MetaCapital, sustainability and bottom lines

professional swimmer underwater after the jump in abyssAnyone and everyone connected with sustainability dives straight into a dizzying array of frameworks.

If you spend even a short time in this space (or for some like me, a career!) you’ll be swimming through terms, measures and concepts such as:

  • Corporate social reporting; Global reporting initiative; Ecological footprint
  • Triple bottom line: People, Planet, Profit
  • Zero impact, net zero; Environmental restoration, re-wilding
  • Dematerialisation; Industrial ecology
  • Carbon neutral, carbon positive; Decoupling

So how do we cut through? How can we turn all the deep care, passion, effort, insight, work and brilliance, associated with all these concepts, into transformational global fast change?

Will it help to go big – meta –  and what is the minimum set of concepts that will encapsulate sustainability? As simple as possible but not simplistic.

To do this the MetaCapital Framework measuresmetacapital-summary-figure 4 types of impact with 10 types of capital to produce 4 bottom lines.

That’s a lot to grab in a short blog post. However, MetaCapital is resonating strongly within organisations not only around sustainability. In part, what has been occurring with so many diversified views of sustainability is that people are mixing impact measures, the stock of something as well as flows (increases and decreases).

We clearly distinguish such parameters for a company’s finances – e.g. business plan, assets and liabilities, cashflow. In today’s world, we need to do this across multiple bottom lines, environmental, human and psychological capital and across the impact on individuals as well as groups – just to mention a few parameters. The developing MetaCapital framework has the potential to bring clarity to help us in this complexity.

For an introduction, watch Sean Esbjörn-Hargens explaining the framework’s background and its potential to the first MetaCapital masterclass.

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For a deeper dive into MetaCapital and the slides referred to in the video see metacapital.net.

For those new to meta-frameworks like this and/or integral theory quadrants see Beyond the boxes for some first steps.

 

Out of the box elegance

corporate boxes.pngWhen we first play with integral quadrants many, I certainly was, are thrilled by integral’s explanatory power. We start analysing the world and phenomena.  It is exciting -as we do this we can bring great insight onto traditionally stuck and intransigent circumstances–creating flowing and productive performance in health systems, opening out around the difficulty of implementing corporate sustainability and this is enhanced by the mirroring of these same quadrants within ourselves.*

When we first come across this we tend to use it in an analytical way. What goes where? What is individual or collective? Are we looking at something with a subjective viewpoint or can it be seen, touched, heard, measured etc., the objective. These two differentiations create a surprisingly simple and compelling conceptualisation encompassing reality. 

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TetraDynamic meditation

As we are putting things into four quadrant boxes sometimes our capabilities flow in a state of unconscious competence! We shift systems and undertake change within businesses or groups gracefully. So can deeper consideration help? Despite how excruciating it can be to differentiate and get analytical this can really pay – diving into what our framing is and enabling our capabilities.

Before the blog gets too heady . . . try it for yourself – play Sean Esbjörn-Hargens’ TetraDynamic guided visualisation. Note, this is an excerpt of the online class. At approximately the 6 minute mark Sean talks about the connective experience between people in the class.  Substitute the ‘class’ for a group you are closely connected to.

By the end of the video you’ll hopefully have a taste of power that can be held, for impact in the types of initiatives and organisational situations many are part of, beyond just analysing a circumstance, situation or problem with quadrants. This shift can be thought of as a 5 step move:

  1. The fist step is we get good at boxes – what goes where? E.g. looking at wellbeing is it an internal, subjective concept like happiness or fear? Or an external systems collective objective sphere such as gross domestic product?
  2. The next step is a framework. We start understanding relationships – relationships across the boxes – E.g. what’s the connection between GDP and happiness? A lot of analysis in the modern world may make these types of links.
  3. However, as you’re looking at elements, are we mistaking the map for the territory? Are there multiple meta frameworks relevant to wellbeing?  Social, scientific, and/or humanistic? There are many different windows that you can look at reality with. Any one snapshot is not the total view of a phenomenon.
  4. So, naturally there are systematic dynamics between such different views. This is when we can look for universal integrating criteria or big picture organising meta-principles that take us into a broader space, into a systems dance with the quadrants.
  5. But, I said this was not going to get too heady. At the end of Sean’s guided meditation across these quadrants I hope you’ll have a taste of the fifth step. What happens when we start to see this systems dance and experience it with all the quadrants acting together? What does this feel like in our body and across the many connections, cares and interests that we have in and around us, conscious and unconscious? …consciously experiencing multidimensionality simultaneously.

