Seeing Your Agreements in 37 Words — Choosing Them in < 3 Tweets

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

Knowing this is happening, you can choose (1) how you interact (the agreements), (2) the experiences you have, and (3) the results you produce.  It is your choice.


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My Qs — Agreements Based in Deficits

What happens when you lop off or collapse human beingness?  How does that influence the experience that person has?  The experience others have with that person?

Much of what we know about how people work comes from studying deficits, from studying the behavior of people who are missing something.  What happens when people, either by birth or through an accident, are missing specific parts of their brain?  How do they behave different than “normal” people, people who still have that part of the brain?  Researchers discovered that those people with the deficit could not feel certain things, or smell, or count.  Dr. Oliver Sacks has written some very approachable books on research in this area.  In essence, this huge body of research shows that people lacking something that most people have behave different than most people.

This deficit-based approach leads me to ask, what would happen to a human being that was closed off from their relationship to others?  To their own self?  To the group?  To nature? To spirit?  To the vibrant essence of being human?  Then I add on to this thought the experience of the agreements embedded in human interactions.  In many human interactions, we accept that it is okay to be closed off from these primary relationships.  In essence, we agree to having our human beingness lopped off, collapsed.  We agree to operate from a human beingness deficit.  Why?  Why would we ever want people we engage with daily to operate from a beingness deficit?  To operate from a state of being much less than they normally are?

Lots of recent research shows that this is quite normal in the workplace.  While some disagree with the high degree suggested in these findings, none disagree that it exists.  I suggest that this is a choice, a choice that most of us are unaware of, but a choice nonetheless.  Ecosynomics shows how to see the choice and choose a different agreement.

I would love to hear what you think.  Why do we lop off human beingness in our interactions?  What can do to engage the full human beingness sitting right in front of us?  Please share what you think here.

How “Compliance Practitioners” Choose Your Agreements For You — Recommended Reading

Cialdini, Robert B., Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. 2007, New York: Collins Business.  

[You can see a 12-minute animated story of the principle ideas.]

A core intention of our work in Ecosynomics and harmonic vibrancy is to consciously choose the agreements that most influence our daily experiences and outcomes.  In his classic text InfluenceRobert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology, shows how professional “compliance practitioners” use your intuitive processes of perception to make you unconsciously accept the agreements that most benefit them, not you.

First published 30 years ago, this permanent fixture on the bestseller’s list remains relevant today.  Professor Cialdini walks you through six healthy human processes that professionals misuse to influence you: reciprocation; commitment and consistency; social proof; liking; authority; and scarcity.  Full of examples and references to rigorous research, Influence also provides research-based antidotes to the tricks the professionals use on you.  To learn about what the professionals actually teach their own, Cialdini went undercover, infiltrating their organizations as a newbie influencer to learn how they train people to be “compliance practitioners.”

While sobering to realize how easy it is to unconsciously accept agreements imposed on you by skillful practitioners, it is also empowering to see how to avoid these traps, enabling you to consciously choose the agreements that best serve you.  While Ecosynomics suggests that many of the fundamental agreements you tend to unconsciously accept are buried deep within the design of today’s economic, political, cultural, and social systemsInfluence shows you how to be aware of agreements thrust on you by others on a daily basis.

Four Scenarios for Your Future

As we look to the future, the emerging experiences of millions of people are highlighting specific realities we face.  We can describe these realities along two dimensions, providing four future scenarios of your experience and outcomes.

One dimension focuses on our starting assumption about the world, ranging from scarcity to abundance.  The other dimension focuses on our awareness of our agreements, ranging from unconscious acceptance to conscious choice.  With these two dimensions, we have four scenarios in the figure below.

4 Scenarios 100114a

People describe the experience of being in Quadrant 1, when we unconsciously accept agreements based in scarcity, as, “We have to do it this way.  Don’t we?”  There is no choice.  Our data shows this is often an energy-depleting experience, in which we achieve mediocre results at great cost.  The experience in Quadrant 2, where we consciously choose scarcity-based agreements, is often described as, “We are going to outsmart ‘them.’  No matter what it takes, we will win.”  Our survey data and field work show that people often find some success in this experience, usually in the form of strong compensation received for the energy-depleting exhaustion it requires.

