“Complex Problem Solving” as Top Priority of Leading Organizations

To be successful today and in the future, what is it most critical that you know how to do?  According to the 2018 “Future of Jobs” report from the World Economic Forum, leaders from around the world agree that “complex problem solving” is a top priority.

“With regard to the overall scale of demand for various skills in 2020, more than one third (36%) of all jobs across all industries are expected by our respondents to require complex problem-solving as one of their core skills.”

Most people assume that complex problem solving is for people who think long-term and strategically, like an army General or a CEO.   But, before we accept that assumption, what is complex problem solving?  The OECD defines “complex problem solving” as “developed capacities used to solve novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.” This is a practical skill everyone needs for daily living, for consciously choosing the agreements they enter.

To see the embedded choices hidden in our social agreements, and to see how to liberate and engage the vast creative energy we each bring to everything we do every day, we need to understand how to make decisions in the complexity of social systems.  The World Economic Forum “Future of Jobs” report suggests that 36% percent of jobs will require this capacity in the next years.  I believe that everyone everywhere should be able to choose their agreements everyday.  My colleagues and I call this eCubed (everyone everywhere everyday).  eCubed suggests that everybody needs the capacity for complex problem solving everywhere everyday, right now.

The skills for complex problem solving can be developed by everyone.  They include:

  • defining a clear, concise, validated, and mutually owned objective function — this requires knowing what a clear, deeper shared purpose is and how to achieve it
  • defining the system of interrelated people and resources that, together, generate the desired dynamics of the objective function — this requires basic systems thinking skills
  • clarifying the actual values of each stakeholder influencing the desired dynamics, specifying the dimensions and parameters they use to make the decisions that influence actual dynamics — this requires knowing how to inquire, asking questions that identify and validate specific parameters
  • designing agreements based on efficiency, effectiveness, and impact resilience — this requires knowing how to put all of the other elements together, and how to choose agreements that meet these criteria

My colleagues and I, as well as millions of others around the world, have been teaching these basic skills for decades to people ranging in age from 5 to 100 years old.  Everyone can do this.  And, it gives them the capacity to choose their agreements, to decide what they give their yes to, everyday everywhere.

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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?

Top 4 Reads of 2018

The top 4, most-read blogposts of 2018 focused on the big questions that guide how we understand impact, collaboration, and leadership today.

Top 4 Blogposts

  1. 4 Questions that Changed the World, Again and Again
  2. From a Theory of Change to a Theory of Impact Resilience
  3. Collaboration Basics: Essential Agreements
  4. Leadership — How We Get to What We Have and Where We Could Be

The 1st blogpost looks at four questions that have repeatedly changed the world, continuously asking what resources we see as real, who decides and enforces how we interact, what values we use, and what rules guide our interactions.  The 2nd shows how these four questions highlight the linear, short-term logic of a theory of change, and that leading groups are actually working with a systemic, strategic theory of impact resilience.  The 3rd, with my colleague Ruth Rominger, describes what we are finding to be the basics of collaboration, why many groups do not collaborate, how they could, and the benefits of that collaboration.  The 4th differentiates three very different types of leadership, using the four big questions and three levels of perceived reality to show what leaders at each level are able to engage and transform into value.  This makes a set of explorations into how some people are beginning to lead their groups collaboratively towards great impact and greater resilience, by asking the big questions and choosing different agreements.

2 Insights That Rocked My World in 2018

Looking back on 2018, there were two insights that changed how I see everything.  First, everything we need, for that which is in front of us to do, is already right here, available right now.  Second, the people who are figuring this out are no longer just the lucky, weird few; there are lots of them everywhere.

FREEE energy is everywhere.  The energy we need to do whatever we can imagine is right here right now, right in front of us, and it is FREEE.  The amount of energy each human being releases  in any given moment is huge, and our current forms of engaging it are very weak.  They don’t have to be.  We can learn from social experimenters who are learning how to engage people in purposes and processes, consciously choosing collaborative agreements that release this massive energy available, transforming it and transferring it into a far greater impact with far greater resilience.  It just depends on what you give your energy to.  The tools of pactoecography let us see this energy, where it is, how it is released, how it is transformed, and how it is transferred.

Positive ecosynomic deviants are no longer deviants.  They are now normal.  15 years ago I was able to find only a few, seemingly rare groups that were working with abundance-based principles for how they approached life and the impact they wanted to have together.  Today I see them everywhere, and lots of people are talking about them.  I will be co-investing in 2019 with the Global Pactoecographic Collaborative to map the social topography of the planet, through the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience.  We know about the topography of the Earth’s geology and biology: now it’s time to understand the topology of human agreements.  What do they look like around the world, at their best and at their normal?  Where can we learn from deep and successful human experimentation in healthy agreements?  Let’s see.