Back on the applied side, holding these quadrant pieces consciously can enhance our understanding. It increases our ability to play to our strengths. It decreases the difficulty of managing our biases and blindspots and the mistakes arising from this. With important, volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex organisation, company and society situations around us it can create innovative insight and change.

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* This blog is part of a series about quadrants and TetraDynamics. See the first post for an explanation of quadrants, dynamism with this and background basic resources.

 

 

Opposites attract

In business, organisations and societies opposites are everywhere. These seemingly incompatible situations are often where we can’t solve a problem without creating dualities-diag-2another one. That is, there are contrairities to manage rather than problems to solve.

There is a beautiful tool, polarity management, to work with both sides of the issue. However, dig a little deeper and it turns out that many of these polarities can be enlivened, illustrated and understood though four primary perspectives – integral theory’s quadrants. This post, part of a series, explores a bit of the beauty, through such a view, that TetraDynamics can bring (see the first TetraDynamics post for basics).

Agency and structure can be prominent, for example, in business. In a small organisation, adaptation and changes to reach agreements and for new business relationships can be quick. Individuals may have a lot of agency to create and design. Too much agency, however, can be dangerous. The downsides might be obvious to many innovators – too many opportunities, too little structure. Structure may add a more strategic approach.

Try flipping such a polarity – e.g. if you prefer fast individual action try arguing (in a safe to fail context) the advantages of organisational structure. Fascinatingly, in a real life situation, you might find someone who would have been likely to hold the opposite pole pointing out the advantages of individual agency.

Classically, a polarity like agency and structure is something to manage. We would like to maximise the innovative nimble agency activities and the strategic structural advantages. TetraDynamics, in part, highlights that these relationships are not just about individual agency and organisational/collective structure. We’re most likely to flourish if we care about our own selves and others perspectives, as well as structural conditions, when we’re acting.

In other words, to manage such a polarity we’re likely to be well served by looking at our own values, the way we make sense of such an issue, the way our meaning making in our minds preferences certain approaches – doing this on the specific case or example at hand. We can make the picture deeper and livelier if we think about group and cultural norms, including how others influence us and our approaches.

Start to look at the dynamics and you’ll find that:

Polarity does not just require a singular approach. By looking at it across all four integral quadrant dimensions you start to see the ways in which all these quadrants are enfolded in on each other.

That might be making things sound complex. Practically, for those familiar with polarity management, take each pole, or an important high leverage action to maximise the positives of that pole, and map it into integral quadrants.

One of the consistent beauties of the integral quadrants is, as you can argue everything has at least these four aspects to it, people find them wonderfully enlightening. Approaches and issues that have been stuck, complex tangled problems, start to loosen. Scaffolding is built with new insight and innovative approaches. That’s a worthwhile and promising return from exploring deeper into the dynamics of such relationships.

Feeling with the organism

barbara_mcclintock_1902-1992_shown_in_her_laboratory_in_1947Using subjective feelings while you are investigating and empirically analysing at the same time? Surely that’s bad science. Or is it?

This blog series is exploring integral quadrants – how these open a world of opportunity on complex issues, as well as ourselves, through considering subjective as well as objective perspectives.  A hard edge for some, however, might be the systems world of physical sciences. Integral argues that this system world is enriched by being aware of subjective parts. That challenges conventionality, regardless of the (Nobel) prizes that have been won. Could we really make advances through looking as the object of our investigation – in geology as a rock or a crystal, in biology as a plant or a cell?

In this blog series based on a tetra-dynamics course (tetra-dynamics – four dynamic perspectives and viewpoints ), the course is seeing a lively and ongoing discussion around the clarity and distinction of looking “at” or “as” a phenomena, entity or thing – see repeating patterns, the previous post.

