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.

People Aren’t Dumb. The World Is Hard.

People aren’t dumb. The world is hard.”  So says Professor Thaler, the 2017 Nobel laureate in economics.

From an ecosynomic perspective, the world is hard, for two reasons: the environment and the individual.  The environment is the exterior experience of the embedded agreements we live in.  The individual is the interior experience of our perception of our existence in the world.

Professor Thaler uses this quote to point at what we can do to improve our outcomes and experiences.  It you think people are dumb, then you can either make them smarter or deal with the fact that they are dumb.  If you think people are not dumb, and the world is hard, then you can try to make interacting in the world less hard.  Thaler suggests it is more the environment than the people.  We agree.  

We can understand the embedded agreements, in a way that works with our ability to perceive.  We can develop lenses on our agreements and processes for shifting them, which we can test, to see if they lead to the behaviors (outcomes and experiences) we want to have.

[To hear Professor Thaler describe what he means with this quote, listen to the July 11, 2018 Freakonomics podcast.]

A Reframers’ Coup — Recommended Readings

Klarman, Michael J. The Framer’s Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution.  2016, New York: Oxford University Press.

Kishtainy, Niall.  A Little History of Economics. 2017, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Are the agreements that we live with today, whether consciously chosen or unconsciously accepted, the only agreements that are possible?  Are they “true,” in the sense that they are the only way that life could be?  While we tend to unconsciously act as if they were given truths, I find that all of these agreements have shifted over time.  Whether the laws of physics, the laws of medicine, the laws of economics, or the laws of politics, they all change, and often by a lot.  This constant reframing of what we “know” to be true intrigues me, so I have been looking into the history of thought and practice in many of these disciplines.

I recently recommended a book that explored the evolution of the modern mind.  A wild ride through the wars and tectonic shifts in how we define what a mind is.  I also recommend two books exploring how we arrived at our current-day understanding of two very influential systems, which we also tend to assume are given facts of reality:  the US Constitution and modern economics.

Professor Klarman, of the Harvard Law School, digs deep into the archives, through hundreds of letters from the framers of the US Constitution to describe, in the words of the framers themselves, the process that the framers went through to get from the Articles of Confederation to a ratified Constitution.  It was not a forgone conclusion that the convention could legally happen, that they would reach an agreement, or that the document would be ratified.  They just knew that the Articles of Confederation were not working, with bankruptcy and civil war imminent, and little else had worked. “By 1787, a decade’s worth of failed efforts at securing incremental reform within the framework of the Articles had convinced many political leaders of the need to pursue more fundamental change–and through other avenues” (p 72).  Where many of the states were moving towards democratic systems of local decision making, and many of the political leaders did not support a strong federal model, the framers were successful in changing the foundations of the USA going forward. To get this highly negotiated document ratified, “invocations of divine inspiration for the Constitution by supporters of ratification, were, at least in part, a conscious political strategy to maximize the chance of winning” (p 2).  While the Constitution has proved to be a very strong document, its framers wanted it to be revisited soon and strengthened, seeing it only as a better temporary solution than the Articles of Confederation.

While Professor Klarman’s archive-rich narrative includes 181 pages of endnotes, making it a long, nuanced read, London School of Economics guest lecturer Kishtainy‘s A Little History of Economics covers a wide spread of history in a few pages, highlighting key thinkers and tinkerers along the way, showing how they took a legacy of key concepts and the pressing issues of their times, to mold a new perspective on how people come together to produce and exchange goods.  It is the idea in a context that made huge shifts that we then consider normal or given today, many years later in a completely different context.  “Before Jevons and Marshall, economists imagined people as colorful characters.  In Adam Smith’s version of competition, merchants haggle and hustle to make the best deals, and Malthus’s poor liked to breed like rabbits.  Now economists place a new character at centre stage: ‘rational economic man,’ a person who decides what to do by weighing up marginal costs and marginal benefits, for example by comparing the price of a spoon with its utility.  The economy was seen as being full of cool-headed people who do all these calculations perfectly.  This kinds of economy looks calm and harmonious, quite different from how earlier economists saw it.  To Marx capitalism was all about the exploitation of workers by capitalists.  Workers create the economic value, but capitalists take most of it as profit.  In the world of ‘rational economic man’ there are simply lots of people buying and selling things.  There’s no such thing as exploitation” (p 65).

