Scarcity As Verb, Not Noun

People compete with each other for scarce resources.  All resources are scarce.  That is the basic assumption of the western, economic-based view of the world.  The resources, the nouns, are scarce. There are only so many toothbrushes or hamburgers available.  They are scarce nouns.  So, the world is full of scarce nouns, right?  Some say yes, others say no.

Let’s start with the people who have most influenced the economic thinking that permeates western thinking today.  As Harvard economist Professor Mankiw writes, “Economics is the study of how society manages its scarce resources” (Mankiw, N. Gregory. Principles of Economics. Fourth ed. Mason, OH: Thomson, 2008, p 4).  Nobel laureates in economics, MIT economist Professor Samuelson and Yale economist Professor Nordhaus agreed, “Economics is the study of how societies use scarce resources” (Samuelson, Paul A., and William D. Nordhaus. Economics. Fifteenth ed. Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill, 1995, p 4).

The definition of economics as the study of scarce resources is often attributed to London School of Economics Professor Robbins, who famously wrote, “Economics is a science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses…Everywhere we turn, if we choose one thing we must relinquish others which, in different circumstances, we would wish not to have relinquished. Scarcity of means to satisfy ends of varying importance is an almost ubiquitous condition of human behavior” (Robbins, Lionel. An Essay of the Nature & Significance of Economic Science. Second ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1945, p 15-16).

So are nouns scarce?  Columbia University economic historian Professor Polanyi said no. “Polanyi suggests.. ‘to situations in which insufficiency induces choice between the alternative uses of the goods’, and should be used to denote a relationship between means and ends rather than ‘as an adjective appropriate to qualify things of goods’ in which the element of choice is absent” (Dale, Gareth. Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2018, p 111).  Polanyi says that what might be perceived to be scarce is the relationship between means and ends, the verb of how people access resources, not the resources themselves.

Author Gareth Dale further clarifies Polanyi’s perspective, in that “scarcity cannot be assessed independently of its meanings in a given cultural context. In modern market economics scarcity becomes generalized: since everything is interconnected, everything is scarce.  By contrast, consider the Mbuti Pygmies, who, the anthropologist Colin Turnbull discovered, envision their forest habitat as benevolent and lavish, or the Trobriand Islanders, who normally grow ‘twice as much yam fruit as they need and allow it to rot.  They phrase their economic life in terms of plenty, while according to our standards they are surrounded by scarcity.  We, according to their standards, are surrounded by plenty but phrase our economic life in terms of scarcity” (Dale, Gareth. Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2018, p 112).

What might be perceived as scarce are verbs, the “how” people access nouns.  Certain cultural worldviews with accompanying political and social structures might make the means to the ends scarce.  From this perspective, the nouns can be replenished over time, so maybe what is scarce is the accessing of the nouns, the verbs.

What do you see?

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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.

 

iCo–The Power of Co-hosting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Agreements Evidence Maps

What we want to see

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

What the AEMap is

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

What the AEMap shows us

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

How to read the AEMap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing What I Actually Know

I know what I know.  Right?  Two authors I have been reading summarize research showing that we typically are not very good at knowing what we know now or recalling what we think we knew before.

In his 1976 classic Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Columbia University professor Robert Jervis summarizes research that shows, “People often not only have a limited understanding of the workings of others’ arguments, they also do not know the structure of their own belief systems—what values are most important, how some beliefs are derived from others, and what evidence would contradict their views.  Particularly dangerous is the tendency to take the most important questions for granted…This often involves..failing to scrutinize basic assumptions” (410-411).

Highlighting a vast amount of recent research into the neuroscience of memory in his 2015 book The Brain, Stanford University professor David Eagleman writes, “Although we don’t always realize it, the memory is not as rich as you might have expected…The enemy..isn’t time; it’s other memories.  Each new event needs to establish new relationships among a finite number of neurons.  The surprise is that a faded memory doesn’s seem faded to you…Our past is not a faithful record.  Instead it’s a reconstruction” (23-26).  “Our picture of the external world isn’t necessarily an accurate representation.  Our perception of reality has less to do with what’s happening out there, and more to do with what’s happening inside our brain” (38).

If we are not good at knowing what we know or remembering accurately, then what can we do?  These same lines of research highlight two human strengths: (1) our partial perspectives and (2) our error-correcting ability to calibrate.

