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.


Hidden Bugs, Hidden Agreements

Like when germ theory replaced miasma theory, the intuition was right, the deeper cause was hidden.  It is in the environment, just not the way miasma theorists thought it was.  New technology made it visible, the microscope.

Likewise, low engagement, low creativity, and higher returns from automation are all signs, correctly interpreted, of a deeper, hidden problem.  Like bugs–the hidden germs and the “undocumented features” in software–the hidden agreements are there too.  These bugs embedded in the social soup, like germ-bugs and software-bugs, can be exposed, understood, and chosen.

The intuition about what to do is relatively right, the understanding of what drives it is being updated.  The bugs are no longer hidden, with the right technology.  The bugs in our agreements no longer need to be hidden either.  We have the technology to see them, and to choose our relationship to them.

Choosing Our Agreements, Consciously — 4 Quotes

A core tenet of my work is that we unconsciously accept most of the agreements that fundamentally influence our experience and our outcomes, and that it is possible to see these agreements and to consciously choose them.  In my recent readings, I came across some quotes looking at this choice.

Nobel laureate in literature, George Bernard Shaw, in Maxims for Revolutionists, wrote, The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Once British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, in Lothair, wrote, “Action may not always be happiness,..but here is no happiness without action.”  I suggest that choice might not always bring happiness, but there is no resilient capacity for happiness or wellness, however one defines it for oneself, without conscious choice.

Nobel laureate in physics, Richard Feynman, in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, wrote, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool” (p 343).  To be okay with unconsciously accepting the agreements that most influence your experience and outcomes is to give over the power of your will, your future, to someone else.

In his bestselling The 4-Hour Workweek, a manifesto on rethinking our basic agreements about working and living, Timothy Ferriss observes, “If everyone is defining a problem or solving it one way and the results are subpar, this is the time to ask, What if I did the opposite? Don’t follow a model that doesn’t work” (p 30).  Just because everyone seems to accept a set of agreements, consciously or unconsciously, does not mean that these agreements actually lead to the experience and outcomes they say they do or that these agreements are right for you.  To know that, you have to ask the question.

A hat tip to Timothy Ferriss for these four quotes.

Deep Agreements We Hold and Can Choose — Recommended Reading

Bishop, Orland. The Seventh Shrine: Meditations on the African Spiritual Journey–From the Middle Passage to the Mountaintop2017, Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books.

Orland Bishop‘s new book, The Seventh Shrine, brings to light the deeper agreements we humans hold and can choose.  Orland, who holds the Institute for Strategic Clarity 2016-2017 Homo lumens Fellowship, has explored agreements in many previous blogs here.

Our awareness of our agreements, of how we interact in community, invites our full engagement.  “Participating is essential to the forming and the sustaining of community.  If we take just the word “part,” it points only to the individual human being.  But we must create this other aspect of “participation,” which is reciprocity, the exchange of the common good.  This is the nature of the community, a process of exchanging with each other and cultivating something that I can’t create by myself.  I can’t create something that complex by myself.  It is a discovery that when we participate, the emergent quality is something that spontaneously reveals itself, that in the act of hosting and being hosted in this improvisation of devotion to some aspect of our human genius, we arrive at something that we couldn’t see beforehand.  You could say that we share this “communion,” this wonderful substance.  This is the “precipitation” of the spiritual substance of human life.  It condenses, it manifests, and it becomes now tangible in the world.  Participation is rain in the world (p. 208).”

I just finished reading this book, and I highly recommend it.

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.

Step #4 — Ask What Agreements Shape Your Experience

You can choose the experience you want.  In the third blogpost in this series, you decided what experience you wanted.  In the 4th step, we ask what agreements shape that experience.

Underlying your experience is a set of agreements that determine, in great part, what experience you have.  These are the rules of the game.  In the following 2-minute video and 2 audios, we explore what agreements are and how you see them.


A 23-minute conversation between Jim and Jackie regarding agreements (click on the MP3 file Making an Agreement)


A 44-minute conversation between Jim and Orland Bishop about agreements, what they are, why they are important, and how people work with them (click on the MP3 file Orland Bishop and Jim Dialog on Agreements).

What agreements can you see that shape your experience?  Could you choose different agreements?  Could you talk about this choice with the other people in the group?

In the next series of blogposts, you and I will explore how to design agreements.

Ecosynomics — The Study of Deviance and Diversity in Human Agreements — Another Framing

The emerging field of Ecosynomics explores deviance and diversity in human agreements.

Deviance.  We study what agreements make groups deviate away from treating each other as creative human beings, and what agreements underlie groups that are sustainably human and creative.  Our data so far, from 94 countries, shows that the  agreements underlying the positive deviants and the negative deviants are completely different, with the negative deviants starting from scarcity and the positive deviants starting from abundance.

