian regimes and total war” (p xxv). Professor Ferguson explores why different forms of human interaction are just different forms of networks–an arrangement of interrelated people.
Communications researcher Damon Centola explores the dynamics of how behaviors spread through social networks, mapping the pathways of network diffusion to accelerate social change. “Diffusion, like schooling, is a collective social process that unfolds through the complex interactions of many independent actors” (p4). The network dynamics that are required are quite different than what most people think: who is in the network, how they are connected, and how their influence flows, sustainably.
Resilience is the capacity to bounce back, when the context changes. Scaling is the ability to maintain a level of interaction while growing the volume of interactions, often by orders of magnitude. Being resilient at scale is the ability to bounce forward even while scaling beyond known boundaries. The five authors in these highly recommended readings share their deep observations about what resilience at scale is and how to achieve it.
Physicist and complexity theorist Geoffrey West provides a rich journey through an understanding of how nature scales and what that means for the challenges facing humanity in the coming decades. Looking for nature’s principles of growth, research on scaling shows that animals ranging from a mouse and a small bird to a dog to an elephant scale logarithmically in the relationship of their body mass to their metabolic rate. With this ratio and many others (i.e., patents to population, income and assets to number of employees), Geoffrey West and colleagues suggest there are “a few simple rules that all organisms obey, indeed all complex systems, from plants and animals to cities and companies” (p2). “When an object is scaled up in size, its volumes increase at a much faster rate than its areas…This has huge implications for the design and functionality of much of the world around us” (p41). Nature does not scale linearly, rather nonlinearly. “For every order of magnitude increase in strength, the weight that can be supported increases by one and a half orders of magnitude” (p45). This ratio of areas and volumes lies at the foundations of nature’s scaling, maximizing metabolic rate by maximizing surface area. The book shows how this logic applies to the scaling of resilient infrastructure.
Urban planner Jonathan F.P. Rose applies complexity theory to the urban setting, starting with its metabolic boundary, the area of food production it requires to feed the people in the urban setting. He finds examples through history of cities where the metabolic boundary grew to support urban development with more and more people producing things other than food. The metabolic boundary grew to be far greater than the boundary of where these people lived, and that requirement of building food production and transport systems far beyond the city boundaries lowered the city’s resilience, leading to the city’s eventual demise–more and more of its energy went into generating enough energy, a disastrous feedback loop. For an urban setting to survive, as it scales, it must increase the coherence of, the circular flow of its metabolism of the energy, information, and materials flowing through it, the harmonic interaction of the community of citizens, compassionately balancing the health of the individual and the collective. The book provides many examples where cities are developing these capacities.
Political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon looks at the energy return on investment, looking at the ratio of the energy produced and the energy required. Pulling from many examples, the ratio must be “much greater than 1 to 1..to run a society” (p51). Like with the metabolic boundary, if more energy is required to run the society than it produces, it loses resilience. A change in its context, which continuously happens, leads to catastrophic failure. There are many systemic stresses on an urban setting, and when they combine, the system can fail catastrophically, as the interrelated elements kick off nonlinear overload. The more interconnected a system is, the more likely this is to happen, and the more the system has to be designed to be resilient to these shocks.
Michael Thompson frames catastrophic failure as an unexpected event in the mix of groups of people trying to evolve a system and those attempting to maintain a system. The system can be experiencing continuous change, meaning the change happens smoothly, when all of a sudden it experiences discontinuous change, an abrupt, often massive change, which the system is often not resilient enough to survive. This dynamic inevitably occurs in urban settings, generated by the dynamics between what some call the durable and others the transient.
Psychologist Peter Coleman explores the terrain of “intractable conflicts,” which seem to emerge in this space of scaling urban settings, where multiple stresses converge and lead towards catastrophic collapse, dramatically reducing a city’s resilience. To address these complex problems, most people seem to oversimplify them, generating the conflict traps that Michael Thompson also described. An initial step to resolve these conflicts, according to Peter Coleman’s work, is to conceive of the social phenomenon as a field of attractor forces, seeing the relationships among these attractors, and embracing the conflict, looking for evidence of what is actually happening.
The rich histories and case studies provided by these authors show the importance of embracing the complexity inherent in a network of interactions, understanding the deeper shared purpose that holds the interactions together and drives the desire to scale growth, for more to share in the deeper purpose. It is possible to come together to see the shared purpose, the dynamics generating the boundary issues, the agreements that could generate new dynamics and sufficient resilience, avoiding catastrophic collapse while scaling growth. It is also possible to agree on the evidence that supports the testing of these hypothetical shifts and measures the progress along the way. This requires shifting from a theory of change to a principle-based, theory of impact resilience. From looking at only the local, short terms needs and actions to address them, to looking at the local and overall needs, short and long term, and the dynamics that generate them. This shift is a choice.
