What Power Is More Resilient, Coercion or Collaboration?

Why do some people coerce people into doing things?  Why do others invite people into creative, collaborative work together?  Which is more powerful?  Which one is more resilient?

Power is the amount of energy for a given period of time.  In physics it is calculated as the work done over a period of time.  More power can get more work done in the same amount of time.  Power, or the energy available, to get things done can be used to get things done for oneself or for others.

There is an old saying that power corrupts.  Having power often leads people to the power paradox: while they get their power–the energy to get things done–from others because of their work for others, they can also begin to use the power to do things for themselves.  In the power paradox, people who begin to use their power for their own ends, start to lose their access to and grip on power.  To maintain their relative power, they have three options.  They can get more power through co-benefit, by doing things that benefit others, who give them the energy to do work.  They can co-opt the energy of others through coercion, forcing others to give them their energy.  They can decrease the power of others, through coercion, tipping the balance of power back in their own favor.  So, people can increase their relative power by (1) doing good for others, (2) coercing others, or (3) decreasing the power of others.  With the first, power is co-generated–they get more power, and others keep their power.  With the second, power is diffused–they get more power, and others lose their power.  With the third, power is dissipated–others lose their power to heat, to self-preservation.  The first is generative.  The second and third are coercive and destructive.

Power gains that are based on destruction must be less resilient, over time, than power gains based on co-generation.  Resilience is the ability to continue to function when the context changes.  While coercion can appropriate the energy of others, it must be mostly in the form of the energy resources of others, the capacities they already have.  Energy gained through generative interactions often engages (1) the energy resources of others, and (2) their development of relationships and capacities over time, and (3) engagement of their creative potential.  While destructive forces can get (1), generative forces can engage (1), (2), and (3).  That has to be more resilient.

In our Institute for Strategic Clarity research on groups that focus more on coordination, cooperation, or collaboration, we find that collaborative efforts engage people around a deeper shared purpose, to which everyone contributes their unique gifts, their energy resources and learning and potential.  We find that cooperative efforts invite people to contribute shared resources, and that coordination efforts assign people to use their own energy resources to do their own work, which might be pieced together later.  In the three cases of coordination, cooperation, and collaboration, each group keeps their power, and is invited to contribute ever greater levels of it to the group effort.

In coercive efforts, the power of others is diminished.  It is co-opted by the coercive enforcer, taking the other’s energy, their will, and using it for the coercer’s purposes.  This can be done consciously and unconsciously.  In conscious coercion, the coerced know they are being coerced, that their energy is being usurped for another person’ purposes.  Bullying fits in this category.  In unconscious coercion, the coerced have often unconsciously accepted a set of agreements where their energy is used by the coercer for the coercer’s purposes, without the coercer knowing that this is what they are doing.  Many social settings fit this category, such as the use of fiat currencies to enrich the currency owners–we get loans and pay interest rates, with no clue as to how the monetary system works.

In collaborative efforts, the power of each individual and of the group is increased.  The energy is co-generated by the impact resulting from the engaging and leveraging of the unique contributions of each individual.  Everyone keeps their power and ends up with more.

In coercion, someone ends up with more, and others end up with less.  In collaboration, everyone ends up with more.  Which leads to greater resilience?

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Huge Hygge — Recommended Reading

Russell, Helen. The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country. London: Icon Books, 2015.

Hygge.  Danish for something cozy, charming, or special.  It is also the art of creating intimacy.   Author Helen Russell explores how hygge might be one of the secrets of Denmark’s perennial position in the top ranks of the happiest countries.  To understand her experience, over a year-long journey of living in Denmark, she shares many funny anecdotes of her daily life, and she uses her journalistic skills to meet and interview Danish experts in the many aspects of daily life that she explores.

She uncovers widespread attention to the environment one creates in one’s home, to being comfortable on one’s own, to being honest with and supportive of others, to respecting and supporting the many contributions people can make to society, to the creative process and getting feedback about what one is learning, and to celebrating the creativity that is everywhere, if one looks.  In ecosynomics terms, these are co-hosting the five primary relationships.  The global Agreements Health Check survey (from 124 countries) shows that as people get better at co-hosting the five primary relationships, they experience greater vibrancy, more hygge.  I highly recommend this fun, well written discovery of the secrets of living vibrantly every day, even where it is very cold.

