Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell: Living Labs

Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell with Luz Maria Puente KawashimaHal Rabbino, and Marshall Clemens

The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell project in 2002 used strategic systems mapping and idiagrams to engage the leadership of a very impactful nonprofit, serving over 200 kids in Lowell, MA (USA), and on the brink of financial collapse, in a strategic renewal.  This required quick wins towards long-term health.  The process brought the board and faculty together to revision the board, its role, and the work of the faculty with the board to invigorate fundraising and community building.  From then with 1 month of funding until the doors were shut to now with new buildings and an endowment to increase its financial resilience, the Club came together to imagine and materialize a healthier future, doubling the population of boys and girls served.

Initial Project Description

In this 21-minute exploration, Luz Maria provides an overview of the project, the 1-year process with a follow up 2 years later, key insights, key experiences or shifts in the participants, and potential and documented impacts.

Video version

ISC Live Lab Co-investment and Return on Co-investment

Context.  In 2002, we had just published the book Managing from Clarity. We had refined our understanding of strategic systems mapping, and we were actively developing the synthetic analysis method for identifying systemic leverage points, and how it could be used with community-based strategic processes.

Co-investment.  In this multi-year relationship with the Boys & Girls Club, we co-invested our intellectual property of strategic systems thinking and community-engagement processes.

Return on Co-investment.  The return on this co-investment was refining our processes and tools for engaging multi-lingual communities in taking up a long-term systemic strategy for the development of their own community.

Further References

Grupo Bal — Corporate: Living Labs

Grupo Bal with Hal Rabbino

The Grupo Bal project, in 1999, explored the strategic systems understanding of a corporate governance setting, understanding the interplay of multiple businesses and the role of the corporate function.

Initial Project Description

In this 10-minute exploration, Hal provides an overview of this strategic process, initial insights, key experiences, and shifts in the participants.

Video (or audio-only version)

ISC Live Lab Co-investment and Return on Co-investment

Context.  In 1999,  we were refining our strategic mapping of systems, and developing the synthetic analysis method for identifying systemic leverage points.

Co-investment.  In this fieldwork, we co-invested our intellectual property of the strategic systems thinking of complex systems, within the strategic framing of the corporate environment.

Return on Co-investment.  The intellectual return on our co-investment came in the exploration of strategic systems thinking when applied to a corporate environment, exploring the value generated and strategic leverage points for the corporate group managing a portfolio of companies.  A key insight gained was in formulating the valuation of a corporate group of companies as a combination of the current value and the risk of the future value, a risk that is partly controlled by the way that the corporate group works with the portfolio of companies.  This valuation of an underlying system of enabling and value-driving resources works nicely with the systemic view of the strategic elements of the corporate group.

We were invited with leadership from Grupo Bal to present the findings of this work at a conference on strategic measurement at Harvard, bringing a return on our social capital co-invested, developing a relationship with the creators of the Balanced Scorecard, which would play out in future research.

Further References

Guest Post: Mapping and Shifting Our Readiness for Change

by Joe Bienkiewicz

The Strategic SCAN framework is a structured set of concepts and associated questions that enables one to determine a group’s potential effectiveness in working together to meet a common goal. It provides directional guidance to the user as they assess their specific answers so that they can strengthen their team’s relationships, dynamics, and abilities.

I applied the Strategic SCAN framework to my primary working group, the Senior Leadership Team of a US subsidiary of an international medical-solutions company. My goal was to assess our team’s readiness for change against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has presented our team and our customers with many challenges over the past year. Our business, like thousands of others, was confronted with new challenges that required us to radically change how we make decisions to deliver products to our customers and the patients that rely on our life-saving technologies. We are experiencing change, whether we recognize it or not.

Our business success is evaluated, at the top layer, by traditional financial-performance metrics. Beneath this layer are dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure patent disclosures, product complaints, and almost everything in between. KPIs are used by many companies, factories, departments, and project groups to measure performance against standards that we think are important in contributing to our success. Meaningful KPIs are a tried-and-true tool that allow us to monitor and correct the factors that contribute to our business performance at a frequency that is greater than the frequency of required financial reporting. So, how do we effectively influence the operational factors that we care about BEFORE they negatively affect our business? Well, first, we must acknowledge that there is a layer that the first two layers, above, are built upon. This layer of business performance is our people, and the performance metric is contained in the feelings and unique perspectives of our employees, our peers, and the people we report to. 

