The Creative Spark — Recommended Reading

Fuentes, Agustin. The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional2017, New York: Dutton.

We human beings prefer experiences where our unique creative expression is invited into a group’s work, and where it is actively engaged, according to our survey research in 98 countries and our field research in 39 countries.  In The Creative Spark, Professor Agustin Fuentes provides an anthropologist’s view on the impact of human imagination.

He starts with the observation that, “the initial condition of any creative act is collaboration…This cocktail of creativity and collaboration distinguishes our species–no other species has ever been able to do it so well–and has propelled the development of our bodies, minds, and cultures, both for good and for bad” (p 2).  His research suggests that there are “four big misconceptions of human evolution:…we are the species that is supremely good at being bad; we are a species of supercooperators, supremely good at being good; [we are] a species still better adapted to traditional lives as hunter-gatherers than to modern, mechanized, urbanized, and tech-connected life; [or that we are] the Promethean breed, who, having made all the world our dominion, are now running it, and ultimately ourselves, into ruin” (p 3). He suggests that vast amounts of research in “anthropology, evolutionary biology, psychology, economics, and sociology over the past twenty years” (p. 4) have shown these predominant arguments are at best incomplete.  “Perhaps most important, these popular accounts have obscured the wonderful story at the heart of our evolution–the story of how, from the days of our earliest, protohuman ancestors, we have survived and increasingly thrived because of our exceptional capacity for creative collaboration” (p 4).  “A new synthesis demonstrates that humans acquired a distinctive set of neurological, physiological, and social skills that enabled us, starting from the earliest days, to work together and think together in order to purposefully cooperate.

Professor Fuentes takes us on the long journey over two million years of how we evolved, through our increasing ability for creative collaboration, to the beings we are today.  Along the way, he explores how we co-evolved with our environment through food, war, sex, religion, art, and science.  As the capacity for collaboration, and how collaboration differs from pure competition or coopetition lies at the core of our work in ecosynomics, this look across the data from hundreds of communities and hundreds of thousands of years, highlights our innate capacities as Homo lumens.  A very interesting, well written and documented read, which I highly recommend.

Co-hosting Collaboration — What We Are Learning from BUILD UPON Cambridge, Madrid, and Brussels

In this 1st of a series of 4 blogposts, we share what we are learning, as co-investors with BUILD UPON and the European Climate Foundation, about: (1) co-hosting collaboration; (2) realizing the deeper shared purpose; (3) measuring impact resilience; and (4) scaling impact.

CO-HOSTING COLLABORATION

The potential we saw.  In the spring of 2016, in dialog with BUILD UPON and European Climate Foundation (ECF) leadership, we saw the potential for both communities to benefit from greater collaboration amongst their many members, within each community and across them.  Together, we thought that introduction to a proven collaboration-building process, like the “O Process,” (see figure below) could facilitate much greater collaboration, across the networks, by clarifying a deeper shared purpose, the need for diverse positions, and the ability to integrate the unique perspectives these diverse positions bring to the possibilities that can be seen and the commitment to actions that could be taken, together.

To foster this greater collaboration, we decided (BUILD UPON, ECF, Vibrancy) to co-invest in an advanced leadership capacity-building process with leaders from each community, building up their capacity to “co-host collaboration,” through the O Process, and then having them apply the newly acquired skills together at the BUILD UPON Leaders Summit and on their own in their own local organizations.

What we did.  In April 2016, we met with ECF grantees, inviting them into the process. Over the late spring and summer, individuals from the ECF and BUILD UPON communities were invited to participate in the co-hosting collaboration process.  In late August, 32 leaders from ECF and BUILD UPON met in Cambridge, UK for a 3-day advanced leadership capacity-building session.  Three weeks later, we all met in Madrid to apply what we had learned together in a long, morning session during the BUILD UPON Madrid Leaders Summit.  In mid-January 2017, we met in an on-line lab to share experiences and to provide peer-to-peer learning by discussing what we had learned from our work together and in our own settings, in co-hosting collaboration.

