Guest post — Introducing the Experience of Harmonic Vibrancy in Mexico

Guest post by Annabel Membrillo, ISC Fellow 

When I was designing an Introductory Experience of Harmonic Vibrancy, some questions came to my mind: can I find a real experience for the group? An experience that talks not just to their mind, but makes them feel it in their body and will?  I did not want to start with their mind in the very beginning, and that was a bit difficult for me, since I am so accustomed to work with my mind. Then an inspiring moment gave me some ideas of how to do this.

Feeling each relationship in the body. I believe there is a way to get people to feel Harmonic Vibrancy. I did this body experience in about an hour and a half. The I, Other, and Group relationships were easier to experience in the physical. I still need a good form of body experience for the relationships to Nature and Spirit. For each one of the relationships, I ask the participants to put themselves in one of the postures for a minute, and then write down on a post-it what they feel and think. I do not have pictures of people doing the postures; however, the I and Other are pretty straightforward. In the case of the relationship to the Group, the lower level was very interesting. The image below can help to make sense of the posture I asked them to do as a group. People said things like they could not see more than the person in front of them. They felt static. Some of them said they did not have feelings, and were uninterested, with their minds going to a different place.  Some wanted to touch the person in front, and turn to see the person behind; so, it was a very nice way to make them feel the lower level of the relationship to the Group.

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In the case of the relationship to Nature, I gave them an object (the carton at the end of a roll of toilet paper works very nicely).  I told them what it was, and then asked the group what was the purpose of the object. At first everyone answer what I told them, that is the Things level of perceived reality.  Then, in the case of toilet paper roll, they told me they have garbage in their hands. When I asked them about what could they do with the object, a lot of ideas came in, that is the development-verb level. Finally, some ideas that were beyond the object helped explain what we can imagine when we are in the light level. I linked this same exercise to the relationship to Spirit, to discover how to experience this through the body.

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The first experience of Naming. Language is so important for the process of experiencing harmonic vibrancy, and sometimes we find it difficult to listen to ourselves and to others in the collectives we are part of. So, what I did is to give the group famous phrases from philosophers, singers, popular sayings from Mexico. Some of these are in the Ecosynomics book, and some are not.  Some are long; some are short. Some examples of the short ones include: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” from Leonard Cohen; “Tree that is born crooked, his trunk never straightens,” a popular saying; “We only see what we animate, and we animate what we see” from Emerson. I asked the group to identify the primary relationship(s) and the level of each phrase. I emphasized that they could sense the level of perceived reality just by listening to the language they used.

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The first 4-5 hours of the 12-hour workshop were dedicated to these two activities. After that we worked more and more with the mind, learning what agreements are, understanding the three paths through the three levels of perceived reality, analyzing their responses to the harmonic vibrancy survey, and analyzing Agreements Maps for different groups. I believe that the success of these other exercises rested on the two exercises of the first 4 hours.

At the end I did a small exercise of “mindfully eating chocolate,” to close the workshop reminding them that the more mindful we are, the more we can really help collectives to name agreements and realize what to do next.

I look forward to learning what you and others have found useful in engaging people with their mind, heart and will from the very beginning of the harmonic vibrancy experience.  I know that we will continue to improve and innovate from this point forward to make this introduction a real experience of what Harmonic Vibrancy is.

Annabel Membrillo Jimenez, ISC Fellow, is the Vibrancy Ins. representative for Harmonic Vibrancy and Ecosynomics in Mexico.  Through her consulting, coaching, and teaching, Annabel has brought harmonic vibrancy, and strategic clarity to individuals, organizations, and communities in Mexico since 1995.  A graduate with honors of the ITAM, she has co-authored articles you can find at ISC.


Globally Local Agreements — Innovating in Results Developed from Possibility

My colleague Steve Waddell introduced me a few years ago to an emerging phenomenon, which he identified and named Global Action Networks (GANs).[1]  These GANs are pursuing an alternative to traditional, not very effective, approaches to dealing with large-scale problems that exist across national boundaries and affect people both locally and globally, such as poverty, corruption, climate change, disease and the disappearance of natural resources.

