New Monitor Study — How Funders Can Support and Leverage Networks for Social Impact

I was interviewed recently as part of a Monitor Institute study for the Rockefeller Foundation on “How Funders Can Support and Leverage Networks for Social Impact.” The final report is out, in the form of an interactive toolkit ( — please feel free to share it.

My contribution is based on my research into deviant groups — what makes some sustainably amazing and others sustainably awful. Through our Ecosynomics research at the in 93 countries, we have identified 1000s of groups who have off-the-chart, amazing experiences and outcomes everyday. The Monitor study incorporates some of what we have learned about the collaborative nature of their work.

If you know of any such groups, I would love to hear about them.

What Specifically Differentiates High Vibrancy Groups from Everyone Else?

Ever since my colleagues and I realized that we had identified “high vibrancy” groups as an emerging phenomenon, where people were experiencing sustainably strong outcomes and experiences by living in abundance-based agreements, people continuously ask us, “What is different, specifically, about these groups?”

We can use the four lenses of the Agreements Evidence Map to be very specific about what we have found so far.  Our dataset includes survey responses from 2,500 descriptions of groups in 93 countries and longitudinal field work with 92 groups in 10 countries in the past 5 years.  The four lenses include the economic, political, cultural, and social perspectives.

To be clear, we started with the group’s outcomes, and found their experience.  We have identified thousands of groups, large and small, that sustainably achieve far-beyond-normal outcomes, often for decades.  They are able to catalyze far more of the potential energy latent in their interactions with each other.  When looking into what made them so strong, we found that they all described energizing human interactions.  They are much more vibrant, which is why they became know as “high vibrancy” groups.

Economic resource lens.  How are the “high vibrancy” groups different?  Through the economic lens of resources, we see that these groups have completely different resources than most groups.  When high vibrancy groups look at their community, they have an abundance of resources.  From the perspective of the three levels of perceived reality, they see great potential energy in the latent resources they have in the potential of the people, their relationships, and their creativity, potential energy that is just waiting to be released.  They see kinetic energy in the dynamic development of capacities and relationships, as they consciously choose to release the latent energy.  They see huge resources in the currently available capacities throughout the community.  The resources they have are almost infinite, and they account for all of these resources, because they are strategic.  Compare that abundance of resources with groups that only perceive the tangible resources they have right now.  What is the relative perceived valuation of a company with 10X more resource available for the same cost?  This is the economic resource part that differentiates higher vibrancy groups.

Political allocation lens.  We find in our field research and in the research of others pointing at the same phenomenon, that high vibrancy groups distribute decision authority and responsibility to all five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit), giving each relationship the power for decision-making enforcement, throughout the organization.  When decisions are made by each primary relationship where most appropriate (e.g., me for myself, in support of the other, towards a unique contribution to the group, manifesting possibilities, through constant creativity), then a higher percentage of the organization is highly engaged.  Compare that decision making authority, power, and engagement with groups that centralize all decision authority in one primary relationship.  What is the relative value to an organization of highly engaged people versus disengaged people?  This is the political decision and enforcement part that differentiates high vibrancy groups.

Cultural value lens.  Our long-term work within many of these high vibrancy groups shows that they experience far more of the value available within the five primary relationships on a daily basis.  They experience the integration of the value of high vibrancy relationships to self, other, group, nature, and spirit every day, in living into the latent potential, dynamic development, and constant realization of their aspirations and outcomes.  Compare that with groups that say they value human potential, development, and learning, while they simultaneously shut down or minimize the expression of potential and development in one’s relationship to self, other, group, nature, and spirit — “Do that on your own time; here we have work to do.”  This is the cultural value part that differentiates high vibrancy groups.

Sociological organization lens.  In the high vibrancy groups we have met, human interactions are organized to integrate adaptive and hierarchical designs for collaboration.  There are clear structures for processing information throughout the organization, and resilient, dynamic processes for adapting mindfully to new information, perspectives, and categories.  They are both adaptive and hierarchical, integrating the best of both, to maximize the unique, hjgh-value harmonic available when people synergize their interactions.  Compare that experience of human interactions with groups that primarily focus on formal, hierarchical structures that funnel people into functional silos.  This is the sociological organization part that differentiates high vibrancy groups.

Costs of scarcity.  From these four lenses, we can begin to see what differentiates high vibrancy groups from everyone else.  They are completely different: economically, politically, culturally, and socially.  Because of all of these differences, they tend to win more in the short term, because they offer and invite much more value in the moment of the exchange, and they are more sustainable over the long term, because they are more resilient and able to catalyze the latent value already available.  What is the cost of not doing this, the cost of scarcity? Are the benefits of abundance, of releasing the latent energy at least as great as the costs of not releasing it?

Measuring Well-being — How Do We Know If We Are Better Off?

How do you know if you are better or worse off today than yesterday?  Than a year ago?  Than ten years ago?  More money in the bank?  More friends?  More memories?  Better health?  These measures we use to determine whether we are better off influence the decisions we make.