 

Cambridge Advanced Leadership Capacity-Building on Co-Hosting Collaboration and the O-Process, 29-31 August 2016

BUILD UPON Madrid Leaders Summit, 20-21 September 2016

Online Lab on Sharing and Peer-to-Peer Learning, 12 January 2017

The evidence we saw.  The 32 leaders who self-selected into the Cambridge advanced leadership capacity building  were able to connect and understand the fundamental skills of inquiry and co-hosting within one day, which allowed them to begin to co-host on day two a difficult exploration of challenging topics with stakeholders holding sometimes-conflicting positions, such as whether there is a deeper, shared purpose for why we all work in the space of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and building renovation, and why each perspective in that greater mix matters.  This showed the speed with which high-impact resilience leaders can learn to co-host collaboration.

“When I went through this process, I began to see the intense value that comes from understanding voices from other actors within our field. I began to understand the value that they can bring to what I want to achieve, and the O Process itself, with the way it is structured, allows guided conversations, which certainly, before I took the training, I would not have been able to do at a roundtable discussion or with a group of stakeholders whose values are not the same as mine.”

— Adrian Joyce, Director, Renovate Europe Campaign (0:35 – 1:08 – https://youtu.be/wIpZU73wEiQ)

One of the key difficulties in co-hosting collaboration is the passion and process for including the wide diversity of stakeholder perspectives necessary to achieve the identified deeper shared purpose.  It is far easier to work with the same, friendly colleagues as usual.  It is far more challenging to actually want to and to be able to honestly make a space of trust for the voices that are necessary and usually not included.  This is a process of deeply valuing “the other.”  These 32 leaders showed that they were able to take up this process, both in repeated practice in Cambridge and in a live situation together in Madrid.

We thought it would be best for the many stakeholders coming together in Madrid to be co-hosted by their peers.  This proved to be much more powerful than having the session facilitated by a group of experts external to their community.  The long tenure within the community, the credibility from many successful, large-scale projects, the passion for the aggressive goals of dramatically reducing the adverse impacts of buildings in Europe, and the respectful attention to co-hosting diverse perspectives led to a wide-ranging, efficient process for eliciting and integrating a deeper shared purpose, as expressed in the BUILD UPON “Common Vision.”

It was critical to develop these co-hosting collaboration skills in the context of a direct application together to a topic and community that directly influenced all participants.  The immediacy of the application, coupled with the capacity-building process, made the feedback from co-hosting peers ever more critical.  Approaching the whole process through the principles of transformative learning, we repeatedly hypothesized what we would do, tried it, reflected on what happened, gave ourselves and each other the feedback, adjusted, and tried again, learning and evolving along the way, together.

“Immersed as we all are in our very particular lives, we usually are not aware of how much collaboration, true collaboration, can transform our lives.  In fact we don’t even know what collaboration means to start with, so most of our work in BUILD UPON has been to try and give a sense, and a meaning, to it just by doing it and involving others in it, probably not knowing much at the beginning, but believing in it.  Through the process we have seen how powerfully this idea has opened new dimensions in all our minds: it is not only that work with–instead of work against–each other could be much better, in a linear way, so to say, what happened was that new, unforeseen possibilities would unfold right before our eyes.

Thanks to the help provided by the Institute for Strategic Clarity, through the Cambridge-Madrid-Brussels experience we’ve come a long way, from our initial rudimentary way of listening or, rather, thinking we were listening, to a much more profound listening attitude, which is the base of true collaboration.  I believe we are only at the beginning, but fully motivated to go on progressing, learning from others and from ourselves, learning from all ‘nos-otros’. Thanks”.

— Emilio Miguel Mitre, GBCe, BUILD UPON Coordinator

Finally, to continue to develop in their capacity to co-host collaboration, bringing people from across Europe together to collaborate, requires more than one workshop (Cambridge) and one application (Madrid). It needs continuous reflection and conversations in leadership-tangibilization circles (online/in-person).  We experimented with one such online experience, in a webinar in January, and an in-person experience together in February in Brussels.

