4 Questions that Changed the World, Again and Again

Most of our experience, awful to great, energy depleting or energy enhancing, is determined by how we answer 4 questions.  These 4 questions have influenced the human experience of billions of people for thousands of years.  And people have answered these 4 questions in very different ways.

I invite you to explore what these 4 questions are, how they have changed the world over and over again, and how you can choose your own response to them.  With this you will be able to shift the experience you have and the outcomes you achieve, from a different response to 4 questions.

What are the questions?  Philosophers and practitioners alike have explored the questions that determine humanity’s moral, political, social, cultural, and economic arrangements for thousands of years.  In all of the different societies around the globe, these leaders consistently converge on 4 questions: (1) how much do we see when we look at our resources?; (2) who decides how to allocate the resources and how to enforce that allocation; (3) what criteria is used to allocate those resources; and (4) how do people interact with each other and those resources.  Four straightforward questions.

It turns out that there are technical terms for these four questions.

  1. Resources.  How much do we see?  In economics today, this is the “resource” question.  What are the assets or resources we have at hand?
  2. Allocation Mechanism.  Who decides?  Who decides who will decide how to allocate the resources and who will enforce that decision?  This is the political question of power: who has the power to decide and enforce the chosen allocation of resources.  In economics today this is called the resource allocation mechanism, the way that resources are allocated.
  3. Value.  What criteria do the resource allocators use?  In economic, political, and philosophical frameworks today, this is referred to as the value theory.  What values  guide our decision making?
  4. Organization.  How do people interact with each other and with the resources?  In economics today, human interactions are guided by organization theory.

Historians and observers of comparative political economics show that people throughout the ages of answered these four consistent questions in very different ways.  The different responses have radically changed the world in two ways:  they have addressed different needs across different societies, and they have evolved within each society.  Each geographic region of the world and the cultures that reside there seem to have very different orientations towards what is important in their society and the principles to achieve them.  Additionally, over time, each of these societies has learned about what worked and what did not, and groups within the societies have changed the guiding arrangements: they have evolved.  In other words, they changed the world by trying different responses to the 4 questions, and by learning and adapting their responses over time.

Now it seems that one of the very difficult things about these responses to the 4 questions is that are very hard to see.  At any given time, they seem to be given as fact.  That is simply the way that the universe works.  In one society, the king decides because it is his divine right.  In another society, it is the pope.  That is just the way it is…until it changes.  Then it was the most powerful companies that decided, or the elected parliament, or the richest families.  The responses changed over time.  And they remain difficult to see.

I suggest that the responses to these 4 questions are difficult to see, because they are given to most people in a society as laws, laws that are enforced by the power structure.  You just have to accept that this is the way things are.  I observe that most of these responses are also very abstract, making them difficult to understand and relate to in one’s daily experience.  Let’s see a couple of examples.

Within each of these 4 questions reside a few other questions with which a whole society is designed.  Unpacking these will help us see why these responses seem so abstract and disjointed, thus hard to see.

  1. Resources.
    • How much is there right now?  In economics, these are the “factors of production,” inputs to the process.  Economics cleanly classifies all resources as either land, labor, or capital.  The focus is on “right here, right now.”  Most look into the world and see scarcity, some see abundance.
    • How do these change, over time?  This question looks at the development of resources over time.  This focuses on the dynamics, capacity development, and relationships in influencing how much resource is available at any future time.  Most people think about what resources are available right now.  Far fewer think about the dynamics of generating those resources over time.
    • What are potential resources?  This is about seeing what resources could be available, whether they are now or not.   Very few think about potential resources that could be developed in the future.
  2. Allocation mechanism.
    • What is the motivating objective of the political-economic system?  What is the moral imperative?  What is the system trying to achieve?  Different groups have focused on material or spiritual well-being for the individual, equality amongst the citizens, well-being of the group, balance with nature, and closeness to spirit.
    • What primary relationship(s) best serves that objective?  Who has the “power” to decide, to set the rules of the game, to call upon force to enforce those rules?  What is the chief organizing principle?  Who are the owners of land, labor, capital?  Some groups chose the self as the guiding principle for individual freedom, such as neo-liberal markets.  Some chose equality with the other, such as egalitarian systems of justice and social democracies.  Some gave primacy to the solidarity of the group’s well-being, such as corporations, nation states, and collectivist societies.  Others gave most value to the relationship with nature, such as tribal communities and ecological groups.  And yet others gave the most focus to the relationship with spirit, such as theocratic communities and Buddhist societies.
    • What structure-process does the system use to make decisions in that relationship?  What is the power structure?  How many decide?  Few, representatives, many?  How do they decide?  Whose opinion, whose vote, whose enforcement?  Behind-the-scenes design (invisible), out-front debate (others vote – others opinion), election (you vote – representative give opinion), or participatory (you vote your opinion)?
  3. Value.
    • What is valued?  Material well-being at the outcomes-things level of reality?  Economic surplus?  Possibility, development, and outcomes for all five primary relationships?
    • What is the mode of exchange of what is valued?  What are the currencies?  What properties do they have?  Is everything exchanged through scarcity-based, interest-based money?  Are other currencies used, such as time banks and non-interest-based currencies?
    • Who gets what part of the value generated in the exchange?  Who “owns” the surplus value?  This is the economic value distribution question.  For land owners it is rent, for labor owners it is wages, and for capital owners it is profits.
  4. Organization.
    • Why do we come together?  Economic efficiency?  For a shared higher purpose?
    • How do we agree to interact?  Competition?  Cooperation?  Co-opetition? Collaboration?
    • What form best supports our agreements?  Economic specialization and division of labor around tasks?  Interwoven, integrated collaborative conversations?

