Impact Resilience with Network Power

“Complex systems have somehow acquired the ability to bring order and chaos into a special kind of balance. This balance point–often called the edge of chaos–is where the components of a system never quite lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into turbulence, either. The edge of chaos is where life has enough stability to sustain itself and enough creativity to deserve the name of life,” according to author Mitchell Waldrop in Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.  What does this mean for social systems, systems of human beings?

As the most complex system that sustains us as human beings, life’s stability is found at the interface of outcomes and development, of the already-finished state of nouns that are balanced by the becoming state of verbs.  Life’s creativity is found at the interface of development and potential, of the becoming state of verbs and the possibility state of light energy.  Finding this interface, where life is creative and manifests, evolving as some innovations work better in the ever-changing environment, is the power of healthy networks.  Embedding a process of evolutionary discovery and alignment with a deeper shared purpose scales network power into tangibilization power, where deep collaboration brings orders of magnitude greater impact and resilience.

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Revisiting Agreements–Are Your Agreements Static-Dead or Dynamic-Living?

Most of us humans tend to act and interact as if our agreements, the guidelines for our interactions, are fixed.  If they are fixed, they are permanent, static.  Dead.  If they are fixed, then they cannot be changed.

And, if they actually are agreements, a mutual understanding, then we can decide what they are.  This means that we can change them.  They are just agreements.  They are changing, impermanent, dynamic.  Living.

If they are living, then agreements are constantly evolving, changing in content as the context changes.  If they are constantly evolving, then it would probably be a good idea to revisit them periodically.

In my own practice, I used to focus on making the best decision.  After all, I have advanced degrees in the decision sciences.  And, once I had followed a good decision making process, and made a good decision, I was done.  Complete.  On to the next decision.  A few years ago, I began to see the brilliance in “rushing to failure,” learning from trying something, making mistakes, and adjusting.  Much more interesting.  And, it was a mind shift to focus on getting to the awareness of the mistakes quicker.  While the rewards were high with this focus on failure, the fail language brought in lots of scarcity and feelings of weakness.  We were constantly asking about and focusing on our failures.  Good learning, and a bit debilitating in the language.

A couple of years ago, a colleague and I started experimenting with the practice of tangibilization.  Through the O Process, we would imagine possibilities, see a pathway of relationships and activities to manifest it, and a tangible outcome.  We would then look for the feedback in the pathway and outcomes, over time.  With this feedback, we would re-envision the possibilities, adjusting the pathways and outcomes we saw.  We were engaging an evolutionary process–learning and adjusting.  Over time, we saw that in this process we were constantly revisiting our agreements, adjusting them based on what we learned along the way.  With this realization, we shifted our language from “rushing to failure” to “revisiting our agreements.”  Now we actively seek and celebrate the feedback, with a reinforcing feeling, continuously evolving our agreements.

At first, this might seem inefficient.  Surely it is more efficient to decide once and be done.  Less time spent on process.  Right?  Back when we focused on making one decision and being done with the process, we observed that we actually ended up spending much more time on fixing the consequences of agreements that no longer worked.  This is analogous to the observation that most organizational work is spent correcting mistakes made from poor planning.  This does not mean spending endless time talking through every agreement over and over.  That IS a waste.

We found that it was far more efficient to continuously iterate the O Process, remembering the potential, pathways, and outcomes we saw, comparing those with what actually happened, and adjusting.  This is also known as the scientific process.  It turns out to be much more efficient and effective to revisit our agreements frequently, adjusting based on the feedback we received from the universe.  We learned that our agreements are dynamic, alive, so we revisit them continuously.

The Regenerative Power of the Tangibilization Process

We human beings require heat energy to live.  Through the process of living, most biological beings take in energy, break it down into useable parts, and then release the remaining energy, which other beings then take in.  Where does this energy chain start?  How is it generated in the first place?  It starts with light energy that is converted into the chemical energy our life depends on, through the process of “primary production.”

Primary production” is the process by which autotrophs (such as plants and algae, from the Greek for self-nourishing or self-feeding) take in the energy from light or inorganic chemicals and produce the chemical energy that feeds the heterotrophs (such as animals, fungi, most bacteria, and protists, from the Greek for other-feeding) in the rest of the food chain.  You can see a NASA animation of the global primary production process here.  While most of the food chain takes in chemical energy and breaks it down into smaller units that are oxidized to release energy for its own use, with one level’s outputs being the next level’s inputs, autotrophs take light energy and build up larger units of energy.  The autotrophic process regenerates the energy process, increasing the quality of the energy that the rest of the system breaks down for its energy source.

Nature found a way to generate the energy it needed for life (biotic beings) by converting light energy into chemical energy.  This energy is measured in joules or calories.  This is the flow of energy in the biotic and abiotic realms.  Our research into the ecosynomics of human agreements suggests that maybe nature also found a way to generate the energy it needed to tangibilize possibilities into specific outcomes, to transform potential ideas through the creative process into observable nouns, things.