Another coup.  Take one idea, add some content and a new context, stir, and change the game.  We then accept the new game, and forget that there ever was a previous game that others previously also thought was true and given.  Two highly recommended books on the history of thought underlying major institutions today.

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.

Seeing What We See–Another Perspective on The Agreements We Accept

The British philosopher Alan Watts observed, “If I draw a circle, most people, when asked what I have drawn, will say that I have drawn a circle, or a disc, or a ball.  Very few people will ever suggest that I have drawn a hole in a wall, because people think of the inside first, rather than thinking of the outside. But actually these two sides go together–you cannot have what is ‘in here’ unless you have what is ‘out there.’

What agreements have I unconsciously accepted, such as seeing the circle from the inside, that limit my ability to see the circle from the outside?  How many ways have I boxed myself into a corner, from which I cannot see the possibilities I am seeking?  Watts’ observation invites me to remember that I was the one that boxed myself in–with the agreements I unconsciously accepted–so I can remove those boxes I put in place, the constraints on what I can see, consciously choosing the agreements I accept.

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.

Still Using Your 8-Track Player and Your 1950s-based Agreements?

Are you still using your 8-track player to listen to music or do you stream music online?

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Do you still use a 1950s washing machine?

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While some of you might, most of you are probably not.  Yet, many of you are probably still using 1950s agreements of what human interactions look like.

Why would most of us update our music and laundry technology and not the technology for human interactions?  We update the first, because the benefits of the newer technologies are obvious.  Much cooler and much more efficient access to much more music, or better clothes-washing care for the price.  When it comes to human agreements, we tend not to see the implicit, embedded assumptions in our agreements.  We still unconsciously accept the 1950s idea that most people are cogs in a machine that bring specific, interchangeable capacities to a task, and that they simply need to be contracted and compensated for the pound of flesh exacted from them at work.

Current research shows that, across the planet, people working under these 1950s agreements are disengaged at work and that the costs of this disengagement are huge.  Alternatively, we have documented tens of thousands of cases of groups that are working with 2010s agreements, updated technology, that assume people are quite competent, excited to engage, and ready to learn, all of the time, and that when they are treated this way and invited to contribute their best, they most often do, and that the net benefits to groups working this way are huge.

If you periodically update the technology that plays your music and washes your clothes, maybe you should consider updating the technology for how you interact with others at work.

The Metamemetics and Epimemetics of What Homo lumens Experiences in Human Agreements

Are people predisposed to unconsciously accept and consciously choose certain kinds of agreements?  Do some people tend towards more vibrant or less vibrant experiences of the five primary relationships (to self, other, group, nature, spirit)?  Are people conditioned by the group’s agreements or do individuals condition the group’s agreements?  Do the agreements of a group live within the individual or are they distributed throughout the group?

While ecosynomics is at the early stage of exploring these questions, we might find hints for how to proceed from a parallel pattern in genetic research.  An individual’s genetic code is the code that design its biological form.  This code determines how the biological form can respond to different environmental conditions, turning on and off different attributes.  Where a genome is the genetic material of an entity, a metagenome is the genetic information of all the entities in a metasystem.  This information is distributed throughout the community.  Epigenesis is the process of how the environment an entity is in influences how the genetic code expresses itself, and then passes this new expression on to the next generation–nature and nurture.

Working with the concept of a “meme,” as a unit of culture that can be transmitted from one individual to another, we can look at the memetic code, the metamemetics, and the epimemetics of human agreements.  The “memetic code” describes the human predisposition to levels of vibrancy experienced in human interactions.  While people tend to be most comfortable within a specific range of vibrancy of agreements, as seen in the 3 circles of vibrancy, as Homo lumens people have access to all levels.  For some people, some levels are easy to access and others require development: nonetheless, they are all there in one’s memetic code.  “Metamemetics” then is the memetic information of all the members of a system that is distributed throughout the system, which we experience as the group’s agreements.  “Epimemetics” is then the interplay of nature and nurture in human agreements, which studies the question of how individuals and groups influence the level of vibrancy experienced they can take up in their agreements.

New areas to explore in human agreements, part of the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience.

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

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

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

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

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

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