Guest post — Consciously Choosing Abundance-driven Agreements

by Christoph Hinske, ISC Contributing Fellow, and Eyal Drimmer, Certified Vibrancy Guide

You can download a PDF of this blogpost here.


Abundance and Scarcity-Driven Agreements

The problem with most agreements is that we don’t see them.  They just are.  Most often we are not aware that what is happening around us is based on an agreement that one could potentially change.  It seems that life is “just that way.” In our day-to-day interactions, either at work or at home, we are engaging in a set of agreements and relationships, whether we realize it or not.  Sometimes the agreements work, resulting in vibrant experiences and great outcomes, and sometimes they do not, leaving us feeling depleted, fatigued and disappointed about the lousy outcomes.

In addition to shifting agreements in everyday experiences, many of us work to shift agreements in large-scale social change issues, such as renewable energy, food systems, poverty, climate change, and social justice.  Decades of attempts to address these big and small challenges with approaches rooted in scarcity have proven insufficient to the task.

Research at the Institute for Strategic Clarity (ISC) has identified many groups that are finding success in addressing these issues, starting from a very different perspective, one of abundance in human potential.  Ecosynomics, the social science of abundance, offers robust frameworks that take what we have learned in scarcity-based agreements framed by economics and puts it within the much broader, much healthier context of abundance-based agreements.

But how can agreements be made consciously so that people can choose self-determined higher vibrancy in their agreements?  We present a case study from Europe where we are in the process of guiding a group to abundance-based agreements. In doing so, we follow the Vibrancy Living Lab approach, which combines a guiding process with scientific research and social-impact creation to enable a positive contribution to the group and the community where it is embedded.

Starting from a Collapsed State

The example concerns a Community Supported Business (CSB) in a village in Germany; nine people comprising two families and many associates. While the main focus of their work resides on their CSB, they are also engaged in local education and regional politics.

Despite a great vision, the group found itself over the last years in a critical state: the financial situation was getting precarious, the group underwent some hard and energy-depleting times and some were on the edge of burning out. Furthermore, they had already started to lose belief in the meaning behind their venture and to unconsciously accept their scarce reality as given and unchangeable. With those agreements, practices and mindsets they were not able to ensure their private and professional successes.

Based on initial conversations about ecosynomic research, in early 2014, the founders of the community invited us to support them in overcoming their scarcity-driven practices by working out their own abundance-based agreements. 

Raising Awareness for Agreements and Interdependencies

Our first step was to empower them and bring back the feeling of self-determination. We chose two different approaches for this. The first was to stop “just doing” and to start observing. The second was the kind of relationship we entered. In this we decided to step into an unusual role. In addition to being external coaches and consultants, we also agreed to become full members of the group. This gave us more possibility to deeply resonate with them by still being able to mirror them in their dynamics.

The goal of both approaches was to raise the awareness of whether they would rather act out of scarcity or abundance-based agreements and to assess the benefit-cost of devoting resources into the development of abundance-based agreements. The first step into this direction was done through a collaborative Agreement Mapping. This exercise allowed them to understand their unconsciously accepted agreement system and (unintentional) practices leading to perceived scarcity. They were able to do so by tapping into the wisdom of four seemingly very distant fields that humans have used for millennia to understand their interactions, experiences, and produced results:

  1. Resource or economic lens: “How much do we have, of what, to achieve our goals?”
  2. Allocation or political lens: ”Who or what is in power, and who or what decides and enforces?”
  3. Value or cultural lens: “What criteria do they use, and what is important to them?”
  4. Organizing or social interaction lens: “What rules do they apply and how do they organize?”

These currently very distant fields have been integrated by ecosynomic research, allowing a group to understand if it is “stuck in scarcity” or “boosted by abundance.” Why did we do this, and why is this relevant? ISC research conducted in 95 countries proves abundance to be a desired state for any social system. While this seems obvious, direct measurement of this abundance is not. Without measurement, the group could neither take strategic decisions nor convince possible capital providers and shareholders of the importance of “all this fluffy abundance stuff.”

Mapping out the quality of their agreement structure allowed them to create a first understanding of how their embedded and interwoven assumptions shaped their interactions and how those interactions created the basis for the quality of their experiences and results. Understanding that, they started to see that their unpleasant experiences and poor results were a direct effect of the agreements they made on a daily basis in the four fields by (unconsciously) answering the related questions in completely opposite directions. They also started to see that by changing their embedded and interwoven assumptions and agreements they would directly change the experiences they have and the results they produce.

