To Be or Not to Be, Happy with Money, That Is the Question

Dunn, Elizabeth, & Norton, Michael. (2013). Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Most experiences of money do not increase happiness.  Some do.  So say 2002 Nobel laureate in economics Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues (Kahneman & Deaton, 2010; Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2006).  In their new book Happy Money (2013), professors Dunn and Norton show us the research that explains why.  From an Ecosynomics perspective, this research shows that happiness comes from the experience of potential and development and things, light and motion and matterthe interweaving experience of all three levels of perceived reality.  The lack of happiness comes from valuing only the things level of reality.  Dunn and Norton say it so well, that I use quotes from their book to explain the observation.

Only the Things Level.  What happens when people experience money only at the things-matter level? “Material purchases offer clear, concrete benefits, explaining their appeal.  We can see them in front of us and hold them in our hands” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 22).  And the value we experience, in terms of increased happiness, fades quickly with material purchases.  In many cases, we derive more happiness from the anticipation of the purchase than the actual purchase.  “Why do we fail to recognize that consuming later can enhance enjoyment?  Research shows that when something nice is available immediately, the “power of now” dwarfs all else” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 90).  “It’s difficult to overcome the power of now, but it’s possible to harness this force” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, pp. 102-103).

Both the Development and Things Levels.  What happens in experiential purchases (over time) versus material-transaction purchases, when both the development and things levels of reality are perceived?  “Research shows that satisfaction with experiential purchases tends to increase with the passage of time, while satisfaction with material purchases tends to decrease” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, pp. 23-24).  “Because the benefits of experiences are often more abstract than the benefits of material goods, it’s easier to appreciate the value of experiential purchases with the psychological distance that time provides”  (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 23).

And the Possibility Level. “The ability to generate pleasant thoughts about the future is a hallmark of psychological health…Anticipating good things produces a distinct pattern of neural activation in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain linked to the experience of pleasure and reward” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 82; Knutson & Peterson, 2005, p. 310).  “The same region of the brain that responds when we anticipate something good (the nucleus accumbens) loses interest once we’ve gotten it” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 86; Knutson & Peterson, 2005, p. 310).

The authors suggest five principles of happy money, making choices about how we spend money on experiences we have in all three levels of perceived reality (possibility, development, things), and not just the things level.  They provide the research that shows these five principles will increase the happiness we derive from the use of our money.  I highly recommend Happy Money as a very accessible journey through the research that shows how to get the most value of one’s experiences around money.


Kahneman, Daniel, & Deaton, Angus. (2010). High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16489-16493.

Kahneman, Daniel, Krueger, Alan B, Schkade, David, Schwarz, Norbert, & Stone, Arthur A. (2006). Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer?  A Focusing Illusion. Science, 312(5782), 1908-1910.

Knutson, Brian, & Peterson, Richard. (2005). Neurally Reconstructing Expected Utility. Games and Economic Behavior, 52(2), 305-315.


Did you say, “Leading through Listening”?

To lead I must tell you where I am going, right?  Otherwise, how can you follow?

Earlier this week, I had a direct experience of a leader’s role in the harmony experienced in a group.  In an earlier post, I talked about the harmony experienced.  Today I focus on the leader’s role.

Maestro Nierenberg showed us that while talking has its role in leadership, listening has a much deeper and more impactful role.  He distinguishes three kinds of listening: what does not work; what does work; and what could be.  You can listen for what does not work, pointing out what needs to be corrected.  This works best for identifying little changes that might become important.  You can also listen for what does work, recognizing and acknowledging the capacities available in the group.  This listening shows the potential of the talent in front of you.  And, you can listen for what has not yet happened, envisioning what could happen.  This future-oriented listening clarifies your image of what could be.  As we experienced the results of these listenings, as they were reflected in the music that enveloped us from the orchestra he conducted, it became clear that each listening added value.  Maestro Niernberg ended by showing us what happened when he used all three, harmony and vibrancy.

From an Ecosynomics perspective, the Maestro is pointing at the way leaders relate to the three levels of perceived reality.  First of all, he suggests that listening is the high-leverage key for knowing what actually exists in the group.  Second, each listening corresponds roughly to a level of perceived reality.  Listening for the details in what does not work focuses on the things level of reality — what do we not have in the outcomes, yet?  Listening for what does work, the potential of the talent available in the group, focuses on the development level of reality — what capacities are we developing over time and how are we relating?  Listening for what could be looks directly at the possibility level of reality — what possibilities can we see?  Everyday experience suggests we interact routinely with all three.  The trick is how to work with all three at the same time, which we called either the path of enlightened things or grounded potential.  Through our direct experience in the room with the musicians, the Maestro showed that the best results come from working with all three, seeing what could be, and holding yourself and the group responsible for achieving that potential.

Innovations at the Things-Noun and Development-Verb Levels

A huge shift in the abundance experienced in groups can come from working with structures and processes on multiple levels.  To help make this innovation visible, I will remind you that at the things-noun level, one only thinks about what one has.  At this level, groups perceive that they either have resources or they do not, and this perspective makes the resources seem scarce.  People then organize their interactions around the work with those scarce resources.  They find value in having the resources and exchanging them for other resources they also value, but there are “costs of scarcity” associated with operating only at the things-noun level.  For example, by not thinking about the development of resources, organization, and value over time, people operating only at the things level pay higher prices for last-minute purchases, are not prepared for new opportunities, have lots of redundant processes, and feel underappreciated, leading to higher rates of burnout.  Yet that is all that is available when the things-noun perspective is all there is.