Different groups across time and across geography have mashed together sets of the different responses listed above to the 4 questions and their subquestions.  The good news here is that much has been learned as billions of persons have lived in these natural experiments over the past hundreds of years.  The question is whether we can learn from what they have learned.  I suggest we can.

To begin to see how to learn from the insights gained from all of these groups, I have found two shifts to be very helpful.  First, rather than seeing these as four independent questions, much as they are developed and treated today by people in different professions (e..g, resource economists, comparative political-economists, financial economists and philosophers, organizational theorists), I suggest they are four different lenses on the same experience.  The four questions shed light on different dimensions of the same experience.  This leads to the second shift, looking to one’s own felt-experience of the harmonic vibrancy of the group as a pathway to seeing the agreements that influence that experience.  This takes seemingly disconnected, very abstract frameworks such as contract theory, factors of production, monetary theory, pricing theory, and allocation mechanisms and shows how they are actually just ways of looking at the harmonic vibrancy you experience in a group and the outcomes that result from that experience.

The main point is that these 4 questions that have changed the world many times are now available for you to choose a response to.  It is now up to you.  I delve more deeply into these 4Qs, their implications, tools and processes for seeing them, and choosing your response in this blog and in the book Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance (ecosynomics.com).

History of Thinking about Resources, Organization, and Value

In this blog, I have shared my exploration of the emergent ecosynomics of experiences people are having that lead to much better outcomes, including greater well-being, abundance, harmony, and vibrancy.  We are at a turning point in realizing that many people are already living sustainably from these emerging principles — I suggest that there are hundreds of thousands of these groups.

In recent posts, I have used the five primary relationships and three levels of perceived reality to highlight the fundamentally different assumptions these emerging groups have about four basic questions all groups ask: (1) how much resource is there?: (2) who decides how to allocate the resources?; (3) based on what criteria?; and (4) how do the different primary relationships interact?

People have explored these four questions for many years.  If you are interested in the evolution of human responses to these four questions, characterized in economic terms, respectively, as factors of production, resource allocation mechanisms, values, and organization, I highly recommend three recently published histories.

  1. Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (2011 Melvillehouse).  An anthropologic study of what people value, how that value is exchanged, and the systems that support that exchange.  These are the three big questions we explored around value.  Graeber finds that economics has completely ignored most of the data of what people have actually valued and how they exchanged it, using a rich basis in anthropology to support this claim.
  2. Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius by Sylvia Nasar (2011 Simon and Schuster).  Starting almost two centuries ago with Charles Dickens, Nasar paints vivid pictures of the context, process, and insights of influential thoughts leaders who were describing the principles of economics of their time.  This story brings to life what otherwise can be quite dry theory.
  3. The Wealth of Ideas: A History of Economic Thought by Alessandro Roncaglia (2006 Cambridge University Press).  As an economic historian, Roncaglia shows the evolution of the theories of resources, organization, and value since prehistoric times, diving into the specifics of the insights gained at each stage of evolution, as well as some of the incentives that drove those insights.

Transformative Organization of Human Interactions through Light-Verb-Noun Levels

You can now see how, in the figure below, that when you see organizing at the light level, you experience collaboration towards the highest harmonic vibrancy available within the group.  Working with the harmonic vibrancy is supported by “inspirited” structures that simultaneously support all five primary relationships.  When you filter out possibility, from the light level of organizing, you ground the harmonic vibrancy in specific opportunities for cooperative development and relationship building, at the verb level of organizing.  This is supported by structures focused on each group’s charter.  When you filter out time, from the verb level of organizing, you find the overlapping needs of individuals in the here and now, at the noun level of organizing.  This is supported by competition among incorporated structures focused on the needs of each group.



This highlights the insights gained over the past century at the light, verb, and noun levels of organizing, and how they interweave.  At this stage of human evolution, people want to learn how to work with all three levels simultaneously, transforming the infinite abundance of the light level of organizing to the experience of abundance at the verb level and sufficiency at the noun level of organizing.  This way people can experience the greater harmonic available by integrating all three levels, as in the figure below.



Implications for previous agreements

In the course of your life, you engage in organizing your interactions with others at the light, verb, and noun levels.  What you do at each level is very different.  How you see the potential in individuals and in the group, at the light level, is completely different than the development and relationships at the verb level.  Both of these are quite different than the contracting at the noun level.  You have also seen how collaboration is completely different from cooperative-competition and competition.  You know this, from your own experience.  What you know can change the agreements you make when you organize.

Most agreements today around how you organize your interactions start with the concept of contracting.  This belief focuses on the noun level of organizing.  Through contracts you agree on everything, from how much you pay for your phone and electric bill to your jobs to the taxes you pay and the price you pay for a banana at the grocery store.  These are all contractual agreements you enter, whether you are aware of them or not.  This is noun thinking, and it seems to work well.  Nonetheless, it does not include the verb and light levels of organizing.  Not integrating the verb and light levels of organizing decreases the group’s ability to attract higher potential people and bring in higher potential relationships, increasing duplication of efforts, decreasing the health of the work environment, and decreasing the group’s intellectual and social capital.  Fortunately, you have also seen that people are very comfortable organizing at all three levels, making it possible to shift the organizing agreements you enter.