“The ‘co-hosting collaboration experience’ gave me a new framework and skills for problem-solving. Some recommendations provided by our guides and other members of the team sounded a bit obvious at the beginning of our joint collaboration, but over the time became a ‘check list’ of all discussions I run. It helped me a lot especially in debates on sensitive topics such as ‘organisational values’.”

— Antoni Bielewicz, European Climate Foundation, Poland

We thank our colleagues at the European Climate Foundation (ECF), the ECF grantees network, the BUILD UPON team and network members, the World Green Building Council, the co-hosts, the Madrid and Brussels participants, the Institute for Strategic Clarity, and Vibrancy—all co-investors in this process together.

Group Work ≠ Collaboration: 2 Ways to Make Dysfunctional Groups

A few recent stories in the mainstream press talk about how collaboration on teams is wasteful, therefore collaboration isn’t what we think it is. They’re right, mostly.

Our field research of the past decade in over 35 countries in the USA, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, supported by our survey research in 98 countries, suggest that what people mean by collaboration varies greatly, along a continuum.  At one end of the continuum, we find groups organized to segregate people into similar general purposes, each acting only with their own perspective in mind.  At the other end of the continuum, we find groups organized to unite people into a larger whole that requires each individual’s unique contribution towards a shared deeper purpose, each keeping in mind their own perspective, that of the others in the group, and the group’s deeper purpose.  From focus on self with no conscious focus on the relationship with others to a conscious focus on self and the relationship with the other.  Somewhere in the middle, we find groups organized to work together, mostly aware of their own perspective, while aware that other groups have different perspectives that may combine or compete with their own, towards a common purpose.  Three very different ways of organizing human interactions in groups, two of them with their own dysfunctional form of group work.

Groups as segregating.  Focusing at the outcomes-noun level of perceived reality, these groups are structured to work with resource power only, depending completely on the existing capacities available.  To get work done, they tend to invest heavily in paying for lots of people to spend many hours sitting around many tables to which they make no contribution and gain no value.   People attend these meetings because they were told to, it was put in their calendar for them.  This is the phenomenon most of the “collaboration overload” criticism is rightly pointing at, where collaboration means sitting in the same room together, without clarity of a shared purpose or of the need for any of the specific people in the room.

Groups as flocking.  Focusing at the development and outcomes levels of perceived reality (verb and noun levels), these groups are structured to work with network power, leading them to invest in some people who are making many connections and bringing great creativity, while others are not.  They pay conscious attention to their own node and to the relationships with a set of nodes that influence them over time.  In these groups, people work together because this is where the action is, or where they need to be seen, where relationship is built.  Collaboration here often means lots of meetings, lots of learning conversation, and asking lots of the people into the room, especially the star contributors.

Groups as uniting.  Focusing across the potential, development, and outcomes levels of perceived reality (light, verb, and noun levels), these groups are structured to work with tangibilization power, seeing potential, pathways to manifest that potential, and rapid deployment to test that potential with specific outcomes along the way.  This leads these groups to invite the contributions of different perspectives to a deeper shared purpose that each individual is uniquely able to make. These people engage because this is how they can collaborate in service of something they deeply care about.  Collaboration in these groups requires each to bring their unique gifts, together, to be able to achieve the deeper purpose they share.

So collaboration meaning group activity might not work because of the underlying agreement about what we are working on, about who needs to be in the room to serve that purpose, and how we work together, not just because it is people coming together. Maybe collaboration is not equal to group work.

Deep Collaboration Requires Three Kinds of Listening, Twice

Sometimes we find that no matter how hard we work at something, we are not capable of achieving our goals.  Our own experience and efforts are insufficient to the task.  We realize that we need others.  Other perspectives, other experiences, other energy to get it done.  In these circumstances, we find that we need to collaborate.  We need to bring our best, unique contributions together in a way that releases great synergies.

My colleagues and I have found in our field research in dozens of countries that this deep collaboration is best supported by three kinds of listening, each done twice in a continuous process, a process that we have come to call the O Process.  These three kinds are intentional listening, relational listening, and imaginal listening.  While there are many technical expressions of each of these forms of listening, here I will describe them briefly, what they do, and what they look like in practice.