We have the energy we need, and lots of people are figuring this out.  Let’s get with it.

Impact Resilience with Network Power

“Complex systems have somehow acquired the ability to bring order and chaos into a special kind of balance. This balance point–often called the edge of chaos–is where the components of a system never quite lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into turbulence, either. The edge of chaos is where life has enough stability to sustain itself and enough creativity to deserve the name of life,” according to author Mitchell Waldrop in Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.  What does this mean for social systems, systems of human beings?

As the most complex system that sustains us as human beings, life’s stability is found at the interface of outcomes and development, of the already-finished state of nouns that are balanced by the becoming state of verbs.  Life’s creativity is found at the interface of development and potential, of the becoming state of verbs and the possibility state of light energy.  Finding this interface, where life is creative and manifests, evolving as some innovations work better in the ever-changing environment, is the power of healthy networks.  Embedding a process of evolutionary discovery and alignment with a deeper shared purpose scales network power into tangibilization power, where deep collaboration brings orders of magnitude greater impact and resilience.

FREEE Energy: Use It or Lose It

All the energy you need, for whatever you are doing, is Forever Right-there in Everyone Everywhere Everyday (FREEE).  [It is free, with an extra “e” thrown in, at no extra cost.]  It is all there.  If you engage it, you use it towards the purpose you invited it to serve.  If you don’t engage it, you lose it, usually at great cost to yourself.  Engaged energy is FREEE, lost energy is not.  Lost energy comes with a cost.

This is the exact opposite of what we are usually taught.  We are told that it costs something to use energy, and that not using it costs nothing.  Let’s see.  You already have the people in the room.  You have invited these people to work with you–to co-ordinate, co-operate or co-llaborate–towards a deeper purpose that you want them to share.  The ones who are there with you showed up.  Each person generates massive, seemingly infinite, energy, on any scale we can see.  They generate this energy by their existence, whether you engage it or not.  Now you need to engage that energy.  How you engage it and how much of it you engage depend on the agreements field you have generated.  Weak agreements fields engage very little of the energy available.  Strong agreements fields engage much of the energy available.  The point is that you are completely responsible for the use or loss of this energy, as well as the benefits or costs that come with it.

There is a massive cost to not engaging that energy.  The law of the conservation of energy, aka the first law of thermodynamics, applies here as well.  You have to account for all of the energy generated.  It has to go somewhere.  Purposeful energy, that which humans generate continuously, goes to one of three purposes: (1) the invited purpose; (2) another purpose; or (3) self-preservation.  Analogously, the energy will go into the invited activity, diffused towards other activities, or dissipated as heat.  The energy generated by the people in the room that is not engaged towards the invited purpose has high costs.

If the energy is diffused towards other activities with other purposes, it disengages the people present, which recent, global studies have shown to be very expensive.  They are not actively engaged in the activity, the purpose, for which you invited them.  Just because they are in the room physically, does not mean that their energy is serving your purpose.  They are thinking about something else.  And, that is for the diffused energy towards another purpose.  The energy that is dissipated as heat comes from those in the room who are trying to serve your invited purpose, or their own, and yet the agreements field you generated does not allow either form, yours or theirs, to engage in a healthy way.  This ends up in dissipated heat, which serves as self-preservation, which can be very destructive.  You know this form of energy loss as burnout, fatigue, distress, active disengagement.  It comes with huge costs, such as the costs of turnover and presenteeism.

So, there are no extra costs to engage the energy available in the room, and there are huge costs to not engaging it.  The difference between engaging it and not engaging it is a function of the agreements field you have generated.  There are 8 guiding principles for the strength of an agreements field.  While each principle, on its own, is relatively straightforward, strong agreements fields require all 8.

  1. Is the deeper shared purpose clear and inviting?
  2. Are the people invited into the room clear about and continuously connected to the deeper purpose? Is it consciously shared on a continuous basis?
  3. Is it clear to each individual why they and everyone else is in the room?  Why their individual contribution is unique and important in the service of the deeper purpose?
  4. Is each person clear on their experience of this relationship to their own self, to the other, to the group, to the creative process, and to the creative source?
  5. Do the group’s collective agreements consciously invite, acknowledge, and engage the potential, development, and outcomes available to the group?
  6. Does the system they work in leverage the efficiency of their direct actions, the effectiveness of the feedback dynamics they interact with, and the coordination of those different dynamics towards the deeper purpose?
  7. Are the agreements, that are embedded in the impact they generate for other stakeholders, agreements that the stakeholders want to and capable of engaging with?
  8. Does the system have the capacity to engage the amount of energy it needs to generate its desired impact, towards its deeper purpose?