In contrast, at the development-verb level, people approach resources, organizing, and value in a very different way.  They think about both how much resource they have and how they can grow or enhance that resource  over time.  In organizing their interactions, groups holding this perspective think about how group members can build their capacities and strengthen their relationships over time.  They also think about the value the development of those capacities and relationships will have, both for those within the group and for those who interact with it.  The “costs of scarcity” experienced when groups operate only at the noun-things level do not occur at the resource-development level, because the benefits of abundance created through resource development have been included.  We can see this dynamic clearly in the innovations I will now describe.


Firms of Endearment

In 2007 the authors of Firms of Endearment selected 30 companies that met the criteria for a high level of humanistic performance.[1]  Their success criteria included healthy relationships with employees, customers, investors, partners, and society.  The authors defined a “great” group as “one that makes the world a better place because it exists, not simply a company that outperforms the market by a certain percentage over a certain period of time.”[2]

The authors organize the descriptors of great groups by stakeholders:

  • Employees.  A happy and productive work environment motivates, values, and rewards employees.
  • Customers.  Honoring the legal and unspoken emotional contract with the consumer strengthens the relationship.
  • Investors.  Investors value the financial and emotional relationship with the group.
  • Partners.  A mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship with business partners brings synergies to both.
  • Society.  Communities appreciate the group’s values and outcomes, welcoming them where they operate.  Creating value with government leverages the strengths of both.

I placed these descriptors on a heat map in the figure below.  A glance at the heat map shows groups that live deeply in the verb-to-noun levels.[3]  This is where everything on the heat map is in green, the areas of a high index of success.  The area in yellow needs lots of attention, and the low-index area in red is critical.  This correlates with the experience of living in the inner-to-middle circle of harmonic vibrancy, as captured in the first figure. These firms have found greater, more sustainable success by being healthy at both the noun and verb levels.

The authors discovered that these groups working at the verb and noun levels outperformed the companies in the classic Good to Great study by a ratio of 3.1 to 1 over ten years, a 1.7-to-1 ratio over five years, and were on par in financial performance over three years.[4]  None of these companies overlap with the eleven companies in the Good to Great study, because the two studies defined success at different levels.  The Firms of Endearment have shown success at the verb-noun level, while the Good to Great groups have shown success at the things-noun level.

Before anyone begins to judge the companies in both of these studies, let us be clear that we do not know what practices the companies actually have.  They might be working at a higher level than depicted in the studies.  All we know is what the authors saw through the lenses they used, which focused on verb-noun levels.  Other well known surveys find similar verb-noun-level results, such as the “Great Places to Work” survey highlighted annually in Fortune magazine.  “Great Places” assesses trust in management (the group), pride in the job (the self), and camaraderie with other employees (the other), all noun-verb level characteristics.  And, noun-verb level groups outperform noun-level groups, with the “Great Places” study finding that their “100 Best” outperformed the S&P 500, a barometer of stock market performance, by two-fold between 1998 and 2009.[5]

 [1] For more on the Firms of Endearment study, see (Sisodia, Wolfe, & Seth, 2007).

[2] For a complete description of the companies selected, see (Sisodia, et al., 2007).

[3] The descriptions in the two figures are directly from the book Firms of Endearment (Sisodia, et al., 2007, p. 21).

[4] These data from the authors’ study are provided in (Sisodia, et al., 2007, p. 17).  For the Good to Great study, see (Collins, 2001).

[5] For more detail on the “Great Places to Work” survey and the financial performance of the 100 Best, see (Burchell & Robin, 2011; Edmans, 2011).


Developing Human Interactions at the Verb Level

To begin to manifest what you started with by organizing at the possibility-light level, you need to transform the light into verbs.  When you integrate light, you filter out possibility.  You choose the verbs that develop and emerge over time.  Of the infinite possibilities you see at the light level, you choose what we want to manifest and begin to pay attention to its development.  The critical steps in transforming light into verbs are to maintain the connection to the light you see and to agree on how to begin to manifest it over time.

The Big Questions of Organizing at the Verb Level

In the why question, the light to verb transformation grounds the harmonic vibrancy in specific, developmental processes.  This transformation adds life to the possibility seen in the potential.  It also filters out possibility.  In the how, this transformation acknowledges where the five relationships are, where they can be, and the harmonic vibrancy move available to shift the harmonic vibrancy experienced in each relationship.  In the what, the light-to-verb transformation separates the incentives and structures for the different relationships, bringing in more focus and a paradoxical set of tradeoffs among them.

From the possibility-light level, a potential was seen in what the group could be and do, and in what the individuals coming to the group could be and do.   In transforming the organizing from the light to the verb level, a choice was made out of all the potential to manifest something specific.  The verb level of organizing focuses on the processes for developing that potential of the people and relationships in the group.  The verb level is where you experience the excitement in seeing the change over time in your own capacities, those of others and the group.  This is growth.  You enjoy learning and increasing your ability.  You also strengthen your relationships, for the sake of the relationships alone and because you can more efficiently achieve your goals when you work together with others more harmoniously.


In essence, the organizing principle, the why, at the verb level is to leverage the abundance in the system, the abundance available in the processes, people, and relationships in the group.  At the light level, we saw the infinite potential, which we leverage in the verb level.


