Advancing Sustainability Leadership, One Agreement Structure at a Time: Recommended Reading

Ritchie-Dunham, J. L., A.C. Gonçalves, M.A. Huerta, C. Mataix, J, Lumbreras, J. Moreno-Serna, J.D. Spengler, W.M. Purcell. (2023). Advancing Sustainability Leadership by Shifting Relational ‘Agreement Structures’: A Transformational Higher Education Change Program. Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, 20(1), 2190385. [open access]

Delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires leaders to navigate different fields and work across public, private, and plural sectors. Higher education is positioned uniquely to bring disciplines together and convene leaders from business, government, and civil society by designing customized learning encounters. Here we explore the creation and delivery of a change program for leaders concerned with the SDGs based on a framework for understanding and shifting underlying relationships – termed here, agreement structures.

Excited to share this open-access publication, which highlights an inspired program that came together with faculty from Harvard and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. A privilege to design, deliver, and write up this wonderful time in Madrid in June 2019. Thank you to my co-adventurers Ana Cláudia GonçalvesMaría A. HuertaCarlos MataixJulio LumbrerasJaime Moreno SernaJack Spengler, and Wendy Purcell.

Truly Circular Economies Require Deep Collaboration: Recommended Reading

Ritchie-Dunham, J. L. (2023). Truly Circular Economies Require Deep Collaboration: The Principles Underlying Successful Circular Economies. The Impossibilities of the Circular Economy: Separating Aspirations from Reality. H. Lehmann, C. Hinske, V. de Margerie and A. Slaveikova Nikolova. New York, Routledge.

Zero Waste. No longer a fantasy, people are starting to figure this out. How to not generate waste and pollution with the products we consume.

To do this requires systemic logic, replacing the more commonplace linear logic. Design it out from the beginning.

How do you do this? We are excited to share a chapter we have written, “Truly circular economies require deep collaboration_The principles underlying successful circular economies” in the just-published book “The Impossibilities of the Circular Economy” (Routledge 2022).

You can purchase the print book []. An Open Access version is also available, at the same link.

Navigating Complexity and Learning with Agility: Recommended Reading

Dinwoodie, D. L., et al. (2022). “Navegar por la Incertidumbre y Aprender con Agilidad, Claves en el Trabajo del Futuro.” Harvard Deusto Business Review (327): 16-29.

What tools do you need in your future work? Two clear ones are how to navigate complexity and agile learning. With my co-authors Dr. David Dinwoodie and Suzie Lewis, we explore these questions in this month’s issue of the Harvard Deusto Business Review, bringing our decades of experience in leading organizations and what we are finding on the leading edge.

The article is in Spanish. You can also read it in other languages by applying GoogleTranslate.

Varieties of Vitality: Recommended Reading

Lomas, T., J. Ritchie-Dunham, M.T. Lee, T.J. VanderWeele. (2022). “The Varieties of Vitality: A Cross-cultural Lexical Analysis.” International Journal of Wellbeing 12(4): 155-180.

Your own vitality. It is yours. You are able to experience many more ways of vitality than your own language can describe. People across the globe have discovered many of these ways, describable only in their own language, untranslatable in your own. And, you can experience them.

In this just-published article with Dr Tim LomasMatthew T. Lee, and Tyler VanderWeele, we explore how many of these untranslatable ways might fit together to paint a richer mosaic available to all of us.

Energy Innovation Ecosystems in Rural Mexico

Acuña, Francisco, Guillermo Cedeño, Ramon Sanchez, Leith Sharp, John Spengler, and James Ritchie-Dunham. “Energy Innovation Ecosystems in Rural Mexico.” ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America XVIII, no. 1 (2018): 108-09.

This recently published article describes a very vibrant initiative, bringing innovative energy ecosystems to rural Mexico.  To understand the wild success of the initiative, the Institute for Strategic Clarity was invited to use the Agreements Evidence Mapping tool to understand what happened.  In essence (see figure below), by connecting (1) the low perceived value and social impact rural universities with (2) the moderate perceived value and social impact of the rural communities, (3) the academic knowledge and global network of Harvard, with (4) financial capital, they were able to generate a high perceived value and social impact energy innovation ecosystem.