Intentional listening.  Listening for intent, for the deeper shared purpose, for the motivating will force common to the group that brings everyone together to achieve one bigger goal that requires all of us to participate.  Here we listen for the “why” we are coming together.  It is most useful when made explicit, and when everyone gets clear on what it is and whether it is important to them.  When this deeper shared purpose is clarified, amongst all in the group, you have a very strong motivating force that also provides a container, a set of guidelines, for what is to be worked on as a group.  As the group moves into working together, they now have a clear standard to check whether the group’s exploration serves this purpose or serves another purpose.

Relational listening.  Listening for connection, for why each other individual in the group both (1) connects to the deeper shared purpose, and (2) what their unique contribution is to that purpose–why they care and why they are needed.  Since you already listened for the deeper shared purpose, you are now listening for why you want to be deeply curious about and interested in what this person has to contribute to your ability to achieve the deeper shared purpose, after all their perspective is critical, which is why they are part of the group.

Imaginal listening.  Listening for what possibilities the other people see from their unique perspectives.  Since their contribution is unique to the group, it is different from yours.  They are seeing something different, which begins to highlight different dimensions of the challenge the group is working on.  Through your listening, you can begin to see an image of what they are seeing, you can begin to imagine it.

As we come to the top of the O Process, we have used three different kinds of listening, with clarity now on why the group has come together, why each person is needed and what they contribute, and now what they see.  We can now begin to materialize–to tangibilize–what we see together.  We can now use the same three kinds of listening again, to now tangibilize, to make tangible, the possibilities we saw together.

Imaginal listening, part 2.  At one moment in the creative process of seeing possibilities together, we reach a point where we begin to see the same reality, and the possibilities converge into a probability.  At this moment, we bring our imaginal listening to seeing what each unique perspective sees of the emerging probability.  This emerging probability, which begins to feel real, has many different dimensions to it, which the different perspectives we have can help us see.  What image can you begin to perceive, as you build up the different dimensions each person sees?

Relational listening, part 2.  With a clearer image of what we are collectively looking at, from multiple perspectives, we can now begin to make this ours, to bring it into what we can each commit to.  Since what we are now imagining is in service of the deeper shared purpose we started with, which part of what we are seeing is mine to take up?  What part is yours to take up?  This is where we again use relational listening, to listen for how we each relate to the emerging image, each from our own unique contribution.

Intentional listening, part 2.  Now that we know how each of us is relating to what we saw together, we now move towards what we are going to each do, how we are going to each engage our own will, our own intentional force, to begin to do something to move this image into a reality.  Here we use the intentional listening to hear what each of us is going to do, the actions that we need to take up, aligned with our new commitment to our unique contribution to the image we are realizing.  What energy will I give to moving closer to the image we saw in service of the deeper shared purpose?  What will you give?

In this process, we see why we are coming together to collaborate, what perspectives are needed, what they can see, what we can see together, what that begins to look like as we manifest it, what we can each commit to in realizing that image, and what we can each do.  A great step forward in collaboration, supported by three kinds of listening, each used twice.

How Do You Organize for Collaborative Action?

How does one organize for collaborative action?  It seems that only a small percentage of lots of attempts at collaboration are being successful.

Sometimes people naturally segregate, with each one basically doing his or her own thing, singing their own song.  Sometimes people flock, flowing as individuals somewhat together, singing the same song.  And, sometimes people become a whole that brings out their individual best, creating a harmonic through a specific synthesis of their unique voices.  Three very different ways in which people interact: (1) segregating; (2) flocking; (3) uniting.

Does the difference matter?  As people we tend to organize our interactions to increase our ability to achieve greater impact, resilience, and creativity with a more engaging experience.  People seem to find these characteristics critical to being able to work together, and to being able to achieve movement on large-scale social issues.

What drives this difference in how people come together?  Whether they segregate, flock, or unite?  Current theories suggest this is driven by an endowment effect, leadership, or luck.  The endowment effect suggests that the difference is because of something special the people have—they are smarter, wealthier, better educated, more experienced.  The leadership effect suggests that an individual or group was able to envision and engage people in a specific form of interaction.  The luck effect suggests it just happened somehow.  Each of these three is hard to replicate.