An April 2011 article in the leading business magazine Forbes, whose motto is being “the capitalist’s tool,” highlights the predominance of the “obvious” noun-level approach to people, stating that, “the only three true job interview questions are: (1) can you do the job; (2) will you love the job; (3) can we tolerate working with you?  These look at (the candidates) strengths, motivation, and fit.”[1]

It is also clear that the movement from light to verb to noun levels of organizing leads to different results than the other way around.  Starting with a noun-level understanding of organizing, with scarcity driving contracts and an environment of competition, it is very difficult to add time and relationship to get to alliances and cooperation.  It is even more difficult to add possibility to arrive at expansive invitations and a collaborative environment.  Starting from the other end though is straightforward.  From light, you start with the assumption of infinite possibility, choosing to manifest specific verbs, which will meet in particular ways to become nouns here and now to address specific needs you choose – all from abundance.  In a space of expansive invitation and collaboration, you can choose flows where you enter cooperative alliances around specific developmental flows and relationships.  Within the cooperative flows, you can agree to very specific and concrete terms under which specific needs are met.  Both processes work with the interweaving of light, verb, and noun levels of organizing, and arrive at completely different experiences of what is possible.  The other goods news is that people around the globe are understanding this.  In the process, they are innovating many new organizing forms for working with abundance-based agreements, including new forms of the inspirited, chartered, and incorporated organizations (see figure below).  The framework of ecosynomics provides a light for identifying these people and learning from their experience.

Connection to big questions for value and resources

The big questions around organizing looked at why people organize in the first place, how to increase efficiency through agreements, and the specific structures and incentives to support these agreements.  As you explore these organizing questions, it becomes clear that the potential you see in people are the very resources the group wants to develop, as are the relationships they have.  You also see that the motivation for organizing a group and for contributing to that group are best expressed in terms of the value exchanged between the individual and the group.  Thus, the questions of organizing clearly interweave with those of value and resources.


[1] In this article, George Bradt interviews leading experts in executive recruitment (Bradt, 2011).

Organizing the Why, How, and What of Satisfying Needs Now

As I discussed in a previous post, the development-verb level of organizing focuses your attention on the development of capacities and relationships over time, allowing you to step further into the potential seen at the possibility-light level.  The development-verb level does not, though, satisfy the needs for which you organized in the first place.  While you are able to experience greater harmonic vibrancy, as you come together at the light and verb levels, it is at the noun level that needs are met specifically.  The “met need,” in the here and now, is the domain of the things-noun level.

To get to the things-noun level, you filter out the time dimension that is so important at the development-verb level.  Remember that, at the verb level, you have already filtered out the potential that is so important at the light level.  As you transform the verb level into the noun level, you are choosing that specific point in space-time where verbs overlap to meet a specific need.  Earlier I used the examples of the piece of bread and my daughter’s dress.  If the verb that brings either one in front of me shows up too early or too late, or in the wrong place, then it remains a verb, rushing towards landfill and back to its original energetic light-form.  If, however, the verb of the bread or dress intersect in space-time with the verb of my life in a particular way, then both verbs are transformed, at that instant, into a noun that satisfies a need in both verbs.  The verb becomes a piece of bread, a noun, that satisfies my hunger, and it satisfies the baker, who made it to exchange with me for resources he needed.  To get to the noun, we filter time out of the verb, making a choice for the moment in space and time that best satisfies the needs.  It is at the noun level, through this transformation, that an exciting transmutation happens in the light energy, where it passes from one form to another.  The bread passes from grain energy into human blood.  The dress passes from fiber energy into the radiance of the beautiful human.

As you filter potential out of the why of harmonic vibrancy at the light level, you find the leveraging of abundance in the system at the verb level.  As you filter time out of the verb-level why, you find the noun-level why of need satisfaction.  I will now show you how to manifest light all the way from possibility through probability into the directly observable satisfaction of concrete needs.

How do you satisfy these needs, at the noun level of organizing?  Through competition.[1]  Competition results from filtering out time from cooperation.  At the verb level, we were working together, in cooperative-competition, as individuals with different goals for ourselves.  At the noun level, we are in the same point of space-time, working towards the same need.  In this space-time we work at cross-purposes to achieve the same need-satisfier.  At the noun level, the agreements we make are very specific and concrete in their description.  They are manifesting the here-now.  Thus, the individual signs a contract with a very specific job description, clarifying exactly what is expected of the individual’s actions and outcomes, in the here and now.  This has very positive effects in clarifying what is expected right now in the contribution one can make in one’s “doing.”  This also simplifies the finding of someone who can “do” what is necessary to make the contribution right now, independent of the individual’s development process (verb level) or deeper potential (light level).  This also has very negative effects, as the person’s potential and development are contracted into a very specific and limiting dimension, as put forth in the job description.  In this noun level of agreements, your relationship to the other is equally concrete, specific, and contracted.  When you see the other and their specific actions, at the noun level of organizing, you see the need for clarity in roles and responsibilities, who will do what, with what authority.  Your relationship to the group also needs concrete specifics.  This leads you to the need for clarity in who is responsible for the actions of what people and what resources – the need for functional hierarchies.  If you are contracted into a specific, concrete contribution to the group, then you want your responsibility for the group’s outcomes to be equally limited and specified.  You do not want to be made responsible for outcomes you cannot influence directly, under your contracted job description.  The functional hierarchy also necessitates a clear outcome for the hierarchy, often labeled as the group’s mission.  The mission, at the noun level, is very different than the why for organizing at the noun, verb, or light levels.  The mission here is usually a noun description of the specific need that the overlapping verbs are designed to satisfy.  You do this to meet the need of this group in this way.  Period.