There are different ways of seeing something – from its perspective (looking as) or viewing it (looking at). As we do this, the oddness of looking as a thing strikes us. Are we really saying we can look as, as if we are a rock, plant or a landscape?! On one level, if we’re looking as a plant we’re imagining and projecting some extended scenes. However, don’t dismiss this out of hand.

Barbra McClintock (pictured) is a renowned Nobel prize winner in the field of genetics. One of her key abilities, she said, that set her apart, allowed her to see further and deeper into the mysteries of genetics than her colleagues, was to develop a particular feeling for organisms.

Over and over again, she tells us one must have the time to look, the patience to “hear what the material has to say to you,” the openness to”let it come to you.” Above all, one must have a “feeling for the organism.” One must understand “how it grows, understand its parts, understand when something is going wrong with it. [An organism] isn’t just a piece of plastic, it’s something that is constantly being affected by the environment, constantly showing attributes or disabilities and its growth. You have to be aware of all that… you need to know those plants well enough so that if anything changes, … you [can] look at the plant and right away you know what this damage you see is from – something that is scraped across it or something that bit it or something that the winds did.” You need to have a feeling for every individual plant.

In tetra-dynamics terms, Barbara seems to be describing looking as the plant developing a feeling for plants. If you look as the plant, in the upper left integral quadrant (individual, subjective) you can imagine how the plant ‘feels’-  the feeling of the plant as it changes.

Sounds strange? Barbara’s insights were stellar work. Her advances in genetics won a Nobel prize “for her discovery of mobile genetic elements.”

One of the continuous beauties of this four quadrant (tetra) model is that it applies across multiple scales – reflecting our own self understanding, analysing other entities and experiencing the interplay between these approaches or dynamics. Moreover this  seems to be quite catalytic – enabling significant advances – ah-ha moments if you like.

That’s very encouraging when so many of our challenges today are highly volatiles, uncertain, complex and ambiguous! Here’s a system that’s helping to shift ourselves and science – more than a little hopeful for the future. And, perhaps in using this we’ll all end up with some of Barbara’s ‘knowing’:

McClintock has pushed her special blend of observational and cognitive skills so far that few can follow her. She herself cannot quite say how she “knows” what she knows. She talks about the limits of verbally explicit reasoning; she stresses the importance of her “feeling for the organism” in terms that sound like those of mysticism. But like all good mystics, she insists on the utmost critical rigor, and, like all good scientists, her under- standing emerges from a thorough absorption in, even identification with, her material

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Picture: Smithsonian Institution/Science Service; Restored by Adam Cuerden – FlickrBarbara McClintock (1902-1992)

Quotes: Feeling with the organism: A blueprint for an empirical philosophy of science, Erika Mansnerus and Susann Wagenknecht in Empirical Philosophy of Science: Introducing Qualitative Methods into Philosophy of Science, 2015, edited by Susann Wagenknecht, Nancy J. Nersessian and Hanne Andersen (see pages 42 & 43 – original cited  from Evelyn Fox Keller’s Biography of Barbara McClintock, A Feeling for the Organism, 1983)

Repeating patterns

crystal-wallpaper-11One of the compelling beauties of Integral Theory are repeating patterns, the fractal nature of quadrants, repeating patterns are observable at every scale. This is fundamental and creates a wonderful window onto ourselves, our biases and preferences. It is powerful – working with the integral quadrants becomes a way of differentiating our awareness and learning how to identify ourselves and others from these perspectives – through this  differentiating practice, real integration becomes possible.

We’re exploring Integral Theory’s quadrants* as this opens greater potential for impact and agency on difficult, stuck and complex problems that are inherent to fields such as sustainability, health and  business futures – see last week’s post, Beyond the boxes, about this blog series.

A key distinction that assists seeing and working with the quadrants is the screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-3-05-26-pmconcept of looking at and looking as. We can look at ourselves or anything – e.g. a group of people or a collection of objects – or we could adopt a perspective of seeing such quadrants as ourselves or others.