The how at the verb level is cooperative-competition.  Cooperative-competition is when people bring different, unique contributions to the group in a coordinated fashion.  While in collaboration, people work together towards the same potential they see, the same light, in cooperative-competition, people work together towards different potentials.  This is the filtering out of the light you collectively see, as you transform the possibility-light level into the development-verb level of organizing.  In cooperation, you step further into your relationships with the self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  For your own self, the focus is on the gifts you bring, and how you can specialize in specific work to move up the learning curve, getting really good at specific tasks.  This improves your efficiency and consequently the efficiency of the whole group.  Specialization like this is critical, as it is the focus on specific activities, over and over again, over long periods of time, that enables people to reach high levels of proficiency.[1]  For the other, cooperative-competition highlights the relationship to the other, how you and the other influence each other, and how you can support each other in that relationship.  For the group, cooperative-competition is about the coordination of alliances of people with different contributions in a harmonious way.  This asks, who needs to do what, when, and with whom?  Coordination comes in many flavors.  A major distinction among the different flavors is about where to emphasize structure.  One way of looking at this distinction suggests that individuals with clear decision criteria interact.[2]  Over time, the dynamics of their interactions form emerging structures of agreements.  For example, in a market, some individuals show up to purchase food for their own weekly needs, and others show up to provide them what they request, changing the offer as the demand shifts, based on who shows up wanting what.  This leads to cooperation among self-interested individuals.  A very different way of understanding cooperative structures of agreements starts with the group-level of structured agreements, showing how they influence the emerging dynamics of interacting individuals.[3]  For example, the incentives given to different groups in a process motivate them to act in specific ways.  As they act in these ways over time, they begin to influence each other and the overall results.

These two perspectives focus on the individual’s agency, the ability to make a decision for themselves, and the group’s structure, the agreements about interactions.  The first example suggests that it is more fruitful to understand how structure emerges from agency.  This leads to a focus on the individual’s decisions, and then what emerges.  The second suggests that is better to understand how agency emerges from structure.  The agency-structure issue is an old one, with different practices promoting one or the other.  We can see from the ecosynomic lens that both perspectives reflect important dimensions of the verb-level manifestation of the light – the individual’s agency is important as is the structure of the group’s agreements.  It is not an either-or choice among the two schools, rather an integration of the two.

What — The Group’s Charter

Let us now look at the what of development-verb-level organizing.  This is the what of organizing the group’s charter, of developing people and relationships, and of motivating and coordinating individuals.  The group exists to achieve something the individuals cannot achieve alone.  I showed that the why is to leverage the abundance available in the people and relationships in the system.  At the development-verb level, groups define what they do, their specialty, by their charter.  The group’s charter defines what they agree to do, how they agree to do it, and the structures they can use to achieve it.  While at the possibility-light level, the inspirited group seeks higher harmonic vibrancy, at the development-verb level, the chartered group seeks to fulfill one dimension of harmonic vibrancy.  From the ecosynomics perspective, as reflected in the fundamental assumptions and agreements, a group’s charter is to grow its potential, its abilities over time, and the value they generate.  The group does this through building cohesion within the group, and with other groups that interact with them.  This is all done to increase the well-being of both the community the group serves and the community where the group resides.  This is a charter for growth, for social cohesion, and for societal well-being.[4]  These different dimensions of the group’s charter highlight different processes within the group.  These dimensions are required for the verb level to be able to manifest the potential seen at the light level.  While all groups, to exist, inherently have this multi-dimensional charter, current systems tend to define themselves by one of the dimensions, and in turn minimizing the value of the other two.

Groups today tend to take one of these dimensions as its charter.  Many legal structures and regulations exist to define and control these charters.  Those that identify with the for-growth charter tend to be great at identifying self-reinforcing structures, which lead to the ability to support their own growth.  These people are often very entrepreneurial.  The existing fiscal and regulatory systems support this seeking of self-growth mechanisms with incentives and controls that emphasize the business corporation.  They focus on the growth of value generated over time, giving great latitude to the dimensions of social cohesion and societal well-being.

Other people identify more with the charter of social cohesion, seeking to build stronger relationships and community through their work.  They look for stabilizing structures, which lead to a greater balance in relationships and less vulnerability to shocks in the system.  Some societies believe in the importance of these efforts and support them through a legal charter that focuses on the benefits of social cohesion, giving latitude to self-supporting growth and societal well-being.  Some of these charters even strictly restrict self-funding growth.  These groups are referred to as civil society or non-profits, as they are designed to not distribute profits from their growth.

As groups come together, they often discover that some services they want or need fall outside of their individual charters.  When it turns out that many groups want something that nobody wants to provide, a new group can be chartered to serve the well-being of everyone.  These groups are chartered to provide services for everyone, focusing on societal well-being.  These groups are legally structured to take a little from everyone for the benefit of everyone.  Often referred to today as government, the fiscal and legal structures promote redistribution of resources to the overall benefit, while minimizing the focus on self-funding growth and social well-being.

While there are many groups with these focused charters who do well, many more do not.  Why?  The study of ecosynomics suggests that it is the focus on one dimension and dismissal of the others that requires legal and fiscal control of these imbalanced forms.  These current structures all require legal charters and strong regulation, to make sure that their imbalanced structures do not hurt themselves and others.  Furthermore, ecosynomics suggests that the current “charter” focus not only promotes unhealthy structures, it also improperly names what is actually happening in those groups.  The fundamental assumptions of ecosynomics suggest a very different model of health for organizational forms.  While a multi-charter focus acknowledges that there are different perspectives of how to intervene in the world, it improperly labels them depending on whether one comes from a corporate, civil society, or government perspective.  Multi-charter thinking suggest the corporation focuses on growth of capital, civil society focuses on social cohesion, and government focuses on group health, through management of the commons.  The harmonic-vibrancy focus shows that there are not multiple perspectives, rather one intention, which is expressed as for growth (≠ corporate), for social cohesion (≠ civil society), for societal health (≠ government), for transcendence (≠ religion), and for balance (≠ ecology) – the inspirited organization.  Your health depends on your strength on all dimensions of relationship – they are all important.