Is there another, simpler explanation of why people tend to segregate, flock, or unite?  Maybe complexity theory can show us something.  Complexity theory looks for the simplest explanation: what is the simplest set of rules that guide the behavior of an individual can explain the observed social behavior when many individuals interact?  Can a high variety of behaviors be better explained by (1) complexity in the way 3-4 simple principles intermingle or by (2) the complicated number of ways in which a wide breadth of number of variables with a depth of details interact?  Complexity theory has shown that bird flocking can be explained by 3 principles: keep in the same general direction of the others; keep some separation from the others; and do not run into anything.  Ant trails can be explained by 4 principles: take a couple of small steps and turn; smell for pheromones; follow pheromone trail to food (where pheromones get weaker); drop pheromones on way home (where pheromones get stronger).

Likewise, maybe complex human behavior can be explained by 4 simple principles—how people consciously or unconsciously answer four big questions:

  1. How much is there (Economic)
  2. Who decides and enforces (Political)
  3. What criteria (Cultural)
  4. What rules (Social)

Can we explain the 3 observed behaviors with specific kinds of responses to these four questions?

  1. Segregating. Assume scarcity of resources—there is not enough—with one primary relationship deciding and enforcing (like the boss for the whole group), focusing on the outcomes to be achieved with the scarce resources in a way that satisfies the primary relationship (in this case, the boss).  Designed to separate, interactions are transactional, to improve one’s own health and growth.  Get people to do the jobs required to achieve the outcomes through their own specific tasks.  Each replaceable person is made to focus on doing only their own part.  These tend to be the principles when you find dozens to hundreds of small groups each working on their own part of what seems to be a higher principle, like how to reform education or health care.
  2. Flocking. While assuming sufficiency of resources – there can be enough for me and for you – primarily for your own self or your own group, pay attention to your relationship with others, moving generally in the same direction, toward a similar outcome, focusing on how being aware of others can help move you towards the desired outcomes.  Designed to flock, interactions are relational, working on one’s own together.  Everyone focuses on doing their part, as it relates to others.
  3. Uniting. Assume abundance of resources – in relationship to the potential and dynamics of systems of resources, there is enough for all – with vibrant relationships for self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  Designed to collaborate, focus on the interaction of the unique contributions each person makes to their own development and to the whole, as it tangibilizes the available potential.

What outcomes are we seeing?  With segregation-based principles, paying attention only to one’s own outcomes, individual efforts are able to achieve moderate levels of impact, usually with low resilience to the ever-changing environment.  Seeming success comes in spite of the huge costs of scarcity of not paying attention to others, creativity, and potential.

Many people are well aware of this experience, and experiment with flocking-based principles, where they share information with others, and attempt to work generally in the same direction.  We find through cooperative coordination these efforts are able to achieve more significant impacts with a bit more resilience, as long as each of the involved groups is also successful.

We are also finding groups working with uniting-based principles, who are able to continuously bring out the best in each other, constantly exploring each other’s individual and collective potential, resilient in shifting with the ever-changing environment, often generating those changes.

We are trying these principles ourselves.  Most of our work at Vibrancy focuses on taking on collaborative efforts based on uniting principles, whether large-scale social change, such as regional food systems, complementary currencies, toxic-free economies, retrofitting regions, or small-scale, community-based efforts, such as schools, companies, government agencies, or local communities.  We are learning about how to apply these principles in a wide variety of settings.

We synthesize what we are finding about co-hosting collaboration in the O Process, where highest impact resilience starts with the “we” available in a shared deeper purpose, then clarifies what specific voices are needed to make unique contributions to achieve the deeper purpose.  We can then understand together where to dedicate our individual and collective efforts to achieve the outcomes we desire collectively and individually within the resilient dynamics of the system of our interactions.  It turns out to be much easier than most of us think, once we shift the principles guiding our interactions.  From separating principles, we can only move alone, never together.  That would be impossible, blue-sky thinking.  From flocking principles, we can only move with others, never united.  That would be impossible, soft and fuzzy process.  From uniting, we can achieve our own health and growth, in relationship with others who are also contributing with us to what we want.