The what of organizing at the noun level focuses on the group structures and individual incentives at this very concrete level of manifestation.  The group structures transform from the verb level of “chartered” groups to incorporated groups.  When time is filtered out of the charter a group seeks to serve, what remains is the group’s body, its corpus, thus the term corporation.  This body, the corporation, is designed to serve specific “needs.”  At the noun level, some groups are structured for profits, thus they are called “for profits,” also referred to as businesses.  Business is an odd term, as if its charter is to be busy.  Other groups are structured, at the noun level, for helping others in ways “for profit” motives will not.  They are often referred to as “civil society,” “non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or “non-profits.”  This is also an odd term, meaning that they do not distribute profits to private investors, rather to their direct investors, which in their case is society at large.  Because of their “good works,” they often do not have to pay taxes, which is also odd, as it distinguishes them from “for profits,” which might also do “good works” and pay taxes.  This is less a commentary on who should pay taxes and more a commentary on the rather arbitrary definition of charters and regulations at the noun level.  Yet other groups are structured, at the noun level, to regulate, tax, and redistribute the wealth of the activities of others.  They are often referred to as governmental organizations, which do not pay taxes.  Thus, at the noun level, there are three basic organizing structures for serving specific needs.

Noun-level organizing structures are often depicted with organizational charts that show straight-line responsibility hierarchies, with ever-expanding levels of responsibility for specific areas of the group.  This is the integration of the systemic, process view of organizing at the verb level, filtering out time.

At the noun-level, organizing of the incentives of individuals filters out time from the verb-level of development and relationships.  The residual of this filtering is what economics refers to as labor, the bodies available with a given set of skills to do work.  This is what is seen at any given moment in the development of human beings.  This is the realm of employment, a contract for bodies to make a specific contribution to the group’s needs.

While the noun-level of organizing is the predominant ideological form, it comes with significant costs.  In addition to the costs at the light and verb levels, a focusing narrowly at the noun level of organizing leads to the loss of knowledge and relationship.  By focusing narrowly on labor as a body with skills, learning and development of the individual are lost.  It becomes very easy and normal to make decisions that dismiss, neglect, and minimize the value of knowledge gained from the experience humans have in an activity over time.  Technically this knowledge gained over time is referred to as intellectual capital, a capital that can be used in the future, as I showed you in the chapter on resources.  In the course of human interaction, you meet people and make relationships.  The web of relationships you weave is the network in which you express your light in the world.  This is the group of people with whom the verb flows.  When you ignore the relationships people have, you miss the possibility and the flow possible in those relationships.  Technically these relationships which sustain a group are known as social capital.

[1] The word competition means, in classical Latin, “to strive together.”  It has emerged since the early 1600s, in modern French, to mean “to be in rivalry with another.”  This evolution suggests competition is striving together for the same scarce value, thus requiring that we be rivals, since we want the same thing of which there is not enough for both of us.

Organizing Human Interactions at the Possibility-Light Level

I suggested in earlier posts that anything that you manifest, that you make real, has gone through a light-verb-noun process.  Like I did with resources and value, we now want to see if you get to a different understanding of what you have learned about organizing, if you start from the light versus starting from the noun.  As I showed before, if you start from the light, you start with abundance and choose for what is manifested here and how.  If you start from the noun, you end up walled into starting with an assumption of scarcity, which will not allow you to get very far.  Now I will develop that understanding step by step.

Starting with the possibility-light level of organizing, from the level of infinite abundance, the why question focuses on choosing the highest level of harmonic vibrancy available.  You saw in the earlier chapters that people seek greater harmonic vibrancy.  When it is greater around you, you feel better.  You feel greater abundance in all dimensions of your experience.  And, when there is less harmonic vibrancy around you, you feel worse.  You experience greater scarcity.  The data that I will share in Part 3 shows that many groups around the world are finding sustainable ways to live out of greater harmonic vibrancy.  The secret they are finding is to make the harmonic vibrancy the why of their work.  And they find that, along the way, they are able to experience greater abundance in all factors of their life.  They say that they listen for the harmonic vibrancy, and the how and the what become relatively straightforward.  This is the same experience musicians share.

The how of organizing at the light level makes explicit the potential available to the individuals and the group in their interactions, strengthening the harmonic vibrancy experienced in each relationship (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  You use a term for this in your daily life, collaboration.  Collaboration is working in relationship to a greater why.

The what of light-level organizing is a set of incentives and structures that simultaneously address the group and individual perspectives of outcome/motivation and function/task.  The “inspirited” organization focuses on the growth of the harmonic vibrancy common to the group, as people experience it in the different relationships.  This seemingly simple focus wallops a huge punch.  It builds in structures of growth, stability, and health for all five relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit) with everyone that engages with the group.  These are critical processes defining the systems of political economy today that determine the organizing forms you use.[1]

There are significant costs to not organizing at the light level.  The lack of focus on harmonic vibrancy makes it harder to find those people most attracted to and able to contribute to the higher light in harmonic vibrancy.  This translates into the inability to attract high potential people to the group.  The best people attract the best relationships, so without them it is hard to attract high potential relationships.  Without the possibility-light-level of organizing, there is little time, energy, and space for emerging possibilities – people are too busy getting the work of today done.  This makes it difficult to find deeply inspiring innovations.  Even though the opportunities for constant and deep learning are always present, they are impossible to see without a focus on the light level.  Without high potential people, relationships, and innovations, it is hard to maintain immanence and thus sustainability becomes ever more difficult.  Another huge cost from not organizing at the light level is the misalignment of people’s motivations and the group’s organizing principle.  As I just suggested, the inspirited organization focuses on the growth of the harmonic vibrancy common to the group, as people experience it in the five primary relationships.  Without the possibility-light level of organizing, the inspirited organization becomes focused on specific processes and charters that cause many of the maladies you experience every day.  The next post, on the development-verb level of organizing, explores this.  These represent a very significant cost for most groups; costs which are easily avoidable and which many groups have figured out how to avoid.  They avoid these costs, not by working on minimizing them, rather by designing them out from the onset – the possibility-light level of organizing.

