Extreme Human-Weather Effects

Is it normal for you to be engaged or to be disengaged?  By normal we mean that this is what you expect, what you expect of your life.  Do you expect, in any given day, to be engaged in what you do, in who you are, in how you interact?  By extreme, we mean furthest from a common point, furthest from the desired state.  Do you prefer to be closer to your desired state or the furthest from it?  Assuming that you prefer to be closer to it than furthest from it, why are so many people disengaged and disaffected today?  Maybe it is because they are experiencing the effects of extreme interactions.  How might we understand extreme interaction effects?  Let’s look at a parallel experience in extreme weather effects.

News about “extreme weather effects” is all over the news these days.  What is extreme weather? What are the effects of extreme weather?  Weather is the interaction of temperature and pressure changes in the air, water, and earth.  This is the interaction of the earth’s elemental spheres; the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere.  Now these elemental spheres seem to be mixing, as they always do, in new ways, in extreme ways to which we humans might not be as resilient.

In parallel, a lot of attention is going to the globally disengaged workforce and strong political swings around the world.  The usual framing of disengagement and disaffection is to try to engage people, usually in the same, already-existing form of interactions.  Maybe it would be more helpful to realize that the reason so many people are disengaged at work these days is because they are experiencing “extreme interaction effects.”  Through more engaging experiences they have in other realms of their life, they now have an expectation that they will be treated like creative, contributing humans beings who learn, who are social, and who love to engage their deeper potential towards a purpose that moves them.  When the agreements field they are in becomes too turbulent, when the elemental spheres of human interaction mix in extreme ways, in ways that exclude the individual, the other, their unique, creative contributions, their learning and evolution, then they experience extreme interaction effects, human-weather conditions to which they are not as resilient.

Maybe people are more resilient in human interactions that require more and deeper connection, connection to a deeper, shared purpose, connection to their own higher self, connection to the other in support of their expression, connection to the gifts of the group, connection to the evolutionary process of creativity, connection to the infinite creative source.  Maybe disengagement and disaffection come from extreme interaction effects.  Maybe we can change the human-weather patterns, and thus increase our resilience and engagement, by choosing how we interact, away from the extreme interaction conditions of exclusion, scarcity, and collapse, towards the normal interaction conditions of inclusion, abundance, and engagement.  It is a choice, a choice you can make right here, right now.


How Many Generations Lead Your Efforts? — A Clear Indicator of Long-Term Resilience

How many generations are actively engaged in the leadership of your efforts?  In many groups, whether they are companies, families, communities, government agencies, schools, nonprofits, cities or whole nations, leadership is mostly in 1-2 generations.  In some groups, it is only young leaders.  In some groups, they are only elders.  Sometimes there are 2 generations, rarely there are 3, and very seldom there are 4.  What difference does this make?  Two immediate consequences of the number of generations in leadership come up: leadership experience and leadership relevance.

Leadership Experience.  Leadership requires understanding and engaging others in the group’s deeper purpose, in engaging people outside of the group (external stakeholders) in interactions with the group, in understanding the complex dynamics of human interactions to achieve the group’s goals efficiently and effectively, innovating along the way, and in accessing the resources required today and tomorrow to support the work of the group.  This is a lot.  And, it requires different kinds of experience.  Understanding how to access current structures of resources is in the experience of current power holders.  Innovation is in the experience of current and emerging leaders. The complex dynamics of human interactions within and outside the group are in the experience of the elders.  Engaging the deeper purpose and outer groups is in the experience of current and emerging leaders, each with their counterparts.  The ability to align purpose, understanding of the external and internal environments, accessing the required resources, in complex interactions requires all three types of experience: that of the emerging leaders; the current power holders; and the elders.

Leadership Relevance.  Leadership is relevant when it can provide guidance in today’s context towards the group’s goals today, while strengthening the group’s resilience to be able to achieve tomorrow’s goals.  Today and tomorrow.  Achievement of outcomes and strengthening of inner structures.  Flexibility, stability, and resilience.  This is what we look to our leaders to provide.

What works today and how to access power structures today is the domain of the current power holders.  What will work tomorrow and how to be resilient in emerging structures is the domain of the emerging leaders.  It is the domain of what is coming, how people engage, interact, and structures of access to resources in the emerging future.  The complexity of the underlying dynamics in the current and the future is the domain of the elders–how to see the patterns, and how to test ideas of what to do with them.

If resilience is the ability to adjust to changes in the context, one of the critical factors that constantly changes in the context is how to connect with, engage, and interact with the population, which itself contains multiple generations.  Most organizations have one generation leading. some two, how do three or four strengthen a group’s current work and future resilience?

