Systems Change – What Is It and Are You Ready?

SYSTEM

What is a system?  A system is a set of interrelated elements.  Elements that interact.  Another word for how elements interact is an agreement.  Human interactions form a field of agreements, an agreements field.  An agreements field engages the energy of people connected to a purpose, changes that energy into another form, a form that others want and are ready to receive.  From whom, how, to whom.  That is how systems metabolize energy: systems that are fields of agreements.

We distinguish four types of energy fields in an agreements field.

  1. EFA. Material energy fields (EFA) are the physical dimension we experience as tangible. Crystalized, mineral structures. We live in a world made physical through the structures of material energy fields, of which humans are also made.
  2. EFB. Accessing energy fields (EFB) are the reaching out within an energy field, as structures of access, to get the needed resources. As humans, we are also EFB, reaching out with accessing structures for resources.
  3. EFC. Relational energy fields (EFC) are the energy fields that relate one energy field to another. Mobile in space and time. Humans are also EFC, relational energy fields.
  4. EFD. Aligning energy fields (EFD) are the energy fields that align an entity’s purpose with what it experiences, what it remembers, and what it chooses. Humans are also EFD, aligning how they relate to other energy fields (EFC) with accessing (EFB) structures (EFA). EFABCD.  Human systems.  Agreements fields.

CHANGE

What is change? Change is a shift in behavior.  A shift in outcomes and in experiences.

Systems change is a shift in the outcomes and experiences of an agreements field, of its interactions in its four levels of interpenetrating energy fields, EFABCD.  A shift in its structures, its material energy fields (EFA), is a change in the amount of material resources it has.  A shift in its accessing energy fields (EFB) is a change in its capacity to reach out towards other resources.  A shift in relational energy fields (EFC) is a change in its ability to relate to other energy fields.  A shift in aligning energy fields (EFD) is a change in the ability to align the agreements field with its intended purpose, its relationship with other fields, and with its accessing structures.  A change in human systems requires a shift in all four energy fields, EFABCD.

READINESS

How ready is any given system for change?  How ready is the agreements field ready for a shift?  The agreements field’s readiness for a shift assesses its state of all four energy fields, EFABCD.

  • Added valuation. What is the current added value of the available resources (EFA)?
  • Network readiness. What is the current access to basic structures (EFB), to form a network of nodes?
  • Collaborative capacity. What is the current relational capacity, to collaborate with other energy fields?
  • Systems understanding. What is the current ability to align one’s own energy fields?

These four capacities SCAN form the Strategic SCAN, a strategic assessment of an agreements field’s (S)ystems understanding, (C)ollaborative capacity, (A)dded valuation, (N)wetwork readiness.

Where are you in your readiness for systems change?  The Strategic SCAN assesses the four energy fields (EFABCD) of your agreements field, to let you know where you are with what capacities you have, and what you need to do to shift to the capacities you need for the desired experiences and outcomes.

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Generating Value and Impact, for Whom?

A group’s impact, the value it generates, is a common measure of its success.  Groups that generate greater impact and value tend to have greater access to the resources they need to continue generating impact and value.

We can understand a group’s impact and value generated as the energy it is able to engage, transform, and transfer.  This energy engagement, transformation, and transfer is described by the geometries of the agreements field.  The transferred energy can then generate even more energy, a surplus.  Who ends up with the energy and the future impact it generates depends on the agreement about the energy transfer–the giver who engaged, transformed, and transferred the energy or the recipient to whom the energy was transferred.

  • Transaction.  In a transaction, energy flows towards the giver (payment) and towards the recipient (transferred energy).  Energy flows both ways, in the moment.  The giver no longer has a relationship with the transferred energy: the energy transferred now belongs to the recipient.  The recipient keeps any future surplus generated from the energy received.  The recipient now has the energy, and can use it to generate new impacts and value.  The giver receives energy, in another form, for having engaged, transformed, and transferred energy.
  • Loan.  In a loan, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient, for awhile, with the requirement that the amount of energy transferred plus some surplus be returned to the giver in the future.  Energy flows first to the recipient and then back to the giver.  The giver receives the energy and surplus for having let the recipient use the energy for awhile.
  • Gift.  With a gift, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient.  Any future surplus generated is for the recipient.  Energy flows to the recipient.  The giver receives the awareness of the future impacts the recipient generates and retains.
  • Reciprocity.  In a gift ecology, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient.  The recipient generates surplus value with the energy, and transfers it to someone else.  The energy transferred, plus the surpluses generated along the way, eventually are transferred to the initial giver.  The energy and accumulating surplus flows around, through the circle, with all participants receiving and generating more.

People often label what they are doing as a gift, a loan, a transaction, or reciprocal.  Sometimes it is what they say it is.  Other times, they are not. For example, what is labeled a gift might have expectations of return, thus it is a loan.  By looking at what the giver receives back and who receives future surplus the energy transferred generates, you can see what is actually happening.  All four forms are valid.  The point is to be clear on the intention, and what is actually flowing.  Who do you want to benefit from the value/impact generated?  Who do you want to end up with the energy generated?  It is a choice.