Measuring the benefits of and capacity for abundance gets its inspiration from the quality movement. Initially nobody knew how to assess the benefits of quality programs; this made investment decisions difficult. The innovation was to assess the cost of “no quality.” The insight was that the benefit of quality had to be at least as big as the cost of no quality. Likewise, the benefits of abundance are at least as big as the costs of scarcity, which is straightforward to measure.


After having this higher-level awareness of themselves and their context, we employed embodiment and systemic practices to open up concrete pathways for change.

Consciously Choosing Abundance-Based Agreements

Let’s have a closer look at the groups’ interrelated agreements and practices, as we saw them the day we started to be engaged with them.


After raising awareness of the current situation, the group collectively agreed to allocate resources into the development of abundance-based agreements and to explore practices that would allow them to intentionally start from abundance and collaboration rather than being unintentionally stuck in scarcity and antagonism.

Outcomes and Summary

Through raising awareness, we managed to close the gap between their wishful thinking and currently shared reality–that is, the difference between the espoused agreements and practices in contrast to the ones in use.  Some concrete outcomes are:

  1. They entered a mindset of “we do have more than enough of anything, we just have to find ways of how to manifest the potential we see into results benefiting our business and community.” They are now successfully innovating on their business model by exploring new markets, management, and leadership behaviors.
  2. They have a high-level AND in-depth understanding of their structures and how each individual drives them. Building on that, they realized the interdependencies between the different parts of their “system” and the importance of alignment within it. Both aspects are essential preconditions to relate in an effective, efficient, and abundant way.
  3. They have the awareness that with their scarcity-driven agreements they would by definition neither be able to have the kind of “healthy experiences” nor produce the kind of outcomes they envision.
  4. They are much more conscious and mindful in their daily patterns, leading to more thoughtful interactions. “We now know that we are not yet able to have everything we would like to have, but we also know now what the ground is we are standing on.”
  5. “I learned to respect my own needs and to share them with everybody in our community.”

Engaging with them, you can now a) see and feel the higher-level awareness of “why do I experience what I experience and how I can change it” and b) see and feel the positive energy and motivation to grow into the possibilities they see, which is completely different than the original drive to simply escape scarcity. They are able to do so since they experienced what it is like to work with abundance-driven agreements. Yes, they are now able to work out of this understanding and feeling, rather than just pushing away from something they do not like.

Furthermore, they not only regained trust in their own abilities and goals, but also started to reframe their shared purpose, as well as each individual’s unique contribution to the group.

We think the key learning of this case study is to take time to understand the agreements that (un)consciously drive the behavior of your business. Understanding your agreements builds the basis for lasting success and vibrant interactions, thus, having great experiences and producing above-average outcomes. Awareness, collaboration, and alignment seem to take a lot of time and energy, but there is a massive return for every minute of this investment. During our process the Japanese proverb “If hurried, go around” evolved as our guiding principle, because the fastest way is often not the straightest.


Is Your Awful Day Better Than My Okay Day? — The Hills and Valleys of Human Agreements — Seemingly Similar Terrain, Different Map

Sometimes we have great days, sometimes okay days, and sometimes downright awful days.  Most of us seem to experience all three.  Some experience more great days, others more okay days, and others more awful days.  When we experience great, okay, or awful days, we experience similar realities, right?  Our emerging picture of the social topography of human agreements suggests that maybe we are not all having the same experience at each of these levels: maybe these are very different experiences.

We have started to map the terrain of human agreements, along with the experience, impact, and resilience achievable at each level of this terrain, from valleys to hills.  We can simplify this terrain with 4 levels: the top of the hill, the middle of the hill, the bottom of the hill or on the plain, and the valley.  These four levels correlate with the four levels of vibrancy.

  1. At the top of the hill, people describe a very engaging, energizing experience of high vibrancy in all five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit), usually achieving very resilient and high impact.
  2. In the middle of the hill, people describe an engaging, often energizing experience of vibrancy in most of the primary relationships, usually achieving quite resilient and effective impact.
  3. At the bottom of the hill or on the plain, people describe experiencing oscillating between somewhat engaging and somewhat disengaging, with some vibrancy in a couple of the primary relationships, achieving some impact for their effort.
  4. In the valley, people describe a very disengaging experience of quite low vibrancy in all five primary relationships, usually achieving some impact only with extra effort.