Initially the rural universities are resource poor, providing theoretical, technical education with low practical social impact because of underemployment of graduates, locally. Initially the indigenous communities are rich in social capital, and poor in the financial and intellectual capital to exploit their wealth in natural capital.  The Harvard Applied Leadership in Renewable Energies Program engaged rural universities and local indigenous communities throughout Mexico, where 286 university professors and researchers proposed innovation ecosystems for 93 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that were developed and funded (e.g., wind in Oaxaca and biodiesel in Sinaloa).

A documentary and casebook detail the whole project, and the subsequent social and economic potential impact of these projects, including 953.3 MW of wind energy, 512 MW of installed capacity of photovoltaic energy, 1.36 MW of biomass electricity, 40 million liters of ethanol/year, 7.2 million liters of biodiesel/year and 9 million liters of bio-jet fuel/year. This program proved that shifting away from centralized-only thinking with low ROIC, for high-impact, economically-resilient, national renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Mexico, think massively local innovation ecosystems with a much higher, more resilient, and more equitable ROIC.  This model of social innovation is particularly relevant in the multitude of countries facing rapid rural-to-urban migration in part because of investment inequities.  The project leaders are meeting now with Mexico’s ministers of economy and social development to replicate this.

Acknowledgements.  This project includes dozens of rural, indigenous communities in Mexico, over 100 rural Mexican universities with 286 of their faculty, the Mexican Secretariat of Energy, global investors led by InTrust Global Investments LLC, and the Center for Health and the Global Environment in the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.


Realizing the Best Conversation Available in the Group — Recommended Reading

Ritchie-Dunham, James L., and Maureen Metcalf.  2016.  “Co-hosting: Creating Optimal Experience for Team Interactions,” Integral Leadership Review, (

What level of conversation is available, where all participants can engage and contribute their unique perspectives?  One way of understanding this is what Terri O’Fallon calls the “roaming space.”  Extending that concept, my colleagues and I have found that there are two roaming spaces a conversation can play in: one where we find the least common denominator of shared awareness, perspectives, and language; and another where we find the highest available awareness, perspectives, and language we can share.  In the first, we find the overlap in the  awareness, perspectives, and language we share.  In the second, we access the unique awareness, perspectives, and language each person brings to the conversation.

This article highlights the five dimensions of the co-hosting roaming space and the co-hosting process for putting it in practice.

4 Truths of Clarity

Understanding the complexity of our organizations, what they want to achieve, and how to go about achieving what they want isn’t hard because people don’t have the tools; it is hard because people haven’t been shown how to use them. What I refer to as “the Four Truths of Clarity” show that we do have the tools, and that to use them we simply need to overcome the barriers to using them.

  1. Not understanding the system clearly, as it really is, both in what it wants to achieve and in how it works, leads to very ineffective and inefficient systems. We experience this state of confusion when we lack clarity: on a personal level whenever we make an obvious mistake and say to ourselves, “I knew better than that”; on a group level whenever someone states after a group blunder, “I could have told you that, if you would have asked”; and on an organizational level whenever we see intelligent, passionate people with years of experience make seemingly stupid decisions.
  2. Not understanding the system clearly is caused by barriers to what we experience and by our ability to experience the system. The first barrier is that we are not able to process the infinite number of details available to us at all moments. And, with the inputs we are able to process, we don’t. The second barrier exists because we are usually mindless in a distracted state, paying attention to our own thoughts and not to the system.
  3. By understanding what influences these barriers to systems experiencing, we can overcome these barriers. The first barrier of cognitive ability can be overcome somewhat by recognizing its existence. Knowing that we are not capable of knowing everything puts us in the position of asking rather than assuming. The second barrier of mindful attention can be overcome by increasing our ability to be mindful to what we can process about the system.
  4. Since we experience systems through our body, heart, and head, overcoming the barriers requires that we build our capacity to experience systems through our body, heart, and head with greater clarity. Very simple exercises have been found to be useful and motivating in being mindful to information we receive from our body, heart, and head. It has also been shown that it is quite possible to develop one’s ability to act in a mindful, clear way continuously.