Our partial perspectives.  We each perceive a rich world of sensations, inputs that we each are uniquely able to perceive and process.  Combining a set of rich perspectives different individuals have about an experience can lead to a more nuanced, multi-dimensional understanding of a given phenomenon.  This integrated set can then be tested against evidence: how the system actually behaves.  Systemic, multi-stakeholder processes, like the ones we have tested and developed, at the Institute for Strategic Clarity, are one method for capturing, integrating, and validating this kind of richness.

Our error-correcting ability to calibrate.  Our brains seem to focus on correcting errors in the mental representation it already has of the world.  The brain is calibrating.  “Instead of using your senses to constantly rebuild your reality from scratch every moment, you’re compaing sensory information with a model the brain has already constructed: updating it, refining it, correcting it” (53 The Brain).  ”The brain generates its own reality, even before it receives information coming in from the eyes and the other senses…(For example, the) thalamus simply reports on differences between what the eyes are reporting, and what the brain’s internal model has predicted…what gets sent back to the visual cortex is what fell short in the expectation” (51-52 The Brain).  This act of calibration is a strength.  Using evidence-based mapping, we can see what actually exists more rigorously and use that mapping to calibrate our individual mental representations, the mental models we use all day long to make decisions.

To apply these concepts of partial perspectives, weak memory accuracy, and calibration to complex social issues like human agreements, we need rigorous frameworks for integrating and validating what we know.  Especially since we also know that human agreements can be very hard to see, tools like Agreements Evidence Mapping are ever more critical for (1) capturing and validating partial perspectives, (2) integrating them into one whole, strategic representation that can be validated, around (3) often hidden agreements we have unconsciously accepted, that (4) we agree to shift.  Maybe I do not know what I know, most of the time, but I can.

Agreements Field Mapping

You interact to have experiences and to get results. That is why you do what you do. The agreements you consciously choose or unconsciously accept define how you interact. Those agreements are based on embedded, interwoven assumptions.

Our experiences, outcomes, agreements, and assumptions form an “agreements field.”  A field is the environment in which individuals or groups interact.  This concept is widely applied in physics, and less so in the social sciences.  By an agreements field, I suggest that in looking at our experiences, outcomes, agreements, and assumptions, we are describing one entity, from multiple perspectives–one field where we can perceive the outcomes and the experience of people interacting based on conscious or unconscious agreements founded on underlying assumptions.  One field.  One agreements field.

To describe the different perspectives within the agreements field, to map the social topography of agreements fields, we have developed and globally tested a set of mapping tools.

Together these four mapping tools describe four key perspectives of an agreements field.

Our work at the Institute for Strategic Clarity now focuses on further developing and applying agreements field mapping to map the global social topography of human agreements, through the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience (MEDIR).  With our colleagues around the world, we are beginning to see that the social topography of human agreements is as varied as our earths’s geological topography. Peaks and valleys in many forms. Treasures abound. Things we have never imagined around every corner. The flatearthers of human agreements are missing out–there is a lot of treasure out there, ready for all of us to discover, marvel at, and learn from. It only takes the quest(ion) to find it.  If you are interested in contributing to this global initiative, please contact us.

GRASPing Ecosynomic Lenses

My colleagues and I have developed, over the past two decades, a systemic approach to strategic understanding of complex social systems.  We frame this work with the term GRASP, which reminds us of the five key elements of the strategic systems mapping: Goals, Resources, Actions, Structures, and People.  You can learn more about the GRASP framework and the strategic systems mapping process in our free online course (click here) or in a paper we published in the British journal Long Range Planning (click here).  Essentially, GRASP integrates the five big questions of strategic thinking:

  • Goals. Identify why the organization exists and what its global goal is. Identify stake- holders and their goals.
  • Resources.  Identify those resources that drive value (value-driving resources) for stakeholders and those that enable value (enabling resources). Balance the resource needs for all key stakeholders.
  • Actions.  Act at the level of enabling resources.
  • Structure.  Identify the linkages between goals, resources, and actions.
  • People.  Bring the organization to life. Identify the incentives of those groups that control parts of the organization. Align the organization’s structure and incentives to max- imize the organization’s potential.