Same experience?  Four levels, all experienced in the same way?  From most of what we read these days and the from the descriptions of most people we meet, it would seem that the description of these four levels of engagement, experience, resilience, and impact is the same; different degrees of overcoming scarcity and being able to engage people, towards greater impact and resilience.  We have found, however, two completely different descriptions of what is happening at these four levels.  It seems to depend on your starting point: scarcity or abundance.  It turns out that the world looks very different at each of these four levels depending on the map you are using–a map based in scarcity or a map based in abundance.  Let’s see what the two different maps show us about these four levels of the topography of human agreements.

Starting from scarcity, we tend to find three levels described.

  1. The first is the “normal” state of affairs, disengaged, highly ineffective people who lack motivation and need to be managed so that they can be more efficient in their contribution to the group effort.  This would correspond with the valley experience.  From this perceptive, there is not much there.  No motivation, no special capacities, and the need for a high degree of management of interchangeable people.
  2. An improvement on this typical level comes when one moves up out of the valley onto the plain or the bottom of the hill.  Here people tend to bring some basic capacities, are able to work side by side amicably, sometimes being more engaged and achieving higher efficiencies.  From this perspective, people bring more capacities to the game and are able to make better contributions.  Some motivation, strong capacities, and the need for coordination among efforts.
  3. The top of this game comes when one moves up to the middle of the hill, where people tend to cooperate much more, working together to achieve more together than they can apart.  Here people tend to bring great skills and experience with a thirst for learning and cooperation, energized and engaged, working hard to achieve much greater impact and often quite a bit more resilient to the changes life throws at the group.  From this rather-rare perspective, there is a lot there, ready to contribute dynamically to the task at hand.

Starting from abundance, we also find three levels described.

  1. The first is the “normal” state of affairs, highly committed people coming together in service of a deeper shared purpose, bringing their best, unique contributions every day.  This is their normal day, just showing up as they are, creative, committed human beings wanting to make their contribution to something beautiful that they care about deeply.  From this level, which corresponds with the top of the hill, leadership focuses on co-hosting, supporting everyone in bringing their best every day together.  The abundant potential available through each person and through their interactions is evident to all.
  2. And sometimes life throws a curveball and people forget to be at their best, and they forget or fall asleep to their own unique gifts and those of others.  In the middle of the hill, these people describe how they are usually aware of the group’s deeper purpose and of each other’s gifts, and they often tend to focus more on what is happening in the moment than on the possibilities each other is seeing in the moment.  Less on how to collaboratively realize a common potential and more on the process for achieving what was seen.  Still lots of possibility, with more focus on how to manifest it.
  3. Then there are the times when everything seems to fall apart.  It is hard to say connected to the potential and to the shared inquiry.  This bottom-of-the-hill experience might focus more on just getting the job done, on just moving forward.  It is often difficult, because while still aware of the others, their needs, and the group’s deeper shared purpose, the experience oscillates between somewhat vibrant and somewhat not vibrant.  Here it is hard to see the potential and unique contributions the people know are there.  Still lots of potential available, it is just harder to see and harder to connect to.

Two different maps, each with three different “typical” levels.  And completely different realities. Whether the human-agreements map you carry is scarcity or abundance-based seems to completely change the reality you experience.

  • For the scarcity map, normal starts in the valley and great effort is expended to get up the hill.  When energy to push up the hill fails, the resting position is back in the valley.  It also seems that push as hard as you want, when starting from scarcity in the valley, you can only get up to the middle of the hill.
  • For the abundance map, normal starts at the top of the hill.  As life happens and people “fall asleep, they can slip down to the middle or bottom of the hill, but life from this perspective, when someone wakes back up, will pull them back to the resting point at the top of the hill.  From this perspective, it seems that the lowest position normally experienced is the bottom of the hill, not the valley.

So, it seems that we all can have great days, okay days, and awful days.  And, it seems, we can mean completely different things by them, because we are experiencing completely different geographies of what is “normal” and of what is available at each level of the topography.

Seeing “What Is” — The Economics of Abundance

Seeing what is, what we actually have.  Versus what we would like to have or what we would like to think we have.  What there actually is.

This is the invitation I am finding all over the place these days.  People inviting us into a conversation about what actually it is we have, and whether that is what we want.  I also find that what look like different conversations might actually be about different dimensions of the same conversation.  I will use four examples to highlight what I am seeing, and I will use the 4-step Harmonic Vibrancy Move process to frame the conversation.

The first step of the HVMove process is to see if we experience a gap, a gap between where we are or what we have and where we want to be or what we want to have.  The chorus seems to be singing that there is something better available to us.  Whether we talk about being disengaged, large systems change, income disparities, impact resilience, or efficiency gains, many people are clear that we are not experiencing the abundance that is available to us.

