Ecosynomics — The Study of Deviance and Diversity in Human Agreements — Another Framing

The emerging field of Ecosynomics explores deviance and diversity in human agreements.

Deviance.  We study what agreements make groups deviate away from treating each other as creative human beings, and what agreements underlie groups that are sustainably human and creative.  Our data so far, from 94 countries, shows that the  agreements underlying the positive deviants and the negative deviants are completely different, with the negative deviants starting from scarcity and the positive deviants starting from abundance.

Diversity.  When we see that people look at and formulate their agreements through the four lenses of economic, political, cultural, and social perspectives, answering the 12 Big Questions everyone must address, consciously or unconsciously, we find an infinite diversity in how people have answered these questions.  This means that as every group has answered these questions for themselves, they have taken a different path, not that they are better or worse at seeing how to be on the same path.  The mainstream story is that some groups are better than others at being economically self-sufficient in a market-based system focused on financial wealth.   This assumes everyone sees the same agreements when looking through the lenses of how much, who decides, on what criteria, for what rules of interaction.  Our data shows that the set of agreements underlying each group starts from seeing different resources, deciding differently about them, based on values specific to the individuals making up the group, which leads to a specific set of rules for their interactions.  What looks like different degrees of the same kind are different kinds.

This wide deviance in and diversity of human agreements makes for a very interesting field of study, where many assumed that all of the answers were already given.  The only issue seemed to be better application of the one acceptable set of understood agreements.  Now we see a much more interesting issue: what specific set of agreements best support the experience and outcomes each group wants to have?


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.

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).

Who Gets What in the Exchange of Value?

When value is generated, who experiences and who receives what part of it?  This is a distribution question.  Around distribution is the question of who gets how much of the value flowing through any part of your life.  Big questions here circle around who has the right to what, and who gets to decide how it is used.  These questions deal with issues around taxation, public revenue, and private ownership.  The big question that hundreds of generations have struggled with is, who gets what of the value that flows through the group’s work?

Basically, you can think of three different groups who divide up the pie of what is made in an exchange: those who have resources; those who do work; and those who organize.  Essentially, you pay rents to people who own the resources you are using.  Whether it is an apartment, a warehouse space, land, or large equipment, you can pay someone else rent for the use of the resources they own.  The people who do the work to make the good or provide the service are paid wages.  Whether paid by the hour or day, like most employees, or by the project, like many professional services, such as doctors or architects, they are paid wages for their time.  Finally, after rents and wages come profits, which typically go to those people who organize the work and resources.

Today’s agreements about value tend to be buried deep within the group unconscious, with most people assuming the current rules are given: that this is the way it must be.  There is one national currency.  The government controls how much money there is and how it is used.  One’s wealth is defined by how much money one has.[1]  What if these assumptions are completely wrong?  What would happen if agreements of abundance were made explicit and shared?  Millions of people in hundreds of thousands of groups are actively exploring new forms of these agreements today, and demonstrating that they can be much more effective this way.

Ecosynomics suggests a very different relationship with value in a network of individuals.  The creative force of spirit manifests in two forms: its absolute, pure form; and in its relative, individuated forms.  Value is the experience of harmonic vibrancy (spirit) coming through both.[2]  People experience the manifestation of the possibility-light, as it expresses in relationships.  Exchange is acknowledging how the experience of vibrancy coming through shows up as itself in me, in you, in us, in nature, in spirit.  Ecosynomics is the recognition of the abundance flowing in all five relationships, while economics is the commoditization of the value that previously you exchanged.

[1] For integral perspectives on money, see Bernard Lietaer and Richard Wagner.  For perspectives on the system dynamics of money, see (Ritchie-Dunham & Hulbert, 2009a).  For the impact of strings of agreement of different types of money, see (Ritchie-Dunham & Hulbert, 2009b).

[2] See an interview with me on the ecosynomics of money (Teague, 2010c).

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 Much”

2nd of 5 posts on “Lenses for Seeing Agreements”

How do you choose agreements in five primary relationships at three levels of perceived reality?  I suggest a framework of three big questions that have been handed down over the ages: (1) how much; (2) what do I experience; and (3) how do the primary relationships and levels of reality interact?  These questions provide lenses for seeing the agreements.

When looking at the five primary relationships and the three levels of perceived reality in the figure below, a natural first question could be, “How much is there?”  In the context of a specific set of agreements, how much exists – how much shows up – in my relationship to my own self, at the level of things-noun, at development-verb, at possibility-light?  How much of what I can do, at the things-noun level, is acknowledged and utilized?  How much am I developing my capacities and relationships, at the development-verb level?  How much of my potential is visible, at the possibility-light level?  Likewise, through the “how much” question, I can see what is available through the agreements with the other, group, nature, and spirit, at each level of perceived reality.

By asking the “how much” question, I prequalify the answer.  More is better.  More what?  Abundance.  This question of “how much” connects the experience of relationships and realities to the experience of abundance.  Earlier I shared how people clearly preferred the experience of abundance to scarcity.  The “how much” question provides a first of three lenses in seeing how to achieve it.  The next post looks at the second lens.