Spaces as Collaboration Enhancers

Space.  We occupy it, move through it, and have a really hard time understanding it.  While humans have debated what space is and our human relationship to it for at least as long as we have recorded history, we do know some important things about space.  There are spaces that make it much easier for us to experience our fuller humanity, where it is much easier to be fully engaged.  There are also spaces that make it much harder to engage, to work with others.

While there are many researchers exploring our relationship to space, we each know, from our experience, what kinds of spaces invite more from us, engage us more deeply, and which kind shut us down, disengaging us.

As the types of problems that humanity takes on increase in complexity, it has become critical that people come together, each contributing their unique capacities to a collaborative effort.  When people try to solve complex social problems on their own, they find that they are often lacking capacities that are key to shifting the dynamics inherent to the problem.  Sometimes it takes a village, a collaborative effort.

Much of what is written today on “collaborative spaces” refers to social media or office arrangements for letting people work in the same space.  Only some of it focuses on how the nature of the space affects the collaboration.  We do know that most people prefer windows, comfortable temperatures, fresh air, and connection with nature.  We also know that people prefer spaces where they can more easily align with their deeper purpose, the energy that motivates their love for the future, and where they can more easily relate with others, and have access to the vital structures and substances they need.  Said in the opposite, spaces are deadening when they make it hard to be physically comfortable, when they disconnect people from their deeper purpose, when it is hard to relate with others, and vital substances and structures are inaccessible.

People need to be able to experience themselves in the space, physically.  That is because people are physical beings.  When people are deprived of their senses, not sensing where they are, they can go crazy.  People need to have access to air, water, food, movement.  That is because people are also biological, living, and they need access to vital substances in their space.  People need to relate to other living beings.  That is because people are also social beings, they need to be in relationship with other things and people.  People need to be able to choose how they align their intentions, their deeper purpose, with their creativity, their thoughts, their feelings, their intentions, their action.  That is because people are also choosers, they need to have certain freedoms to express themselves.  There are spaces that engage more of this physical, biological, social chooser and there are spaces that disengage it.

So, while the human connection to space is still not well understood, clearly the spaces where we interact make a difference.  Interacting in spaces that enhance the collaboration that we so deeply need today is a choice.  If you know the difference, it is your choice.

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Two Views of Value Destruction, Extraction, Creation, and Regeneration

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 You Had the Time, Could You? — Recommended Readings

Barbour, Julian. The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Carroll, Sean. From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. New York: Dutton, 2016.

Skow, Bradford. Objective Becoming. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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.

Is It A Mission or A Mess-ion?

When most groups start up, they begin by defining what they intend to do in the world.  They use this defining exercise to bring others into their doing, whether these are people doing the work, people funding the work, or people impacted by the doing.  Many of these groups call this their mission.

Is it a mission or a “mess-ion”?  Saying that one is trying to achieve some impact for someone by doing something in a particular way is a form of a mission statement.  The statement might seem to be clear.  The who, what, and how.  The more fundamental question is whether this statement brings coherence to a group of people, in service to the impact.  This coherence, over time, requires a deeper set of agreements about what is being achieved, one’s connection to that purpose, one’s unique contribution to that purpose, the relationship one experiences in expressing one’s creative forces with others towards that purpose, and the efficient effectiveness of the group’s processes, structures, strategic focus, and invitation to include those being impacted by the work.  It requires a strong agreements field.  A field of agreements that clearly invites and connects people to a deeper shared purpose, to which they uniquely contribute in a trusting environment.  That is a mission.

That is not what most groups have.  Most groups have a mess-ion statement.  A mess is a set of interrelated problems that are treated as separate, unrelated issues, according to systems theorist Russel Ackoff.  A mess-ion provides misguided clarity for the direction of a weak agreements field—low engagement, transformation, and release of energy.  It might seem to be clear, but its just a jumble of wires going in every direction.  No coherence.  With a mess-ion there is no deeper shared purpose, no harmonic from combining unique contributions, no engagement and trust in the experience, no use of the engaged energy.  Little energy comes in and less goes out.

You can have a mess-ion, which will not do much, or you can have a mission.  The difference is huge, in what can be invited, engaged, and transformed for a far greater impact.  The difference is a choice.  You choose.

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?