In Quadrant 3, where we unconsciously accept abundance-based agreements, people often say, “I love being here: I just don’t know what it is that makes us so great.”  Our research finds this to be an energy-enhancing experience, often with extraordinary results, that are difficult to repeat in other places or with other groups.  Quadrant 4, where we consciously choose abundance-based agreements, is where people say, “I love being here, what we do, what we achieve every day, and  how we are able to repeat it elsewhere with others.”  Our field work suggests this energy-enhancing experience proves to be sustainably repeatable, by others in different environments.

Ecosynomics, the science of abundance, explores what drives each quadrant, the consequences of each quadrant, and how people are learning to shift from one quadrant to another.  For more on Ecosynomics, visit

Note: I thank James Post for inspiring this perspective in the Foreword he wrote for Waddock, S. and M. McIntosh, SEE Change: Making the Transition to a Sustainable Enterprise Economy. 2011, Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing.

Zooming in on Your Agreements, from 500,000 ft to 50 ft

Most of us accept that the experiences we have every day are conditioned by realities we have to accept: “That is just the way things are.”  At the level of each experience, this certainly seems to be true.  I get paid for the work I did today, because that is what my labor contract specifies.  I pay for groceries with dollars, because that is what the federal bank provides as currency.  There is not much choice in this, from what I can see at this level.  What can I see if I zoom out from this 50-foot view of the specific experience to a 5,000-foot view of the system that directly influences my experience – from a view of the proverbial tree to the forest?

5,000-ft view through four lenses

From the 5,000-foot view, I can see that a series of assumptions determine the resources I have access to, who decides and enforces the rights of access to the resources, what is valued in my experience, and how I interact with others.  Is this system consistent everywhere always or is it dependent on higher level assumptions?  Zooming out to the 500,000-foot level, I can see the whole region within which those assumptions lie, observing that in different areas the assumptions are different.

500,000-ft view through four realms

From this 500,000-foot view, I see four realms of inquiry that have intrigued humanity for thousands of years: the economic, political, cultural, and social.  These four realms describe who makes and enforces the rules (politics) using what criteria (culture) about how people interact (social) and what people produce and exchange (economics).  I can see that in different regions of the earth and in different times, there have been very different ways that people have responded to what they see in each of these four realms.  There are many political systems, cultural systems, social systems, and economic systems over the time and space of human existence.  What do these four realms look like when I zoom back down to the 5,000-foot level of the specific system I live in?

Zooming in on your agreements

There seems to be a certain logical process to these four realms, at the 5,000-foot level.  What is there (who has what), who decides, with what criteria, and how do people interact?  The economic, the political, the cultural, and the social.  There are specific rules that I can see at this level that determine how we deal with the economics of resources, the politics of decisions, the culture of values, and the sociology of organization.  In earlier blogs, I have described these as four lenses (resources, decision, value, organization) through which I can see my experience.  Through these lenses, I begin to see that what seem like fixed rules – that’s just the way it is – vary significantly from one system to the next.  If they vary so much, then maybe they are not fixed rules, rather simply agreements that I have unconsciously accepted in my daily experience at the 50-foot level.

Is there only one job I can have?  Do I have to accept the conditions of the contract?  Is there only one currency I can access for getting my groceries?  When I look around, at other systems, I see that there are many options.  Other people have developed other responses, other agreements, when they looked from the four realms (500,000-ft view) through the four lenses (5,000-ft view) at what they wanted to experience on a daily basis (50-ft view).  They look at their work differently.  They have different conditions for their work.  They use different forms of currency.  I begin to see that these are all choices.  Choices designed at the 5,000-ft level, which I experience at the 50-ft level.  Choices that are guided by an evolution of what can be seen from the four realms at the 500,000-ft level.

50-ft view through the experience of my agreements

Daily life happens at the 50-ft level.  In that daily experience, someone decides and enforces who has access to what resources and how we interact, using some specific criteria.  The quality of these factors directly influences the quality of the vibrancy I experience.  If I want to experience greater vibrancy in that daily life, it seems important to occasionally zoom out to the 5,000-ft view to look through the four lenses at the system that influences my experience.  And, every once in awhile, it seems important to zoom out to the 500,000-ft level to examine the lenses I am using to design the system.

Maps for each level

To work with these three levels, we need a perspective, a theory of how they relate.  As Albert Einstein said, “Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.”[1]  Cartographers have provided theory-based maps for each level.  Ecosynomics shows how the maps of these three levels fit together.  At the 50-ft level, we can use “agreements maps.” At the 5,000-ft level, we can use the four-lenses map.  At the 500,000-ft level, we can use the four-realms map.  These maps can inform what we see, as we zoom in and out, and the agreements we consciously choose to experience in our daily lives.