The second step of the HVMove process is to see what agreements look like where people are having the experience we want to have.  I have shared many examples of the kinds of positive deviance in agreements, experience, and impact resilience we are finding through our Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience.  Agreements that support the full, unique creative contribution of everyone involved.

The third step of the HVMove process is to see what our current agreements look like, in comparison to the desired agreements seen in the second step.  Here I have recently found a four-part harmony giving voice to different dimensions of our current reality, each highlighting both the economics of abundance and the dimensions of our current reality that bring out the scarcity.  In the agreements evidence map, I refer to these four dimensions as the economic, political, cultural, and social lenses on the human experience.

The fourth step of the HVMove process is to see what to change in our fundamental assumptions and our agreements around the structures and processes that guide our interactions.  Much of the conversation I find today tends to focus on how to deal with the existing scarcity-based systems or how to reject them.  Through the Global Initiative, we have also found thousands of examples of positive ecosynomic deviants, people who are figuring out a different response.  Starting from an assumption of abundance, not scarcity, they are designing whole systems based on creative human beings who interact with each other in very creative ways, achieving much greater engagement, efficiency, effectiveness, innovation, impact, and resilience.  We are trying to figure out what they are figuring out and share that with everyone else who wants that–who wants to live from abundance, every day everywhere.

The Abundance of Scarcity — Reflections by Paul Saffo

There is not enough stuff in the world.  At least the kind of stuff people need for a decent life.  That was the story that kicked off modern economics in the late 1800s, which was built on the foundation of the scarcity of things that provide material wellbeing.

Stanford’s Paul Saffo suggests that what is scarce has changed since the founding of modern economics, and “Every new abundance creates an adjacent scarcity.“  Saffo suggests that in the past hundred plus years, we have shifted from (1) an industrial economy in the late 1800s that addressed a scarcity of stuff to (2) a consumer economy in the 1950s that addressed a scarcity of desire to (3) a creator economy in the late 1900s that is addressing a scarcity of attention.

1. The Industrial/Producer Economy. At the beginning of the 20th century, the leading scarcity was stuff, and so manufacture was systematized. By 1914 one of Ford’s workers could buy a Model T car with four month’s salary. Production efficiency won the Second World War for the allies. In 1944 the US was producing 8 aircraft carriers a month, a plane every five minutes, and 50 merchant ships a day. The process became so efficient that its success ended the dominance of that economy. That always happens. “Every new abundance creates an adjacent scarcity.“

2. The Consumer Economy. The new scarcity was desire. 1958 brought the first credit card. The CEOs of leading companies shifted from heads of production to heads of marketing. Container ships doubled global trade.

3. The Creator Economy. In 1971 Herbert Simon predicted, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.” The new scarcity turned out to be engagement. The mass media television channels that had dominated the Consumer Economy were overwhelmed by personal media–YouTube, eBay, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Google, Etsy. Hollywood was overwhelmed by video games. (The blockbuster movie “Avatar“ opened in 2009 with a $73 million weekend. The previous month, the game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million in 24 hours.)  Mass participation became the new normal. Stuff is cheap; status comes from creation.

If, as Saffo suggests, we are now far into the age of the creator economy, what does this abundance of engagement create as the new adjacent scarcity?  Might it be the scarcity of choice in the vibrancy you experience in the five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit)?  Might it be the scarcity of the experience of being engaged (see the 2013 Gallup poll showing most of the world is disengaged at work)?

If the new scarcity is changing, we might also need to change the foundations of the agreements underlying the economy.  What do you see?

[Click here to see Paul Saffo’s 88-minute talk at the Long Now Foundation.]

You Experience Scarcity and Abundance, And How You Know You Know About That Experience — A Dialog with Orland Bishop

You have the experience of scarcity and the experience of abundance, and you know that you do.  Everyone I have met confirms this.  In this dialog, our colleague Orland Bishop describes this experience we all have, and how you know that you know about this experience.  Click here to listen to this dialog.

For an in-depth look at the experience of scarcity and abundance, and what this experience tells you about your agreements, check out the Ecosynomics e-course.