Try a simple example. Imagine you are looking at another person, someone you’re emotionally close to. Obviously, you can see that person, the contexts and surroundings they are in. You may identify what you think are their emotional states (happy, sad, angry etc.) and the cultural influences (e.g. are they in a fun social situation) at play for them – you’re looking at them. Next, think about and imagine their experience. What are they seeing at the moment, experiencing physically from the environment around them? How do you think they would describe their cultural context at the moment or emotional state? In doing this you’re looking as them.

The reflective or contemplative nature of this is important. For example, as Sean Esbjörn Hargens illustrates, a therapist has an emotional dimension of themselves and that enables them to see the emotional dimension of a client – they can look at the client and see the emotional dimension of the client. They can only do this as they have this emotional dimension built  into themselves. They could not see the emotional dimension without this (or if they could it would be much more conceptual).

Encouragingly, as this theory holds, you can’t reduce these four quadrant dimensions – any sentient being has these four dimensions. This opens a window onto the groups, things, objects and problems we seek to have impact with. Sean highlights, the fact that I have these four dimensions in my own embodied selfness enables me to take these four [integral quadrant] perspectives. I can [consequently] look at the world through these for windows … that is similar and slightly different from those four dimension that are part of myself.

This is an important embodied piece. When we’re working with complex situations and many moving variables – such as considering effective and sustainable future business opportunities – there are an exponential number of parts, influences and perspectives. Quadrants are a way of reflecting ourselves back at ourselves that helps to bring around, as an object of awareness, our own preconceptions so that we can then operate in an enhanced way of being. In essence, we are taking what is subjective and becoming more aware of our biases, seeing our tendencies reflected back to us as our unit of analysis, to become more conscious. In doing so, we can shift what we were subject to to be objective.

Working with quadrants in this way helps us start to see the fractal nature of our world – systems within systems. But, before we disappear down the rabbit hole (that’s next week!) is this practical and what comes from such consideration for the things and outcomes we care about?

There are some real advantages. Looking as, for example an object, does stretch our thinking and it helps to design the object better. From the earlier example, try differentiating which of your perspectives are looking at a person and which are looking as that person, how they may consider that same outlook for themselves. No doubt you already do this when thinking about people you are close to but I find this distinction creates subtle (and sometime not so subtle) insight. That’s a very valuable thing.

*  For an Overview to Integral Theory see Sean Esbjörn Hargens pdf here>>>

** Looking at and as perspectives diagram from Sean Esbjörn Hargens, TetraDynamics (2014).

Beyond the boxes

NOX_Textures_177_5When people first come across integral theory* they are often stunned, enticed, surprised and excited by its simple beauty and explanatory power. I certainly was! Suddenly, through accessibly integrating global knowledge, many tensions in ourselves, families and society come into clear illuminated focus. Sustainability and health are great examples – integral’s mapping power illuminates stuck situations**. It creates hope for changes that are perversely hard to implement.

Excited, we apply it to everything around us. Then we look for greater traction and impact.

If you are like me, you’ll have seen some wonderful shifts. Just working with one prominent piece of integral, its quadrants, can be highly revealing, catalysing transformations. Groups, clients and friends quickly get the quadrants and love the clarity this brings to discussions. This occurs if the structure is being used explicitly – we’re talking integral theory and its application to others – and delightfully it still works if it is simply informing the design of an interaction, project or program.

Yet, our experience with this clear integrating model is uneven. Sometimes it flies powerfully. Sometimes it seems it could do so much more. Seemingly, how to best apply the quadrants is largely uncharted territory.

Enter TetraDynamics. I’m privileged to be observing the latest application of this -approaches like integral seem fundamental to managing and dealing with many of the environmental and social imperatives we face today – the sold out program is a wonderfully exciting thing. But, what is TetraDynamics?

The Four Quadrants are deceptively simple. They are comprised from the intersection of two of our life’s most fundamental polarities: insides and outsides; parts and wholes…

TetraDynamics highlights the many different kinds of relationships (Dynamics) that are possible between each of the four quadrants (Tetra).