All the energy you need is already available, right there in the people who are already there with you.  As Einstein showed over 100 years ago, the amount of energy in a very small amount of matter is far more than we typically understand.  The energy is there, in potential.  You just have to learn to work with it.  And, if you bring it in the room, it is there, and you have to account for it.  Use it or lose it, to your own benefit or detriment.  The only thing that is not cost-free is not using it once it is there.  Said another way, it costs you greatly to not use it.  How to use it is well understood and easy to do, as millions of people demonstrate every day, everywhere around the planet.

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.

Moving Through Time or Space, Where Does Your Energy Go?

Do you use your energy mostly for moving through space or for moving through time?  Does it matter?  Is there a purpose to the question?  Yes and yes.  It matters how the energy is used, the purpose to which you put it.

A little physics helps us see why.  Einstein’s theory of special relativity showed that as more energy goes to moving through space and less to moving through time, time seems to slow down–as velocity (distance in space over a period of time) increases, perceived time slows down.  At the extreme velocity, the speed of light, a photon does not experience time.  Conversely, the more energy goes to moving through time and less through space, it takes more time to cover a specific distance, or less space is covered in a period of time–as velocity decreases, perceived time speeds up.

Here is the part that seems to be confusing.  As time seems to slow down for the observer, more time is passing for the other, the non-observer.  Time seems to be going very slow for me, and passes more quickly for others.  We will get back to what this means in a minute.

Translating this insight from physics, we see that energy is always purposeful, meaning that energy has an attractive force, a gravity, as shown by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, a force that makes it cohere.  This energy goes into movement through time and space.  According to the founders of quantum physics, the normal understanding and use of time is obsolete.  They suggest it is more useful to understand that what we call time is actually a series of instances, in which choices are made.  Choices where something reflected the purpose, the state of the environment, the state of the organism, and a choice was made, something happened.  Lots of these instances occur in what we normally consider to be a second of time.  Energy, by definition, changes.  A choice about its changes occurs every instance.  Somehow, something makes this choice every instance.  The series of choices we experience is what we call time.  We also experience this energy as a form with extension–it extends over multiple dimensions, such as the three dimensions of length, width, and depth.  This is what we tend to think of as space, extension.  In summary, we experience energy over time (a series of choices for each instance) and space (in extension).

When we experience our energy, our purposeful energy, going into time, it goes into our processes of witnessing what is being reflected of our purpose and our own organism, and we choose, consciously or unconsciously, what to do.  When we experience our purposeful energy going into space, it goes into form-in-extension.  Our purposeful energy goes into time and space, a mix of reflector-witness-choosing and of form-in-extension.

If time seems to be slowing down, more of your purposeful energy is going into space, more into the form-in-extension, and less into reflector-witness-choosing.  When time seems to be speeding up, more of your purposeful energy is going into time, more into reflector-witness-choosing, and less into the form-in-extension.

In plain English, this means that when time seems to slow down, you might be focusing your (purposeful) energy more on the outcomes in your immediate environment.  When time seems to slow to a creep, when it takes forever for a second to pass, most of your purposeful energy might be going to your awareness of the immediate outcomes in your surroundings.  You could take this as an opportunity to be severely bored or disengaged, like in that endless meeting, or you could take this as a signal to yourself that you are not giving enough attention to your purposeful energy, your awareness, to being aware of the alignment between your purpose and your choices.

When time seems to go by very quickly, when whole spans of time seem to have passed without you being aware, most of your purposeful energy might be going to your awareness of the alignment between your purpose and your own organism’s choices.  You can take this as an opportunity to be lost in reflection–witnessing the reflection of your purpose and your organism’s choices–or you could take this as a signal to yourself that you are not being aware of what is manifesting in your immediate environment.

Maybe the reason both extremes, time goes too slow or too quick, seem to be wasteful, is that you are wasting the opportunity to choose how much of your purposeful energy goes towards being aware of your purpose, your environment, and your choices.  Balancing these uses of your purposeful energy allows you to tangibilize, to see what you want (purpose), what is happening outside (environment) and inside (organism), and to choose your response (form-in-extension).  When you are not balancing these, you give yourself signals, time goes by too fast or too slow.

You can transform your purposeful energy into an alignment of purpose, reflecting, witnessing, choosing, and extension-in-form, learning from what happens from what you saw, and adjusting what you witness.  You can move your energy through time and space, as you choose.  It matters, and it has a purpose.

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.