Abundance in Relationship ≠ Excess

I say “abundance.” Some hear possibility.  Others hear excess, waste, unlimited growth, or limitless-infinite consumption of more things.  To be clear upfront, I completely agree that we need to stop wasting resources and greatly reduce excess.  I have worked on those issues tirelessly since the late 1980s.  As a matter of fact, that is the point I want to make: we need to stop wasting resources and greatly reduce excess.  And, I find that the current discourse on reducing waste and excess tries to do it in exactly the wrong way, by pushing on scarcity.  To cut to the punch line, if you assume scarcity and try to reduce waste and excess, you create it.  If you assume abundance, in relationship, then the waste and excess go away.  They never come into being in the first place.  I see it as an issue of how to voice what is actually meant and wanted in “don’t trash the planet” sustainability.

While there are an infinite number of intellectual definitions out there today, I define abundance and scarcity through your own experience.  In the experience of abundance, you experience infinite potential, the energy-enhancing possibility in how to relate to what may come and what is showing up.  In the experience of scarcity, you experience the energy-depleting lack of what is needed here now.

When we assume everything is scarce in the world, we see abundance as excess, using too much.  Our research suggests that when assuming scarcity for everything, one of necessity ends up in a collapsed state of relationships.  There just is not enough experience of my own self, of the other, of my unique contribution to the group, of the outcomes we manifest and the resources we have and value, and of the access to creativity we cherish.  There just is not enough of anything, a state of collapse.

When we assume abundance in our experience in the world, we see abundance as being in relationship, in all five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  I can choose to be fully who I see myself as, now and in the future, you and I support that potential and growth fully in each other, contributing the best we can to the group, out of possibility, development, and outcomes levels of reality, working with the creativity available everywhere in everyone all of the time.  There is more than enough, depending how we are in relationship.

This brings me to three different definitions of abundance, depending on the levels of reality one perceives.  Abundance at the things-outcomes level means having enough right here right now.  This is abundance-in-sufficiency.  Abundance at the development-motion level means a net positive rate of flow, where more comes in than goes out.  This is the United Nations definition of sustainability.  This is abundance-in-positive-net-flow.  Abundance at the possibility-light level means infinite potential.  This is abundance-in-potential.  I have found, in hundreds of conversations in dozens of countries, that people commonly experience all three levels of abundance, abundance of possibility and development and things, of light, motion, and matter.  Abundance-in-potential, abundance-in-positive-net-flow, and abundance-in-sufficiency.  All three.

Now back to the question of why to define “abundance” in the first place.  I see that defining terms guides us to a more fundamental understanding of the “how” and the “why.”  The “how” lets us see what we can do.  From our experience, we know that starting with the assumption of scarcity limits what can be seen, while starting with abundance invites creativity.  What can be seen from abundance about being in sustainable relationship (abundance in relationship) is far greater than what can be seen from scarcity in minimizing excess.  The “why” brings in one’s intention, the purpose for engaging in the how.  As we have seen in previous blog posts, it is much easier to motivate from possibility than from lack.

A Funny Observation — Possibility Derived from Now-here or Possibility Integrated to Get Here-now?

A simple insight.  A profound inquiry.  Obvious?  Not clear to me.  Is “possibility” derived from the experience of what is now here or is here now the integration of possibility?

What does this mean?  I will try to break it down simply and show that the directionality makes all the difference in the world, yet we seem to rarely see it that way.  I will start with the experience, which I will then express in simple measures.  I have suggested in an earlier blog post that people experience three levels of perceived reality (things, development, possibility or matter, motion, and light).  We experience the here-now level of reality by what is present in this exact space at this exact time.  We assess the here-now by the amount of things or the outcomes we experience right here right now.  We might represent this with the question of “how much” is there, right now?  We experience the over-time-and-space level of reality by what is developed and changed in relationships as we move through time and space.  We assess this over-time experience by asking the question of “what has changed,” over time?  We add in the dimension of time to the here-now question.  We experience the possibility level of reality by the potential we experience.  We assess this possibility in the potential capacities that could be developed over time, manifesting some future state, which we could describe as the possibility for future changes and outcomes — possibility and time and outcomes.  [Side note: I will suggest that those who experience the “ever-present, evolving here-now” are experiencing the simultaneity of all three levels.]  These are three levels of reality: outcomes in the here-now; development in the over-time-and-space; and potential in the infinite-possibility.

These three levels of reality seem fairly intuitive to most people I meet, based on their own experience.  The funny observation comes from looking at how these three levels relate to each other.  We can write down the change in something over time, the development level of reality, as dX/dt, and we can write down the amount of something we have right here right now as X.  With this nomenclature, we can write the possible changes we can see as dX/dt/dP.

