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.

SIDEBAR
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.

guestpost_aemapcase_111416b

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.

Advertisements

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.

Orbiting or Crash and Burn — Belief-planets and the Gravitational Pull of Coherence

We stick with many things because they seem to work.  Or because that is just the way it is.  That is the hand of cards you were dealt, so stop whining, join in, and play. If and when we even try to rise above the daily slog and question why–why we play by these rules, if I don’t like the experience or outcome–the world’s response slaps us back down to the ground.  If we try and try, again and again, the response gets stronger and stronger, experienced eventually as a crash and burn.  Gravity wins.  In this case, the strength of the argument that slaps us back down is in its coherence, the way it holds together and the way it corresponds with our experience.  “See.  Here is the evidence.  This is the way life really works.  And, because of that, this is also true.  See.  It works.”  This internally consistent story is very hard to argue with, thus the crashing back to the ground.

And, the experience of the questioning mixed with the experience of a crashing back down might also be indicating not that gravity always wins, rather that you haven’t risen high enough to get into outer orbit.  Gravity wins; until it doesn’t.

In recent reading on a different topic, I came across a really helpful characterization of this phenomenon, described by a writer I have cited a few times recently, for the ideas that he has sparked in me.  So, while he applies this idea to another context, I thought his description was so well written, that I would rather cite it in full than try to paraphrase it.  In The Big Picture (2016), a theoretical physicist at Cal Tec, Sean Carroll writes:

No analogy is perfect, but the planets-of-belief metaphor is a nice way to understand the view known in philosophical circles as coherentism. According to this picture, a justified belief is one that belongs to a coherent set of propositions.  This coherence plays the role of the gravitational pull that brings together dust and rocks to form real planets.  A stable planet of belief will be one where all the individual beliefs are mutually coherent and reinforcing.

Some planets are not stable.  People go through life with a a very large number of beliefs, some of which may not be compatible with others, even if they don’t recognize it.  We should think of planets of belief as undergoing gradual but constant churning, bringing different beliefs into contact with one another, just as real planets experience convection in the mantle and plate tectonics near the surface.  When two dramatically incompatible beliefs come into direct contact, it can be like highly reactive chemicals being mixed together, leading to an impressive explosion–possibly even blowing the entire planet apart, until a new one can be reassembled from different parts.

Ideally, we should be constantly testing and probing our planets of belief for inconsistencies and structural deficiencies.  Precisely because they are floating freely through space, rather than remaining anchored on solid and immovable ground, we should always be willing to improve our planets’ old beliefs and replacing them with better ones…The real problem is that we can imagine more than one stable planet–there can be multiple sets of beliefs that are consistent within the sets, but not among them (117-118).

Is the scarcity-only-based planet-of-beliefs the only experience we have?  Or is there another planet-of-belief forming, one based in abundance also?  What will it take to rise high enough to orbit one, to see the other?

Vibrancy Is A Choice Checklists — Re-membering Abundance-based Agreements

You invite some colleagues to work together with you on something you feel is really important. Knowing you, your passion, and what they can contribute, they enthusiastically say yes. You come together for the first time.  For the first 2 hours, the vibe is electric and the pulse is quickening. Then something shifts, and some people seem unclear about the process, they quickly start to disengage. Trying to re-engage the group, someone has an idea and proposes a different, “more engaging” process. A couple of the others agree, and feeling a little lost you agree. After all, you trust everyone in the room. A few minutes later, you notice a few others starting to check out. One of them calls for a brief point of clarification. The enthusiasm starts to breakdown quickly, accelerating into a collapse. You decide to stop the freefall, and call for a break. What happened? Great intentions, trusted colleagues, a great start, then rapid collapse. Have you ever experienced something like this? I have, frequently.

While some people I know are extraordinarily gifted at seeing what to do in these breakdowns, converting them into breakthroughs, I wonder if many times it is possible to not collapse in the first place. A book I just finished reading by a well-known surgeon who studied surgery units, airline pilots, and large-scale construction projects, proposes a simple, elegant solution–the checklist.