Your Unique Contribution

Collaboration.  The impacts of a group’s efforts seem to be much greater when people collaborate, as compared to when they cooperate with shared resources or compete with each other.  A key to collaboration is engaging a set of unique contributions with everyone involved, towards a deeper shared purpose.  This collaboration drives the synergistic harmonics, the new resulting wholeness, everyone seeks.  This working together, by respectfully engaging the best, unique contributions of everyone involved is the simultaneous expression of freedom, equality, and solidarity.  Working together, for the health of the whole (solidarity), by respectfully inviting and engaging with each other (equality) the best, unique contribution each has to offer (freedom).

A big part of this is your unique contribution.  What is a contribution?  The word “contribution” comes from the Latin for “to bring together,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” and  tribuere “to allot, pay.”  The root seems to come from the Latin tribus for tribe, possibly derived from the place from where one comes (PIE root *treb-).  One understanding could then be that a contribution is what is given to the group.  Another understanding could be that a contribution is what flows with others into a larger body, like a tributary river.  Yet another understanding could be that a contribution is the act of being with (com) sacred space (tribus, treb), connecting with one’s own creative source and flow, with one’s own expression of purposeful energy.

Everyone seems to engage more when they are invited to contribute something that is uniquely theirs to contribute, a creative act.  When people are completely replaceable or not even needed, they tend to engage far less, everywhere.  Working with all three uses of the word, maybe your unique contribution is when you engage your own creative process, letting your creativity flow through you, with the creative flow of others, for the benefit of the group, of everyone in it, and of everyone impacted by the work of the group.  You can choose to make this contribution–the flowing of your unique creativity–or not, it is your choice.

3 Keys to Unlocking Impact

Everyone talks about impact.  Social impact.  The impact they have on others.  What is impact, and how does it work?  Impact is the energy received.  “A strong effect on someone.”  In physics, impact is the force that is applied when an object comes into contact with another object.  Impact then is the shift of energy from one object to another.  Impact requires energy coming in, a transformation of that energy, and that energy being released to or received by another (depending on your vantage-point).  Most people seems to minimize their impact–the energy they engage, transform, and transmit to another–by keeping these required energy forms locked away.

When people are disengaged, they do not connect to the energy, the creativity available within themselves.  When our agreements are weak, we transform and scale very little of the creativity and energy engaged.  When we don’t actively know or engage the people we intend to impact, we transfer very little of the energy that we transformed.  Along the way, of all the energy and creativity that was available, little was engaged, less was transformed, and even less was transferred.  Not very efficient or effective.  Why do we do this?  Is it hard to do otherwise, to engage, transform, and transfer high energy?

3 keys can unlock this energy.  Over the past two dozen years, my colleagues and our networks of colleagues around the globe have found very straightforward, intuitively-obvious and seldom-used-in-coherent-ways tools for unlocking this energy for far greater impact.  We have found it in groups around the world, and we have learned how to see it, understand it, and develop it.  We found that the doors–the floodgates for this energy flow–have specific keyholes, requiring specific keys.  That’s part of the problem–the wrong key cannot open the door.  And, the doors all need to be opened together, with the right keys.  What are the 3 keys?  One key for unlocking the energy of engagement.  A second key for unlocking the energy of transformation.  A third key for unlocking the door to the energy of transfer, of impact.

1 — Key to Energy of Engagement.  This key has three prongs.  A prong of purpose.  A prong of unique contribution.  A prong of trust.  This key is the quest, “To what purpose do we invite your specific contribution, in a vibrant space of trust?

2  — Key to Energy of Transformation.  This key has three prongs.  A prong of tangibilization.  A prong of leverage.  A prong of resilience.  This key faces the inquiry of, “How do we integrate and leverage this energy engaged efficiently with resilience into impactful products and services, into relevant forms of energy?

3 — Key to Energy of Transfer.  This key has three prongs.  A prong of acceptance.  A prong of intention.  A prong of inclusion.  This key addresses the exploration, “Do the intended recipients want this transformed energy, and can they receive it?

Imagine the impact when not unlocked.  When these 3 doors–to energy engaged, transformed, and transferred–remain closed.  Not engaged, not transformed, not wanted or received.  You have probably experienced many situations like this, or at least on this end of the continuum.

In combination, these 3 keys unlock far greater impact, engaging and transforming purposeful energy that others want and are ready to receive.  Those who are engaging, transforming, and receiving the energy resonate with it.

Where have we seen this work?  The people of Vermont have taken on a radical shift, from complete dependence on external sources of energy for electricity, heating, and transportation to complete autonomy in their energy future.  Through a state-wide process over the past 10 years, people from many different vantage points (utilities, businesses, local and national government, communities, networks) have come together, each bringing their unique gifts to shift their whole energy system.  You can see what is happening in this work in Vermont by clicking here.  The people of THORLO work towards the preventive foot health of everyone, bringing more life to your everyday interactions.  Through decades of work on their culture, structures, and processes, they have found ways of interacting with each other and with their communities to bring greater creativity and vitality to everything they do.  You can see them tell their story by clicking here.  In New England town meetings, the people of each town meet annually to discuss and decide on their budget, together.  Their local governance structures bring the information needed to decide,  the people are informed, and come together to decide.  This model has existed for centuries.  You can see more about town meetings, as they are evolving and still practiced through New England, by clicking here.  Three examples, from civil society, business, and government, of how people use all 3 keys simultaneously to unlock the purposeful energy of impact.

While few people see and use these 3 keys, everyone has them.  They are right there, and there are many examples, in all walks of life, of how to use them, and how to measure them.  You have them.  You can use them, if you so choose.

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.

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.