A SEE Change to Collaborative Capitalism – Recommended Reading

Waddock, S. and M. McIntosh, SEE Change: Making the Transition to a Sustainable Enterprise Economy. 2011, Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing.

[You can read the first chapter of the book on its website, or see an interview with Sandra Waddock about it.]

Waddock and McIntosh reframe the competition OR collaboration debate, showing how in smarter, more sustainable capitalism organizations integrate the interests of multiple stakeholders in the social and economic value they catalyze in multi-sector networks, celebrating and connecting human creativity in efficient, effective, and innovative ways that enhance the planet – being competitive THROUGH being collaborative. Read SEE Change for the framing of “how” and examples of the many groups paving the way.

The O Process for Collaborative Alignment

Over the years, colleagues have taught me much about good processes for building collaboration.[1]  I have distilled these processes into an overarching process with six elements, which I draw out in the figure below.  After enough people began to call it the “O Process,” the name stuck.  The O Process supports two forms of alignment that I have found critical to deep collaboration.  The first alignment is within six areas, and the second alignment is across them.  I find that most high performing groups have strength in both alignments, that most mediocre and weak groups have little of either, and that people working independent of each other have none of either.

O Process

The O Process for Collaborative Alignment

The alignment is around the shared higher purpose, the unique contribution of each stakeholder, the specific possibilities each perspective can see, the common seeing of a future reality – a shared probability, the commitment each stakeholder can make to realizing the shared future reality, and alignment around the actions that can achieve collaboration on those commitments.  When aligned these six areas bring great strength and sustainability to any endeavor.

I first seek to find and make transparent the alignment that exists in the higher purpose that everyone involved finds important.  Whether it is the health of children in a school community, a specific consumer focus in a sock company, or a patriotic sense among citizens of a country, something brings the stakeholders of a specific interest together.  When there is alignment around this higher purpose, a common goal can be seen, made transparent, and used to make explicit what is common among groups that seem to be at odds with each other.[2]  Sharing this deeper purpose provides the conditions for guided autonomy, as suggested by jazz pianist Frank Barrett, using limited structures and constraints to maximize opportunities for diversity.  This allows everyone the freedom to contribute their creative best.

Each person makes a unique contribution to the shared purpose.  Most people only value their own contribution, believing that others are wrong-headed, a waste of resource, or secondary in importance at best.  Alignment around seeing each other’s unique contribution validates the other’s existence, builds appreciation, and strengthens the trust that came out of seeing a shared higher purpose.[3]  Each stakeholder brings a unique perspective on what is possible.  Given the specific pathway and specialization of each stakeholder, no two see the same possibilities.  Alignment around seen possibilities highlights how these are different perspectives on the same future reality that the different unique contributions can see.[4]

When there is alignment on these first three areas – shared purpose, values and contributions, shared possibilities – something incredible happens, shared probability, the fourth alignment.  When this happens, everyone involved sees the same future, and that future begins to become “real.”  This happens when people begin to dedicate resources to something, way before it shows up physically.  In the creative process, this coalescing into one shared picture is called an “aha” moment, an insight.  Many processes support the putting together of possibilities into forms that make the probabilities easier to see.[5]

As the new reality seen with others begins to sink in, it comes into the relational space where people begin to make commitments to the contribution they can make to this shared future reality in alignment with the higher purpose they share.[6]  Having made relational commitments about specific contributions each individual can make to the probability seen, it is time for action.  To act in alignment requires alignment around the will to go back to one’s own world and do something.  When the culture “back home” supports these actions, because they fit with what is already being done there, taking on actions and completing them is relatively each.  In many cases, though, the new collaborative probabilities seen require commitments to action that are not consistent with the existing culture back home.  For people to take these actions, then, they require support from the group.

Alignment within each of these six elements provides for a more collaborative process, which is even stronger when there is alignment across the six elements.  For example, this means that alignment around the shared higher purpose sets the context for the alignment around the values and contributions of each participant.  When all six elements are aligned internally and across all six, a completely new level of collaboration emerges.