[1] Historian of economic thought Alessandro Roncaglia documents that, “Let us recall that ‘political economy’ is the term by which economic science was commonly designated, until Marshall shifted to the now dominant term ‘economics’; in contemporary economic literature, the term ‘political economy’ has been revived by those streams of research (such as the Marxists, the post-Keynesians, the Sraffians or neo-Ricardians) which lay stress on the social nature of economic activity” (Roncaglia, 2006, p. 53).  He is referring to Alfred Marshall (1842-1924), the very influential economics professor at University of Cambridge.

Big Questions about the Harmonic of Human Interactions

Assumptions about both the abundance of how much resource there is and the vibrancy in the value experienced set the frame within which humans interact.  How people interact is also an agreement, which I will explore in this series of posts.

Using the lens of “how do the relationships interact?” to look at the five primary relationships in the three levels of perceived reality highlights three very different organizing principles.  In the inner circle of harmonic vibrancy, I find the predominance of competition and the contract.  In the middle circle, I find cooperative-competition and the alliance.  In the outer circle, people tend to organize around collaboration and expanding invitations.  What do the three levels of perceived reality show about the dominant principles organizing human interaction in each circle?

Everything people do together, whether they are aware of it or not, is influenced by the way they organize that work together.  I will start with the basic questions of organization, the why, how, and what.  These questions take us down the path of why people come together in the first place, the agreements people make about how to work together, and the specifics around what they will each contribute.


Why we come together

There is something that you/we want to achieve.  You have a goal.  Whether it is to have some friends over, to create a community, to educate kids, or to offer a new product to the world, you have a reason for creating a new group.  This is the “reason for being” of a group, its organizing principle.  From the very simple, short-term project to the very complex, long-term project, you have aspirations for something you want to achieve for which it seems that you need others.  I suggest that you have this experience all of the time.  One way to see this is to realize that almost everything you do on a daily basis, you do by yourself.  You wake yourself up, you feed yourself, you move yourself through the day.  You do most things by yourself.  Some things you do not.  For some things you engage with others.  The starting point is to understand why – the reason for bringing people together.

The “goal” question of why people come together to do something is the question of effectiveness, where effectiveness is the ability to achieve a goal.  Based on what they want to achieve together, they can design how they want to do that.  This becomes the organizing criteria, and the arbiter used for deciding whether their combined efforts are being effective.  Goals can range from very short-term, such as having lunch together or carrying a heavy object a short distance, to very long-term, such as creating a family, a company, or a nation.


How we agree to work together

You need others to achieve this goal.  Most things you do alone.  Some things you do require working with other people to get it done.  You ask someone to help.  You do this all of the time, often unaware you are doing it.   You ask for help directly and indirectly, for small activities and for big activities.  Directly you ask people to help you in this moment, preparing a meal or designing an event together.  Indirectly you ask people to help you by providing you something.  You ask farmers to help you produce food when you buy produce at the grocery store.  You ask the truckers for help in getting the food from the farms to the store.  You do this asking for small things, like setting the dinner table.  You also do this for big things, such as running the government or a company, or deciding the energy future of the state.  You experience this asking for help from others all of the time.

When you ask others to help us, you are asking them to work with you.  The how of working together uses the technology of agreements.  I have already spent a great amount of time exploring agreements in the relationships you have with your own self, the other, the group, nature, and spirit.  The technology of agreements allows you to describe how you agree to work together or cooperate.[1]

You experience different kinds of agreements in different groups.  Some groups focus only on the things-noun level.  These groups want you to do a specific job, asking for none of your deeper capacities or contributions.  In these groups, you know only what others are required to do and little to nothing about their other capacities.  The individuals contribute to the group what they are told to do.

Recently I went with my son to a large retail sporting goods store to buy shoes for baseball.  I was talking with the kid working in the socks section about what he knew about the socks he sold.  Remember that I have worked in the sock industry for a few years, so I was curious what he knew, and how he engaged the people who bought the socks.  As an employee, he knew very little.  He said that the store did nothing to educate him on the attributes of the different socks and how they worked differently with different shoes, based on the activity of the athlete.  While we could have ended the conversation there, I delved further.  He started to tell me about being an active athlete himself, specializing in snowboarding.  It turns out that he has many years of experience with high-end footwear and the importance of foot health for his ability to be a great snowboarder.  When I engaged that part of him, he started to bring forth his own experience in what sock attributes were important for my son’s experience.  He helped us find just what my son needed.  When I asked him about his work – the agreements in the workplace – he told me that he was supposed to stay in the shoe department and help people buy shoes.  They gave him no training in this.  Nobody ever asked him about his own experience with athletic footwear or his own athletic pursuits.  To them he was cheap labor.  He had no idea what other people in the store knew or what they did outside of the store.  He was clear that he was supposed to just stand there and do his job, in his area.  These are agreements focused purely on the inner circle of agreements in the relationship we have to our self, the other, and the group.  When I began to engage more of his own knowing, his deeper capacities and experience, he instantly brought more of his experience and relationship with the other, in this case my son, to help him find the best solution for his baseball footwear needs.  This is the development-verb level of agreements.


What supports our agreements

The why question defined the goal you want to achieve.  The how question described the agreements you make with others to achieve that goal.  The what question looks at the incentives and structures that support the agreements you make to achieve the goal.  The incentives and structures explore what you agree to do, what motivates you to do that, and how to coordinate the work together.  We need to understand the what from two different perspectives: the we and the I, or the group and the individual.  From the perspective of the group, the what question looks at the specific work to be done.  What outcomes are wanted from the individuals and what specific tasks are they to do?