How did this single-charter focus happen?  One possibility is that over the last two centuries, a strong distinction was made among groups that focused primarily on growth and accumulating wealth or societal health and bureaucracy – business and government.   When these groups did not meet other core dimensions of human health, such as social cohesion, transcendence, and eco-balance, civil society began to grow.  This led to a “moral clash,” among axially defined groups, which are actually just specialized forms of inspirited organizations.  Recent advances that have seemed to blur the lines among business, civil society, and government have actually only been stepping further into their implicitly acknowledged charter as a full-relational, inspirited organization.  Examples abound, with social entrepreneurs bridging the for-growth to for-social-cohesion gap, and with corporations and cooperatives bridging the for-growth to for-societal-health gap with extensive benefits.

What — Developing People and Relationships

So far we have seen the what of organizing the group’s charter.  I will now look at the what of developing people and relationships.  The potential seen, at the light level, in the individual, the relationships, and the group, are dynamic resources at the verb level.  The potential is the resource.  The resource dynamics influence how much of the potential is being brought into existence and into relationship with the group.  If you saw in me the ability, in the future, to be a good cook in our family, then this ability becomes the resource.  The inflows might be learning through books or classes and learning through experience.  The outflows might be forgetting, or obsolescence of things I learned that are no longer relevant, such as cooking meat if we become vegetarians, or cooking eggs if I become allergic to eggs, which actually happened to me.  Thus, what we saw about resources in previous chapters helps us live into the verb level of organizing.

The what level of developing relationships looks at the structures of influences among the motivations and actions of the different individuals in the group.  This works whether looking at a small family, a work group, a large community, a company, an industry, a nation, all of humanity, or the planet.  Resource maps, like the ones I developed in the “resources” chapter, show how the motivation of the individual influences the actions they take on the resources they use to achieve their desired outcomes.  For example, I gathered ingredients and used them to make a loaf of bread, as seen in Figure 14.  You can also see how my actions influence the actions another person can or needs to take to achieve their own desired outcomes, with the resources they influence.  So, in the same example, if my wife wanted to have bread for dinner, and did not know that I was making bread, she might gather the money to purchase a loaf.  We now have more bread than we need.  What I did influenced her ability to be successful – we were now collectively wasteful.  With the resource maps, you are able to see how a structure of agreements about your relationships influence your individual and group ability to achieve your goals.

What for Individuals

Both the consideration of a group’s charter and of developing people and relationships ask group-level questions.  Now I transition to the individual’s side of the same questions – the what of motivating and coordinating.  You first need to remember that the individual has this amazing capacity to be a holon, playing a functional role in the larger whole of the group while simultaneously being a whole onto herself.  You can contribute to the group’s needs, while meeting your own needs.  I will take that even further.  Throughout this book, I have suggested that the human being has to be able to simultaneously be a part and a whole.  It is in human nature.  This means, then, that any organizing that does not acknowledge this holonic nature of humans works against it or will be suboptimal, at best.  It will be fighting against the integrity of the very way of being human.  Key to organizing at the verb level for people’s motivation is understanding both their contribution to the group and their commitment.  The contribution needs to consider the flow, over time, of what each person contributes now and in the future, as well as how they can grow to be able to contribute from and towards the deeper potential seen at the light level of organizing.  You could organize the family kitchen for you to make scrambled eggs for everyone, all of the time.  That is the contribution you can make, now, in the beginning.  You could also organize to learn about and experiment with more advanced forms of preparing eggs, working into fried eggs, poached eggs, omelets, and quiches.  While you might not be able to do all of that in the beginning, organizing for your development, you could within months.  This difference steps toward the possibility-light-level potential seen earlier, as it manifests over time.  Another key to organizing at the verb level of motivating people is your commitment over time.  It is now becoming clear that a person’s commitment to making their contribution to the group is another way of understanding their relationship to their own self, the other, and the group.[5]  You make a commitment by stepping into a relationship, with your own self, with me, and with the group.  Part 3 provides a process for deepening and sustaining commitment.

Costs of Scarcity

While many groups work consciously with the verb-level of organizing the development and relationships of individuals and the group, some feel it is an unnecessary luxury.  Three direct costs at the verb level of organizing are: an incomplete or imbalanced charter for the group; the lack of cooperation; and the lack of a health work environment.  Having an incomplete charter means that the group thinks it is only about a one-dimensional charter and dismisses the rest in the way it organizes itself.  For example, if you only focus on growth, you will have an unhealthy organization (low social cohesion) and a weak to poor relationship with the greater community (low societal well-being).  Ultimately, this imbalanced focus is unsustainable.  You will literally wobble yourself out of existence.

The lack of cooperative-competition leads, in every case, to redundancy and to a massive waste of resources dedicated to infighting and correcting internally generated mistakes.  Redundancy means that you both accumulate resources to do your work that you could have shared with no additional costs to your individual or group efforts.  If you only use the kitchen to cook eggs in the morning, you can share the kitchen with me, so that I can make lunch.  If we do not cooperate-compete, then we both have kitchens that are very underutilized, for no reason other than our inability to cooperate.  Estimates of the amount of time and resource spent in groups correcting internal errors range from 60-90% — most of what you do on a day-to-day basis could be avoided by not making the mistakes in the first place, the first step in cooperative-competition.