Where This Applies.  In companies and communities, succession planning is a big deal, and often a big reason for long-term failure.  The current leaders are not able to understand (1) what specific competencies made their organization successful, so (2) they do not know what competencies to look for and develop in the next generation of leadership.  Current leaders also do not know how to invite emerging leaders to take on responsibilities, in ways that make sense to the new leaders in their context.  The new leaders see the world different and are preparing their community for an emerging reality.  This is often hard for the current power holders and elders to see.

A different way of looking at this is to have multi-generational leadership with emerging leaders bringing in resilience for new realities, the current power holders breaking down barriers and providing access to resources, and elders providing the wisdom of seeing many cycles.  This is the possibility of intergenerational improv.  Mutual mentorship of the emerging, the power structures, and patterns of cycles.  A framework for abundance-based succession planning.

The Power of Choice Is Everywhere in the Field of Agreements That We Are — Recommended Readings

McTaggart, Lynne. The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe. New York: Harper, 2008.

Braden, Gregg. The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief. New York: Hay House, 2007.

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.

The Danger in Your Objective Function, Missing Your Deeper Shared Purpose

You want your efforts to have an impact.  To increase your impact, you engage others in generating that impact with you.  While it takes a lot of work, that is your objective, why you do what you do.  Your ability to generate that impact, with others, is a function of your inputs and what you do with those inputs.  In technical terms, this is your objective function.

What if you actually achieved your objective function, in ways that you did not control, could not influence, or did not understand?  To avoid this unintended consequence, let’s understand what an objective function is and how to work with it.

With an objective function, you are trying to optimize the mix of benefits and costs.  Either maximizing the net benefit or minimize the net cost.  You are trying to optimize a set of things that vary, called variables.  UC Berkeley professor of computer science Stuart Russell warns us to be very careful with this kind of approach.  While Stuart is talking specifically about artificial intelligence, the advice applies to complex social systems as well.  If you give the system a goal, and you do not know what the system is doing, you might very well achieve the goal, but at what cost.  You might maximize impact, today, and ruin all relationships along the way, or miss the opportunity to receive a sustaining gift.  Since some variables were outside of the set you designed, and you gave clear mandates to achieve the objective, the system did achieve it, oblivious to the other variables, which could have changed how you would have optimized your impact.

My colleagues at Vibrancy and at the Institute for Strategic Clarity find that there are usually three dangers in your objective function:

  1. unspecified objective — you do not know what you want to achieve
  2. misspecified objective — you do not actually want what you state you want
  3. underspecified objective function — you do not know how to get what you want

What You Want. You can know that you have a passion, and that you want to have an impact.  This can lead you to a general goal of something you would like to achieve.  Do you want to help others?  Make money?  Teach kids.  Unfortunately, this very open statement of a general goal does not guide you to what you need to do to have an impact that is meaningful to you.  And, a general goal like this makes it very hard for others to focus their efforts with you in achieving it. To know what you want to achieve, either individually or as a group, you simply need to ask.  What is it I really want?  If I actually achieve it, will I be satisfied?  It will take lots of effort.  Will it be worth it?  It is a simple question, one many people have not really asked.  It is the first step to getting what you want.

What You Really Want. You might be working hard at achieving an objective.  It might even be a clear and obvious objective.  The question is whether that is what you really want.  If you do not know what you really want to achieve, achieving something less or different probably will not satisfy you, and you will have spent a lot of effort to get there. To achieve what you really want to achieve, you have to be clear and specific.  Following the work of our colleague Ralph Keeney‘s value-focused thinking, we use the 3 whys to structure your fundamental objective.  What do you think you want to achieve?  Why do you want that?  And, why do you want that?  And, finally, why do you want that?  This leads to the higher purpose, or deeper values, actually guiding the impact you want to have.  With this higher purpose, you have defined a boundary around the factors that need to be addressed to achieve your desired impact.  Knowing what you really want to achieve, either individually or as a group is easy to do.  For us, it usually takes less than an hour of real inquiry.

What Drives What You Really Want.  While you might know what you want, clear and specific, if you do not know how to achieve it, you are sub-optimizing your efforts, at best.  Now you need to know how to achieve it.  The “how” might be clear to someone, because others have achieved it (like how to prepare to run a mile), or it might be something nobody has done before (like ending poverty).  In either case, the “how” is a hypothesis, and you can increase your odds of learning how to achieve it by setting the intention, engaging people who understand key elements, working collaboratively towards the objective, and adjusting along the way, as you learn from the feedback the world gives you.