[1] Albert Einstein quote, as related by Werner Heisenberg, cited in Salam, A. (1990). Unification of Fundamental Forces. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 99.

Agreements — What They Are, Why They Are Important, and How People Work with Them — A Dialog with Orland Bishop

Agreements are a fundamental element of being human — it is how we interact with our own self, each other, groups, nature, and spirit.  In this dialog, our colleague Orland Bishop describes the deeper nature of agreements and why they are so critical to the human experience.  Click here to listen to this dialog.

For an in-depth look at how agreements influence your experience, and how to see those agreements, check out the Ecosynomics book-course.

Is Slowing Down Unsustainable Practices Enough? – Recommended Reading

Ehrenfeld, John R., & Hoffman, Andrew J. (2013). Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books.

Is slowing down unsustainable practices enough? Not according to a retired MIT professor and a University of Michigan professor. Trashing the environment at a slower rate is not the same as improving the environment. Not even close. To clarify the difference, I recommend reading Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability (Stanford Business Books, 2013). Long-standing voice for sustainability John Ehrenfeld and his co-author Andrew Hoffman take a strong stand on what is sustainable behavior and what is not.

While acknowledging the benefit of reducing the behaviors that wildly deteriorate the environment, the authors argue that reducing a negative is not the same thing as increasing a positive. Throwing fewer pollutants into the water is still polluting, and is not the same as throwing no pollutants in the water. They find that green-washing language in many businesses today obscures the fact that the business’ actions are not increasing positive-sustainability as much as reducing negative-unsustainability.

Ehrenfeld defines sustainability as, “the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the Earth forever.” To point at the major problems with current ways of greening sustainability, Ehrenfeld and Hoffman focus on the cultural myth of perpetual growth, and on many of the corporate social responsibility solutions that are wrong-headed, at best reducing unsustainability. They suggest that to refocus on increasing positive-sustainability will require that people start by re-examining what it means to be human – what we are and what we want – and where humans are within the whole of the social and natural world.

What is the Ecosynomic lens on this story? Trying to reduce unsustainable practices only at the “things-outcome” level of perceived reality does not necessarily change the unsustainable practices at the “development-motion” level of reality, which sooner than later generates the things-level problem. Furthermore, when we are not working and being more sustainable simultaneously at all three levels of perceived reality (possibility, development, things), we are not realizing a more sustainable world, rather we are fighting the unsustainable things-world we are realizing. Said another way, if we imagine an unsustainable world at the possibility level, through our beliefs and myths, and we bring it into being at the development level, then no matter how hard we fight it at the things level, the unsustainable world will continue to show up. To change this, we therefore need to change how we see a sustainable world in all three levels of reality – in possibility, in development, and in things. To do this, we need to see (1) how we perceive the experiences and outcomes we desire through the five primary relationships, and (2) how to change our agreements to achieve these experiences and outcomes. Our free on-line survey is a tool for looking at how sustainable your agreements are, and the Ecosynomics framework shows how to see and choose the new agreements. The hopeful news is that it is possible to envision and enact a sustainable world, and that we have identified tens of thousands of communities and businesses that are doing just that.

Guest post — 17 European Groups Living Into the Ecosynomic Paradigm – Initial Insights (#1 in a 4-part series)

Guest blog by Christoph Hinske, ISC Senior Fellow

In this series of 4 posts, I will share initial insights from research with 17 groups in Europe.  Covering seemingly different sectors (5 in business, 7 in civil society, 4 in global networks, 1 in academia), I find similar underlying patterns, innovations and dynamics in all of them.  My main diagnostic tool was the “Ecosynomics Survey of Harmonic Vibrancy” from the Institute for Strategic Clarity.  I was able to follow up on the survey with some of the groups, interviewing individuals, observing group processes, and offering workshops with selected members.  To protect their confidentiality, I changed the names of the groups.  While they are not all high-vibrancy groups, they all present interesting insights from an Ecosynomic perspective.

Figure 1 shows the general level of perceived Harmonic Vibrancy in each of the 17 different groups, using a scale of 1 to 5 for seven dimensions – the five primary relationships, the quality of leadership, and the group’s overall outcomes (group well-being).  These ratings are outputs from the 57-item Ecosynomics Survey of Harmonic Vibrancy, which you can take for free online.