The traditional approaches rely on national governments and inter-governmental organizations like the United Nations.  This approach tends to isolate groups or sectors, driving them to act alone, competing with other agencies for the limited resources available for global concerns (see figure below).


In contrast, GANs focus on global and local collaboration, bringing together people and organizations from different sectors – business, government, and civil society – to tackle big challenges at local and global levels simultaneously.  The GANs do this by focusing simultaneously on the three levels of perceived reality.  The GAN keeps the global advocacy, its deep vision for the change that is possible, front and center.  This possibility-light level focus drives the work of the whole network.  Within its possibility-light vision, it chooses the highest-leverage, development-verb level processes that bring that possibility into development in settings over the whole planet.  At the same time, these GANs, showing up in local action at the things-noun level.  They define this three-level approach as glocal (global and local) behavior.

The founders of these GANs all seem to see the same thing when looking through lens #1 of “how much,” no matter what global issue they take on – they see abundance.  They see this abundance at all three levels of reality – in the future that is possible, in the capacities and relationships to develop over time, and in the worldwide actions that people can take on to bring about that change.

Through lens #2 of “who decides,” the GANs hold all five primary relationships to be necessary to work with the abundant possibilities they envision.  In the self, they believe they need the best each individual can bring.  In the other, they know that their work requires collaborative processes of mutuality among the different members and stakeholders engaged in the work.  In the group, they see that each person and perspective needs to be clear in the contribution its work makes to the higher aspiration.  In nature, they have to be able to take an audacious possibility, develop high-leverage capacities to achieve it, and deliver very real outcomes, all over the globe.  In spirit, this audacious goal can only be achieved if all of the creativity available, everywhere in everyone is brought to the work.  This means that they are clear that they cannot achieve what they want without the explicit inclusion of all five primary relationships from the beginning.  Thus, when they look through lens #3 of “what criteria,” they have developed global-local, multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approaches for identifying the criteria everyone holds in common, and the criteria unique to each stakeholder.  Through lens #4 of “how the relationships interact,” the GANs s experiment with continuous learning systems to share globally what is being learned locally, interwoven with periodic global face-to-face convenings that support all five primary relationships.

To give you a sense of what a GAN looks like and how it works, let’s look at the example of Transparency International (TI).  TI came into being in 1993 with a mission to take a stance against corruptions.  In 2010 it had a global headquarters staff of 138, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and total revenues of 18,027,000 Euros – a small headquarters budget for coordinating the worldwide fight against corruption.  Outside of Geneva, TI consists of a network of more than ninety national chapters, each of which works in its own country to engage key people in government, civil society, business and the media to promote transparency in elections, in public administration, in procurement and in business. The global network of chapters and their contacts also mounts advocacy campaigns to raise international awareness and publicly lobby governments to implement anti- corruption reforms. These efforts have made some significant inroads against the problem of corruption.  For example, they have provided a common language for corruption and how to measure it, helped raise corruption to a national-level conversation within countries, and enabled a number of global and national anti-corruption reforms.

As a GAN, TI is able to make global changes one nation at a time with very limited resources.  For example, at the national level, TI works to raise corruption to national discourse and action.  Transparency Ethiopia convened prominent reporters in a journalist roundtable initiative in cooperation with the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. They discussed barriers to reporting on corruption and the need to conduct ongoing anti- corruption sessions. Partnering with two federal agencies, TI El Salvador launched an initiative to enhance fiscal transparency by subjecting the country’s budget process to more citizen access and input, suggesting that greater citizen engagement might increase budget transparency, while boosting economic development and reducing inequality.

[1]For great detail about over eighty global action networks and what they are learning, see (Waddell, 2005b, 2011).