Some people I have worked with say, “We do that,” meaning that they work through the O process.  Yet, when I explore what they actually do, I find that they often start at the cognition level of possibility and wonder why nobody shows up at the relational level of commitments or the intention level of action.  They often miss that they need alignment on the right-hand side, in deepest collective purpose, and values and contributions to convert the possibilities into probabilities that people will commit to and take action.  When I have seen the full O process engaged, it releases extraordinary power.  It seems that people shy away from alignment on all six elements, because they think it will take longer.  It will not surprise you now to see that, in fact, this alignment actually accelerates the process, leading to much greater efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation.  Why?  Greater efficiency results from people actually relating to the probabilities they co-created towards something they think is important, thus little energy is wasted in trying to push and coerce people into doing things they do not want to do – the reality of most projects.  Greater effectiveness comes about when people align on the purpose they share and on what each other uniquely contributes to that shared higher goal.  Innovation shows up because everyone present saw and contributed their unique perspective, providing a richer environment of possibility in which the probability emerged.  Greater efficiency, effectiveness, and innovativeness from a bit more alignment – a great investment.


[1] This framework evolved out of my many years of working with Scott Spann (Spann, 2007; Spann & Ritchie-Dunham, 2008).

[2] The broad category of process and content tools for aligning around shared purpose describe the hidden purpose and shared values that are already present.  For a broad overview and integration of specific processes for forming and working with shared objectives and values, see (Hammond, 1996; Keeney, 1992).  Recent case studies highlight the benefits of shared purpose, as reflected in the “extraordinary economic and social value” they found in their study of 33 higher-ambition CEOs (Foote, Eisenstat, & Fredberg, 2011).

[3] Tools that align the values and contribution of others focus on: (1) the ability to see and appreciate another human being; and (2) the designer’s ability to see how different parts fit together.  The broad fields are inquiry and systemic design.  For more on emotional and social intelligence, see (Goleman, 1995).  For more on appreciative approaches to inquiry, see (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005; Torbert, 1994).  For more on systemic approaches to design, start with the classic treatise that influenced many schools of design (Alexander, 1964).  To see that each individual has his own values and plays a functional role, the distinction of part versus whole is useful, best described in systems language as a functional part and a whole (Ackoff, 1993) and in integral language as a holon (Koestler, 1967; Wilber, 2000b).

[4] The broader category of tools that align possibilities focus on collaborative idea formation.  De Bono provides two classics on appreciating different perspectives (De Bono, 1971, 1999).

[5] The conversion of possibilities to probabilities deals with different forms of sensemaking – How can I know what I think until I hear what I say? – characterized by the social psychologist Karl Weick (Weick, 1995).

[6] Most good processes have some form of commitment making, following some form of the RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed), or the “atom of work” by Flores, which provides processes for making and keeping commitments (“Using the Methods of Fernando Flores, an Interview of Jack Reilly,” 1997).  Also see (Connolly & Rianoshek, 2002).

Ecosynomics and Why You Care

Ecosynomics

I propose ecosynomics (pronounced “ee-co-si-nom-iks”) as the social science of the agreements that guide human interaction.  The roots of ecosynomics are eco (current usage is “relationship,” historically oikos was “household”) syn (together) nomos (rules): the rules of relationship together or, reworking the terms, the principles of collaboration.[1]   This builds on the billions of human-years of experience in the past century in learning about economics, defined by leading economists, as the social science of the allocation of scarce resources.[2]  To this experience, ecosynomics provides a framework and a research tool for understanding human agreements; agreements people have with their own selves, with others, with a group, with nature, and with spirit. Ecosynomics explains the relationship between the level of harmonic vibrancy experienced in these relationships and the level of scarcity or abundance experienced in a group.

As a framework, ecosynomics shows how a set of fundamental assumptions and the agreements that come from them can explain the extraordinary outcomes being experienced in thousands of groups globally, where these groups are operating with a completely new and emerging paradigm, based on abundance, not scarcity.  As a research tool, ecosynomics suggests, therefore, how to identify groups experimenting with new ecosynomics-based agreements, showing how to discover how their innovations are leading to much greater and sustainable efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation.