From this way of writing down the three levels of reality, the development level (dX/dt) is the mathematical derivative of the things level (X) with respect to time, and the possibility level (dX/dt/dP) is the mathematical derivative of the development level (dX/dt) with respect to possibility.  From this logic, the first derivative of things gives the rate of change of things, and the second derivative gives the possibility of future change, all influencing the amount of things.  The focus is on the things available in each here-now.

Now for the first funny observation.  If I perceive the amount of things in the present moment, here-now, as scarce, since there are only so many things available right here right now, then what does the rate of change of “scarce” mean?  Scarce means there is not enough, so how can there be a rate of change of that?  A simple answer might seem to be that while still scarce, the amount of the scarce thing changes each time, each here-now. And, this opens a can of worms.  If the scarce can change over time, then there can be more or less in the next time period, depending on what happens in the intervening time.  This brings in time and possibility, which are not in the here-now definition of scarcity.  With time and possibility more can be made available, which means it is not scarce, thus scarcity requires looking only at what is here now.

Is there another way to make sense of this?  Yes.  Mathematically, the development level (dX/dt) is the mathematical integration of the possibility level (dX/dt/dP) over a specific range of possibility.  Likewise, the things level (X) is the mathematical integration of the development level (dX/dt) over a specific range of time.  From this perspective, we look over a range of possibility to see what is available to be developed, and we look over a range of development to see what specific outcomes are available.  By starting with infinite possibility and integrating to get development, we start with abundance and see abundance in choice.  We then integrate abundance in choice to see abundance in things.  Unlike the attempt to see the rate of change of scarcity, which makes no sense, we see the abundance in what is possible in our choices from possibility to development to outcomes.

On a technical note, while integration and derivation are held to be generally reversible, meaning the results are the same in both directions, they are not exactly reversible.  The first integration brings in a constant (c), which the second integration converts into substance (cx).  The derivative removes this constant.  They are not reversible, thus they show something different.

This leads to the second funny observation — what I can see depends completely on where I start.  If I start from a perceived scarcity of how much I have (X), how much can I perceive of the development and possibility of the things?  What can I see in the rates of change of not much?  This is completely different from asking, from the infinite possibility, how much can I perceive of the choice in development and things?  Derivation focuses on the influence of the rate of change.  Integration focuses on the volume of change available.  Derivation supports the worldview of “given reality, what do I have?”  Integration supports the worldview of “given possibility, what can I manifest?”

There is a direct comparison with a whole field of psychology that has emerged in the past two decades, called positive psychology.  Deficit psychology looks at the pathologies in the human condition and how to fix them.  Positive psychology looks at the strengths in the human condition and how to nurture them.  The first tries to move up out of the scarcity-things collapse, and the second tries to nurture the already-existing, abundant vibrancy.  Modern research shows the power of the second.  This seems to suggest that coming from the strength of abundance provides more power than pushing away from the collapse of scarcity.

Said another way, there is much greater power in developing and manifesting outcomes from infinite possibility than trying to derive possibility and development out of scarcity.  A funny observation — the two processes are not reversible: you do not end up in the same place.

Abundance of “How Much”

Over the next few weeks, I will explore what we can begin to see in the three big questions (resources, value, organization), when we look through the lenses of the five relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit) and three levels of perceived reality (things, development, possibility).

The first lens I will use to look at the five primary relationships at each of the three levels of perceived reality is the lens of “how much?”  This lens shows the experience of abundance, answering the question of how much resource is available.  The word “resource” is a technical term used to investigate the properties of the tangible and intangible substances that support human life.

Underlying almost all agreements today is a very important and subtle assumption that only those resources that are directly seen are perceived as real.  This focuses people on what they call the tangible versus intangible, as if the in-tangible, meaning not touchable, is less valuable and important.  This focus on the concreteness of resources also seems to simplify the world, as it seems easy to see them as static (fixed), independent (not influenced by other resources), and ultimately scarce — someone either has the tangible object or someone else does.  This very limiting view of the world imposes strong, often implicit, assumptions about what is important and how to work with it, starting from a world of lack, scarcity, and static, independent resources.  The following posts show that human experience actually completely disagrees with this seemingly obvious perspective, demonstrating that resources are actually abundant, dynamic, and interrelated.