When we make a decision, Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon taught us that we use judgments about the future and about how to get there.  In all decisions, we have value judgments about a desired future, and we have factual judgments about the best way to get there.  How we measure what we value in the future guides what we do to get there.  Said another way, how you measure “better off” matters, as it provides the incentives for what you do.

As we have explored in previous posts, you can define the vibrancy you experience in what you value at the things-noun level, the development-verb level, the possibility-light level, and some interweaving of the three levels.  And, we saw that what you value in your experience is very different at each level of perceived reality, from the things you have in this moment to the experience to the potential to the living with all three levels.

The economic systems that influence much of our daily life are guided by similar values of “better off,” using indicators to tell us whether we are better off and to guide the decisions we make.  One of the main indicators we use globally is Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  GDP sums up all of the monetary transactions in a country, indicating the volume of value exchange in a given time period.  More value exchange indicates more capacity to produce and acquire goods and services.  This is good.  It is a good indicator of the things-noun level of value experienced.  It says nothing about the development-verb level, the possibility-light level, or the interweaving of the three.

To expand the measure of well-being beyond the sum of monetary transactions, many systems are emerging, peaking into the broader experience of interweaving possibility-light, development-verb, and things-noun levels.  I highlight two here for you to explore.

  1. Better Life Index.  Documented by the OECD, this index explores your experience of different aspects of life, including housing, education, income, employment, community, and environment.  On their website, you can assign your own values to these indicators.  This index describes a broad range of experiences and, given the focus on your experience of living with these aspects, it describes both the things-noun level and early development-verb levels of your experience.
  2. Inclusive Wealth Index.  Collected by the UNEP/IHDP, this index assesses a country’s manufactured, human, and natural capital assets.  It assesses the sustainability and inclusiveness of the capital assets by looking at how they are managed for short-term benefit, while sustaining the resources for the long-term.  This index looks at both the sustainable development-verb level of resources, and their immediate use at the things-noun level.

If you have other indices you know of that are exploring the interweaving of value experienced at the light, verb, and noun levels, please share them here in your comments.

The Value of Exchange

What is value?  Value is what something is worth to you.  The question of what people value is as old as language, maybe older.  While it is tricky to define precisely, people are very clear on what is important to them, in any given moment, and they act from that understanding.  Every moment of every day, you make value judgments about what is important to you and how you will act accordingly.  In these value judgments, you see a desired future state, and you assess what action to take to get you there.  This is working with values.

Historically, value has been divided into three broad categories: virtuositas, complacibitas, and raritasVirtuositas is the ability to satisfy human needs.   Complacibitas is a personal preference.  Raritas is scarcity of the good.  This means that you value something, because it satisfies your needs, because you like it, or because there is less of it than wanted.  The more it does one of these, the more you value it.  These three are separated, because what drives them is different.  I need to eat to live.  I prefer brown bread to white bread.  I will pay more for the brown bread I want, if there is not much of it available.

To get something, you enter an exchange with the person who has it.  When you enter an exchange, you agree to what will be exchanged at what rate of exchange.  Whether it is a basket of potatoes for a chicken, or 10 pieces of paper with ones printed on them, you have reached an agreement of what I will give you and you will give me in the exchange.  We have agreed on the value of exchange.  Sometimes this is referred to as the “price” of what was exchanged.  The price paid is highly negotiable.  It gets hard to see this when you go to the store and see a fixed price, or when you receive the electricity bill.  Yet, you can choose to go to another store where the price for the same good is lower.  When you do this, you are negotiating.  Said another way, you are looking for the agreements you want to enter into in the exchange.  When you opt out of one possibility for another, you are communicating your negotiated agreement.

Around the value of exchange, there are a few moments of exchange that interest you, as a consumer, a worker, an owner, and a citizen.  As a consumer, you are interested in the supply and demand of what you want, helping you arrive at a negotiated price.  As workers, you are interested in how the value is divided up among the people who run the company (profits), those who own the assets (rents), and those who do the work (wages).  As owners, you are interested in how value is generated from the resources you provide.  As citizens, you are interested in who pays for the consequences of the actions of different individuals and groups in the system (externalities).  These are all significant questions that directly impact your life.

The Costs of Scarcity … The Benefits of Abundance

“The Costs of Scarcity … The Benefits of Abundance” — a white paper from the Institute for Strategic Clarity

We contend that most organizations are losing the benefits of the capabilities for which they pay dearly and exercise daily.  When one understands that these losses arise from a measurable scarcity state that produces scarcity practices, one can begin to substantively reduce these “costs of scarcity.”  We demonstrate to the reader from case studies herein that working out of a conscious “abundance dynamic” – versus a less conscious “scarcity dynamic” – enables one to make sustainable, striking gains in the conduct of day-to-day and long-term business.