Another major cost of ignoring the development-verb level of organizing is the lack of a healthy work environment.  The verb level is where you focus on development of the potential and ability to contribute seen at the light level.  In environments where you are not developing your potential and your relationships, you find it difficult to shine.  When you experience the continuing inability to shine, your light fades and eventually you leave.  It is not surprising, therefore, that many groups that miss the development-verb level of organizing experience very high levels of turnover and all of its associated costs, of constantly training new people, the lack of experience, and an environment that higher potential people avoid like the plague.  These are very tangible and measurable costs.

[1] Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the understanding of what happens when people spend many hours working on a task (Gladwell, 2008).  The 1978 Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon initially described this phenomenon.

[2] A large body of work, called chaos theory or agent-based theory, has emerged recently, studying the interaction dynamics of structured agents and the structures of agreements that emerge (Brown & Eisenhardt, 1998; Levy, 1994; Strogatz, 1994).

[3] An equally large body of work, called systems theory, studies the how structures of agreements interact to form emerging dynamics of interacting agents (Forrester, 1971; Senge, 1990; Sterman, 2000).

[4] In systems parlance, the three charters focus on self-supporting growth through the identification of reinforcing feedback loops that grow, social cohesion through balancing feedback loops that stabilize, and societal well-being through distribution of wealth among the other two systems.  For more on reinforcing and balancing feedback loops, see (Sterman, 2000).

[5] The word “commitment” comes from the Latin for uniting or connecting, with com being “together” and mittere being “to put, send.”

Development-verb Reality of Value

Light to Verb

Filter out possibility from the experience of the infinite to get the manifestation of what you can develop in relationship over time.  In value, this means that the experience of the invitation that most enlivens you now comes into relationship with the living into that invitation through the development of specific dimensions of possibility.  In the transformation from possibility-light to development-verb, you see what you can do to maximize the harmonic vibrancy you seek, and how to develop in relationship capacities needed to step into those possibilities.


The development-verb experience of value is value exchange.  This is what remains from the possibility-light-level experience of invitation – what of the invitation is to be developed, in relationship, for your experience.  At the development-verb level, you experience value as the flow of light, which shows up in the five primary experiences of relationship.  While it is clear that at very low levels of economic wealth (money), more money increases the sense of well-being, it is also clear now that above a minimal level of monetary wealth, increases in well-being are unrelated to increases in money.[1]

In the development-verb level of value, you seek to manifest access to what you choose in your experience in the light.  This is what you see when you take out possibility from light.  In the verb, you experience the light in fewer dimensions.  The light is still there: you only experience part of it, in the verb form.  This means that the infinite abundance of value in its light form is still there.  You are just experiencing the aspects of it that you are giving your attention to.  As you begin to develop specific potentials in yourself, such as your ability to play soccer with your nephew, does not mean that the light value has gone away now – all of the value you experienced flowing through you by being in a clearer invitation with the potential is still there.  In this moment, you are living the manifestation of it, in specific dimensions.  Understanding that the verb level of value is a geometric projection of light and all of its infinite abundance, reminds you that you are experiencing the abundance of the infinite.  This is completely different than thinking of the verb level of value as an expansion of the noun level, which starts from scarcity, which is the perspective of the scarcity-based approaches that add process and relationship to the allocation of scarce resources.

Value of exchange

What you experience of value at the verb level is access to development and relationship.  This is the excitement of learning, of the new, of deepening your understanding, of curiosity, of ever better relationships, of great times that make your friendships stronger.

Mode of exchange

As you experience value at the verb level, you exchange it in your primary relationships.  As you enter these relationships, the sages of thousands of years have prepared a reminder, a warning.  They called this monére – a warning or reminder.[2]  This early word became the word used today, money.  They warned that, as you enter the primary relationships, you must remember that you are experiencing the verb level of the infinite flow of the light level, in a particular way.  Thus, you should celebrate it, looking for the abundant beauty and truth in what is manifesting of the infinite.  You needed, and still need, a warning to remind you of how easy it is to forget this.

Exchange at the verb level is a special case of being in relationship to the flow of light in all five of your primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  You do not exchange what you pay for what you experienced when I did something.  It is not $5 for every smile that you get from every moment of my creative brilliance on stage.  This would be: a flow in me – ka-ching! – results in a flow in you – ka-ching!  For $50 you expect 10 smiles, thus I better give you 10 brilliances.  Rather it is the gift you give me, to take me out of the exchange world for a few moments to be in the flow of possibility-light, so that you can be in the free flow of my creativity.

Value exchange is simultaneously the fantastic experience of the actual flow of light through your life and one of the subtlest, complicating factors of your life.  How you enter the flow, through the agreements you accept, consciously or not, influences whether you experience abundance or scarcity.

Communities worldwide are experimenting with the underlying assumptions of money in their communities.  They are doing this through complementary currencies – monetary currencies that are used as a complement to the national currency.  They typically remove the interest associated with national currencies.  These complementary currencies are often designed to increase the local velocity of money, linking unmet needs with unused resources.  The velocity of money is how much a currency is exchanged in a given period of time within a given geography.  Simply defined, the amount of value exchanged equals the amount of money times the velocity of money.  This means that when $100 comes into a community, it is available for increasing the total value exchanged in the community.  Most currencies promote coming into the community, say via wages and then be spent at a large store, which usually takes the money right back out of the community.  It was exchanged once.  That was $100 within the community.  However, local communities that promote local use might cause that same $100 to be used a dozen times locally before it leaves the community.  This would be $1,200 of total value exchanged with that $100.  This greatly increases the local output.

