Deep Collaboration Requires Three Kinds of Listening, Twice

Sometimes we find that no matter how hard we work at something, we are not capable of achieving our goals.  Our own experience and efforts are insufficient to the task.  We realize that we need others.  Other perspectives, other experiences, other energy to get it done.  In these circumstances, we find that we need to collaborate.  We need to bring our best, unique contributions together in a way that releases great synergies.

My colleagues and I have found in our field research in dozens of countries that this deep collaboration is best supported by three kinds of listening, each done twice in a continuous process, a process that we have come to call the O Process.  These three kinds are intentional listening, relational listening, and imaginal listening.  While there are many technical expressions of each of these forms of listening, here I will describe them briefly, what they do, and what they look like in practice.

Intentional listening.  Listening for intent, for the deeper shared purpose, for the motivating will force common to the group that brings everyone together to achieve one bigger goal that requires all of us to participate.  Here we listen for the “why” we are coming together.  It is most useful when made explicit, and when everyone gets clear on what it is and whether it is important to them.  When this deeper shared purpose is clarified, amongst all in the group, you have a very strong motivating force that also provides a container, a set of guidelines, for what is to be worked on as a group.  As the group moves into working together, they now have a clear standard to check whether the group’s exploration serves this purpose or serves another purpose.

Relational listening.  Listening for connection, for why each other individual in the group both (1) connects to the deeper shared purpose, and (2) what their unique contribution is to that purpose–why they care and why they are needed.  Since you already listened for the deeper shared purpose, you are now listening for why you want to be deeply curious about and interested in what this person has to contribute to your ability to achieve the deeper shared purpose, after all their perspective is critical, which is why they are part of the group.

Imaginal listening.  Listening for what possibilities the other people see from their unique perspectives.  Since their contribution is unique to the group, it is different from yours.  They are seeing something different, which begins to highlight different dimensions of the challenge the group is working on.  Through your listening, you can begin to see an image of what they are seeing, you can begin to imagine it.

As we come to the top of the O Process, we have used three different kinds of listening, with clarity now on why the group has come together, why each person is needed and what they contribute, and now what they see.  We can now begin to materialize–to tangibilize–what we see together.  We can now use the same three kinds of listening again, to now tangibilize, to make tangible, the possibilities we saw together.

Imaginal listening, part 2.  At one moment in the creative process of seeing possibilities together, we reach a point where we begin to see the same reality, and the possibilities converge into a probability.  At this moment, we bring our imaginal listening to seeing what each unique perspective sees of the emerging probability.  This emerging probability, which begins to feel real, has many different dimensions to it, which the different perspectives we have can help us see.  What image can you begin to perceive, as you build up the different dimensions each person sees?

Relational listening, part 2.  With a clearer image of what we are collectively looking at, from multiple perspectives, we can now begin to make this ours, to bring it into what we can each commit to.  Since what we are now imagining is in service of the deeper shared purpose we started with, which part of what we are seeing is mine to take up?  What part is yours to take up?  This is where we again use relational listening, to listen for how we each relate to the emerging image, each from our own unique contribution.

Intentional listening, part 2.  Now that we know how each of us is relating to what we saw together, we now move towards what we are going to each do, how we are going to each engage our own will, our own intentional force, to begin to do something to move this image into a reality.  Here we use the intentional listening to hear what each of us is going to do, the actions that we need to take up, aligned with our new commitment to our unique contribution to the image we are realizing.  What energy will I give to moving closer to the image we saw in service of the deeper shared purpose?  What will you give?

In this process, we see why we are coming together to collaborate, what perspectives are needed, what they can see, what we can see together, what that begins to look like as we manifest it, what we can each commit to in realizing that image, and what we can each do.  A great step forward in collaboration, supported by three kinds of listening, each used twice.

Network Power — Recommended Reading

Ramo, Joshua Cooper. The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks2016, New York: Little, Brown and Company.  Click here to see Chapter 1.

Most of the power gained and used in the past has been through accumulation of resources (nouns), using a dominance in the amount of resources to conquer peoples and usurp their resources.  Whether this was soldiers, weapons, food, or money, having more than the others gave you power to go and get more from other peoples.  This is a world of dominance mapped in the geography of territories.  Who had what controlled access to and accumulation of what resources.

