Good News! Humans Can Flourish: Recommended Reading

Briggs, A., & Reiss, M. J. (2021). Human Flourishing: Scientific Insight and Spiritual Wisdom in Uncertain Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.

Waldinger, R., & Schulz, M. (2023). The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Good news. It is possible for human beings to flourish. Now there are lots of examples of how people are figuring this out. To measure how well someone is doing, Andrew Briggs and Michael Reiss propose we look at the material, relational, and transcendent dimensions of the human experience. Their book explores what we know today, from research and practice about what these three dimensions are, how they show up in human life, the great diversity of ways people express them, and how they all three contribute to a life well lived. It is not about achieving a high level of one of them, but rather the coherence in all three of them.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores ancient wisdom and modern research to see what causes this flourishing for humans, what gets in the way of flourishing, which of those obstacles are self-inflicted, and how we might take ancient wisdom and apply it to our lives today. In our thinking, in our social relationships, in the purpose that organizes our lives, and in how we develop the capacities we need to flourish along the way.

Directors of an 85-year study of the lives of 2,000 people, covering three generations in the same families, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz tease out the biological, psychological, and sociological factors that most determine a good life, as determined by the participants, over a long life. While many factors affect one’s experience and choice of a good life, their study shows that strong relationships are the most fundamental predictor. Your intimate partner, family, close friends, work colleagues, and neighbors. They all contribute to your “social fitness.”

This is exciting terrain, into which I too have jumped. I am part of four large-scale efforts to describe human flourishing. The Harvard-Baylor-Gallup-COS Global Flourishing Study looks at the conditions affecting the flourishing of 240,000 people in 22 countries over 5 years, where my teams will be looking at the “close social relationships” across the globe, as well as all of the questions for Mexico and Spain. At Harvard’s Center for Work, Health, & Well-being, we are looking at what drives the level of thriving of workers and how that influences enterprise-level outcomes. In the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience, the Institute for Strategic Clarity is using (1) the Agreements Health Check survey to identify the positive deviants who are experiencing high levels of human flourishing across the globe, having already surveyed 132,000 groups in 126 countries, as well as (2) a longitudinal dataset across the ecosystem of a large microfinance bank to measure the total value generated across an organization’s ecosystem. And, through the Harvard-Oxford Leadership for Flourishing initiative, we are assessing the characteristics of leadership for flourishing and how it manifests across a wide variety of organizations, and we have proposed the Global Flourishing Goals for the UN Agenda 2050, which will be publicly presented in May 2023 by UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development.

What Numbers Could Show You: Recommended Reading

Harford, T. (2020). How to Make the World Add Up. London: The Bridge Street Press.

Seeing what is in front of us. Sounds easy. Often it is. Sometimes it is not. What tools can help us know when what we think we are seeing is indeed what we are seeing?

You know the old saying that you can tell any lie with statistics. Another way of framing that is that, “It’s easy to lie with statistics–but it’s even easier to lie without them” (p19). By “cynically dismissing all statistics…we’re admitting defeat to (those)..who want us to shrug, give up on logic and evidence, and retreat into believing whatever makes us feel good” (p20). Instruments that help us measure can be useful–X-rays to see bones, microscopes to see bacteria, and telescopes to see far away stars (p19). Instruments don’t show us the “truth”: they can help us see more clearly. They can help us not let our emotions trick us. Our emotions are very useful, most of the time. Sometimes, we allow them to trick us into believing something because we want to, independent of the evidence facing us. Here is where evidence can help us, and numbers can provide an entryway into understanding what the evidence shows.

Hartford provides a process for using numbers to clarify what we are seeing.