From the perspective of the individual, the same what questions have a different flavor.  Outcomes from the group’s perspective are the goals that motivate the individual.  This repeats the next level of a whole system.  The individual is both a part of a larger group, making a contribution to the group’s why, and a whole onto herself.  As a system unto herself, the individual has her own why, how and what questions.  The why is the motivation, the value the individual perceives in being part of the group.  The how is the set of agreements of how the individual is in the five relationships with the group.  The what is the understanding of the specific tasks to be done.

Motivation is the value you experience when you engage in the world.  At the things-noun level, this might look like the specific needs met in the value exchange, often being expressed as money.  At the development-verb level, you experience the flow of value in your life, as you engage in it more deeply.  At the possibility-light level, you experience the light potential of what is possible, in me, you, and us.  These are very different levels of access to the harmonic vibrancy of light that motivates you.

To work with others, you need to know what specific activity to do, what your motivation is for doing that, and how to coordinate your work with others who are doing their part.  What to do is about how to direct your will – what you do with your will to act.  Your motivation is the moving force behind your will.  It is the catalyst for engaging the will.  You need to engage it towards something.  Coordination is about how to do this engaging of the will in concert with others who are engaging their wills.

[1] To co-operate is literally to work (operate) together (co).

Resource Implications for Other Agreements

So far I have suggested that human beings are constantly in the process of working with resources at the levels of possibility-light, development-verb, and things-noun.  This is daily existence.  You also saw that how you work with resources at each level is different.  What you do with seeing possibilities in light, which you choose to manifest as verbs, is different than how you work with the inflows and outflows of verbs to accumulate what you need at a specific time.  This is different than how you work with what is available here and now, to satisfy needs in the noun form.  You know this, from your own experience.  And, what you know has major implications for your existing agreements.

Current agreements tend to be structured based on the belief in the “big 3” factors of production – land, labor, and capital – a belief that has dominated economic, political, and social thinking for the past century.  This belief focuses on the things-noun level of resources.  The name gives this away — factors of production.  They are inputs used to produce something.  What you can do depends on how much you have.  This is a very specific form of noun thinking.  It does not include the verb and light levels.  It is therefore no surprise that agreements based on the noun thinking of “factors of production” experience the verb and light level “costs of scarcity.”  Not making explicit agreements around the verb and light levels of work with resources must, by definition, lead to expensive resources, lost opportunities, the lack of necessary resources, unintended consequences, a higher probability of obsolescence, and a lack of new opportunities.  The good news is that you have seen how it is very natural for people to work with resources at these three levels.  If this is so, then you can make new agreements that make this process explicit.

What you have also seen is that the direction of the process is critical.  When you start with a noun level understanding of resources and try to add time to get verbs and possibility to get light, you start with the scarcity of nouns, and find that you cannot get there.  You cannot see the same breadth of verb processes and relationships when starting with scarcity, and you cannot see into the same depth of possibility from scarcity.  Starting from the other end, from light, you start with the assumption of infinite possibility, choosing to manifest specific verbs, which will meet in particular ways to become nouns here and now to address specific needs we choose – all from abundance.  Both processes work with the interweaving of light, verb, and noun, and arrive at completely different experiences of what is possible.  The other goods news is that people have figured this out, and have developed a myriad of ways to work with abundance-based agreements.  Ecosynomics shows you how to find these people and learn from their experience.

You can already see that the big questions around what resources are, how to accumulate them, and how to use them start to move us into the big questions around how you organize your interactions with other people, and how you exchange value.  While you can keep these three areas relatively isolated at the noun level, at the verb level they are interwoven, and at the light level they are different instances of the same lightness.

Specifically, questions around the things-noun-level resource of “labor” at the verb and light levels also deal with organizing questions around how you bring people’s contribution into the work, and with value questions around their experience of the value they receive from being part of the group.  Likewise, “capital” questions deal with its accumulation and use as a verb-level resource, how you organize around it, and how it flows in value.  At the light level, you begin to see what “capital” is, in its deeper essence.  You also see that the noun-level resource of “land” becomes the flow of and relationship to all that exists in this realm at the verb level, and how you choose to manifest possibility at the light level of resource.

Questions Emerging with Each Lens on the Agreements

5th of 5 posts on “Lenses for Seeing Agreements”

Each lens highlights different questions about the agreements within the five primary relationships, focusing on: the abundance of how much there is in resources; the value of the vibrancy experienced; and the harmony in the organization of human interactions.  I will start by highlighting the questions each lens shows, then dedicate later posts to unpacking each of the lenses.  I will show how these three lenses, when used together, define the path of agreements available to you, and eventually the level of harmonic vibrancy and abundance you experience.  This will allow you to change the agreements.  For now, I will start by looking through the lens of “how much?”

The “how much” lens assesses the state of the substances that support human life.  I have suggested earlier that people describe their experience of these substances in terms of the abundance they experience in their relationships to self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  A technical term for these substances is resource, used by economists and organizational strategists.  The resources supporting you are tangible and intangible.  These are the substances you experience every day.  The tangible include things you can touch, like water, food, clothing, the roof over your head, and money.  The intangible you cannot, including your reputation, the quality of your work, and the good will of your group.

In working with resources at the three levels of perceived reality, three “big questions” emerge.  How much is there right now?  How does this change over time?  What are potential resources?  These are captured in the figure below.  In later posts I will delve into these three questions, exploring what has been learned so far by the giants who came before us, and how these resource questions convert the five primary relationships and three levels of perceived reality into tangible and intangible resources.