I have to admit that this is a perspective that I did not have prior to applying the Strategic SCAN framework to my current work situation. I am a Chemical Engineer by training, and I operate within the relative certainty that science, technology, and engineering provide. While seldom absolute, the things I work on are correct, acceptable, complete, or incorrect, unacceptable, and incomplete, regardless of how I feel about them. The laws of chemistry and the principles of material science can easily be applied by another person to check my work for suitability to our technical problems. However, these principles offer little utility in increasing team engagement or addressing business and management issues that I have encountered as I continue to progress through my career. My thinking had become rigid and predictable, and thus limited in applicability to the majority of issues that I currently encounter in my management role.

I opted to apply the Strategic SCAN concept by interviewing my manager and each of my peers, using questions and concepts provided in the Strategic SCAN framework. The interviews were one on one and scheduled for 30 minutes in length. I emphasized that I was looking to explore each person’s feelings about their experience through a question-and-answer format and that there could be feelings of vulnerability that come along with such a request. The goal was to triangulate the group’s current situation by assessing what we say we do (procedures and agreements) against what we perceive that we do (interviews) against the third dimension of our results.

For example, to help identify whether our team has a deeper shared purpose to guide us in our decision making, I asked each participant the following questions: 

  • Why does our site exist, and what is our purpose?
  • Do you feel connected to that purpose?
  • Do you think the group is aligned with that purpose?

This relatively simple trio of questions proved to be quite powerful in determining alignment of the team and our perceptions of each other as we work together. We each had a similar definition of our site’s purpose, with predictable nuances that aligned to roles and responsibilities. The overwhelming majority of participants also felt a strong alignment to their stated purpose. Unexpectedly, most participants felt that others were not properly aligned to that purpose. These questions identified that my coworkers and I are passionate and that we connect to a narrative that speaks to “the why” of what we do. This process also helped to uncover an opportunity for our team to focus on improving and increasing our trust in one another as we align ourselves to a deeper shared purpose. Identifying and clarifying that narrative should be a powerful tool that we can use as a guide in our decision-making processes. 

To determine whether the intended recipients of our work want and are able to receive what we offer, I asked each person the following question: Does our group understand who we serve, and do we communicate with them frequently enough to know what they want? I did not expect that we would develop a high level of insight into our ecosystem from this process, and that while we all identified our customers and their beloved patients, many of us serve unique internal and external customers that were not universally understood by the rest of the team. This revealed that we do not share a common understanding of our ecosystem, nor do we fully understand how to reach our customers and their patients in the work we do every day. In addition, nearly all of us agree that we do not communicate with those customers often enough to know what they want. These personal perspectives are powerful in aligning the team to a meaningful mission to reach those we serve, but they are somewhat lost in the day-to day completion of our individual job functions. 

I also underestimated the openness that I encountered in the interview process and the resulting feelings of connection that developed in just 30 minutes. We are simply humans, and these are humans that I have spent thousands of hours with, solving problems and making decisions. We have agreed, disagreed, argued, and celebrated together over the years, but, I had never asked them how they felt, what they were experiencing in our interactions, in what we do for our clients. This simple act of asking about feelings, combined with the direction provided by the Strategic SCAN, resulted in a treasure trove of useful information about our perceptions of purpose, our connection to our customers, and how we work together. This has enormous utility for the group, and it has served as a foundation for our team to continue to work on the factors that contribute to our effectiveness and readiness for the inevitable changes that we will experience together. 

The unexpected result is that this simple, but powerful exercise has shifted my perspective towards recognizing the importance of shared experiences, and it has given me an additional set of tools to apply to what I previously considered intangible problems. 

Cancer Free Economy Network: Living Labs

Cancer Free Economy Network with Conrado Garcia Madrid

The Cancer Free Economy Network project in 2015-2016 worked with a large, multi-stakeholder process to rid the US economy of carcinogenic toxins.  The project joined an on-going strategic systems process that already had a systems map and leverage points identified.  The project started by taking a team of 3 people from the project through the Strategic Clarity 2.0 analysis, developing their capacity to understand and do the analysis, with the completed analysis as the deliverable.   The project then worked with the leverage point teams to identify specific leverage-point strategies and to integrate those strategies into one unified strategy.