Innovating at All Three Levels of Perceived Reality Through Culture and Your Feet

In the next posts, I will share some innovations in agreements that work with abundance at all three levels of perceived reality.  THORLO is a small textile company in North Carolina (USA) dedicated to the preventive foot health of its millions of consumers.  THORLO’s high-tech socks are sold in dozens of countries around the world.  THORLO is exceptional not only for its unique hosiery products, designed to provide preventive foot care, but also for its innovative corporate culture.  From its founding in 1953, the company has expanded its original offer of outstanding craftsmanship and high quality, in an industry more typically focused on economies of scale, to include a focus on exceptional responsiveness to the consumer’s real needs.   From the start, THORLO’s leadership has understood that its success in delivering value depends on the commitment of all of its employees.  To that end, THORLO has maintained a supportive, collaborative culture even as the business has grown in size and dramatically increased the scope of its product lines.

THORLO’s business model transformation shows on-going surprising results in business performance decades later.  For example, recently THORLO has been able to reduce its workforce by 15% and its inventory by 30%, while maintaining quality, production rates, and delivery schedules.  THORLO has been able to maintain a gross margin on branded products that is 15 percentage points higher than its branded competitors, while its gross margin on commodity products is double that of competition.  The company has achieved these margins while retaining all production in the US at its North Carolina mill.  In fact, THORLO is one of the only hosiery companies still manufacturing in the US.

This is about THORLO’s culture and its observable outcomes.  Ecosynomically, what is the inner being that this outward success reflects?  Looking at how the THORLO leadership and its community sees success shows three different levels, as captured in the figure below.  The first level of success, which is clear to anyone in the organization you ask, is that of sustainable brand stewardship.  For the THORLO community, “brand stewardship” is their collectively defined term for the best foot health interest of the consumer.  Everything they do is measured against this single arbiter.  In addition, success is also measured through their ability to realize sustainable relationships, with all of their stakeholders.  THORLO has very clear, measured indicators for knowing how they are doing with their loyal customers, loyal employees, loyal stakeholders, and loyal shareholders, in that order of priority.  THORLO also has a third success indicator around realizing sustainable value for these same stakeholders.  We see that the first indicator encompasses the broadest, light levels of all five relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit), while the second focuses more on the verb levels, and the third assesses success at the noun level.

A deeper exploration of the actual practices within the organization shows how THORLO lives into the noun-verb-light levels of the heat map in the figure below.  In the “heat map,” green means the behavior is seen clearly throughout the organization, yellow means it is frequently observed, red means it is seen infrequently, and white means it is not seen.  In looking at the way the group looks at resources, organization, and value exchange, you can map these experiences at the noun, verb, or light levels.  This simple graphic tells a story of high efficiency and effective policies that reflect a healthy noun-reality, the way things look at a very tangible level.  We also see healthy expressions at the verb level, reflecting a liquid conversation across areas about the flows of strategic resources.  This figure also shows quite a few strategic processes at the light level, explicitly exploring the possibility in the short and long term throughout the organization.  All of this is interwoven very clearly in a process-structure that THORLO calls the integrated collaborative conversation, working the continuous transition from light-verb-noun-verb-light.

These two pictures provide a deeper story of how THORLO has been able to sustain its seemingly extraordinary outcomes.  It is how they come together as a company, the agreements they make, that allows this completely different, unexpected outcome.  These agreements are possible because of the way the community enters the world, its fundamental assumptions, its knowing about abundance.

Innovations Integrating the Three Levels of Perceived Reality

To the verb-noun innovations we saw in earlier posts, the possibility-light level adds an additional dimension of potentiality, opening up even greater choice, freedom, and flexibility for responding to the conditions and demands life presents.  Said another way, if what is possible is not visible, and if there is no sense of how capacities and relationships can develop over time – that is, if one is stuck in a noun-things perspective, or even a verb-development perspective – then the options for how one responds are limited.  The innovations I will now share illustrate how some groups and individuals are able to hold all three perspectives together and what they can accomplish by operating at all three levels as part of their work.