To align what we perceive in the world with what our best mental models suggest, I have long been a proponent of CRISP frameworks and processes. CRISP means that the frameworks and processes are designed to be obvious and how they are comprehensive, rigorous, integrative, simple, and purposeful. From this thinking emerged the GRASP, 5 primary relationships, 3 levels of perceived reality, 4 lenses, the O Process, and the Harmonic Vibrancy Move 4-step process. And yet, I continue to experience the kind of collapse I described at the beginning of this post. Enter the Vibrancy is a choice checklist.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande shows how the checklist helps highly trained experts in complex situations prevent the avoidable failures that still haunt the activities we humans organize. What would this look like for abundance-based agreements, where we still experience frequent collapse?

Gawande finds that people who have successfully used checklists with experts in complex situations often have checklists for process and for communication–what to do in what order, and who needs to talk about what and when. The point is to remember to do all of the critical steps, some of which are often forgotten in the heat of the moment. According to what Gawande found, the checklist should be designed for a specific situation. It should be short, with 5 to 9 items. The language should be simple, precise, and familiar to the professionals. And then, most importantly, it needs to be tested in a real situation. All checklists always need to be refined.

Returning to the initial situation, before we start the meeting, we can create two checklists: one for the proposed process; and one for how we want to communicate when something else emerges. While the first might initially look like an agenda for the conversation, thinking of it as a checklist gets us thinking about the most critical elements to be addressed, some of which are often forgotten, and the different perspectives on what needs to come together.  In addition to the basic process, what other assumptions do we need to be sure are clear to all and not missed, especially the ones we have experienced as being missed in the past? What roles need to be taken up, and who will take them? What are the most frequent avoidable failures that we experience? We want to make sure we address them consistently.

In processes where we are working out of abundance-based agreements, we are engaging with high complexity–high vibrancy in self, other, group, nature, and spirit, with clarity about how much we see, who decides and enforces, with what values, and how we interact, in a highly engaged, interactive group. Lots of potential, with lots of emergence, ripe for checklists.

In the next weeks, I will be sharing high-vibrancy checklists we are finding. If you have checklists for these situations, please share them with me. Vibrancy is a choice, and a checklist can help us remember how to invite, see, and honor that choice, especially when we forget.

How Likely Is It that You Are Creative?

How many times a day do you think of something new, see a different way of doing something, choose an alternate path to your destination?  That is a real question.  Think of your own experience.  Once every 7 days?  Once a day?  Twice a day?  Every hour?  All day long?

My colleagues and I observe that most people seem to be “thinking up” new ideas, new questions, new observations, new possibilities, new answers all day long.  In actuality, everyone does all of the time.  It is in our nature as human beings, whether we consciously see it or our unconscious mind automatically does it–we are constantly otherwise-attracted (what others call distracted) by a constant stream of new inputs, some of which we share, and some of which we work through.  This is what we observe, as do our colleagues who focus on creativity.

Yet, it seems that most of the organizing forms prominent today assume the exact opposite.  The recent studies on the vast majority of people who are disengaged at work suggest that people are generally not seen as fountains of creativity, rather as meat suits of employable capacities.  From this perspective, it is very unlikely that you are creative, as only very few, very special people are.  The rest are here to implement what the gifted see.  “Do as I say.”

And, as I have shared throughout this blog, we have found thousands of groups that see that it is absolutely definite that you are creative, since everyone is, all of the time.  We find that in these groups, nobody tries to motivate and nobody worries about engaging people, because people come hardwired for creativity, engagement, and motivation.