In The Seventh SenseRamo, a seasoned traveler and senior executive of Kissinger Associates, suggests that the landscape of power is experiencing a shift in kind, more so than a shift in degree.  It is not just more power, rather a completely different kind of power, and this new power is mopping up the brokers of the old power.  This new power is network power.  The seventh sense is the ability to see the lines of network power, of the ebb and flow of connections, where the focus shifts from mapping the geography of territories to mapping the topography of gated spaces.  The power now comes not from who controls the territory but rather from who controls the gated spaces.  Think Uber, AirBnB, Amazon, Skype, Google.  Where maybe in the past you were what you had, now you are what you are connected to (p 35).

Ramo shows how this seventh sense has enabled groups with relatively small amounts of resources to completely overrun groups with vast resources.  They did this through a massive scaling up of connections to an ever-expanding core, to a protocol for connection.  Control of the core, of the protocol, is control of the connections.  The power comes from simultaneously strengthening the core along with the periphery, through all of the connections in the network.  “In connected systems, power is defined by both profound concentration and by massive distribution” (p. 116).  Concentration at the core and distribution to the periphery of connections.  Those working with “resource power” have to focus on either the core or the periphery, concentrating resources at the center or the top or at the periphery or the bottom.  Centralized or decentralized.  This ability of network power to work at both the core and the periphery, at the same time, causes those working with “resource power” to be pulled apart as they try to move towards centralization or decentralization and back (p 118).  They do not know where to put the resource power, and this movement back and forth is much slower than the ability of networks to respond.  This same movement, simultaneously towards the core and the periphery, strengthens network power and tears apart resource power.

In ecosynomic terms, network power is the power of agreements at the verb-noun levels.  Resource power is the power of agreements at the noun-only level.  Working at the verb-noun level of development of capacities and relationships, which manifest in outcomes, one is surfing in the constant ebb and flow of the concentration-distribution push and pull.  Working at the noun-only level of just outcomes, success comes from having more nouns, with no conscious connection to the dynamics over time and space of the verb level of agreements.  Tangibilization power is then the ability to work at the light, verb, and noun levels, infusing the infinite power of possibility serving a deeper shared purpose into the ossifying purpose driving the core and periphery of the network.

The Seventh Sense brings together, in a very readable form, lessons from history, a wide variety of ancient philosophies, and tons of recent anecdotes to highlight the specifics of this emerging, vastly more powerful way of engaging the world.  I highly recommend it.

Why We Care About the Resilience of Our Agreements — What We Lose When Our Agreements Collapse

Everyone lives in complex, turbulent times.  Will our agreements survive the changes we face?  How resilient are these agreements?  We can look to ecologists for how to think about the resilience of systems and to anthropologists for what has actually happened in human systems.

From earlier work by the ecologist C.S. Holling and colleagues, as described by the Resilience Alliance, “When resilience is enhanced, a system is more likely to tolerate disturbance events without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes.”  From an ecosynomic perspective, this means that resilience is the ability to keep a similar level of agreements, meaning the levels of perceived reality they consciously include.  A collapse is then a qualitative shift in the level of agreements.

Anthropologists, like Joseph Tainter, have looked at societal collapse, finding, “The process of a matter of rapid, substantial decline in an established level of complexity. A society that has collapsed is suddenly smaller, less differentiated and heterogeneous, and characterized by fewer specialized parts; it displays less social differentiation; and it is able to exercise less control over the behavior of its members . It is able at the same time to command smaller surpluses, to offer fewer benefits and inducements to membership; and it is less capable of providing subsistence and defensive security for a regional population” (Tainter, 1988 pp. 38).  An example of a loss of a level of complexity might be the loss of consciously accepted agreements at the level of the development of capacities and relationships–the verb level–to focus solely on the level of outcomes–the noun level.

Thus, ecologists and anthropologists observe that a more resilient set of agreements is more capable of dealing with changing environments without losing whole levels of complexity in the agreements.  You can find more on the ecosynomics of impact resilience here.


Resilience through Social Capital and Nudges — Recommended Readings

Halpern, David. The Hidden Wealth of Nations2005, Cambridge: Polity.

Halpern, David. Social Capital2010, Cambridge: Polity.  Click here to see Chapter 1.