Revisiting Agreements–Are Your Agreements Static-Dead or Dynamic-Living?

Most of us humans tend to act and interact as if our agreements, the guidelines for our interactions, are fixed.  If they are fixed, they are permanent, static.  Dead.  If they are fixed, then they cannot be changed.

And, if they actually are agreements, a mutual understanding, then we can decide what they are.  This means that we can change them.  They are just agreements.  They are changing, impermanent, dynamic.  Living.

If they are living, then agreements are constantly evolving, changing in content as the context changes.  If they are constantly evolving, then it would probably be a good idea to revisit them periodically.

In my own practice, I used to focus on making the best decision.  After all, I have advanced degrees in the decision sciences.  And, once I had followed a good decision making process, and made a good decision, I was done.  Complete.  On to the next decision.  A few years ago, I began to see the brilliance in “rushing to failure,” learning from trying something, making mistakes, and adjusting.  Much more interesting.  And, it was a mind shift to focus on getting to the awareness of the mistakes quicker.  While the rewards were high with this focus on failure, the fail language brought in lots of scarcity and feelings of weakness.  We were constantly asking about and focusing on our failures.  Good learning, and a bit debilitating in the language.

A couple of years ago, a colleague and I started experimenting with the practice of tangibilization.  Through the O Process, we would imagine possibilities, see a pathway of relationships and activities to manifest it, and a tangible outcome.  We would then look for the feedback in the pathway and outcomes, over time.  With this feedback, we would re-envision the possibilities, adjusting the pathways and outcomes we saw.  We were engaging an evolutionary process–learning and adjusting.  Over time, we saw that in this process we were constantly revisiting our agreements, adjusting them based on what we learned along the way.  With this realization, we shifted our language from “rushing to failure” to “revisiting our agreements.”  Now we actively seek and celebrate the feedback, with a reinforcing feeling, continuously evolving our agreements.

At first, this might seem inefficient.  Surely it is more efficient to decide once and be done.  Less time spent on process.  Right?  Back when we focused on making one decision and being done with the process, we observed that we actually ended up spending much more time on fixing the consequences of agreements that no longer worked.  This is analogous to the observation that most organizational work is spent correcting mistakes made from poor planning.  This does not mean spending endless time talking through every agreement over and over.  That IS a waste.

We found that it was far more efficient to continuously iterate the O Process, remembering the potential, pathways, and outcomes we saw, comparing those with what actually happened, and adjusting.  This is also known as the scientific process.  It turns out to be much more efficient and effective to revisit our agreements frequently, adjusting based on the feedback we received from the universe.  We learned that our agreements are dynamic, alive, so we revisit them continuously.

Energy Innovation Ecosystems in Rural Mexico

Acuña, Francisco, Guillermo Cedeño, Ramon Sanchez, Leith Sharp, John Spengler, and James Ritchie-Dunham. “Energy Innovation Ecosystems in Rural Mexico.” ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America XVIII, no. 1 (2018): 108-09.

This recently published article describes a very vibrant initiative, bringing innovative energy ecosystems to rural Mexico.  To understand the wild success of the initiative, the Institute for Strategic Clarity was invited to use the Agreements Evidence Mapping tool to understand what happened.  In essence (see figure below), by connecting (1) the low perceived value and social impact rural universities with (2) the moderate perceived value and social impact of the rural communities, (3) the academic knowledge and global network of Harvard, with (4) financial capital, they were able to generate a high perceived value and social impact energy innovation ecosystem.

Initially the rural universities are resource poor, providing theoretical, technical education with low practical social impact because of underemployment of graduates, locally. Initially the indigenous communities are rich in social capital, and poor in the financial and intellectual capital to exploit their wealth in natural capital.  The Harvard Applied Leadership in Renewable Energies Program engaged rural universities and local indigenous communities throughout Mexico, where 286 university professors and researchers proposed innovation ecosystems for 93 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that were developed and funded (e.g., wind in Oaxaca and biodiesel in Sinaloa).