I was reminded recently of a very technical field of statistics with a very deep insight into human observation, initially developed by the Rev. Thomas Bayes in the 1700s.  Essentially, he suggested that we should see what our individual, initial beliefs are about how probable something is (our priors) and then update those beliefs with the likelihoods of confirming or disconfirming evidence.  As described by Cal Tech physicist Sean Carroll,

“When we are trying to understand what is true about the world, everyone enters the game with some initial feeling about what propositions are plausible, and what ones seem relatively unlikely.  This isn’t an annoying mistake that we should work to correct; it’s an absolutely necessary part of researching in conditions of incomplete information.  And when it comes to understanding the fundamental architecture of reality, none of us has complete information.  Prior credences are a starting point for further analysis, and it’s hard to say that any particular priors are ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ (Carroll, 2016. The Big Picture, p.79).”

“To every proposition that may or may not be true about the world, we assign a prior credence.  Each such proposition also comes with a collection of likelihoods: the chances that various other things would be true if that proposition were true.  Every time we observe new information, we update our degrees of belief (Carroll, 2016. The Big Picture, p.78).”

Applying this Bayesian insight to whether you are creative or not, you can start with your prior beliefs.  From one end of the spectrum, you can start with the belief that you are not creative, and most people are not–only a very few, special people are.  Then look for the evidence.  If you are not creative, what else would also likely be true.  What evidence do you find, with which to update your belief?  Do you find that, indeed, people around you do not have ideas and are not creative, updating your prior beliefs that people are not creative?  Or do you find that people are having ideas all of the time, whether or not they share them, thus updating your beliefs more towards the belief that people are creative?  How would you know? [Hint. You might have to ask.] From the other end of the spectrum, you can start with the prior belief that people are creative.  You can then look for evidence of the likelihood that they are indeed creative, updating your beliefs.

What do you see, from your own prior beliefs, from your own experience?

Mapping the Next Frontier — the Social Topography of Human Agreements

The great unknown.  Hundreds of years of expeditions, crossing the perilous oceans and mountains, often for years at a time, in extreme conditions to consciously map the geological topography of the planet.  What do other places look like?  What’s at the bottom of the ocean, south of Africa, at the South Pole, in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle, on top of Everest?  Curiosity drove people to find out.  What resources are out there?   Spices, precious metals, foods, animals, peoples?  What new opportunities are there?

When these explorers set out, many of the people at home told them the world was flat, everywhere else looked just like it did at home, and if you traveled far enough you would fall off the edge.  The explorers went anyway.  They discovered a wide variety of landscapes, seascapes, foods, natural resources, beautiful scenes, extreme environments, animals, plants, cultures, languages, and sports.

Now that we have mapped much of the earth and the solar system, what is next?  The new explorers are mapping the social topography of human agreements.

Like the earlier observers, many of the people at home suggest that the topography of human agreements is also flat, with everywhere being a better or worse version of what home looks like, and if you try to go far from that version you will fall off the edge of the earth, into the underdeveloped void.

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.

In the next post, I will share what we are doing to map this new frontier, the social topography of human agreements.

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.

 

_DSC0019
A 23-minute conversation between Jim and Jackie regarding agreements (click on the MP3 file Making an Agreement)

_DSC0012

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.

Win a Free eBook of Ecosynomics — Share a Story

BookSalesIcon

Win a FREE copy of the Ecosynomics eBook!

Send me a short story on 1 of 3 topics described below, and I will send you a free eBook of Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance.  Normally it is a US$14.99 value at Amazon.com.

What you do.  Send me a short story (approximately 500-1000 words) about one of the following:

  • Abundance-based agreements that you have directly experienced (what were they and how did they impact you?)
  • How consciously choosing agreements (vs unconsciously accepting agreements) has affected you?
  • How Ecosynomics has impacted you

Send the story to me by email at info (at) ecosynomics.com or through my Contact page.  Let me know whether you would prefer your copy of the eBook as a PDF, ePub, or Kindle version.  I will then send you the discount code for getting your free copy of the Ecosynomics eBook at the Vibrancy store.

How this contributes to our research.  By sharing your confidential experiences, you are contributing to our research at the Institute for Strategic Clarity on the experience people have in groups, and how this experience is influenced by the underlying agreements in the group.  We will never share your specific stories with anyone.  It is confidential. You can learn more about our initial findings here.

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.