Figure 1: Overview of diagnostic results from 17 European groups

Figure 1: Overview of diagnostic results from 17 European groups

As captured in Figure 1, some of the groups describe their reality as very vibrant and collaborative (depicted by the outer lines). Others describe their reality as more scarce and competitive (depicted by the inner lines).  While the results might seem very similar, since the lines are all very close and no group has very low levels of harmonic vibrancy, the practices, agreements, and outcomes are very different between low and high vibrancy groups.

In the early stage of this research, the similarities I have found have led to three initial insights: 

1) Similar outcomes and experiences

While the groups come from different sectors and cultures, they describe similar experiences and outcomes in their work.  When describing experiences of low harmonic vibrancy, the group members showed how the outcomes of their value-creation processes mostly met the industry standards. And, when describing experiences of high levels of harmonic vibrancy, they showed how their value-creation processes led to outcomes that exceeded industry standards.

2) Similar processes and structures

I started to find and identify reoccurring practices in groups describing similar levels of harmonic vibrancy. They range from having a radically different understanding of recruiting to innovative ways of organizing to letting go of standard leadership models, as well as structures that engage customers and employees at a very high rate.

3) Similar fundamental assumptions

Finally, I found that groups with higher levels of harmonic vibrancy start their interactions from a different set of fundamental assumptions. A friend and colleague of mine just teased me and said, “So do you propose that they are better or more advanced human beings? You know you should be careful with such an assumption, especially in the German context.” No, I am not proposing that. What I observe is that they are ordinary people, like you and me, doing very ordinary things – like writing project proposals to get funding. And, I observed that they start from assumptions of possibility and abundance rather than from scarcity and limitation.

I will frame each of these three insights and illustrate them with one of these cases in my subsequent blog posts.

Guest post — Network Routines for Harmonic Vibrancy

Guest blog by Steve Waddell

The global, multi-stakeholder issue change networks of the sort I deal with – Global Action Networks (GANs) – have particular assets and challenges in supporting the development of harmonic vibrancy.  Their core asset is that they typically work towards an inspiring vision:  Transparency International and a corruption-free world, the Global Compact and integration of the UN’s highest principles into the functioning of business, the Global Reporting Initiative and robust social-environmental-economic reporting.  These visions are relatively easy to associate with high motivation.

Their core challenge is how they go about doing their work.  They are not a tightly knit entity that is in intense contact, such as with a local business enterprise.  They are inter-organizational global networks where people from participating organizations are very numerous and the amount of time spent on the networks’ work is a fraction of a work-week.   Even for staff, who travel constantly, connecting is an on-going challenge.

Moreover, “the network” is a rather amorphous entity, with a very large number of shifting individuals who are participating as organizational representatives, as the individuals change employers or work responsibilities.

To be successful, GANs must embrace diversity, which poses an additional challenge.  Culture is a big determinant of how people experience harmonic vibrancy and its core components such as fulfillment.  This is even a greater challenge considering that diversity for GANs also means working as business – government – civil society collaborations.

All this suggests the importance of GANs developing routines that can ensure higher levels of harmonic vibrancy.  Of course surveys are one good vehicle for assessing the presence of a higher degree of harmonic vibrancy, but routines are important to giving it lived meaning.  These routines will legitimize and give both meaning and action to the on-going development and maintenance of the five dimensions of HV:  self, other, group, nature and spirit.  Routines are regularly undertaken activities that follow a pattern recognized by participants.  They can be considered in terms of the five harmonic vibrancy dimensions themselves. Some illustrations by dimension:

1. The “self” or “me”:  do you feel that you are fully participating and working to your potential?

Specific moments for this self-assessment can be created at the end of meetings.  For GANs this includes a wide variety of events-as-meetings, such as staff meetings, work groups with network participants, and network-wide meetings such as regularly mandated global ones.  The question here is:  what can I do to enhance my quality of participation.  What agreement with myself should I work on more, reassess, or redefine.  Formal moments after meetings can be taken to provide time for people to reflect and write their thoughts with the suggestion that this is an important part of their own meeting diary.