Initial Project Description
In this 21-minute exploration, Conrado provides an overview of this strategic process, initial insights, key experiences or shifts in the participants, and innovations in engaging with a strategic systems project that already had a systems map and leverage points identified, as well as innovations in the use of graphic templates to facilitate the leverage-point teams’ work with the strategic systems process.

Video (or audio-only version)

ISC Live Lab Co-investment and Return on Co-investment

Context.  In 2015, we had just published the book Ecosynomics. We were refining our understanding of the strategic systems processes underlying collaboration and networks.

Co-investment.  In this project with the Garfield Foundation, we co-invested our intellectual property of the Strategic Clarity methodology, our understanding of how to develop leverage-point strategies, and how to unite them in one overall strategy, our social capital in how to develop the capacity of our co-investors in actually doing the strategic synthetic analysis for leverage points.

Return on Co-investment.  The return on this co-investment came in the forms of the intellectual capital of (1) developing the capacity of co-investors to work with and support the technical assessment of the leverage points, (2) exploring new ways of graphically engaging teams in developing leverage-point strategies, and (3) deepening our experience in working with a network to design a unified leverage-point strategy.

Further References

Not Being Human-centered Destroys Value, for Everyone: Recommended Reading

Hamel, G. and M. Zanini (2020). Humanocracy: Creating Organizations As Amazing As The People Inside Them. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press. [Read chapter 1 for free here.]

The logic is simple. And so is the math. Treat people as less than what they are, and they produce less. Treat people like the creative beings they are, and they creatively generate. Start with a No! towards people, and your results will be net-negative: the system is worse off, with more energy extracted than added. Start with a Yes! towards people, and your results will be net-positive: the system is better off, with more energy added than extracted. Always.

The numbers are now showing this. Everywhere. On the leading edge of showing this, Hamel and Zanini provide the numbers with the whats and the hows to do it. What drives the numbers towards net-negative or towards net-positive. Most of the findings aren’t surprising: it is more surprising that they are findings. And, the findings are very timely, as leaders everywhere struggle to figure out how to manage big changes from a human-centered approach.

In Humanocracy, Hamel and Zanini start by busting the myth that people are resistant to change. “Fact is, we’re change addicts. We have an insatiable appetite for the new. All those changes that are roiling in the work, they’re our doing. We are the agents of upheaval” (p.8). It is not the people who are resistant to change, it is the organizations. Throughout their book, they describe why they think institutional inertia keeps organizations resistant to change and the huge costs that come with that resistance. At the core of their findings, “our organizations are less than fully human, because they were designed to be so” (p.17). “In bureaucracy, human beings are instruments, employed by an organization to create products and services. In a humanocracy, the organization is the instrument–it’s the vehicle human beings use to better their lives and the lives of those they serve. The question at the core of bureaucracy is , ‘How do we get human beings to better serve the organization?’ The question at the heart of humanocracy is, ‘What sort of organization elicits and merits the best that human beings can give?'” (p.20).

Numbers from their book. “We estimate there are 13.45 million managers and the equivalent of 9.5 million employees in the US economy who are producing little to no economic value…Excising bureaucratic deadweight would raise US GDP per employed person from $127,000 (the figure for 2018) to $148,000…If each of these individuals contributed $148,000 to the economy, rather than zero, GDP would increase by roughly $3.4 trillion” (p.59). A big number. Independent of whether GDP is a good measure of human creativity, the point is that treating people as creative beings would unlock huge potential.

In ecosynomic terms, humanocracy shows how to move an organization FROM focusing only on extracting value from others to achieve its own outcomes TO an organization that recognizes the capacities its people contribute and focuses on unlocking their learning and connection to generate far greater value, for everyone. While this blog describes many examples of organizations that are highly developed in engaging the best of humanity towards deep systems transformation, evolving mission-driven impacts, Humanocracy goes for the jugular of the vast majority of organizations that still disengage most of their people, showing how to take the critical and necessary first steps, with lots of examples of practices, with the numbers to back it up. This is a huge first step. I highly recommend this book.

BMC Diabetes: Living Labs

BMC Diabetes with Hal Rabbino

The BMC Diabetes project in 1997 used the reference behavior pattern, coupled with qualitative stock-flow diagramming to shift the global strategy of a diabetes diagnostic company, and to explain to its leadership why it had missed this critical turning point and how to make the transition.