The “what do I experience” lens evaluates the value assigned to the experience of each of the five primary relationships at each of the three levels of perceived reality.  People value the vibrancy they experience in each element and the way the elements interact.  Through the lens of value, three big questions come to light: the value of exchange, the mode of exchange, and who gets what from the exchange.  These are the questions that the giants of value theory have uncovered.  Basically, these questions ask, “How much value of what and how is it divided up?”  In later posts I will use the three levels of reality to parse out what has been learned over the last centuries about value, what it is, what generates it, how people exchange it, and who gets what part of it.

The “how do the elements interact” lens looks at how human interactions are organized to bring out the harmony in the five primary relationships among the three levels of perceived reality.  Through the lens of organization, our forefathers developed three big questions: why we come together; how we agree to work together; and what supports our agreements.  Subsequent posts will explore the organizing structures and processes that foster harmonic agreements, answering these three big organization questions as they influence each level of perceived reality.

The figure above captures the subtle gift in these three lenses on the agreements available in the five primary relationships, showing that these seemingly unrelated questions actually describe different textures of the same experience in human relationships.  They give you the lens of resources to see the experience of abundance, the lens of value to see the experience of vibrancy, and the lens of organization, to see the experience of the harmonic.

Agreements on “How the Relationships Interact”

4th of 5 posts on “Lenses for Seeing Agreements”

A third question now arises, asking how, through the agreements we make, the abundance and vibrancy questions interact with each other, the five relationships, and the three levels of perceived reality.  How do the agreements address all three levels of reality, for you, me, us, nature, and spirit?  Do they?  This organizing question connects the experience of relationships and realities to the experience of harmony.  As I shared the conversations I have been in with hundreds of people over the past two years, I told you how people clearly preferred the experience of greater harmony.  This third question provides a lens for seeing how to bring in the harmonic.

These three questions (how much, what I experience, how the relationships interact), which naturally arise when looking at the five primary relationships in three levels of perceived reality, are lenses into the core building blocks of all agreements.  Economists call these lenses resources (how much), value (what I experience), and organization (how they interact).  Typically resources are seen as the inputs to the production process, which people organize their work together to produce into a product or service that someone else values, as shown in the figure below.  Theories about these building blocks and their application to human agreements have evolved over hundreds of years.[1]  Equating the three lenses to the three building blocks allows us to benefit from what many people have observed about agreements over many years.  Remembering that agreements are arrangements in relationships, and that eco-nomos means rules of relationship, there is much to learn from the centuries of development of these three building blocks.

Before I jump into what the three lenses show about agreements in more detail, in the next blog post, I want to point out a subtle shift that just happened.  As I showed in the figure above, the current thinking about the three building blocks – resources, organization, value – relates the building blocks linearly.  First resources come in, then people organize to transform them into something that, finally, others value.  One then the other then the other.  This framework greatly simplifies a great number of complexities, and it leads to dividing them up into separate fields of study.  While sophisticated theorists recognize their interdependencies, and sophisticated practitioners work with complex models that deal with these interdependencies, common use of these three building blocks separates them into distinct disciplines.  Common practice builds off of resource theories or organization theories or value theories, but rarely off all three together.  This makes seeing the agreements implicit in them very difficult.

Framing the questions as lenses on the same relationships makes the agreements visible.  It puts the agreements up front, instead of the lenses.  By equating these building blocks with the lenses of the three big questions, we see that they are different lenses on the same thing – the harmonic vibrancy experienced in the five primary relationships at three levels of perceived reality – and not three separate disciplines put together linearly.  I will say that another way.  The shift is from trying to figure out agreements buried in amongst three different disciplines (resources, organization, value) to having three different lenses on the same agreements.

The next post looks at the questions that emerge around the agreements we make within and across these three big questions of how much, what I experience, and how the relationships interact.

[1] For a multi-century history of economic theories of resources, organization, and value, see (Roncaglia, 2006).

Relating to Organization

The second application of the four-step harmonic vibrancy move is to how people organize their work together.

Gap Description
The first step is to define the harmonic vibrancy aspiration-reality discrepancy to be minimized.  The common wisdom is that people work together to achieve something that they cannot alone.[1] The aspiration people hold for organization is that they be able to make a contribution, and that organizing with others increases their efficiency, effectiveness, and innovativeness.  The current reality is that people have achieved together much more than they could on their own, yet most people feel that the organizations in which they live ask little of and contribute little to them as human beings.

Across all sectors, society has defined many great challenges facing humanity, and the key finding emerging in all of these is the need for people to collaborate on a much higher level.  Nonetheless, despite great efforts from business, government, and civil society, most efforts are paralyzed in the attempts of thousands of efforts to “go at it alone” and very few successfully collaborating across efforts.  At the core of this challenge is the assumption that people are organized as labor and labor’s contribution is a static function.[2] In this worldview, the consumer desires a product or service, which an individual or a collective provides.  The collective organizes labor, land, and capital to provide this product or service, defining functions needed to produce the product or service.  Labor is contracted to fulfill these functions, based on defined skills and knowledge needed to perform the function.  These functions are uniquely defined and independently organized.  At any given time in any given place, there are only a limited, scarce number of people who can fulfill that functional need.