Halpern, David. Inside the Nudge Unit2015, London: WH Allen.  Click here to see Chapter 1.

In a career of academics at Cambridge and politics in the primer minister’s office, David Halpern has interwoven the relevance of practice with the rigor of research to develop his framework for highlighting and enabling the ability of a community or nation to be more resilient, leveraging the hidden wealth of its social capital.  Halpern shares the evolution of his framing over three books, coming out one every five years.  For Halpern, social capital “refers to the social networks, norms and sanctions that facilitate co-operative action among individuals and communities” (SC pp 38-39).  Halpern’s frame “incorporates three different dimensions of social capital: its main components (networks, norms and sanctions); the level of analysis employed (individual-, meso- and macro-levels); and its character of function (bonding, bridging, linking)” (SC p 39).

I highly recommend reading this series.  For me, reading them in order of publication helped set the frame, embracing its simultaneous rigor and relevance, with deep dives into the underlying philosophical fields of inquiry underlying human prosperity and resilience, social capital, and behavioral economics, the evolution of these philosophies, and the vast amount of data gathered and experiments engaged to test and evolve the frame.  In the end, Halpern convincingly frames an evidence-based story of how the social capital needed for human resilience resides within us and can be accessed through awareness and intelligent experimentation.


The Regenerative Power of the Tangibilization Process

We human beings require heat energy to live.  Through the process of living, most biological beings take in energy, break it down into useable parts, and then release the remaining energy, which other beings then take in.  Where does this energy chain start?  How is it generated in the first place?  It starts with light energy that is converted into the chemical energy our life depends on, through the process of “primary production.”

Primary production” is the process by which autotrophs (such as plants and algae, from the Greek for self-nourishing or self-feeding) take in the energy from light or inorganic chemicals and produce the chemical energy that feeds the heterotrophs (such as animals, fungi, most bacteria, and protists, from the Greek for other-feeding) in the rest of the food chain.  You can see a NASA animation of the global primary production process here.  While most of the food chain takes in chemical energy and breaks it down into smaller units that are oxidized to release energy for its own use, with one level’s outputs being the next level’s inputs, autotrophs take light energy and build up larger units of energy.  The autotrophic process regenerates the energy process, increasing the quality of the energy that the rest of the system breaks down for its energy source.

Nature found a way to generate the energy it needed for life (biotic beings) by converting light energy into chemical energy.  This energy is measured in joules or calories.  This is the flow of energy in the biotic and abiotic realms.  Our research into the ecosynomics of human agreements suggests that maybe nature also found a way to generate the energy it needed to tangibilize possibilities into specific outcomes, to transform potential ideas through the creative process into observable nouns, things.

We human beings require creative energy to live.  We live in a world of possibilities, of pathways for learning and developing relationships, and of outcomes.  We experience this creative energy through the set of five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  We call this creative energy of human-interaction the lumens (from the Latin for light).  Where does this lumens-energy cycle start?  Like with the primary-production process, which starts by converting light energy into chemical energy, the tangibilization process starts by converting light-potential, in the forms of possibilities, and uses the creative process to convert that light potential, described in physics as an information-rich field of possibility, into learning, relationships, and outcomes.

By understanding the biological process of regenerating chemical energy, from the source of the food chain, ecologists were able to define sustainability as the ability of the environment to generate energy faster than that energy is used up.  Unsustainable is when the energy is used faster than it is regenerated.  By understanding the creative process of regenerating human-interaction energy, from the source of the possibility-development-outcome chain, Homo lumens is able to define impact resilience as the ability of people to choose abundance-based agreements that recognize and engage the human-interaction creative energy that is already there.  Low impact resilience is when the human-interaction energy is not engaged, leading to today’s global disengagement epidemic.


What Could You Do With a Surplus of Human Energy?

“Calories measure the energy resources of a civilization, and with a surplus of calories .. early communities were able to invest in infrastructure and organizational complexity” (Jonathan F.P. Rose, 2016, The Well-Termpered City, New York: Harper Wave, 44-45).  When there is no surplus,  focus is on getting enough calories–what comes in immediately goes out.  With a surplus of energy–more comes in than needs to be used immediately, focus can shift to investing in non-calorie-gathering activities, such as building common infrastructure, philosophizing, creating art, and managing projects.  The surplus of energy changed the game.

A calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius at a pressure of one atmosphere.  In our field work of the past decade, we have found a related energy source in human interactions.  People describe being much more engaged with much greater energy when they experience a healthy relationship with their own self, with others, with the group, with the creative process of nature, and with the source of the creative spirit–five primary relationships.  Through the Institute for Strategic Clarity’s global survey research, we have found this experience described by people in thousands of groups in 98 countries.  From this research, we find this human-interaction energy, a lumens.  A lumens is a measure of the energy resources experienced in the set of the five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).

Like with calories, with a surplus of lumens, communities are able to invest in collaborative efforts, which require the harmonic combination of everyone’s unique contributions in a continuous process of tangibilization of what can be seen as possible together, in service of a shared deeper purpose.  When there is no surplus, when the lumens experienced are less than the lumens required for human interaction, the focus is on getting more lumens.  Harvard professors Kegan and Lahey call this the “second job,” protecting oneself while engaging in lumen-exhausting interactions.  Kegan and Lahey find examples of lumens-enhancing groups, where people are better off from being together, generating a surplus of lumens that can be invested in even more exciting, more productive human interactions.  Our impact-resilience research finds these people achieve much greater outcomes on a much more sustainable basis.

I have described many examples of the lumen-enhancing experiences we have described through the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience.  Have you experienced lumens-enhancing human interactions?  Please share them with us.

2 Reasons Why We Tend to Choose Separation and Outcomes Now, When We Prefer Uniting and Greater Overall Value

We tend to choose to be with people who think and look like us.  We also tend to choose outcomes that benefit us now.  These tendencies lead us to focus on activities that separate us and provide short-term outcomes.

When we reflect on what we really want, we say that we want healthy relationships, greater social harmony, learning and innovation, and greater overall wellbeing.  We know that these desires mean that we benefit from being with people who think and look different from us–they bring something to the game that we don’t.  We know that we also benefit from working on things together that provide the largest benefit to us over time.  A good education or a good highway take time to build and require many people.  We know this.  So why don’t we always do it?

Research on cognitive biases finds that people tend to think in ways that vary from what they rationally would do.  Social identity research shows that people tend towards groups where they identify as a member (the in-group, such as family and close friends) and not towards groups where they do not identify as a member (the out-group).  Hyperbolic discounting research shows that people tend to disproportionately prefer immediate rewards to future rewards.  These theories argue that, in human evolution, in-group and right-now preferences probably were very important when we were hunter gatherers.  As societies began to gather in large cities that are globally connected, dealing with large-scale, highly complex issues such as nuclear warfare, poverty, water, climate change, terrorism, and health, these previously healthy, innate preferences might be getting in the way of what people actually prefer.

Choosing the in-group and outcomes-now leads to separation, a form of human interaction that I suggest leads to lots of people working on what seem to be similar issues, on different elements in different places at different times.  While these separate actions might have some positive local impacts, they cannot achieve sustained, large-scale impact on complex, multi-dimensional issues that require a multi-pronged, same-place-and-time approach.  These more complex issues require identifying with people who are similar and different, each bringing their own unique contributions, and focusing on short and long-term outcomes, a uniting form of human interaction.

While our human cognitive biases tend to carry us toward separation, we prefer and need to be able to also unite, to collaborate on many of the more difficult challenges and opportunities facing us.  We can choose to interact in a more united way.  It is a choice, an agreement we can make, for ourselves, with each other, for our present and for our future, which is what we prefer.

Our Myth Story

Every society has its myth, the story of its search for truth, for meaning, for significance, according to Joseph Campbell.  The word “myth” comes from the Greek mythos, which means “speech, thought, story, myth, anything delivered by word of mouth.”  Why do people care about their own myth?  Joseph Campbell suggests that, “Myths are the stories of our search through the ages for truth, for meaning, for significance…Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.”

What does a myth mean for us?  It is a framing for our deeper shared purpose, describing where we came from, how we started, what we serve, and why we need each other.  Campbell found four functions of the myth:

  1. The Metaphysical Function — Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being
  2. The Cosmological Function — Explaining the shape of the universe
  3. The Sociological Function — Validating and supporting the existing social order
  4. The Pedagogical Function — Guiding the individual through the stages of life

We can explore our creation myth, where we came from, and our foundation myth, how we started.