Initial Project Description

In this 10-minute exploration, Hal provides an overview of the strategic process,  initial insights, key experiences, and shifts in the participants.

Video (or audio-only version)

ISC Live Lab Co-investment and Return on Co-investment

Context.  In 1997, we were in an early phase of ISC’s work, in a form called the Leverage Institute.  After three years in systemic strategy at the ITAM, Jim was now in the doctoral program in decision sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.  We were merging the fields of system dynamics and strategic decision making, testing the emerging “strategic decision simulation” framework in field settings like BMC.

Co-investment.  In this fieldwork, we co-invested our intellectual property of the blending of system dynamics and strategy and our financial capital in the time to write up what we found in a case study.

Return on Co-investment.  The return we received started immediately, the first day, in two parts.  First, while we had intended to develop a detailed simulation of the problem BMC was facing, we experienced the power of a strategically clear question–when we used the system dynamics framing of stocks and flows to ask the strategic questions of (1) the organization-level behavior they were trying to shift, and (2) the core dynamics influencing that behavior, we found that they were missing a key dynamic in their narrative.  This was the first return: the power of a well framed and mapped strategic question.  It made the missing, strategic element simple and clear.

The second return came that first afternoon, when we saw that we could explain dynamically (1) why smart people had missed this key element, initially, and (2) why they now needed to pay attention to it.  This was the first time we saw that we could describe with simple clarity the dynamic evolution of the strategic understanding in a complex system–how they had arrived at this point, the required shift, and what they could do going forward–a key feature of our research going forward.

Further References

Stakeholder Engagement — a Continuum from Stakeholder Inclusion to Stakeholder Discrimination

You absolutely know when your group can get much better results. Why aren’t you achieving the results you know you can?

There might be incremental changes you can make to remove basic inefficiencies.  For example, simple steps in project management, time management, process organization, or agenda setting might help.

There might be strategic changes you can make to prioritize focus areas. For example, do we continue, stop, or pivot in the ways that we drive value for our customers and employees?

There might also be systemic changes you can make to shift from working against the dynamics of the existing system to working with the dynamics of the system that you want.  For example, you could (1) define your deeper shared purpose, (2) map the ecosystem dynamics generating the system outcomes you are experiencing, and (3) map the degree of inclusion of the stakeholders who directly influence those ecosystem dynamics. You would find that some of your stakeholders and the ecosystem dynamics they influence are deeply included in your current understanding and work, while many ecosystem-critical stakeholders and dynamics are not.

The key lesson here is that a low degree of inclusion (Latin for enclosed, closed in) = discrimination (Latin for to separate away from).  By not including them, consciously and explicitly, you are excluding them.  This weights the value of their contribution as zero, which is the only value that is not possible, given that they are an ecosystem-critical stakeholder.  They influence your ecosystem and, therefore, its dynamics and outcomes.  A systemic change would be to explicitly include them in your understanding of ecosystem dynamics, outcomes, and strategic relationships.

Stakeholder engagement–engaging those who directly influence your ecosystem dynamics and outcomes–is a continuum from stakeholder inclusion to stakeholder discrimination.  This gives you 3 strategic choices.  The first choice is to see it. The second choice is to understand it. The third choice is to do something about it. This might be the systemic change that will allow you to finally achieve the outcomes that you know are available to your group.

The Core Problem We Face

It takes an instant to see the key to a core, seemingly unsurmountable problem we face.  The core problem is that the experiences we have and the outcomes we achieve are determined by the agreements we accept, and the agreements we accept are leading to experiences and outcomes we do not want. And, therein, lies the key.  Right out in the open.  You can either unconsciously accept the agreements that determine your experience and outcomes, often to your detriment, or you can consciously choose them.

You put massive amounts of effort into engaging in some purpose, to transform something into something else, for someone else. As a matter of fact, you put all of your time and energy, your whole existence, into doing this.  In every moment that we are alive, the energy that makes up each one of us is used to do something.  That something engages, transforms, and transfers your creative energy into something else.  The question isn’t whether this happens: it does, all day long.  The question is who is using that energy towards what purpose.

You can choose this.  You can align this choice with your Yes!  You can choose to align your purpose with your unique, creative contributions.  In everything you do.

This converts the core problem you face into your core asset.  Choice.  Choosing the experience you have and the outcomes you achieve by choosing the agreements you consciously enter.