Distinguishing Experiences of Scarcity and Abundance

To summarize what I covered in the 7-post series, I will make some distinctions between the experiences of scarcity and abundance, of low and high harmonic vibrancy.  First, when you experience scarcity, you tend to experience lower harmonic vibrancy in all five relationships.  And when you experience abundance, you tend to experience higher harmonic vibrancy in all five relationships.  Thus, a key difference is whether the group experience is one of scarcity or abundance.  When you look a little deeper into the assumptions the group holds, it turns out that those groups that experience mostly scarcity start from an assumption of scarcity and those that experience mostly abundance start with an assumption of abundance.  It is not that scarcity or abundance is absolutely right, rather that it shows up when it is perceived to be the underlying basis of the agreements in the group.  Having said this, I will also suggest that abundance has to exist for the whole system to work.  By this I mean that the abundance is always there, it is just a matter of peoples’ capacity to perceive it.  When the abundance, the infinite light, is not perceived, it is kept in the dark.  By keeping it in the dark, it is undernourished, underutilized, underdeveloped, and undervalued.

Another distinction I have made is that the degree of harmonic vibrancy you experience in any one of the five relationships is very similar to what you experience in all of the relationships.  The experience of a low harmonic vibrancy in any relationship seems to be present when they are all low, and a high harmonic vibrancy in any relationship is only experienced when they are all high.  This suggests that to experience abundance and greater harmonic vibrancy, one needs to pay attention to all five relationships at the same time.

A third distinction I have made is about relationship.  The individual and the group are better off, experiencing greater abundance and harmonic vibrancy, when all five relationships are stronger.  Relationship matters, and the agreements in those relationships determine what is possible.  It is a system.

I started with the fourth distinction.  People prefer the experience of greater harmonic vibrancy to the experience of less, and people experience that harmonic vibrancy in all five relationships – to their own self, to the other, to the group, to nature, and to spirit.

To summarize the four distinctions made so far, some groups start with an assumption of scarcity and others start from abundance.  High-vibrancy groups pay attention to all five primary relationships and low-vibrancy groups do not.  High-vibrancy groups realize that the web of relationships make up a system and low-vibrancy groups do not.  Finally, people prefer higher harmonic vibrancy, as experienced in all five relationships.  For now I will suggest these as four distinctions between groups that experience lower and higher harmonic vibrancy.  With these four distinctions about your experience and the five primary relationships, you have the foundation you need to see, explain, and choose healthier, freer agreements; agreements for higher harmonic vibrancy and abundance.  Future posts will show you how.  With these four distinctions, the journey starts: the journey to uncover the agreements that drive different levels of harmonic vibrancy.  To give the journey a name, something with which I can reference what my colleagues and I learn along the way, I call this journey “ecosynomics.”  More on that journey in the next post.

Ecosynomic Axioms

To find order in seeming confusion is the pattern-seeking, sense-realizing effort of the theorist and practitioner. Axioms are the building blocks of assumptions about the primary agreements that guide human interaction. Since these underlying axioms are deep assumptions that guide the development of guiding principles and agreements, it is important to make them explicit. Since Nature does not bring order to experience, it is the human need to impose order on ordered experiences that necessitates theory building and making axioms explicit. An axiom is “a proposition that commends itself to general acceptance; a well-established or universally-conceded principle; a maxim, rule, law.”

A set of social-systemic axioms must minimally indicate the level of analysis of human behavior, the intended purpose or outcome of the behavior, how the individual and collective levels of behavior relate, and how human behavior relates to the resources that sustain it.

The four axioms of ecosynomics are:

  • Holonism. The level of analysis is the whole that is a part of a greater whole.
  • Vibrancy maximization. Everything humans do is a means and an ends to the vibrancy of prosperity for oneself, another, and community.
  • Systemic leveraging abundance. The aggregate prediction of the behavior of the individuals is only achievable as a process of synthesis and dynamics.
  • Abundance in relationship. The factors of production are abundant when in harmony. It just depends on how we are in relationship with them.

Each axiom is now described and grounded in examples.


Holonism is an integral approach to looking at the level of analysis, acknowledging and integrating simultaneously the whole and the part. Since a system is a whole and it is a part, it is necessary to understand that a system is not simply the aggregation of parts, rather a completely different phenomenon that cannot be derived or arrived at from any of the parts.

Holons are parts that are wholes that are parts.  Simply put, at one level an individual is a whole, a whole person. A whole of many parts, whether they are roles, personalities, or body parts. This whole person is also part of a whole family, which is also a part of a whole community, and so on.