A documentary and casebook detail the whole project, and the subsequent social and economic potential impact of these projects, including 953.3 MW of wind energy, 512 MW of installed capacity of photovoltaic energy, 1.36 MW of biomass electricity, 40 million liters of ethanol/year, 7.2 million liters of biodiesel/year and 9 million liters of bio-jet fuel/year. This program proved that shifting away from centralized-only thinking with low ROIC, for high-impact, economically-resilient, national renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Mexico, think massively local innovation ecosystems with a much higher, more resilient, and more equitable ROIC.  This model of social innovation is particularly relevant in the multitude of countries facing rapid rural-to-urban migration in part because of investment inequities.  The project leaders are meeting now with Mexico’s ministers of economy and social development to replicate this.

Acknowledgements.  This project includes dozens of rural, indigenous communities in Mexico, over 100 rural Mexican universities with 286 of their faculty, the Mexican Secretariat of Energy, global investors led by InTrust Global Investments LLC, and the Center for Health and the Global Environment in the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.

 

You Are Different AND Relevant: That Is Why I Need You

“In a community of knowledge, what matters more than having knowledge is having access to knowledge”…”The different bits of knowledge that different members of the community have must be compatible” (Sloman, S, and P. Fernbach. 2017. The Knowledge Illusion, New York: Riverhead Books, pp.124, 126).

To know what I need to know, I can either input everything I need to know into my brain and remember it, or I can know that it exists and where to access it when needed.  It turns out that our brains are leaky.  We forget most things that we see, and we remember wrong many things we think we remember.  And we are relatively good at finding out where to access knowledge, according to Professors Sloman and Fernabch, who I quoted above.

From the perspective of collaboration and co-hosting, the need to include others’ perspectives is the second step of the O Process for collaborative co-hosting.  The first step is to identify the deeper shared purpose that brings everyone together, uniting their will towards a common future.  The second step is to include those voices, those unique perspectives, that are required to generate the possibility of this deeper shared purpose.  Most things that bring people together, like K-12 education, medical care, or food systems require many different perspectives to come together, in a specific way.  The second step of the O Process invites in those different perspectives that we need.  We need them because they are different, because they see the world differently, and they contribute a different perspective.

While this second step seems obvious to everyone I work with–the need for differently-minded people–most do not act as if it were obvious.  Most who say they get this, then fill the room with like-minded people, not differently-minded people.  I also observe that most people in most meetings are not clear why their specific perspective is needed in the room, nor are they clear on why the voices or perspectives of the other people in the room are needed.  Not being clear on why I or others are in the room leads most people to not listen carefully, to not listen intently, and to not inquire into the differences someone else is seeing.  Conversely, when we are clear that we need other specific perspectives, then we are intent on understanding what they are seeing, what they are uniquely bringing to what we are seeing together.  Completely different processes, experiences, and outcomes.

When I combine this observation with the three levels of collaboration I have described before, I see three ways people relate to their own knowledge and accessing that of others.

  1. When the group process is designed for segregation, I am clear that “I need” something.  I am paying attention to what I need to give and get from any given situation, at most looking to see what I can get from others, if they are aligned with giving me what I need.
  2. When the group process is designed for flocking, I know that “I need others.”  I pay attention to what I need and what others need, as we move in the same space, sometimes working on our own and sometimes cooperating.
  3. When the group process is designed for uniting, I see that “I need specific others.”  I am clear about what we are collectively trying to achieve together, our deeper shared purpose, and the need for very specific perspectives to achieve that deeper shared purpose.  I pay attention to the deeper shared purpose, to each person’s perspective, and to how these perspectives shine light on what we want to achieve.  I need each person to be different, united in a deeper shared purpose, and committed to collaborating with each other on that purpose.

I need you, because you are different, and because you are relevant, like I am, to what we want to give our will to, to the future we want to achieve.

Low-Value Traps

Recent reports on global disengagement and lack of wellness suggest that people across the globe have persistent “low-value” experiences–they spend all day gaining little value from their efforts, feeling like they contribute little value to their organizations and communities, and experience little sustainable value in the material things they purchase.