What are we made of? What is real? From cosmologies as varied as the physics of string theory or quantum theory, the wisdom traditions, modern psychological research, and your own experience, they all point to a reality of interpenetrating dimensions of energy, generating a field of purposeful energy. This energy is everywhere, always. It is a field. An agreements field.
These two authors describe current efforts to describe this field, from physics, chemistry, biology, psychological, social, and spiritual perspectives. These descriptions converge on the existence of the field, that humans are part of the field–made up of the field–and therefore able to work with the power of the field. Consciously or unconsciously, we are made up of energy, which Einstein described over 100 years ago [m=E/c2], and which quantum theorists proved over the past 90 years, and we align our cognition, emotion, and volition with this energy towards a purpose, our purpose. We can do this because it is a field, a resonant field. We are also that field, it is us. Knowing how to use our energy is a matter of being human, of resonating with that field. Deciding to use it is a choice. A choice you have to be able to see. The agreements field makes it visible and, thus, available to you.
Work. A word people use a lot, which means different things. Maybe they are different. In worker-employer relations, work is the labor power–the work done per unit of time–that the laborer sells to the employer, who applies that work to getting something done. In thermodynamics, work is the amount of energy transferred from one system to another. In physics, work is the application of a force over a distance, transferring energy from one place to another, or one form to another. The word “work” comes from the PIE *werg-o-, suffixed form of root *werg- “to do.” Maybe they aren’t different. The common thread of these perspectives then might be work as doing something, setting something in motion. That seems straightforward. We work.
Work is measured in energy terms. Compensation is measured in energy terms. Common terms for measuring energy include metric joules, British Thermal Units, kilowatt-hours, and calories. This suggests that work is measured in the energy we bring to the labor we apply over a period of time, measured in some form of joules or calories. The word calorie comes from the Latin calor for heat. We give our calorie energy to our employer’s activity in exchange for money with which we pay for the calories that nourish us (food) or for the protection from excessive waste of our heat energy (shelter and clothing), which are both defined as our basic human needs.
It is nice when work is pleasant and engaging, though recent global surveys show that work is not pleasant for most people. Maybe part of the reason so many people around the world are disengaged at work is because of the way we define the very activity. Maybe the problem is that it is seen as work. The labor contract pays me for my work, my energy, my calories applied for a period of time. What if, instead, we saw that I was invited to contribute my creative expression towards a deeper shared purpose, integrating my head (thoughts), heart (passions and relationships), and hands (will, intention, and action). The unit of measure might then be the creative energy that flows through and from me–lumens–the light we see in the creativity of another’s expression. These recommended readings explore this other worldview, where creative people most express their talents in the form of energy when fully engaged in spaces of trust.
Expressing lumens energy in terms of calorie energy, to make it easier for business leaders to apply, management consultants Michael Mankins and Eric Garton find that, “talented people show up for work every day, but then something happens and they can’t get as much done as they believe they could or should. We think of that something as organizational drag, a collection of institutional factors that interfere with productivity yet somehow go unaddressed. Organizational drag slows things down, decreasing output and raising costs. Organizational drag saps energy and drains the human spirit…While the level varies, nearly every company we’ve studied loses a significant portion of its workforce’s productive capacity to drag” (p12).
Psychologist Jim Loehr and journalist Tony Schwartz suggest that, “The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time that we have…We have far more control over our energy than we ordinarily realize. The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not. It is our most precious resource. The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become…Human beings are complex energy systems, and full engagement is not simply one-dimensional…To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focus and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest” (pp4,5,9).
Neureconomist Paul J. Zak finds that, “Managing people as human resources to be exploited for maximum gain produced workplaces that confirmed economists’ claims that work provides disutility. Or, in the vernacular: Work is a drag. Except sometimes it wasn’t. There are organizations in which employees love what they do, where they are satisfied professionally and personally by their work…You have humans at work, not machines…It turns out that both trust and purpose activate regions of the brain that motivate cooperation with others, reinforcing behaviors essential to meeting organizational goals…Trust acts as an economic lubricant, reducing the frictions inherent in economic activity” (pp4,5, 10,11). “A Deloitte/Harris Poll shows there is a serious worldwide Purpose deficit. Sixty-eight percent of employees and 66 percent of executives said that their organizations do little to create a culture of Purpose” (p175).
While we would prefer to spend our time in great places to work than being disengaged in awful places to work, it seems that we would far prefer to fully engage our creativity in spaces of trust, great spaces to shine. Which do you prefer? It is a choice.