Diversity.  When we see that people look at and formulate their agreements through the four lenses of economic, political, cultural, and social perspectives, answering the 12 Big Questions everyone must address, consciously or unconsciously, we find an infinite diversity in how people have answered these questions.  This means that as every group has answered these questions for themselves, they have taken a different path, not that they are better or worse at seeing how to be on the same path.  The mainstream story is that some groups are better than others at being economically self-sufficient in a market-based system focused on financial wealth.   This assumes everyone sees the same agreements when looking through the lenses of how much, who decides, on what criteria, for what rules of interaction.  Our data shows that the set of agreements underlying each group starts from seeing different resources, deciding differently about them, based on values specific to the individuals making up the group, which leads to a specific set of rules for their interactions.  What looks like different degrees of the same kind are different kinds.

This wide deviance in and diversity of human agreements makes for a very interesting field of study, where many assumed that all of the answers were already given.  The only issue seemed to be better application of the one acceptable set of understood agreements.  Now we see a much more interesting issue: what specific set of agreements best support the experience and outcomes each group wants to have?

The Science of What You Know — Featureless Noise or Featureful Signal

You experience lower to higher vibrancy in your relationships — lower to higher harmony — energy killing to energy enhancing.  And you know this, somehow.  You also prefer the higher vibrancy, more harmonic, energy enhancing experience.  Our survey data from 93 countries show that you are not alone.  We all prefer this.  If we know this, then why do we accept lower vibrancy experiences?  This might be due in part to our unconscious acceptance of agreements we do not see.  Another factor might be simply that we do not know that what we are perceiving is information.  We might just think it is noise.

From information theory, scientists draw a useful distinction for us in this question, between signal and noise.  Signal is meaningful information and noise is not.  What we experience as “noise,” we consider to be featureless, lacking in distinctive characteristics.  What we experience as “signal,” we consider to be featureful, full of the characteristics we seek.

In conversations with hundreds of groups of people over the past ten years, I find that most of us tend to dismiss our experience of energy-depleting relationships, saying, “That’s just the way it is, isn’t it?”  I have heard this thousands of times, from groups all over the world.  What if this information, this experience you have, is a signal about something?  Lots of recent research suggests this information signals your acceptance of an agreement, whether you are conscious of it or not.

To see that what we tend to think of as noise with no features is actually a signal full of features, it is useful to know what features we are looking for, to be aware that our experience is telling us something.

Here is an exercise you can try.  What if that experience you have of lower to higher vibrancy in your relationships is a piece of information that you are sending yourself signaling whether you want to be in that agreement or not?  If you experience lower vibrancy, that might be how you signal to yourself that you do not want to accept the agreement.  If you experience higher vibrancy, you could be signaling to yourself that you accept the agreement.  What do you find that you are signaling to yourself?  Featureless noise — who cares — or featureful signal — you care.  It only takes a few minutes to try this exercise.  I invite you to share what you observe in this exercise in the Comments section here.

Why Agreements Are Hard to See or Why Agreements Are Like Sauerkraut and Bread

We have experiences.  Some we enjoy.  Some we don’t.  These experiences are interactions we have.  We interact with friends when playing a game, with colleagues when sitting in a meeting, with family when eating breakfast.  We have experiences of interactions.  There are rules or guidelines that influence how we interact during these experiences.  The rules of the game, the agenda and protocols for the meeting, the rules for eating at the table.

Someone set these rules.  Most of the time, we accept them.  Sometimes we do not.  When I ask people why they have experiences they do not enjoy, they tell me that they just have to, “That’s the way life is.”  Then they tell me that they have experiences they enjoy, because they can.  If we have experiences that energize us and those that don’t, why do we accept those that don’t?  Why do we accept agreements that we don’t enjoy, that deplete our energy?  I suggest four possible reasons why this happens: (1) because of the questions we ask; (2) that is what can be seen in low-vibrancy experiences; (3) it is developmental; (4) it is socially embedded.

The questions we ask

We tend to ask about what we want and how to get what we want.  I want to have fun and be financially secure — that is the what.  I get that by the experiences I have and the job I take — that is the how.  When we ask why we want to have fun and be financially secure, it quickly gets metaphysical — for my own better wellbeing — that is the why.  To be happy.  When I think about the structure in which I will do the how, I look at the constraints or the boundary conditions — what do I need to do to get the credentials that are required for the job I want.  If I want to change the experience of what I want — if it is not going the way I want — then I can change the how I go about getting it.  I can choose different experiences or a different job.  These choices often seem to be constrained by the boundary conditions — these are the friends I have nearby or it is hard to find another job.  This form of the why, what, how questions tends to box me in between the metaphysical why’s and the boundary conditions for my how’s.  Not much agreement there.