What Your Objective Function Does.  Once you know the why, the what, and the how, the objective function begins to work throughout your organization.  People are making decisions all day long, most of which you are unaware of and do not involve you.  You cannot control your way through that, though many leaders try.  There are too many decisions constantly being made.  This is a danger of an objective function.  You do not know how it is actually being operationalized.  So, you can either try to control it, which does not work as there are too many decisions being made.  You can just hope for the best, which also does not work as it gives no direction or feedback. Or, you can collaboratively engage the people who are making the decisions, constantly informing each other about the decisions being made and the lessons being learned.  That has proven to work.

You Can Choose the Agreements.  You can see your objective function as a set of agreements, with lots of people acting on those agreements.  You can assume that you and everyone else know what those agreements are, that the agreements are the right ones, that the agreements are working to achieve the desired impact, and that no lessons are being learned, so there is no need for adjustments.  That does not work well, most of the time.  You can also assume that it is important to be clear on the deeper intention, and that it is important that everyone else shares that deeper intention.  You can also assume that the agreements need to be surfaced and worked with, on a regular basis, to see if they work well, if they actually do what you think they do, and how to adjust them as the context changes.  This is a leadership system based on shared awareness, attention, and feedback amongst the people cohosting the purpose, the objective function.  This is what Stuart Russell suggested.  It is better to know what is happening and adjust.

Why We Whine

People complain.  As highly attuned beacons and processors of what is happening inside of ourselves and in our environments, people know when they are experiencing what they want to experience.  When the reality they experience differs from what they want, they complain.

If the energy they want to engage towards a purpose that pulls them is not engaged towards that purpose, the energy and the frustration of its misapplication leak out, in the form of emotions, of whining.  We can look at whining as an annoyance, of someone else hefting their pains, their difficulties, on us.  Something to be avoided.  Or we can receive the feedback.

Feedback is when the universe lets us know what happened when our vision of the possible and a pathway to manifest the possible intersect with reality, when they become real, when they tangibilize.  When a person’s purposeful energy is not engaged as expected, towards their own purpose or towards the one they were invited to contribute to, they get frustrated, their unengaged energy wells up, and it begins to leak.  That hissing sound of the tightly lidded, over-boiling pot is called whining.  It is feedback.

The question is what to do with the feedback.  To know what to do, we have to inquire, to ask a question.  What is going on?  The leaking of frustration might come out with a lack of clarity.  As an emotional expression, sometimes it is hard to express the frustration in clear terms, in terms of the lack of engagement towards one’s intended purpose.  A process of inquiry explores the feedback, the misaligned purposeful energy.

One can inquire with another, co-hosting their process of discovery.  One can inquire on one’s own, with coaching support.  One can also inquire as a group.  The point is to see that there is feedback, which can be ignored, or the feedback can be received, allowing the possibility of a shift in agreements, so that the purposeful energy can be engaged.  The whining is feedback, the choice is whether to receive it or not.

Note: Hat tip to LS for the inquiry.

Scarcity As Verb, Not Noun

People compete with each other for scarce resources.  All resources are scarce.  That is the basic assumption of the western, economic-based view of the world.  The resources, the nouns, are scarce. There are only so many toothbrushes or hamburgers available.  They are scarce nouns.  So, the world is full of scarce nouns, right?  Some say yes, others say no.

Let’s start with the people who have most influenced the economic thinking that permeates western thinking today.  As Harvard economist Professor Mankiw writes, “Economics is the study of how society manages its scarce resources” (Mankiw, N. Gregory. Principles of Economics. Fourth ed. Mason, OH: Thomson, 2008, p 4).  Nobel laureates in economics, MIT economist Professor Samuelson and Yale economist Professor Nordhaus agreed, “Economics is the study of how societies use scarce resources” (Samuelson, Paul A., and William D. Nordhaus. Economics. Fifteenth ed. Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill, 1995, p 4).

The definition of economics as the study of scarce resources is often attributed to London School of Economics Professor Robbins, who famously wrote, “Economics is a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses…Everywhere we turn, if we choose one thing we must relinquish others which, in different circumstances, we would wish not to have relinquished. Scarcity of means to satisfy ends of varying importance is an almost ubiquitous condition of human behavior” (Robbins, Lionel. An Essay of the Nature & Significance of Economic Science. Second ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1945, p 15-16).