Bernard Lietaer documents over 4,800 complementary currencies globally since 1984.[3]  This includes the exchange of hours for national currency, hours for hours, local exchange trading systems of interest-free money, and systems that put a premium on the flow of money, penalizing the store of money.[4]

As an expression of the five primary relationships, complementary currencies engage the development of the individual’s unique gifts, recognition of the other’s gifts, and the benefit of local circulation for the group.  They also specify what is important within the local currency, promoting the flow of that value in the community.  These systems also acknowledge the high leverage of being explicit about what the group wants to promote, why people should exchange value in a particular way, and making that way most efficient.  Most complementary currencies focus on increasing the sufficiency people experience in their lives, which is a deep move from the scarcity invoked by national currencies.

From the harmonic-vibrancy move perspective, complementary currencies move one’s relationship with their own self from taking jobs for fiat currency to engaging in the flow of creativity through unique services provided.  While the fiat currency promotes self-interest, complementary currencies promote relationship building through value exchange networks.  They also promote and acknowledge contributions to and the health of the group.  One’s relationship with nature and spirit are not directly acknowledged in most of these systems.

Distribution of value in exchange

At the verb level, the distribution of value generated in the exchange focuses on who is participating in the development and relationships in the verb flow.  Simply put, who does and has gets a part of the flow.  Those who participate in the inflows and outflows perceive some of the value.

In economics, capitalism is privately owned land and capital, with capital being everything that is not land or labor.[5]  From an ecosynomic lens, capital is the accumulation of the net-flow – inflows less outflows, which are the manifestations of possibility-light flow, in and out.  Possibility flows through me in the act of creating something someone else needs.  When this creative value is exchanged, when the individual “pays” you, value flows in for you (money in).  When you “pay” for a need you have that someone’s creative flow satisfies, value flows from you (money out).  The net difference of the flow in and the flow out is the “capital” you are accumulating.   If what flowed in and what flowed out were symbolic representations of the flow of light-Spirit (creativity), what does it mean to accumulate the net-flow of light-Spirit?  Massive experimentation is exploring the localizing of agreements of what is valued and how it is exchanged.

There resides within the living of agreements a particular human sense of relationship seldom captured by the rules of economics.  Nobel Laureate Stiglitz describes this, “Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.”  The last two words were the key.  Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now!  Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest – in other words, the common welfare – is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being.  de Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook – in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul – it’s good for business.”[6]

The distributive question highlights the formal description of the verb level of value.  As you live into the increasing development of the potential value you saw, you begin to perceive that value.  You perceive it through both the flow and the change in the accumulation.  This describes your verb-level formulation.  The something you experience changes.  It increases from one level (X1) to another (X2).  The difference you experience is the change in that something (dX).  The change you perceive happens through development, from one time (t1) to another (t2).  The time elapsed between the two is the time to develop, in relationship, the new something you saw (dt).  This leads to the formalization of the value experienced at the verb level:

Value(verb) = dX/dt

This formulation shows that whoever influences the inflows and outflows, through their development and the relationships that influence them perceives more value.  This puts a premium, at the verb level, in being the value, doing the value, and having the value – wealth comes from all three at the same time.

[1] These findings are described in many forum lately.  See the “Happiness (and how to measure it)” cover story of The Economist in the December 23rd 2006-January 5th 2007 issue.  For a summary of this research, see (Kahneman & Krueger, 2006; Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2006).

[2] The etymology of “money” is uncertain, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, with possible connections to the Latin monére, which means “to warn, remind,” see (“money, n” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 4 Apr. 2000 <;.).

[3] For an in-depth study of complementary currencies, see (B. A. Lietaer, 2001; Teague, 2010a) and visit  For the number of complementary currencies, see or (B. Lietaer, 2003, p. 12).  Bernard Lietaer estimates there are over 5,000 community currency systems in operation, as of 2009, as cited in (Gelleri, 2009).  Another estimate in 2006 was 4,000 (Wheatley, 2006).

[4] For more on complementary currencies, see

[5] This definition comes from Nobel Laureate Samuelson (Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1995).

[6] This quote comes from Stiglitz’s writings in (Stiglitz, 2011).  Economists Heilbroner and Thurow describe the limitation of the free market system of determining who gets what part of the value exchanged, “the system has the defects of its virtues.  If it is efficient and dynamic, it is also devoid of values.  It recognizes no valid claim to the goods and services of society except those of wealth and income.  Those with income and wealth are entitled to the goods and services that the economy produces; those without income and wealth receive nothing” (R. Heilbroner & Thurow, 1994, p. 183).

Converting Resource Verbs to Nouns

To move from the development-verb level of probability, flow, and relationship to the things-noun level of here and now, I filter out time.[1]  A noun comes into existence when values or verbs overlap to satisfy a need.  When the fibers rushing from the earth through human hands to land fill are seen and taken off the hangar by my daughter, then, at that moment, they become a dress.  Otherwise, the fibers are simply a form of energy being transformed, from sun to minerals to nutrients to silk to fabric to landfill to minerals.  Likewise with the grains rushing from the earth through human hands to land fill.  If they are seen, at a very particular moment in time, they become a piece of bread.  Otherwise they are grains, dough, or stale bread, none of which I want to eat.  The noun expresses when the verb of the fibers or the grains meets the verb of my life at the moment of a “need.”