If this is such a widespread and common phenomenon, why have people not figured this out?  It seems like the sufferers of this include the poor and the rich, those with little formal education and those with lots, and those in the global south and the global north.  It seems that they are caught in a “low-value trap.”  A low-value trap is when the experience of low value in a specific social system persists over time, where people feel “trapped” in long-term experiences of low value, of not getting much or contributing much for a lot of time and resource spent.

The authors of a recent book on the science and practice of resilient social-environmental systems  suggest a nice metaphor for this trap.  “Imagine a crater at the top of [a] mountain…The ‘trap’ would be water stuck in the crater, unable to get over its walls and thereby take advantage of the multiple development paths represented by the descending valleys” (Pursuing Sustainability, 2016, Princeton Univ Press, p 66).  For a more mathematical treatment of these crater traps, see “local minima.”  The point is that, within the crater, it is very hard to get out, because in the crater you tend not to have access to the very resources that you need to climb the walls, so most efforts to climb the walls only result in falling back to the bottom of the crater.

The very resources one needs to experience high value, in what one gives to and receives from human interactions, do not seem to be available in the low-value trap.  We need support, recognition, and the ability to make a unique contribution, yet these resources are usually not available in the low-value trap.  Are we stuck, then, or is there a way out?  The emerging science of agreements fields suggests there is a way out.  A way that is both simple and hard.  We simply need to see the agreements that we have unconsciously accepted, making them conscious and choosing whether and how we enter them.  This is hard, because we human beings seem to be designed to continuously and consistently fall asleep to these socially embedded agreements.  Over the past decade, in our work with organizations, networks, and leaders in over a dozen countries, we have developed a prototype, a 4-step process for seeing, choosing, and enacting these agreements, getting out of the “low-value trap.”  While hard to see at first, especially when you have spent years experiencing the low-value trap, you do have the resources needed to get out of the trap.  It is a choice.

iCo–The Power of Co-hosting

Colleagues in the global Vibrancy community have been working for many years on the concept of co-hosting.  We have found it to be a very powerful way of inviting and leading much greater impact resilience.

First of all, what do we mean by co-hosting?  We started with the analogy of a party.  Are we holding a party, like a meeting, where we are trying to lift the whole thing by ourselves?  It’s heavy, because in the holding gesture we are trying to manage the whole and each of the interactions of the part.  Surely you have been to a party or a committee meeting where you were micromanaged.  How was it?  We realized that we liked parties that were hosted more than parties that were held by someone.  The host tended to create an environment for a fun party, guide us periodically with food, music, or occasional introductions, generally leaving us to our own devices.  By looking for great hosting, we began to notice experiences that were even better than being hosted, where we were invited to be co-responsible for the experience and the outcomes.  We were invited to be co-hosts, hosting tougher, with all of us being responsible.  That is when we started to play with co-hosting.

When we look at co-hosting through the four lenses of the agreements evidence map–the economic, political, cultural, and social lenses–we begin to see a coherent set of practices that we have observed in very vibrant groups that achieve very high levels of impact resilience.

Co-investing.  Through the economic lens, we see co-investing.  What are the light, verb, noun resources we each bring to our interactions with each other?  When we bring all of who we are and all that we can see to the game, we bring potential, development, and outcomes.  We each bring something.  I do not contract you to bring only the capacities you already have, rather I invite you into investing with me, co-investing, everything you bring and everything I bring.  We have found the co-investing gesture to dramatically change our agreements with each other and with the organizations and communities we engage with in our work.  We have begun to measure the outcomes of co-investing by assessing the return on impact-resilience co-investment–the increased return on our investment, in terms of greater impact and resilience from lower costs of scarcity achieved through more powerful agreements.

Integrated conversations.  Through the political lens, we see integrated conversations.  Our colleagues at THORLO call them ICCs, for integrated collaborative conversations.  With decision making and enforcement based on all five primary relationships, who decides and enforces–the political lens–depends completely on the specific relationship-context.  Is it a decision for the self, for the other, for the group, for the creative, tangibilization process, or for the source of creativity?  They each co-exist within an integrated conversation, each with their own principles and responsibilities.  In highly vibrant integrated conversations, we find people contribute freely, interact freely and with mutual responsibility, with the responsibility to participate fully, respecting, witnessing, and learning in the creative process, looking for the sources of creativity everywhere.  Doing this turns out to be easy, very practical, and highly engaging.