So are nouns scarce?  Columbia University economic historian Professor Polanyi said no. “Polanyi suggests.. ‘to situations in which insufficiency induces choice between the alternative uses of the goods’, and should be used to denote a relationship between means and ends rather than ‘as an adjective appropriate to qualify things of goods’ in which the element of choice is absent” (Dale, Gareth. Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2018, p 111).  Polanyi says that what might be perceived to be scarce is the relationship between means and ends, the verb of how people access resources, not the resources themselves.

Author Gareth Dale further clarifies Polanyi’s perspective, in that “scarcity cannot be assessed independently of its meanings in a given cultural context. In modern market economics scarcity becomes generalized: since everything is interconnected, everything is scarce.  By contrast, consider the Mbuti Pygmies, who, the anthropologist Colin Turnbull discovered, envision their forest habitat as benevolent and lavish, or the Trobriand Islanders, who normally grow ‘twice as much yam fruit as they need and allow it to rot.  They phrase their economic life in terms of plenty, while according to our standards they are surrounded by scarcity.  We, according to their standards, are surrounded by plenty but phrase our economic life in terms of scarcity” (Dale, Gareth. Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2018, p 112).

What might be perceived as scarce are verbs, the “how” people access nouns.  Certain cultural worldviews with accompanying political and social structures might make the means to the ends scarce.  From this perspective, the nouns can be replenished over time, so maybe what is scarce is the accessing of the nouns, the verbs.

What do you see?

Is Somebody Else Using Your Will?

“A survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 35 percent of employees had been bullied at work and another 15 percent witnessed workplace bullying, which was defined by repeated mistreatment and included behaviors such as threats, humiliation, and sabotaging employees’ work.  One of the most disconcerting findings about bullies of all ages is that they are not naive…(B)ullies have a better-than-average capability to mind-read and use their social fluency to manipulate others to achieve selfish ends…(When researchers) investigated the assumption that bullies have poor moral reasoning, which is to say that they have trouble differentiating right versus wrong…(t)hey found that bullies’ moral reasoning capabilities were just as sound as defenders’ and that both groups has moral reasoning scores that were higher than victims’.  However, bullies showed significantly lower levels of compassion and they were more likely to rationalize away their immoral behavior by seeing their selfish gains as taking precedence over the emotional costs incurred by victims” (p99), as described by psychologist Ty Tashiro in his book Awkward.  It is not wise to assume (1) that people do not use other people’s will inappropriately, or (2) that those who do are ignorant.  They are not ignorant.  That does not mean, however, that their actions are good for the group or for the impact the group wants to have.

What is the cost to any group of people interacting with one another in this kind of behavior?  What is the cost of shutting down the creative flow of others?  When someone’s will is used to someone else’s purpose, that FREEE energy is simultaneously highly inefficient and the risk of losing that person or at least their creative contribution to the group is very high.  Why would you invite people to engage in interactions with you, like the work context, to have their contribution collapsed to very low levels of energy, towards someone else’s purpose?  Not very clever.  And, that is from the perspective of the person who has invited people to engage in a group effort.

From the perspective of the person whose will is inappropriately being used by someone else, this is very disengaging, de-energizing, exhausting.  The documented physical and mental effects of this disengagement of the human being is clear, in the form of stress, fatigue, and poor physical and mental health.  Like every other use of your creative, purposeful energy, this is a choice.  Your choice.

The Costs of Empathic Inaccuracy — Recommended Reading

Tashiro, Ty.  Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome. New York: William Morrow, 2017.  Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 here.

When it is appropriate, most people like being seen.  Seen for who they are, for what they contribute, and for their creativity. Appropriateness depends on the context.  In contexts of trust and support, people tend to like to be noticed and supported.  This seems obvious.  And, in many situations, people do not experience being seen.  They are disconnected from others in those contexts.  Recent global surveys seem to indicate that where people spend most of their time, at work, is one of those contexts where many people experience not being seen.  What is the cost to creativity, to innovation, to organizational resilience and impacts when people are not seen?

To experience being seen, someone else has to be doing the seeing.  What capacities are required for this seeing of another?  What happens when people lack these capacities or fail to use them in specific contexts, like at work?  In his recent book on awkwardness, psychologist Ty Tashiro explores the world of empathy, those who lack capacities for seeing another, and how the particular ways that they look at the world bring other gifts.

The World of Empathy.  “Empathy is defined as the ability to understand another person’s emotional state and to deliver an appropriate response” (p71).  To be seen is to be in relationship, a basic need of humans.  Research finds that “humans’ psychological drive to maintain a few gratifying relationships was as fundamental as physical needs such as food and water…When we satiate our need to belong we feel a surge of positive emotion…The strongest predictor of happiness is not our job, income, or attaining our fitness goals, but rather the presence of gratifying social relationships…People with gratifying interpersonal relationships have better physical health and longer life expectancies” (pp9-10).