The point is to realize that most moments in the life of a verb are not recognized as a noun.  It is only when the verb meets another verb in a very particular way that the verb becomes recognized as a noun.  This makes the noun a very special case of the verb.  This deeper understanding comes from seeing that it is the specific overlapping of verbs that brings nouns into being.

To filter out time – to convert a verb into a noun – you look at the changes to the resource over a specific period of time.  As I shared before, this means to add the inflows and subtract the outflows over the same time.  This tells you what is in the stock of the resource at this moment.

[1] To the technically comfortable, to filter out time, we simply integrate the inflows and outflows over a specific period of time.  This simply means that we take what we had at the beginning of the time period, add what came in, and subtract what went out, to end up with the new level of the resource.

Developing Resources Over Time

At the development-verb level, you know that you are in a continual process of bringing in new resources and of using up resources.  It is the balance of the bringing in and using up that tells you how much you have now.  If you start with five pieces of bread, make three more, and consume four, you end up with four pieces of bread.  This reality focuses you on both how much you have and the net effect of how much you bring in and use up.  If you want more in the future, you need to bring in more than you use up.  This is verb thinking, understanding the flow over time.  A vast field of thinking has developed around this framing of resources in the past fifty years, calling itself the dynamic resource-based view of strategy and system dynamics.  From this perspective, you can think into the future about what you do, as well as count how much you have.  Here success comes from how you understand what you do and how much you have, giving you more options for when and what you do to have more at a given moment in time.

In the verb you experience yourself developing your expressed capacities.  You are in school, you are learning, you are getting better at understanding something you do.  In the verb, you experience the same development in me in my capacities.  I am changing over time, and you can tell.  You notice the shift.  I am able to do something in a different way.  In the verb, you experience that we each do our part in the work of the group, and the group’s appreciation of these capacities.  We say that the group feels different, that we are getting stronger as a group.  These verb relationships to self, other, and group describe the verb form of the noun called labor.  This is the development of the contribution human capacities make to production.  The flow-stock technology makes explicit the development of capacities over time.  This is the accumulated value of human relationship to self, other, and group.

In the verb you experience the relationship to nature – the process of manifestation – through the process of the interrelated flows of resources.  This is the realm of everything that exists, from land to ideas to physical bodies.  While many people tend to think of nature as animals and trees, it includes everything that exists.  At the verb level, you work with both the qualitative vitality of nature and the quantitative volume of nature.

In the verb, you experience the source of creativity, the flow of creative source in you, in the creative ideas you bring to what you see.  This is the verb form of the creative source flowing that is capital.  As creativity flows through the system, sometimes more flows in than flows out.  You might accept more acts of creation into your pantry than you consume.  The realization here is that the act of creation manifested resources and brought them to you, and that the act of creation consumed them.  Thus, what seems to be accumulated in the net result of resources flowing in and out, is an accumulation of acts of creation, of light-Spirit.  This is a “stored” potential of light-Spirit.  What you need to ask here is, “What does it mean to store light-Spirit?”  Is that even possible?  Does something happen to light-Spirit if it is not flowing?  I suggest that, in fact, it is flowing, since all forms of light are always flowing, and that it is only your perception that you have stored it.  This means that you need to understand how to work with capital that seems to be accumulated in something, if it is actually in flux.  This is the verb realm of your experience, as seen through the five primary relationships you have with the flow of harmonic vibrancy.

From the ecosynomics perspective, the verb level of resources connects the system of people in the group, their expressions of and needs for harmonic vibrancy, and the resources that sustain human life.  This verb understanding of resources shows what resources you will need at what time, for future opportunities, and what dynamics of inflows and outflows are required to get you there.  This helps you see how to accumulate the level of resources required in the future, so that you can attempt to get there in an efficient way.  This understanding helps you avoid the verb-level costs of scarcity.

How Do Resources Change over Time? (Development-Verbs)

Verbs are flows.  Verbs are processes.  Verbs help me understand how nouns change over time.  It is the verb that helps us understand how to get more noun.  You can take the same noun as before, the amount of money you have.  A little technology will help you work with verbs and nouns.



The figure above shows a box for the resource Money I Have and an arrow to what I can do with that resource, Purchase bread.  Additionally, this picture adds the verb elements, showing how money flows in and flows out of the Money I Have.[1]  The inflow to the resource is “earning.”  The more I earn, the more money flows into what I have.  The outflow to the resources is “spending.”  The more I spend, the less money I have.  I can now look at the net effect of the inflow and the outflow, in a given time period.  What I earn minus what I spend gives me the net effect on the amount of money I have.  If the net effect is positive, meaning that I earn more than I spend, then the resource increases.  If the net effect is negative, meaning that I earn less than I spend, then the resource decreases.  This gives me a sense of the verb nature of the money I have.  If I want to be able to do more, such as purchase more bread, then I need to have more money.  To have more money, I need to earn more than I spend.  This gives me two things I can do.  I can decide to earn more, and I can decide to spend less.  They both influence the net effect.  This understanding greatly increases my ability to work with resources, in both their accumulation and their maintenance.

The inflows and outflows of these resources are all influenced by the level of other resources.  Likewise, the level of these resources influences the inflows and outflows of other resources.  In other words, the resources that support us are all interrelated.  The level of my integrity influences the inflows of my reputation.  The level of my reputation influences my ability to provide income (an inflow to available cash) for my family, which influences the food (an inflow to physical health, eating) they consume.