Why you care

Having looked at three levels – the three circles – of the five primary relationships and how people use these distinctions to describe the difference between the experience of scarcity and that of abundance, you might be asking, “Why do I care?”  This is a great question, as it forces me to pull everything together, concisely.

I will start with the definition of ecosynomics as the principles of collaboration.  Why would you want to collaborate?  Why not just compete?  After all, competition has led to many of the great developments in human evolution.  I take this question seriously.  When I look at “success,” as defined by the “competition” school, I find that the collaborators, as defined in these pages, are much more competitive.  These collaborators play the competitive game much better than do those who focus only on competition.  The collaborators work continuously with possibility, choosing to develop those capacities over time, out of their deeper potential, finding they can bring much greater capacities to the competitive game.  It is not that collaborators cannot compete – they can – rather that they see competition as a much broader game.  They compete with others in the moment of interaction. They also compete with themselves to continuously develop their capacities.  And, they compete with the infinite source to see how much creative potential they can embody.[3]  Thus, collaboration, as defined here, seems to lead to a higher level of competitiveness, especially in the terms of the “competition” school.

I have also found that the freer people are to develop their potential in these five primary relationships, the more abundance they experience.  Why do people want to be freer?  They just do.  Ask.  I suggest that you try asking others, and see what you find.  I too have asked, a lot.  I hear that people want to be freer in:

  • the experiences they have and the choices they make for themselves
  • the support they offer to others, in living into their talents, potential, and contribution
  • the contribution they can make to the group
  • the creativity that shines through them
  • the ability to make real a future they can imagine

In these freedoms, I hear the expression of the freedom to choose what relationships I want to be in and how I want to be in them.  This freedom means that “I choose.”  My relationships are not controlled by someone else.  This is why I think it is so critical to see that my interactions within the five primary relationships are guided by the agreements I accept in them, whether or not I am aware of these agreements.

What do the principles of collaboration (the definition for ecosynomics I gave above) have to do with being freer?  So far, I have found that people that seem to be freer are the same people that collaborate.  There seems to be a strong connection between greater freedom, greater collaboration, greater abundance, and greater harmonic vibrancy.

So, what are the principles of collaboration, as seen so far?  In this first conversation, I have already peeled back four specific principles of collaboration.

  1. People prefer abundance to scarcity, and higher levels of harmonic vibrancy to lower levels.
  2. People need all five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).
  3. Higher levels of harmonic vibrancy require higher levels of all five primary relationships.
  4. People make different agreements and interact differently at different levels of harmonic vibrancy.

[1] The word “ecosynomics” acknowledges and builds on the word “economics,” derived from the Greek for rules of relationship, oikos nomos, which originally translated as “household management.”  Back 2,500 years ago, the rules of relationship for a home and a government of the people were seen as the same.  Historian of economic thought Roncaglia suggests that, “in Greek culture we find no contrast between the viewpoint of the family administrator and the viewpoint of the government of the polis.  Xenophon and Plato explicitly stated this fact,” according to economic historian Professor Roncaglia (Roncaglia, 2006, p. 25).  In 390 BC Xenophon, a student of Socrates, writes, “The management of private concerns differs only in point of number from that of public affairs.  In other respects they are much alike.” (Goold et al., 1997, p. 189).

[2] Nobel laureate in economics Paul Samuelson in his popular economics textbook (Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1995, p. 4) defines economics as “the study of how societies use scarce resources to produce valuable commodities and distribute them among different people.”  In Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s top-selling economics textbook, he defines economics as “the study of how society manages its scarce resources” (Mankiw, 2008, p. 4).  How long has economics been around?  While political economic thought dates back to at least Babylon in the 1700s BC, it was only recognized as a discipline independent of other social sciences in the early 1600s AD, and as a profession in the 1800s AD (Roncaglia, 2006, pp. 18, 23).

[3] Michael Porter, one of the fathers of modern strategy, coined the term “competitive advantage.”  Porter describes competition in similar terms, invoking the outcomes, the process, and the possibility (Magretta, 2011).