I previously published this observation, with a hat tip to the Buddha, as Ritchie-Dunham, James. 2005. The Four Truths of Clarity, Reflections; The SoL Journal of Knowledge, Learning and Change, 6(6/7), vi-vii.

Dissolving the Paradox of Scarcity

Is the world scarce?  Is it actually useful to conceive as the world as being scarce?  In the following video and audios, I suggest that thinking of the world as scarce creates a paradox, a paradox of scarcity.  Through conversations with Jackie and Orland, we begin to see a way through the paradox.


A 17-minute conversation between Jim and Jackie about the scarcity paradox (click on the MP3 file The Paradox of Scarcity).


A 45-minute conversation between Jim and Orland Bishop about scarcity, the paradox this concepts generate, and ways of seeing through the paradox (click on the MP3 file Orland Bishop and Jim Dialog on the Scarcity Paradox).

I invite you to share your comments here about what you see in your own experience of the paradox of scarcity.


Is Your Strategic Framework Useful?: CRISP Criteria

As originally defined, the CRISP model[1] establishes criteria that a strategic process must meet to provide the intended “strategists” with the clarity they require to make efficient, effective decisions in a complex, self-organizing system.  While the criteria are easiest to remember as CRISP, their logical order is purposeful, comprehensive, integrative, rigorous, and simple.

  • Purposeful. Why we do this
  • Comprehensive. What elements we include
  • Integrative. How we relate the elements
  • Rigorous. How we test this
  • Simple. How we understand this



The purposeful criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process be clear why we are doing this process – the organizing essence of what we are trying to realize together. This is also known as the essential property of the system – the reason for which it exists, for which it self-organizes.


The comprehensive criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process provide a clear understanding of the boundaries of what is included as relevant and what is not included.


The integrative criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process make explicit the relationships among the different dimensions, perspectives, elements, and processes.


The rigorous criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process be observable in reality, and reproducible.


The simple criterion of CRISP requires that the strategic process be simple enough to be understood.  This means that it must align with the rich complexity the human being is capable of understanding, not under or overwhelming them by dumbing down, oversimplifying, or overcomplicating the strategic process.

The CRISP criteria assess the degree to which a strategic framework supports the strategist in understanding what the system intends to achieve and how it works.


[1] Ritchie-Dunham, James L.  2008.  A Collaborative-Systemic Strategy Addressing the Dynamics of Poverty in Guatemala:  Converting Seeming Impossibilities into Strategic Probabilities. In Alleviating Poverty through Business Strategy, edited by C. Wankel. New York: Palgrave, 73-98. Macmillan.  Ritchie-Dunham, James L., and Luz Maria Puente. 2008.  Strategic Clarity: Actions for Identifying and Correcting Gaps in Mental Models, Long Range Planning 41(5), 509-529.

Step #4 — Ask What Agreements Shape Your Experience

You can choose the experience you want.  In the third blogpost in this series, you decided what experience you wanted.  In the 4th step, we ask what agreements shape that experience.

Underlying your experience is a set of agreements that determine, in great part, what experience you have.  These are the rules of the game.  In the following 2-minute video and 2 audios, we explore what agreements are and how you see them.


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


A 44-minute conversation between Jim and Orland Bishop about agreements, what they are, why they are important, and how people work with them (click on the MP3 file Orland Bishop and Jim Dialog on Agreements).

What agreements can you see that shape your experience?  Could you choose different agreements?  Could you talk about this choice with the other people in the group?

In the next series of blogposts, you and I will explore how to design agreements.