This perspective of labor as fulfilling a function within the whole of the enterprise places the individual at the service of the collective, which is the inherent level of analysis.  From the holonic perspective, this highlights an inconsistency with the individual as a part, whereas neoclassical economic principles suggest the level of analysis is with the individual as a whole: an inconsistency in whether the individual plays a mechanistic function within the whole or is a whole that maximizes utility.  This inconsistency drives all debate on work incentives.  Most economic systems compensate people for the function they play, on a market-pricing basis.[3]

Other’s Experience
An emerging perspective is that people are infinitely creative.  If we have an insight, a creative flash of brilliance, we do not say, “Oh well, there goes my one insight for the month.”  When our children shine during a band concert, we smile: we do not think that they just used up their creative expression.  When it comes to satisfying their own needs and those of others, people are abundantly imaginative; creative in what to do and in how to do it.

While uni-axial perspectives claim people are inherently resistant to change, a scarcity orientation, nobody wants their five-year old to stay five, and nobody wants to know at 40 only what they knew at 30.  They want to grow and learn, an abundance orientation.  The perceived resistance to change is a resistance to change that does not increase the harmonic vibrancy they experience.  Experiences in collaborative holistic inquiry show that when people experience shared intention, relationship, and understanding, they experience a much deeper level of harmonic vibrancy to which they are able to make a substantial and sustainable commitment.[4] People come together to collaborate in bringing the best of who they are to a collective project.  From this perspective, homo lumens is seen as abundant potential, not a static, functional part of an organization.

Axial Description
An assessment of the vibrancy a collective experiences on each axis is very instructive for how it organizes itself, internally and externally.  Many of the fads in organizational forms implicitly assume specific levels in the harmonic vibrancy zone, which may or may not serve the specific collective.  Two extreme examples illustrate this: strong hierarchy and deep collaboration.  In a strong hierarchy, people are expected to play a specific function and do what they are told.  This works best when people do not expect to contribute much of their greater potential; mutuality requires only that each be allowed to do her own job, and everyone does just his job – a description of low vibrancy on the axes of relationship.  Bringing a strong hierarchy into a collective that is accustomed to higher vibrancy will at best stifle the collective, usually causing the individuals in the high-vibrancy collective to leave.  In the other extreme, deep collaboration works best when each individual gives of his best potential, expects and supports everyone else in doing the same, and each is continuously asked to make his greatest contribution to the collective, which validates each contribution – a description of high vibrancy on the axes of relationship.  Bringing deep collaboration into a collective that is accustomed to lower vibrancy will at best be seen as naïve, and usually seen as unnecessary and inefficient process.  The same challenges face collectives when they form partnerships-alliances with other collectives

Harmonic-Vibrancy Move
Clearly there are many implications of this shift from (1) labor as a scarce resource that contributes in a static fashion towards someone else’s goals to (2) people as an abundant resource that contributes in a dynamic manner towards individual and collective goals.  The industrially developed world is based primarily on an assumption of human labor as scarce.  If people are in fact abundant resources, and not scarce, then how they organize to work together would change in two significant ways: (1) the degree to which individuals bring their greater potential to work; and (2) how people collaborate.

Potential of Individuals. Individuals can contribute both a function and a purpose to the collective.  Through a function, they bring a small subset of their potential, producing specifically what was requested to meet the collective’s need.  Through a purpose, they bring all of who they are, producing what the collective needs and far more.

Collaboration. To optimize cooperation, it is useful to distinguish between melodic and harmonic phenomena.  In melodic phenomena, the costs of collaboration exceed the benefits, making it better for individuals to go at it on their own.[5] Each individual effort seeks to create a melody, a single voice in unison, bringing its contribution to its greater purpose.  In harmonic phenomena, the benefits of collaboration exceed the costs, making it more effective for individuals to collaborate.[6] The collective seeks to create a harmonic, which integrates the individual contributions into a unique possibility, an emergent property that cannot be found in any of the individuals.

To address many of the larger challenges faced within and across organizations and communities requires understanding the harmonic nature of the phenomena.  Great strides have been made in organizing human effort towards the melodic phenomena, and far more remains to be learned about deeper collaboration to address harmonic phenomena.  The ecosynomic axioms guide the exploration of the implications of abundance in how people organize their work together.  People are holons, wholes and parts, who contribute individually and collectively.  As holons, people simultaneously play a function, have their own purpose, and serve a higher, collective purpose in the collective.  Many recently developed methodologies unite these levels in one model for harmonic vibrancy discrepancy minimization.[7] As people align around shared intentions, understand the contribution each can make to the collective, and reach a shared understanding of possibilities, through a process of collaborative holistic inquiry, they are able to increase their awareness of ways of leveraging the system’s existing capabilities and potentials through new agreements, which engender greater levels of commitment and collaborative action (see Figure 1)

Figure 1: Collaborative Holistic Inquiry — Theory O and Theory U

The next post applies the harmonic-vibrancy-move, four-stage process to how people exchange value.



[1] For an early business text on the organizational benefits of cooperation, see (Barnard, 1938).
[2] At least since Adam Smith, economics has seen the organizing of how people work together as “the division of labor” (Smith, 1976).
[3] For an example of compensation principles and employee policies that reach into ecosynomics, see (Throneburg, forthcoming).  For examples of organizations that put people first, see (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 2002).
[4] For more on collaborative holistic inquiry, see (Ritchie-Dunham, 2008a, 2008b; Spann, 2008; Spann & Ritchie-Dunham, 2008).  For more on the power of alignment of shared intention, relationship, and understanding, see (Ritchie-Dunham, et al., 2010).
[5] For more on the economics of transaction costs in collaboration, see (Williamson, 1981)
[6] For examples of effective collaboration, see (Senge, Lichtenstein, Kaeufer, Bradbury, & Carroll, 2007).
[7] For an example of a harmonic vibrancy discrepancy minimization model, see (Ritchie-Dunham & Puente, 2008).