Deeper shared purpose.  Through the cultural lens, we see that people are united by a deeper shared purpose.  This deeper shared purpose is what brings us all together, in any specific circumstance, whether we are aware of it or not.  Being clear on what that deeper shared purpose is turns out to be very powerful, as it taps into the deeper values that guide our interactions and invite our greater commitment and contributions.  We have found that by being explicit about the outcomes and experience we expect from our interactions, we are able to consciously choose agreements that align with these deeper value and the ethical principles that guide our interactions.

Collaboration.  Through the social lens, we see that people design their interactions for segregation, for flocking, or for collaboration.  In collaboration we are united, each necessary for our unique contributions to achieving the whole that we all want and need each other to achieve.   While many people say they are collaborating, we find they actually mean something very different.  We have found processes for inviting in and presencing collaboration, which we have synthesized with the O Process. In collaboration, we have found that people are able to continuously evolve their agreements by witnessing what is happening at every step of the creative tangibilization process, from seeing potential, and seeing pathways to manifest that potential, to seeing the outcomes from those pathways.  All an experiment in multiple levels of perceived reality, learning and evolving along the way, a process we now call tangibilization.

In looking at our experience of co-hosting, we now see through the 4 lenses that successful co-hosting requires a coherent set of practices that integrate co-investing, integrated conversations, deeper shared purpose, and collaboration, as four different ways of seeing one experience, that of co-hosting.  When the evidence in the agreements evidence map shows that one of these is at a lower level of agreements, then the co-hosting set is not coherent.  A high level of co-hosting requires coherence of all 4 at the same level of agreements.  While this seems complex at first, in practice it is not.  It is a matter of holding oneself to these principles, leading to a much more vibrant experience and much better outcomes.  Greater impact resilience.

A colleague told me the other day that she thought of herself as a “co” person, because she found herself constantly working in collaboration and co-investment as a co-host.  A very powerful way to invite each of us to be at our best, making our best contributions in our interactions.  Maybe that makes her an iCo.

What People Mean By “We Are Systems Thinkers”

I have been meeting lots of people lately who talk about being “systems thinkers.”  As a person who has played in the field of system dynamics and systems thinking for two dozen years, I get excited when people self-describe as playing in the same space.  To me “systems thinking” refers to classical definitions of a system and of systems thinking, such as:

System.  “A system is a set of interrelated elements.” — Russell Ackoff, 1971

Systems Thinking.  “The ability to see the world as a complex system.” — John Sterman, 2000

I have also started to listen more carefully to what people mean about what they say and what evidence they use to show what they mean.  With this listening, it seems to me that people are actually saying very different things about themselves, often with the same terms.  I have heard three very different things that people mean when they say, “systems thinking.”

Focus on systemic structures.  By systems thinking, some people mean that they focus on systemic structures.  They primarily focus on their own node, their own system, within a larger system.  They use processes like causal diagrams, rich pictures, and systems archetypes to describe their part of the system, its causes, and what they can do about it.  You can find hundreds of examples here, where I too have published.  This focus on systemic structures that are very close to their own node in the larger system seems to correlate with what I have observed to be segregating design, where everyone in the larger system tends to focus on their own local dynamics, irrespective of what others in the system are thinking or doing.

Focus on systemic decision structures.  By systems thinking, other people mean that they focus on a set of interrelated decision structures.  They primarily focus on how the decisions influencing their own node are influenced by multiple stakeholders who are each making decisions about their own nodes.  They use quantitative modeling processes like system dynamics (see my dengue modeling) and qualitative strategic modeling processes like my own GRASP and Strategic Clarity  processes, often coupled with the “systemic structures” processes described above.  With these processes, they try to see the whole, how each stakeholder contributes to causes of the problem, and how to partner around what each stakeholder could do to shift the behavior of the whole system.  This focus on systemic decision structures around their own nodes and those of related stakeholders seems to correlate with what I see as flocking design, where people and groups within a larger system pay attention to each other, reacting to each other’s movements, with the focus still primarily on one’s own resilience.