Creation Myth.  Where did we come from?  What is the model that describes our essential character?  We are Homo lumensbeings of light, of infinite creative potential with the ability to tangibilize the infinite potential we see.  As Homo lumens, we all want to experience resource abundance, appropriate inclusion in decision making and enforcement, vibrancy in what we value, and the harmonic in our interactions.  Since we are Homo lumens, which drives what we all want, this influences how we try to engage in this world together.

Foundation Myth.  How did we start?  As Homo lumens, we started unconsciously trying to express our infinite potential, from the beginning.  Anthropological evidence seems to show that many people have figured out thousands of ways to manifest our infinite potential.  It seems that most of these examples, where people learned to express their infinite creative potential, were in small groups.  As we progressed as humanity to very large nation states, we have struggled with finding ways to manifest that infinite creative potential on much larger scales.  Our research suggests that many efforts today that try to explore this abundance frontier seem to do so from scarcity-based agreements.  And, some are beginning to start a new foundation myth, from explicitly abundance-based agreements.

This new foundation myth starts with our experience, what we all know within our own experience.  We then use an abundance-based framing to support our ability to see what we experience and what we authentically want, indicating ways in which we can begin to take on abundance-based agreements consciously.  From this foundation, we are beginning to see pathways for co-investing in cohosting collaboration, a way to engage all of the required perspectives to address what we really want as Homo lumens, to experience ourselves as Homo lumens, as creative beings with infinite potential to manifest the realities we envision.


Realizing the Best Conversation Available in the Group — Recommended Reading

Ritchie-Dunham, James L., and Maureen Metcalf.  2016.  “Co-hosting: Creating Optimal Experience for Team Interactions,” Integral Leadership Review, (

What level of conversation is available, where all participants can engage and contribute their unique perspectives?  One way of understanding this is what Terri O’Fallon calls the “roaming space.”  Extending that concept, my colleagues and I have found that there are two roaming spaces a conversation can play in: one where we find the least common denominator of shared awareness, perspectives, and language; and another where we find the highest available awareness, perspectives, and language we can share.  In the first, we find the overlap in the  awareness, perspectives, and language we share.  In the second, we access the unique awareness, perspectives, and language each person brings to the conversation.

This article highlights the five dimensions of the co-hosting roaming space and the co-hosting process for putting it in practice.

Local Peaks of Wisdom Everywhere

We tend to look to the “great ones” for wisdom about how to face particularly challenging situations.  From changing diapers to favorite recipes to schooling systems to health care.  We usually don’t know what to do when the world requires us to think afresh about what we want.  The world shifts, the old system doesn’t work as well, and we go to the “great ones,” who we usually look for in the “great places,” large mountain peaks in a very small group of places.  Global destinations.

What if the wisdom you needed was already in your own back yard?  What if you didn’t need to travel great distances to get advice that you then would have to customize to your own context?  For example, what worked for an educational system in Europe 100 years ago, or in a political system in Greece 2,400 years ago, or in an agricultural system in Egypt 5,100 years ago, or in an existing banking system in Bangladesh, or in a family down the street, will not work in the exact same way for you, here, with me.

My colleagues and I are finding that people everywhere are figuring out new ways to do things, within a very similar context to our own, every day.  They have figured it out.  They are local “great ones.”  They are everywhere.

UCLA professor Jared Diamond has observed a similar phenomenon across the globe, which he describes in his 2012 book The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?  “Traditional societies are far more diverse in many of their cultural practices than are modern industrial societies…Yet psychologists base most of their generalizations about human nature on studies of our own narrow and atypical slice of human diversity…Traditional societies in effect represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society.  They have come up with thousands of solutions to human problems, solutions different from those adopted by our own..socities…Perhaps we could benefit by selectively adopting some of those traditional practices…[While] we should also not go to the opposite extreme of romaniticizing..traditional practices..we can consider ourselves blessed to have discarded…[they] may not only suggest to use some better living practices, but may also help us appreciate some advantages of our own society that we take for granted” (8-9).

There is much to learn from the wisdom all around us, if only we could find it, understand it, and integrate it.  That is what the Global Initiative to map the social topography of human agreements is attempting to do: to help you see where the wisdom is in your own community, the local peaks.