Another way to frame this would be to see that what I do is interact.  Why I interact is to have experiences and achieve outcomes — the journey and the destination.  How I interact is through agreements, the rules that guide our interactions.  If I want to change the consequences of my interactions, the experience and the outcomes, I can change the how, the agreements.

Maybe part of the difficulty in seeing the agreements we tend to unconsciously accept is because we ask (1) what we want, (2) how we get it, and (3) why we want that.  Maybe it would be easier to see the agreements if we ask (1) why I interact and (2) how I interact.  Interacting is what I do.

What we see in low-vibrancy experiences

Survey responses from 2,400+ people from around the world suggest that when we experience energy-depleting relationships, we tend to experience very little of our own self, being unseen and unappreciated by others who tend to focus on the outcomes, using the rules of how things are supposed to be done.  There is no creativity, no space for you to see or ask something new.  It is not surprising then that we tend not to see the agreements in those experiences. There is not enough energy available to see or ask for it.  This is the reality most people describe when asked in a recent global survey about their workplace.

This contrasts completely with the energy-enhancing experience, where I learn a lot about my self, developing with you and your support, with my own unique contributions being invited by the group, in a creative process of seeing possibilities and pathways for bringing them to life, experiencing creativity all around us.  In this space, it is much easier to see the agreements we have in our relationships with self, other, group, nature, and spirit.

Maybe part of the difficulty in seeing the agreements we tend to unconsciously accept is because we allow ourselves to experience low vibrancy relationships, most of the time.  Maybe it would be easier to see the agreements if we spent more time in higher vibrancy experiences.

It is developmental

As human beings, we are built to have experiences.  When we are still inside of our mother, we begin to become aware of our experiences through our senses.  We are born with the experiential orientation alive and well.  We are phenomenologically oriented beings — in the experience and in our awareness — from the start.

Over the first couple of decades of a human life, society works hard to educate us, to socialize us, so that we can become competent members of society, so that we can understand the rules of the game and how to play by them.  It takes quite awhile to become epistemologically oriented beings — understanding and knowing things.

Most of us are content with experiencing life, and knowing something about it.  Some of us are not, and we delve into the study of how the universe works.  What are the building blocks of reality?  How does it work?  How to design new realities.  Some people become philosophers of a field of inquiry, studying its deeper roots.  It usually takes a long time to become ontologically oriented beings, trying to understand what reality is.

Maybe part of the difficulty in seeing the agreements we tend to unconsciously accept is because, from birth we are oriented towards experience, and over the first two decades of life we also orient towards knowing, towards understanding how to be successful within the rules, not yet asking about the rules themselves.  Maybe it is hard to see agreements, because it is not part of experiencing and knowing.  Maybe it would be easier to see the agreements if we learned to explore how the universe works, asking why things seem to be one way, when they could be another.

It is socially embedded

The agreements about how we interact are influenced by what we have, who decides, who enforces, and what we value.  Lots of deeply embedded agreements, founded in millennia of evolution in our local understanding of bigger economic, political, cultural, and social questions. Agreements in any one of these realms are deeply interwoven with the others.  Why we play nice is deeply influenced by our cultural values, by the elders who tell us how to play, by the systems of enforcement if we don’t play right, and by the access some have to resources that others don’t.

Maybe part of the difficulty in seeing the agreements we tend to unconsciously accept is because the agreements have multiple, very complex facets that are really hard to see.  And, maybe it would be easier to see these agreements if we realized that economic, political, cultural, and social questions are not completely different things, rather they are four ways of understanding the same thing, the experience we have.  How much is there? Economics.  Who decides and enforces how we allocate what there is?  Politics.  What criteria are used to decide?  Culture.  How do we interact?  Social.

Maybe these are four different reasons why agreements are hard to see.  Maybe agreements are like sauerkraut or bread.  They seem hard to make, so most people buy them already made.  They are in fact very easy to make.  Cut up cabbage, add salt, mash it, add whey, cover it, wait 2 weeks.  Sauerkraut.  Very tasty, and easy to experiment with different flavors.  Bread is just as easy.

What do you see?  Please share your reflections with us in the Comments section here.

How Can We Manifest God-like Technologies within 600-year Old Institutions, Making Primitive Daily Choices?

While Homo lumens is constituted to manifest potential, most live within value-creating institutions, unconsciously accepting scarcity-based agreements (2014 Ecosynomics).  Why?  Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson suggests, “We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology” (2012 The Social Conquest of Earth, 7).

Fig 1 062915a


What do you think?