Focus on systemic agreement structures.  By systems thinking, yet other people mean that they focus on both the underlying and surface-level structures of agreements that determine the systemic decision structures.  They primarily focus on how deeper structures of embedded agreements influence the system of decisions that each stakeholder consciously or unconsciously accepts in their interactions within a system.  They use processes of co-hosting collaboration to decide together what their deeper shared purpose is within the stakeholders of a larger system, seeing what the requisite unique contributions are from each stakeholder, and together developing creative possibilities that they then leverage and tangibilize together, using processes like the Harmonic Vibrancy Move Process.  This focus on systemic agreement structures seems to correlate with what I observe to be uniting design, where people come together to redefine the underlying agreements that shape their system, the experience they have, the outcomes they achieve, and the resilience of the impacts they achieve.

So, the next time someone tells you they are a systems thinker, I invite you to perk up your ears, listen a little closer, and ask questions.  Look for the evidence of what they actually mean.  Are they focusing on (1) systemic structures to improve segregating designs, (2) systemic decision structures to support flocking designs, or (3) systemic agreement structures to co-develop uniting designs?  Those few moments of extra inquiry and evidence gathering might tell you a lot about what they actually mean.

Reading Agreements Evidence Maps

What we want to see

Our daily experiences, outcomes, and the impact resilience of our efforts are deeply influenced by a set of deep, underlying agreements that we rarely see and usually accept unconsciously—a vast array of interwoven, socially embedded, economic, political, cultural and social assumptions.  If we want more engaging experiences, better outcomes, and more resilient impacts, we need to see these agreements, so that we can choose the ones we want.  These agreements are usually hard to see and unknot.  We have been developing the Agreements Evidence Map to help.

What the AEMap is

The Agreements Evidence Map (AEMap) provides four classic “lenses” on one experience—questions humanity has asked for many, many years—the economic, political, cultural, and social.  The AEMap focuses these four very different lenses on the same experience, highlighting very different aspects of that experience—how much is perceived to be available of what resources, who decides and enforces how those resources are allocated, what criteria are used to decide, and how everyone interacts.  The AEMap also distinguishes three “levels” of an experience: the possibility, development, and outcomes levels.  The AEMap process maps the “evidence” of the agreements in any given situation, as seen through these four lenses and these three levels.

What the AEMap shows us

When filled with the “evidence” of the agreements in any given situation, the AEMap gives one a deeper sense of what is possible in a specific set of agreements and what is still possible to gain from shifting the agreements.  Our research and practice over the past decade, applied in a dozen countries, coupled with survey results from 98 countries, shows that the agreements underlying groups that are disengaging versus engaging, attacking versus cooperative versus collaborative are completely different.

How to read the AEMap

In the AEMap we can also see, which agreements are well codified and in everyone’s awareness (colored green), which are frequently experienced often beacuse of specific people or processes (colored yellow), which are rare (colored red), and which ones have never been experienced (colored white).

By highlighting what agreements are evidenced in one’s experience, the agreements that would lead to a more engaging, more collaborative experience become obvious.  You can see many examples here.

Are You Low-skilled Labor Or a High-quality Craftsman? Depends on What You See

From one perspective, hundreds of millions of people working on the manufacturing floor, in offices, and in service jobs around the world are low-skilled labor.  They are filling blue-collar jobs.  Applying the agreements evidence map to the agreements underlying this low-skilled labor perspective, we find assumptions that people only bring the capacities to do work that they have.  This is an expression of resource power, focusing on the nouns, the capacities available right here right now.  From this logic, whoever has more resources to bring to the game has more power.

The agreements evidence map points to another perspective, one where many of the people in these jobs bring capacity to do work and they are experts at their craft, bringing deep levels of experience in collaboration, and very high-quality processes to their efforts.  They know what they are doing, and they are very efficient at it, continuously learning and furthering the craft.  The agreements evidence map shows agreements based on network power, focusing on learning and development of capacities and relationships, as well as outcomes, the verbs and the nouns.

Are the people in these hundreds of millions of jobs, low skilled or high skilled, labor or knowledge workers, replaceable cogs or expert technicians?  Is a knowledge worker only a professional, or might it depend on the level of craftsmanship brought and the level of agreements underlying the position?  It might depend on what you see, on the underlying agreements.