This web of interconnected resources sustains human existence, which can be defined as levels of group-health resources.  It is what people do with the resources in their group agreements that influences the resources that define their group health.  In the Guatemala learning lab presented later in the book, it was the strategic resources of intercultural identity, supportive social structures and processes, dignified economic opportunities, and social fabric that most influenced their ability to develop healthy levels of self-sustainability and self-determination.  Again, it is their agreements about how they support the inflows and outflows of these strategic resources that influences their health outcomes.

[1] Jay Forrester introduced this graphic form of presenting flows and stocks (Forrester, 1961, 1990).

The Development Level of Reality

The 3rd in a 9-post series on Perceived Levels of Reality

Now I want to look at another level of perceived reality, a reality experienced “over time.” You experience how things change over time. In those changes, you experience the flow of life and your relationships. In your own changes, over time, you see that you are verbs. Verbs are actions over time. I use the term verb to capture this idea of something happening over time.

In your experience, your body changes. You grow from an infant to a toddler to a teenager to a young adult to an older adult to your twilight years. Your food changes. What were nutrients in the soil then grain, were picked and worked by hands, mixed with eggs and water, baked, put on display, and then either eaten or thrown in landfill. This is the flow of energy, the verb in language, the action that develops the possibility and changes the noun. You are a verb, and you need verbs.

As something comes into existence over time, it develops, definitionally. These verbs in your experience change or come into existence over time. They develop. In the development-verb level of perceived reality, you see people changing over time. What you considered completely acceptable behavior in your 22-year old friend becomes questionable at 33-years old, and problematic at 50-years old. You expect them to mature, to change over time. You definitely expect this of children. The desire to put everything is adorable in a 1-year old and annoying in a 4-year old. The need to bounce all over the place is healthy at 4-years old and a problem at 15-years old. You expect people to grow up, to change over time. Are you different than you were ten years ago? Have you learned things that changed how you engage with the world? Do you have exactly the same physical capacities, or have they also changed? This also applies to groups. Expectations of a new group are different than a mature group. You expect groups to learn, to get better at what they do, to change.

That things change over time, that they develop, has been described by science for a very long time. Whether it was Archimedes using small sections to describe the tangent to a curve or Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz inventing infinitesimal calculus, these great scientists described the perceived reality of development, over time – the verb – mathematically, as a change in something X (dx) over a change in time (dt), written as dx/dt. With this notation, scientists have long looked at how something changes over time, which allows them to understand both its behavior, over time, and its outcome, at any given moment in time. The relevance of this scientific insight to human agreements is that everything changes over time and that this change is measurable.

The social sciences have also incorporated the reality of change over time. Here I will highlight two ways the social sciences look at change: through stages of development; and through net change. “Stages of development” approaches assume change in maturation, from earlier, less mature stages to later, more mature stages. This is akin to the changes you see as children grow older – a healthy 2-year old has added more capacities over its first two years, it is more mature. “Net change” approaches look at the difference in what comes into and what goes out of something, with the net change being the net of the ins and outs. For example, weight gain can be seen as the net difference between the calories take in and those used up or taken out.

Thus, the physical and social sciences provide highly developed frameworks for working with the development-verb level of reality. Complementary to the experience of “vertical time” in the possibility-light level of reality, the experience of the development-verb level of reality can be characterized as “horizontal time,” the experience of living in the past and in the future, over time.

Perceived Levels of Reality

The 1st of a 9-post series on Perceived Levels of Reality

Having looked at five relationships through which people experience harmonic vibrancy (self, other, group, nature, spirit), as well as three circles of the vibrancy experienced (low, medium, high), as in the figure below, we see that people in the three circles experience very different realities.  This 9-post series explores the differences in those realities.



To cut to the punch line, as one expands from scarcity to abundance, reality also expands from working with the visibly tangible to including processes of development to working in the possibility realm.  In each circle, people work with different processes, tools, and capacities, because they use different realities.  Now I will describe those realities, starting again with your own experience.

In the inner circle of low harmonic vibrancy, where scarcity dominates, reality consists of the visibly tangible.  This includes what is available at hand, right here, right now.  In the middle circle of medium harmonic vibrancy, where occasional abundance comes through, perceived reality includes both the tangible here-now capacities and the developmental processes of those capacities.  Both and.  At the middle level, one works with what is here and what is being developed.  In the outer circle, where abundance dominates, perceived reality includes tangible capacities, developmental processes, and possibility – three levels.  Once again, both and.

I emphasize “perceived reality,” because all three levels are always present, yet they are not always perceived.  It seems that the level of scarcity/abundance and harmonic vibrancy one experiences relates directly to the levels of reality perceived in the agreements in human interactions.

In their national bestseller The Art of Possibility, the Zanders tell a story to highlight the difference between seeing scarcity and seeing abundance.  “A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.  One sends back a telegram saying, ‘SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES.’  The other writes back triumphantly, ‘GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES.’” The authors go on to explain what they see in this story, “To the marketing expert who sees no shoes, all the evidence points to hopelessness.  To his colleague, the same conditions point to abundance and possibility.  Each scout comes to the scene with his own perspective; each returns telling a different tale.  Indeed, all of life comes to us in narrative form; it’s a story we tell.”[1]

Looking at the stories hundreds of people have told me about their experiences of harmonic vibrancy, some of which I shared in earlier blogs, I find that the ability to perceive and work with these three levels of reality differentiates those groups that experience low, medium, and high harmonic vibrancy.  Furthermore, these three levels highlight what to do to achieve higher levels of harmonic vibrancy and abundance, which I will describe in detail in subsequent posts.

[1] This story comes from (Zander & Zander, 2002, p. 9).