We know this from our own experience. For example, working with the essence of string, a whole unto itself, one thinks of flexibility and pulling when in tension. Working with wax, also a whole unto itself, its essence is malleable when heated and it holds its structure when cooled. Understanding these essences in isolation does not bring about the essence of luminosity produced by a candle, when the wax and the string come together as parts of a greater whole. Likewise, from the essence of accounting, marketing, or production one does not arrive at the pleasure of the experience of wearing warm socks. Thus, we know from everyday life that the essence of the part and the essence of the whole are different. Holonism sees that the essence shifts when something is seen as a part or as a whole.

Two very different approaches to dealing with the part and the whole have emerged, with analysis tearing systems apart to understand the behavior of the disaggregated parts and synthesis examining the relationships of the parts to understand the behavior of the whole. Recent innovations have begun to interweave analysis and synthesis, providing different perspectives on the part-whole – the holon.

This can be drawn graphically as ever more encompassing concentric circles, as in the case of the work in Guatemala (see Figure 1). In this way, the health of any outer circle (the whole) depends on the health of the inner circle (the part). In the other direction, however, the health of the inner circle does not necessarily depend on the health of the outer circle.

In the Guatemala case, one’s access to education does not directly influence whether one has access to supportive relationships; however, without a healthy level of collective support for access to healthy relationships, it is very difficult to develop the access to education. On the individual, interior levels, the healthy ability to learn is contingent on the healthy ability to feel, but not necessarily vice versa.

In social systems, holonism integrates the actor and the structure. One does not precede the other, rather they co-exist. The individual has agency in determining what they want as a whole unto themselves and the structure determines what the individual receives in resources as a part of the greater whole.


Figure 1: Holon of Individual and Collective Prosperity in Guatemala



Vibrancy maximization

Vibrancy maximization is an aspiration-reality, discrepancy-minimization effort. Aspiration-reality discrepancy minimization means that the end goal is to minimize the difference between the aspirational and current reality levels of behavior. People seek greater vibrancy, working towards their aspirations of the possible, by changing their current reality. Humans across all cultures and ages are finely tuned instruments for sensing vibrancy, the flow of spirit in every dimension of their lives.

In the case of Guatemala, the aspiration-reality discrepancy was the difference between the desired ability to self-determine and the actual ability (see Figure 2). The end goal of all the efforts in the project was to close this gap.



Figure 2: Guatemalan Aspiration-discrepancy Minimization


It is, in fact, vibrancy not utility that humans seek to maximize in their lives, using whatever dimension of the human experience is most appropriate at the time. Utility is the consumer’s satisfaction, assessing how much consumers prefer goods and services. Vibrancy is the human relationship to its experience of life, in all of its forms. Where as consumers seek greater utility from their goods and services, humans seek greater density of harmonic vibrancy in their life.


Systemic leveraging abundance

Systemic leveraging abundance is a process of synthesis where abundance becomes available in the system through the interaction of the agreements within the system, as they engage healthy growth engines and recognize healthy sufficiency for all individuals and the collective.

The part relates to the whole through a web of relationships, which can be described as a system. It has become clear in the past fifty years that because of systems effects, small causes can lead to big effects and large causes can lead to small effects. This is counter to the prevailing logic that small interventions lead to small changes, and only large efforts lead to large changes. In systems it is more about shifting the behavior of the whole, through its interrelated individuals, than trying to move all of them at the same time with a massive push. This lesson has been lost on many of the world’s largest organizations in government, civil society, and business.


Abundance in relationship

There is abundance in the relationship to enabling resources, the factors of production, influenced by the dynamics of perceived scarcity or abundance. Scarcity is defined as restricted in quantity, and comes from the Old French eschars and Classic Latin excerpre for selecting out. Abundance is defined as more than sufficient or existing in great plenty, and comes from the Latin abundantem for overflowing, to flow in waves away from. Many communities around the world have asked themselves the questions of what their assets are. Many are wealthy in the key resources of healthy people with a strong social fabric, good land, knowhow, clean air and water. Some of these only lack access to markets. While what is lacking varies by collective, most collectives are abundant in many of the key resources to human prosperity.


The four axioms

In summary, the four axioms highlight a world of potential and possibility, a world that aligns with how individuals and collectives look at their own lives. The axioms describe a world where people form wholes, with their own, unique intentions, which simultaneously make contributions to larger wholes. Everything people do, as parts and as wholes, is to increase the vibrancy of prosperity they experience for themselves and for others. They work within collectives, leveraging the system of relationships to maximize abundance for all. They do this in relationship with the resources that are given and those developed. The degree to which people’s aspirations for these relationships and reality depart creates the urgency to minimize that discrepancy.