What if you could increase the quantity and quality of resources in your organization, their efficiency, effectiveness, and innovativeness by 100% at no cost?  The fact is that most organizations are missing at least 75% of the benefits of the capacities they have already paid for, as a result of, costs of waste, poor quality, excessive inventory, turnover of high-performance employees, stress, and the failure to meet customer needs.  These same organizations may also be missing up to 90% of the benefits of the potential within their reach, such as seeing new opportunities, attracting top performers, increasing the percentage of the highest margin products and services in their niche, the potential contributions every employee brings every day, and stakeholder loyalty.

Our calculation of potential lost benefits is further supported from the large volume of research in lean manufacturing.  This research shows that only 5-35% of work adds value, with 65-95% of work being one or more of the “seven deadly wastes:” overproduction, waiting time, over processing, defects and rework, excessive motion, inventory, and transportation.  The “costs of scarcity” framework highlights many of the systemic root causes of the seven deadly wastes, indicating they are a conservative estimate of the costs of scarcity.

Abundance is a dynamic state, accessed through your organization’s capacity to generate and sustain a flow of more than it needs, more than it can use, and to spin-off the surplus to the benefit of itself, its stakeholders, and its larger system.  Abundance is an inner and outer state in which one exercises specific capacities to produce and sustain the resources one needs to realize an individual or collective purpose.  Outwardly, abundance produces material and financial resources, sufficient manpower, necessary skills and competencies, etc.  Inwardly, it generates and sustains initiative, creativity, leadership, intellectual know-how, confidence, and clear understanding of future barriers and possibilities.  Inner and outer abundance capacities are mutually reinforcing.  The riches one creates enhance one’s confidence and capacity to generate further riches.  The dynamic of abundance acts as a self-perpetuating virtuous feedback loop, raising all players in its system.

The capacity to be in abundance provides obvious, ample and direct benefits.  The capacity for this abundance already exists in your organization in:

  • the potential and development of your strategic resources, both tangible and intangible
  • new and more effective possibilities in your organizational structures and processes
  • your stakeholders’ perception of the value of their relationship with you.

Abundance is a desirable state for any organization.  While this seems obvious, direct measurement of this abundance is not.  If you can measure your capacity for abundance, your company can assess the benefit-cost of investing in abundance-based practices.

Most organizations live in and compensate heavily for scarcity.  Some organizations are figuring out how to live in abundance and benefit from the extraordinary outcomes it produces.  We will show you how to measure the benefit of abundance, providing a benefit-cost investment framework, as well as where to invest in abundance.  Four case studies illustrate the framework.

Download the white paper.

Reflections on Value — the Lens of “What Do I Experience?”

The second lens for seeing agreements in the five primary relationships focuses on “what do I experience?,” highlighting the value in the vibrancy experienced.  This is where human values come to bear.  This is both the human experience and the outcome people seek.  Whether it is the accumulation of things, experiences, or enlightenment, values drive everything people do.  Given its importance and centrality to human experience, I want to unpack the big questions around value, to better see the agreements people make around value, mostly unaware.  With greater awareness could come better agreements.

Through this lens, three very different principles for value appear.  In the inner circle of harmonic vibrancy, people focus on what they have, what they can see, and compensation systems for participation.  In the middle circle, systems emerge around what people can do and the flows of value that can be manifested, focusing on the realization of sustainable value through sustainable relationships.  In the outer circle, people focus on potential, on what they can be, finding forms of illuminant potentiation in value exchange.  What do the three levels of perceived reality show about the dominant principles of exchanging value in each circle?

To get started, I need to clarify a couple of basic concepts about value.  What is value?  How do you know what you value?  How do people agree on this?  How do people manage value exchange pragmatically?  Basically, the study of value addresses three questions.  How much do people value something?  How do they exchange?  And who gets what from the value of the exchange?  In essence, how much of what and how is it divided up?[1]

[1] The historian of economic thought, Alessandro Roncaglia, suggests, “the theory of value adopted by an economist points directly to his or her representation of the world.  By using the debate between rival theories of value as the connecting thread, and observing the shifts that the theory of value (erroneously considered by some reconstructions as an unchanging monolith) undergoes within each approach, we may also grasp the differences and the changes in the conceptual representation of society” (Roncaglia, 2006, p. 17).

The Costs of Scarcity and the Benefits of Abundance

Ritchie-Dunham, James, and Michael Puleo. 2012. The Costs of Scarcity and the Benefits of Abundance, White Paper, Belchertown, MA: Institute for Strategic Clarity, June.

Abundance – more than you can use – provides ample direct benefits to any organization. This abundance already exists in the potential and development of your strategic resources, in the unfulfilled possibilities in your organizational structures and processes, and in your stakeholders’ perceived value of the relationship with you.

Abundance is a desired state for any organization. While this seems obvious, direct measurement of this abundance is not. Without measurement, a company cannot assess the benefit-cost of investing in abundance-based practices. The quality movement shows us the way. The measurement of the cost of no-quality provides a minimal estimate of the benefit of quality. Similarly, this paper proposes a framework for the costs of no-abundance or the costs of scarcity. The framework is then applied to four cases, making direct measurement of the benefit of abundance obvious.