Groups that operate at all three levels take a distinctive approach when looking through the four lenses.  They think first about what they would like to achieve. Then they consider what resources would support them in achieving that objective and how to develop those resources over time, so that they can have what they need when they need it.  In organizing human interaction, these groups look for, recognize and invite in the potential they see in the people they work with and in their relationships.  They choose the capacities and relationships to be developed over time and in this way are able to bring out the best at any given moment.  Finally, they think about value in terms of their vision of what is possible, including the benefits to be enjoyed by both the people within the group and those who interact with it as the result of the development of their capacities and relationships.

This three-level approach both envisions abundance and takes the steps needed to bring it into reality.  In addition, it avoids the “costs of scarcity” experienced at the things-noun and development-verb levels that are not experienced when simultaneously engaging all three levels together.  I will share some examples I have found in the next posts.

Town Meetings — Agreeing to Participate in Local Decision Making

Growing up in the southern parts of the United States, as well as in Spain and Mexico, I was shocked when I moved to New England in 2002 to find a form of local decision making that I did not know existed.  I was used to living in places where few knew who their elected officials were, and even fewer were involved in the process of local governance.  Then I went to my first town meeting in Wilton, New Hampshire.  Almost everyone I knew in town was there for the annual meeting.  Everyone had the booklet with all of the budget proposals that had been prepared by the three town selectmen, and specific project proposals put forth by different citizens.[1]  Most people were informed, and everyone was given the opportunity to speak up, asking whatever questions they wanted.  And, they did.  I was amazed that a large percentage of the town’s citizens showed up, cared, engaged in the process, and in the end it was the people who voted on each point, not the selectmen.

Town Meeting is both a moment-in-time and a thing.  As a moment-in-time, it is when town’s eligible voters gather to appropriate money to run the town, and to vote on salaries for the elected officials and on the town’s local statutes or by-laws.  As a thing, Town Meeting is the legislative body for towns.[2]  In some places, this innovation is relatively old.  The town meeting is the predominant form of local government practiced in the US region of New England since the 1600s and still practiced in 169 towns in Connecticut, 432 in Maine, 297 in Massachusetts, 1,785 in Minnesota, 221 towns in New Hampshire, 31 in Rhode Island, and 237 in Vermont.  This totals over 3,000 town meetings in just seven states.[3]

Part of a much larger movement of citizen engagement and participatory budgeting, the core idea is that an increase in the frequency, diversity, and level at which community residents engage leads to an increase in the quality and impact of the decisions made by local governments, community organizations, and public agencies.[4]  Compare this with the more common expert-driven practice of city management, where few citizens engage in the process, and few feel ownership for the community’s outcomes.

The traditional model, on the left-hand-side of the figure above, sees scarcity when looking through lens #1 of “how much,” and sees a professional administration for the group when looking through lens #2 of “who decides.”  The professionals look the “what criteria” of lens #3 and see that they manage the commons for the whole community, requiring only sufficient revenues, often in the form of taxes, from the citizens to pay for the basic infrastructure the professionals control.  The main connection to the self, other, nature, and spirit, as seen through lens #4 is the periodic responsibility to elect the professional staff.  This lack of relationship leads to citizens disconnected from the opaque processes of governing basic infrastructure, who are resentful for taxes paid, and apathetic at elections.

The innovation, as reflected in the right-hand-side of the figure above, brings in verb-level processes to engage the creativity and resources of the citizens being served.  Through lens #1, citizens involved in town meeting and other forms of participatory budgeting and community engagement see sufficiency to abundance, knowing their neighbors and elected officials, expecting to find creativity and engagement.  By design of the town meeting process, through lens #2 of who decides, the elected officials propose budget items to the citizens at the stated town meeting for their approval.  Through lens #3 of the criteria used, citizens voice their opinions for their own selves, for their neighbors, for the group, for the sources of creativity, and for the process of innovation, invoking the criteria of the five primary relationships.  Through lens #4 of the interaction of the primary relationships, one sees the design of the iterative, annual process by which citizens get together to decide for their own future, and live together through the consequences of their own decisions, promoting an informal process of reflection, learning, and self-accountability.  As people begin to look for more democratic forms of transparent local governance, they are beginning to experiment with this innovation.