  1. Search your feelings. Are you trying to convince yourself? Are you trying to see a specific answer in the evidence? You might be pulling a confidence game on yourself.
  2. Ponder your personal experience. Does what you are seeing in the numbers add up with your experience? Where is the evidence coming from? Why might your experience be different than what the evidence was describing? A different context, a different time of day, a part of a bigger pie, or a bigger pie?
  3. Avoid premature enumeration. Before accepting the interpretation of the numbers, look at what is actually being counted and how it is being counted. Often it is in the very definition of what they are measuring to answer their question that they have done something completely different than what you thought.
    • When I ask the leaders of a company how much inventory they have, they all pop off an answer. The answers can vary tenfold. Because they are measuring different things. Because of their role in the company, some see inventory as the total amount of work in process, while others see inventory as the amount of completed product that is packaged and ready to send to a specific customer. They can both be right, and defining the question and what to measure in very different ways. The problem isn’t in the definitions or the measurement, but rather in me asking the question and getting an answer, without the clarity in definitions.
  4. Be curious. Hartford then walks you through how to look at the numbers provided. How to understand the back story. Look at who is not included in the data gathered. Keep an open mind.

The point is to see what is right here to see. To see what it shows us about the question we are asking. There are lots of traps along the way. Many of them we inadvertently create for ourselves. Some of them are created by others. This process helps us use our own emotions and curiosity to understand what we are looking at before we let it influence what we see in what is right here to see. Thank you, Tim.

The Value of Purpose: Recommended Reading

Spence, Jr., Roy M. and H. Rushing (2009). It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven By Purpose. New York, Portfolio.

Everywhere you turn today, there are “nice” stories about the power of purpose. Roy Spence is a seasoned marketing and advertising executive who is very serious about the success of his business and those of his clients like Southwest Airlines, BWM, Wal-Mart, and the University of Texas. It is because he takes their success so seriously that he and his team have researched what leads to consistently stable success. He finds that a key driver is purpose, and taking that purpose seriously is what differentiates the most successful groups. “Human beings are a passionate species. We want to engage in meaningful work” (p25). Having this purpose helps organizations “attract ‘a certain kind of energetic person'” (p25). “Imagine what the culture of your organization would look like and feel like if everyone had knowingly and intentionally signed up for the purpose at hand” (p27).

The continuous practice of that purpose matters. “As human beings our minds easily wander off track. It’s easy to lose focus. A strong sense of values, beliefs, and purpose will keep everyone on track” (p22). We found a process that supports this in the Institute for Strategic Clarity’s global research of high-performing groups in 126 countries. We call it the “O Process,” which we describe in a case study in the book Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance (2014). The O Process focuses a group, whenever it gathers, on its purpose, as a group, and how that purpose relates to the organization’s deeper shared purpose. Spence and Rushing found that what seems obvious is seldom done well–“the company has to have something of genuine value to offer to consumers…When you have a purpose at the heart of the company, it will drive the business and ensure that something remarkable is happening with the product or service” (p23).

Spence and Rushing provide a very practical guide, with lots of examples from their work with leading organizations, to discover and articulate your purpose, then build an organization and leadership around the purpose, ultimately engaging your customers with that purpose. They provide examples of how this works for businesses, membership organizations, nonprofits, universities, and sports organizations. I highly recommend this practical book.

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts in 2022

In 2022, the 5 most viewed posts on this blog were:

Truly Circular Economies Require Deep Collaboration: Recommended Reading

Ritchie-Dunham, J. L. (2023). Truly Circular Economies Require Deep Collaboration: The Principles Underlying Successful Circular Economies. The Impossibilities of the Circular Economy: Separating Aspirations from Reality. H. Lehmann, C. Hinske, V. de Margerie and A. Slaveikova Nikolova. New York, Routledge.

Zero Waste. No longer a fantasy, people are starting to figure this out. How to not generate waste and pollution with the products we consume.

To do this requires systemic logic, replacing the more commonplace linear logic. Design it out from the beginning.

How do you do this? We are excited to share a chapter we have written, “Truly circular economies require deep collaboration_The principles underlying successful circular economies” in the just-published book “The Impossibilities of the Circular Economy” (Routledge 2022).

You can purchase the print book []. An Open Access version is also available, at the same link.

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.

ISC Innovations in Practice Series — Assessing Leverage Points Years Later

As part of the ISC Innovations in Practice series, Annabel Membrillo Jimenez shared an innovation from her recent work with the EAN VT efforts.  Annabel shared how she compared what the leverage-point teams had done against what they had initially set out to do.  She developed a simple graphic to show the difference in focus of the two.

You can watch a 68-minute video of the exploration of Annabel’s innovations in practice here.

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.