In the Agreements Evidence Map, Ecosynomics suggests four lenses for looking at human agreements, asking the questions:

What does the GRASP map look like, from the perspective of the four lenses in the Agreements Evidence Map?  The GRASP map describes each of the four lenses, and how they fit together in a social system.

From the perspective of the four lenses in the Agreements Evidence Map:

  • the Resource lens looks at the enabling and value-driving Resources in the GRASP map
  • the Allocation lens describes the decision and enforcement policies and perspectives used by the People, the stakeholders, in the GRASP map
  • the Value lens highlights the Goals of the stakeholders in the social system, how the value-driving resources describe those Goals in the GRASP map, and the criteria People use to make the decisions they enforce
  • the Organization lens captures the Structure of the relationships amongst the goals, resources, actions, and people, as well as the Actions described by the rules of interaction, in the GRASP map

From the perspective of the GRASP elements:

  • the Goals describe what can be seen through the Values lens for the different stakeholders in the social system
  • the Resources describe the enabling and value-driving resources seen through the Resources lens
  • the Actions capture what people can do within the rules of interaction in the system, as seen through the Organization lens
  • the Structure describes the relationships amongst the elements of the system, as seen through the Organization lens
  • the People describe who makes decisions and enforces them, as seen through the Allocation lens, with what criteria, as seen through the Values lens

Thus, GRASP frames the agreements evidence mapping in integrated, strategic systems terms.

Guest post — Agreements Mapping of High Vibrancy Zapatista Communities

Guest post by Annabel Membrillo Jimenez, Vibrancy Mexico Lead Steward

Zapatista mural

Annabel set off on a journey this past spring to observe indigenous Zapatista communities, asking: What are the characteristics that allow the Zapatistas to move at a steady pace towards the third circle of vibrancy, despite the ongoing repression they receive from a part of their environment? What are the agreements that make them unique?

Annabel shares what she observed in the Zapatistas agreements in a white paper you can download here in English (aquí en español).

 

How Wealthy Are You? Measures of Wellbeing and Activity

Many frameworks propose that wealth is either measured in how much you have or in how much you enjoy the journey. Wealth is seen as an end or as a means. It is about having or it is about being. So it seems that you can either focus on accumulating for the future or you can focus on enjoying the day-to-day flow, but not both. However, our research suggests that the people reporting the most sustained experience of high levels of vibrancy are also wealthy in both aspects; in both the ends and the means, in the outcomes and in the experience, and in both the destination and the journey.

If it is true that we pay attention to what we measure, then to achieve wealth in both having and being, we need to be able to measure wealth in both the outcomes and the experience. Over the past five years, in our research at the Institute for Strategic Clarity with people experiencing off-the-charts wealth, we have developed metrics measuring both the experience we have along the way and the value of what we accumulate by the time we reach the destination.

Wealth through experience. We measure the wealth of your experience through the Harmonic Vibrancy survey, which you can take for free online.  Taken by over 2,400 people from 92 countries, the 12-minute survey assesses the wealth of your experience through the vibrancy you experience overall in the five relationships: in your relationship to your own self, to other individuals, to the group, to the creative process, and to the source of creativity. Greater vibrancy in all five relationships correlates directly to greater perceived wealth in one’s experience. To increase the wealth of your experience, our metric will show you which primary relationships to improve.

Wealth through accumulated outcomes. We measure the wealth of what you have accumulated along the way through the value of the resources you have when you arrive at the destination. While the money in your bank account and the value of your investment portfolio certainly count towards your accumulated wealth, our research has also catalogued many other assets that the off-the-charts successful have accumulated of equal or even greater value. We use the Agreements Evidence Map to assess the amount of value you have in resources accumulated in your own capacities, in those of others and the group, of capital, of inventories of goods, of what you are learning, of relationships you are developing, and of the potential you see and experience in yourself and in others. We find that the value we identify through the Agreements Evidence Map correlates highly with perceived accumulated wealth – more so than just the amount of money in one’s bank account and investments.

Finally, we find that your wealth through experience correlates highly with your wealth through accumulated outcomes. The data shows that higher vibrancy experienced correlates significantly with higher perceived wealth value accumulated. So from what we see with very successful people, it is not about either having a great experience or about accumulating wealth, rather it is about both. Both about having a highly vibrant experience and the value of the fullness of what is accumulated. Now that we have the metrics for assessing your full experience and your full value accumulated, you can begin using them to assess your own wealth.