We human beings require creative energy to live.  We live in a world of possibilities, of pathways for learning and developing relationships, and of outcomes.  We experience this creative energy through the set of five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  We call this creative energy of human-interaction the lumens (from the Latin for light).  Where does this lumens-energy cycle start?  Like with the primary-production process, which starts by converting light energy into chemical energy, the tangibilization process starts by converting light-potential, in the forms of possibilities, and uses the creative process to convert that light potential, described in physics as an information-rich field of possibility, into learning, relationships, and outcomes.

By understanding the biological process of regenerating chemical energy, from the source of the food chain, ecologists were able to define sustainability as the ability of the environment to generate energy faster than that energy is used up.  Unsustainable is when the energy is used faster than it is regenerated.  By understanding the creative process of regenerating human-interaction energy, from the source of the possibility-development-outcome chain, Homo lumens is able to define impact resilience as the ability of people to choose abundance-based agreements that recognize and engage the human-interaction creative energy that is already there.  Low impact resilience is when the human-interaction energy is not engaged, leading to today’s global disengagement epidemic.

 

3D Tangibilization of Impact Resilience — Recommended Reading

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance2016, New York: Scribner.  Click here for an excerpt.

Duhigg, Charles.  Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.  2016, New York: Random House.  Click here for an excerpt.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 2006, New York: Ballantine Books.  Click here for an excerpt.

To make something real, to make it tangible–to tangibilize–takes a potential, an idea that was seen, and a pathway for developing the potential, the possibility, into an outcome.  To tangibilize is the pathway of seeing the possibility, developing it, and completing it.  This is the creative process.  And while this seems obvious, because we all live this process all day long every day, most of the agreements underlying how we interact within and amongst organizations focus predominantly on the outcome, and very little on the potential and the developmental pathway.

And, there are positive ecosynomic deviants who are very focused on this process and its subtleties.  We know about these positive ecosynomic deviants mostly because of the results they achieve–results that shock us, leading us to assume that these outliers are superhuman, achieving extraordinary results unavailable to the rest of us.  They are able to achieve these results, over and over again, resilient to difficulties on their path, over sustained stretches of time.  I recommend three books I have read recently that uncover different dimensions of these positive deviants: their growth mindset; their ability to persevere; and their ability to be much more productive.  Written by three easy-to-read writers, who bring together great stories with lots of rigorous research–all Ds–Duckworth, Duhigg, and Dweck–they dig into what makes ordinary people capable of achieving high levels of impact and resilience.

Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck shares her vast research on mindsets, showing how having a growth versus a fixed mindset enables people to learn, to grow.  Her work shows that the fixed mindset–“believing that your qualities are carved in stone” (Dweck 6)–is predominant, socially embedded in many of our unconsciously accepted agreements.   People with the growth mindset–“the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training” (Dweck 7).  With many examples, Dweck shows how “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life” (Dweck 6); full of possibility and growth or not.

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth focuses on what drives people to find their passion and stick with it to find extraordinary levels of expression of that passion.  Duckworth sets the tone of what is possible, quoting William James, a founding father of modern psychology, “‘Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake.  Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.  We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.’  There is a gap, James declared, between potential and its actualization…James asserted that ‘the human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use.  He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum‘” (Duckworth 22-23).  Bringing together years of her own experimental research and field experience with that of many of her colleagues, Duckworth has nuanced what grit is–“perseverance and passion for long-term goals“–what it takes to achieve it, and what it does.  Summarizing all of this research, she finds that grit requires a passionate interest, connection to a higher purpose, lots and lots of practice, and an optimistic perspective that deliberate practice will lead to something.

New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg delves into the contextual factors that lead to some people being able to be much more productive than others. He finds that productivity paragons are much more motivated, focused, and tend to work in groups of psychological safety.  “To teach ourselves to self-motivate more easily, we need to learn to see our choices not just as expressions of control but also as affirmations of our values and goals” (Duhigg 31).  “To become genuinely productive, we must take control of our attention; we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge” (Duhigg, 102).  When people are in groups that “feel a sense of psychological safety…[they] succeed because teammates feel they can trust each other, and that honest discussion can occur without fear of retribution” (Duhigg 69).

The 3 Ds highlight decades of rigorous research and experience that show that the people we most see as exemplars of extraordinary outcomes often are actually ordinary people who have found their passion, spend lots of time applying it, growing in their craft over time, in a very focused, hopeful way, with lots of support from their community.  This might mean that what is out of the ordinary, as the William James quote above suggests, is not that people live into their potential, rather that more people don’t.  What is it that we as humans do in our agreements that shuts down the process of tangibilizing our own unique impact resilience, every day?  I call this negative ecosynomic deviance, and explore what it takes to stop doing it.