2. The “other” or “you”:  are others participating fully and expressing their potential?

From time-to-time at the beginning of meetings two participants could talk about their agreements with each other to deepen the understanding of each other’s particular needs, desires and situation.  This would raise participants’ awareness of what at least one other person is experiencing and how their participation and the meeting activities could be better aligned to realize their full potential.  This could be developed into a buddy system, to lead to discussion at the end of the meeting about how to redesign the meeting or the individual’s role in how it functions or in the way work is being done.

3. The “group” or “us” which can mean the network as a whole:  are people fully experiencing the “we” as an energetic, empowering whole?

This could be incorporated into a collective self-assessment routine that could take place after meetings.  This happens sometimes in informal “check-out” processes where people might form circles and give a word or comment about what they’ve experienced.  However, these often occur with substantial pressure to focus on the positive.  Another process around “deltas” (what changes could improve the meeting) allows more explicit support for identifying ways to improve.  For very large meetings, this could be done through smaller group assessment break-outs.

4. Nature and the “environment”:  is there a feeling of “support” and “appreciation” from the greater whole that supports manifesting the potential?

This dimension can be framed as being about feedback from the larger operating environment of the GAN; for GANs, this is about the “systems” that they seek to influence, such as the anti-corruption system for Transparency International and the corporate sustainability system of the Global Reporting Initiative.  In one way, evolution of integrated (social-environment-economic with traditional finance) reporting could move to assess this situation.  It is really about feedback and achievements in terms of broader value creation. Annual report routines could integrate this from a harmonic-vibrancy perspective more categorically.

5. Spirit and creativity:  is there a flowing and development of ideas and innovation that generate a feeling that “anything is possible”?

This could be supported by a retreat-type routine of some parts of the network, where they can assess what they see as impediments to greater success and how to address them.  Various processes could promote and aggregate the outcomes of such routines.

One of the core challenges for implementing such routines is to develop them as activities that do not unduly burden other activities.  This means developing a pacing and interaction between the routines as a whole.  Not every day, nor every meeting need explicitly incorporate the routine.  However, the harmonic vibrancy questions must be common enough in network life to orient people who often work with the network as a small part of their lives, to build the network harmonic vibrancy culture.

Jim R-D Comments

Steve’s work with GANs highlights a major innovation emerging on the global scene, where people are consciously entering a new set of agreements on a massively global-local level – they are deciding for a different future and for learning together about how to achieve it.

We can look at Steve’s suggestions about “routines” from two different vantage points – scarcity and abundance.  From a scarcity vantage point, adding these routines to the already very full agendas of exceedingly busy people is too much – while it might be “nice” to do, we don’t have the time: we are too busy fighting really big, serious issues.

From an abundance vantage point, we cannot afford to not put these routines into practice.  The “cost” to the network of not engaging the full human being, of not bringing out and supporting the best of every participant is too high – to be able to address global issues on a local level, everyone has to be at their best, and these routines do that explicitly.  These innovative routines are a very efficient (low time invested for high value experienced) way of being very effective (engaging people to change the world’s agreements) with a network of committed human beings.

You Unconsciously Broadcast Your Agreements — Recommended Reading

The way you speak and move shows how you agree to interact with others.  These simple gestures signal lots about you – the influence you each have in a social interaction on each other’s speaking patterns, how you mimic each other’s behaviors, how interested and excited you are by the level of your activity, and the consistency of emphasis and timing in your speech and movement.  From these four mostly unconscious signals (influence, mimicry, activity, consistency), researchers are able to predict to a very high degree all kinds of things about you and the group – from outcomes in interviews and first dates, to power dynamics, team success, and organizational decision making.

Alex (Sandy) Pentland of the MIT Media Lab describes this research in his book Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (2008 MIT Press).  Using a sociometer, like a small badge you wear around your neck, his team measures the time you spend interacting with someone else face-to-face, changes in your speech, movement of your body, and where you are relative to other people.  That’s it.  These simple biological signals tell a lot about what we value and how we interact – two key lenses into the ecosynomics of abundance.  “The sociometer..reveals that there is more going on than just individuals engaging in conscious interaction.  It shows that our minds are also substantially governed by the unconscious signaling within the social fabric that surrounds us.  Across a broad range of studies, human honest signals play an unexpectedly central role in the decision making of individuals, groups, and even entire organizations.”  And, “it is startling how unaware people are of their pattern of influence.”

The “honest signals” approach both assesses the current state of implicit agreements in any given group – how they actually work – and it shows the behaviors of groups achieving higher levels of harmonic vibrancy – teams with high levels of interest, engagement, and trust.