The how.  You can look at your purpose.  You can look at your experiences.  You can describe your assumptions.  With these, you can start to align them.  This is completely surmountable.  It’s right there.

Are You Productive at Lifting Things (labor) or Creating Things (elaborated nature)?

We all want to be productive.  To produce stuff with our creativity.  We vary greatly in what we are creative at producing.  That leads to 2 questions.  First, are you being productive?  Second, are you productive at lifting or moving things (labor) or at creating things (elaborated nature)?  How do you know?

As a human being, you do two things. As a being made out of matter–having a physical body– you move matter around. We measure matter and its movement with calories, a unit of energy.  As a creative being, you transform energy, from one form into another.  You have an idea, which you can choose to transform into a process that becomes a new outcome, a different form of matter.  We measure energy and its transformation with lumens, a unit of energy flow.  Said another way, as a human being, you move energy around and you transform energy.  One is measured in calories, the other in lumens.  

Another way of saying this is that you are both moving things that already exist (labor) and you are adding your labor to what exists (eLABORated nature).  There is a long history of thought around this. You can start with the labor theory of value. 

When you are being productive at work, are you measuring (1) the calories of moving already-existing things around or (2) the lumens of transforming something with your creativity?  Calories-equivalent measures tend to look at the monetized equivalents of inputs and outputs, like wages, hours worked, units produced, units moved.  The inputs and outputs are often in the same units of measurement.  They are usually expressed in the ecosynomic form of capacities and outcomes, also referred to as nouns.  The already-finished.  They all have a direct translation to material forms, often monetized.  Lumens-equivalent measures tend to look at the energy put into changing of form, from possibility to probability, from idea to process to thing, from outcome to insight to new idea.  The creative, evolutionary process. The inputs and impacts of that creative transformation are often in different units of measurement. They are usually expressed in the ecosynomic terms of (1) the development of new capacities and relationships, (2) the possibilities seen and manifested, and (3) the insights gained from observing what happened and evolving to new possibilities, processes, and forms.

If you are measuring the moving around of already-existing things, in calories equivalents, you are probably being productive in lifting-moving things (labor).  If you a measuring the changing forms of energy, as ideas, processes, outcomes, and learning, you are probably being productive in creating things (elaborated nature).  They are different processes, measured in different ways, adding different kinds of value. Which are you doing?

Inviting a High-vibrancy Data Artist–Communicating a Unifying Framework for the SDGs

Making It Obvious. How do you tell the story of the great challenges facing humanity? In a very simple and clear way that both shows the challenges and what you can do about it? As an individual, a small group, a large group, a nation, all of humanity?

OUR INVITATION. We would love to work with a high-vibrancy data artist to tell a 4-principles story, in a simple, clear graphic. Starting with the ideas described below, bringing your creativity to how to tell that story.  We are writing an article on this unifying framework, which we intend to publish in a prominent journal in 2022. Your art would be part of that article, acknowledged as your contribution.  If you are or know that high-vibrancy data artist, who would love to figure this simple, clear graphic out with us, please contact us.

What is the project?

The Challenges Humanity Faces. Many, many people around the world have taken up the work of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were laid out by the United Nations. They provide 17 goals of a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” Many have also taken up work on the planetary boundaries, a framework providing “a set of 9 planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come.” To figure out how to meet the 17 SDGs, while respecting the 9 planetary boundaries, some groups have started to work with the donut-economics framework providing planetary and social boundaries for the performance of an economy, that must meet the needs of people while not overshooting the planetary boundaries. This provides 26 boundaries.

A Unifying Framework. My colleague Adam Hejnowicz and I suggest a simple way to understand 4 underlying principles of the 26 boundaries, making it simpler and clearer how to deal with all 26 in anything that you do, and in any way that you choose to directly contribute. The idea works with the 4 spheres of the earth system: the mineral lithosphere, the water hydrosphere, the air atmosphere, and the life biosphere. Talking about them as spheres shows how they are both separate and how they mix. We suggest that all 26 boundaries deal with (1) the mixing and depletion of the spheres, faster than they naturally balance and replenish, and (2) equitable human access to those balanced and replenished spheres. Equitable access to clean minerals, water, air, and life.

The following links show how other groups graphically show these 4 spheres and how they influence each other.