Specific contexts, and the ways that we agree to enter them, are making many of us more awkward.  That we are always plugged into our devices, completely oblivious to what is happening around us, we become socially awkward, in a high percentage of the interactions we have with others.

The Costs of Empathic Inaccuracy.  Empathic accuracy is the agreement between (a) what you think another person is thinking and feeling and (b) what they are actually thinking and feeling.  How well are you perceiving what is actually happening in the other person?  This is a critical capacity for being able to interact with others, to seeing and inviting their unique contributions, to being able to collaborate on creating something unique together.  The lack of empathic accuracy leads to the costs of empathic inaccuracy.  When we ignore others or talk at them, we have no idea what is actually happening inside of them.  When this happens, none of their FREEE energy is being engaged towards the purpose we are inviting them into.  Despite the obviousness of this, most people in most processes in most interactions seem not to do this.  It requires curiosity, inquiring into the other, which most people, especially at work, seem not to do.  The costs of this are huge.  The potential energy that is always there does not engage.  People get exhausted, contributing nothing.  The lack of innovation and learning decreases resilience and increases the likelihood of becoming obsolete.  The problem, and the resulting costs, do not seem to be a problem with the individuals, per se, rather with the ways people consciously choose or unconsciously accept to interact–the rules of the game, the agreements field they interact in with others.  This is the good news, because we can agree to change our agreements much more easily than we can agree to change the basic nature of who we are and how we function as individuals.

Other Gifts.  While social awkwardness seems to be increasing rapidly, and its costs are huge, we should not be too quick to judge all awkwardness.  Some types of awkwardness bring other skills.  “If you think about the vibe that characterizes your interactions with awkward people, there is often an agitated energy that underlies the interaction, which can make them appear nervous, irritated, or generally upset.  But if you view the awkward person as someone who is experiencing the interaction as particularly intense, then the unusual vibe they give off starts to make more sense…Avoiding eye contact helps them avoid the strong emotional cues conveyed by faces and especially the eye region” (p75).  This type of awkwardness results from a high capacity to focus, on very specific, reduced sets of information.  One term for this is “localized processing style, which describes people who tend to narrowly focus on some of the trees rather than the entire forrest.  When people are disposed to a localized processing style, they tend to create social narratives that feel fragmented and incomplete…Although awkward people are missing important social information that falls outside of their narrow aperture, what they do see is brilliantly illuminated and this gives them a deep nuanced perspective about things that no one else takes the time to notice.  The parts of the world they can see are seen with remarkable clarity.  They become experts in all things stage left and their clear, focused view on their specialized interests give them a unique view of that part of the world” (pp21-22).

Whether the social awkwardness we might experience in ourselves or in others is due to the way the person is or to the way we agree to interact, greater empathic accuracy can help us.  More accurately interpreting what is happening in the other person’s thinking and feeling has great benefits in both cases, and it greatly reduces the costs of empathic inaccuracy.  It is a choice.



Top 4 Reads of 2018

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

Top 4 Blogposts

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

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

2 Insights That Rocked My World in 2018

Looking back on 2018, there were two insights that changed how I see everything.  First, everything we need, for that which is in front of us to do, is already right here, available right now.  Second, the people who are figuring this out are no longer just the lucky, weird few; there are lots of them everywhere.

FREEE energy is everywhere.  The energy we need to do whatever we can imagine is right here right now, right in front of us, and it is FREEE.  The amount of energy each human being releases  in any given moment is huge, and our current forms of engaging it are very weak.  They don’t have to be.  We can learn from social experimenters who are learning how to engage people in purposes and processes, consciously choosing collaborative agreements that release this massive energy available, transforming it and transferring it into a far greater impact with far greater resilience.  It just depends on what you give your energy to.  The tools of pactoecography let us see this energy, where it is, how it is released, how it is transformed, and how it is transferred.

Positive ecosynomic deviants are no longer deviants.  They are now normal.  15 years ago I was able to find only a few, seemingly rare groups that were working with abundance-based principles for how they approached life and the impact they wanted to have together.  Today I see them everywhere, and lots of people are talking about them.  I will be co-investing in 2019 with the Global Pactoecographic Collaborative to map the social topography of the planet, through the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience.  We know about the topography of the Earth’s geology and biology: now it’s time to understand the topology of human agreements.  What do they look like around the world, at their best and at their normal?  Where can we learn from deep and successful human experimentation in healthy agreements?  Let’s see.

We have the energy we need, and lots of people are figuring this out.  Let’s get with it.