[1] You can see the minutes of this town meeting, as an example.

[2] The Massachusetts Secretary of State provides a citizen’s guide to town meeting.

[3] The town meeting is the predominant form of local government practiced in the US region of New England since the 1600s and still practiced in 169 towns in Connecticut, 432 in Maine, 297 in Massachusetts, 1,785 in Minnesota, 221 towns in New Hampshire, 31 in Rhode Island, and 237 in Vermont (see the National Association of Towns and Townships).  For a description of town meeting in the USA and Switzerland, from the late 1890s, see (Sullivan, 1892).

[4] For resources on community engagement, click here.  For a partial global map of participatory budgeting processes, see (

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).


What People Are Doing, Ecosynomically

Over the next few posts, I will share some examples of groups that are discovering new agreements, that enable them to experience a sustainably higher level of harmonic vibrancy.  I will start with a quote.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–,” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”[1]

As the Cheshire Cat implied to Alice, knowing where you want to go influences the path you take.  If you expect scarcity, because that is what you see through lens #1 of “how much,” that is the path you take.  While most people see and experience scarcity as “the norm” in many aspects of their lives, there are plenty of examples of people breaking through to create abundance for themselves.  For example, a school in El Salvador has tripled the percentage of young girls entering and staying in primary school.  A community health center in Texas maintains top-hospital-level services for an increasingly uninsured population, when all other centers are cutting even basic services.  A textile mill in North Carolina pays living wages to its high-craftsmanship shop workers in an industry that has outsourced its low margin commodity products to low skilled workers in Asia.  A small town in New York has created the equivalent of hundreds of jobs by circulating millions of dollars of trade with its own local currency.  A private currency system in Japan has replaced a large percentage of expensive, hospital-based elderly care not covered by the national insurance plan, with a more effective system based on people exchanging “caring relationship” credits.  I have met many of the people involved in these activities, and I have seen how they are redefining what is possible through innovations in human agreements.  In science these outliers can give us answers for those who are not outliers.  We call them positive deviants.[2]

As I started to gain a better understanding of those innovations I was personally acquainted with, and as I gained greater clarity about the principles of Ecosynomics, I realized that thousands of groups around the world are making similar abundance-creating breakthroughs.  Looking through an “Ecosynomics lens” at existing innovations, such as Asset-based Community Development and the cooperative movement, I recognized that the groups involved in these activities have shifted from operating solely at the things-noun level to functioning effectively at both the development-verb and things-noun level.  They are making different kinds of agreements, and they have created abundance for themselves by doing so.  Similarly, I could identify groups working at the light-possibility level and see the positive results of that.  The Ecosynomics lens not only makes these innovations recognizable as moves toward abundance, but also makes it easier to see the common elements of those moves and gain understanding that will perhaps help people replicate them in other areas.

A couple of caveats about these examples: First, since these are not formal Ecosynomics experiments, I cannot tell you that I know these innovators have explicitly embraced the fundamental assumptions of abundance, or that they have stepped into the outer circle of the five primary relationships. Future Ecosynomics research may address these questions. However, because the outcomes they are achieving and the processes and structures they are using are well documented, I can show you how they are working at different levels to create greater abundance.

Second, I have not been exhaustive in searching out existing innovations, although I am sure there are many being documented in fields I do not even know about.  The point is, if I have found a handful of innovations involving thousands of groups, it is safe to say there must be many thousands more out there than I will share with you here. This is not, in other words, an isolated experience of a few lucky people; rather it is a broad-based phenomenon from which many are benefiting.

[1] Lewis Carroll wrote this conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll, 1904, Ch. 6).

[2]Positive deviants” are people who do something very different from others, and their deviant behavior leads to very positive outcomes, thus they are positive deviants from the norm.  This term was popularized by researchers at Tufts University in (Pascale, Sternin, & Sternin, 2010).