Over the next 12 weeks this blog series touches, very lightly, on some program highlights. By its very nature, a short blog is a lot less than a whole course or two hours of discussion and application. However, as a first step, think about how quadrants can be used to understand integral theory itself. We can:

  1. Look at ourselves and discover the reflections of integral quadrants in ourselves – the “I” piece, if you like – self understanding.
  2. Greatly deepen our understanding in discussion and interaction with others – a “we” piece – impact and action with others.
  3. Get busy creating a better methodology for using these integral quadrants  – an “it piece” – as they are so powerful.

One of the astonishing strengths of this model is the reflections, our own embodied understanding. Part one above, if you like, is a key to change.  Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, TetraDynamics creator and program leader says:

When I activate these dimensions in my own being [it becomes] not just a head trip of boxes for interesting insight… I can feel it, I can experience it, for me this is what makes integral analysis so delicious. While, even as a strong mental type I can dissociate from this which is why I work on the embodiment to try and bring it down and stay related.

Before I lose the more cognitive folks, consider how this reflected insight, of understanding felt within your own body, may assist during challenging situations. At the very least, the clearer and more connected we are, the more likely others are to engage.

Or try it for yourself, take Sean’s walking integral meditation on a 25 minute walk:

  • Spend the first 5 minutes walking noticing your own subjective awareness, what is arising in your experience, your feelings and emotional states
  • The next 5 minutes focus on the intersubjective dimensions – birds, hikers, the dynamics of your relationships with other beings
  • For the third 5 minutes pay attention to the objective data coming through your senses – what you see, hear, taste, touch and smell.
  • Then look for patterns –  the systems that support you being and walking in this place – for 5 more minutes.
  • Finally, spend 5 minutes brining it all together – experiencing  (gets easier over time…) all four of the elements simultaneously

There are a cascade of similar reflections, reaching out into the systems and circumstances and societies you care about, that the next blogs looking at TetraDynamics will touch on.

Series index

NOX_Textures_177_5
Beyond the boxes (this post)

crystal-wallpaper-11
Repeating patterns (post 2)

barbara_mcclintock_1902-1992_shown_in_her_laboratory_in_1947
Feeling with the organism (post 3)

dualities-diag-2
Opposites attract (post 4)

corporate-boxes
Out of the box elegance (post 5)

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*An integral quadrant introduction is here …The quadrants represent lenses with which to better understand any occurrence; they reveal dynamics and forces in the interiors and exteriors of individuals and collectives. Together, they offer a map of psychology, behavior, culture, and systems.” (pdf)

** Just a few limited large group applications include Energy shifts in Peru, Integral and climate change, Integral and chaos emerging from the middle east

Old people will save the world

The need for quick, sustainable, global transformations versus our relative inaction appears to be a complete paradox. It’s so obviously in our own collective, as well as individual, self interest to act on many pressing environmental issues. It’s often in our own financial self interest to change. Yet we’re still far from seeing the sort of positive futures represented by such alternatives being holistically adopted.

Futurist Richard Slaughter, writing The Biggest Wakeup Call in History, lays out the challenge:

…when we come to issues such as global warming, [time is] exactly what we don’t have. However we choose to proceed we’re now set on a path that leads through a period that will test humanity as never before. In the process, the most vulnerable areas will likely see dramatic decreases in human populations.

Richard explicitly looks for what may take us through the needed transformation – an ‘awakening’.

For some, such a transformation may sound far fetched. From a technical standpoint, looking at our very significant ecological debt, achieving global and deep structural sustainability transformations looks very hard. However, there’s more than just measurable carbon dioxide levels and technology that may create such a shift.

In this great new audio Robert Kegan, Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard, explains the Self-Transforming Mind. Humans are at a unique point in history being both the makers of our own peril, knowing this peril race and at the same time with greatly expanded lifespans and the wisdom this may bring with age.

Kegan’s talk briefly explains how we (can) move through more mentally complex stages in life and the distinct step changes that are characteristic of these shifts. His model of human development results from decades of study but this talk is mostly presenting his “big idea”. This is that the very longevity of our lifespans – in part also a determinant of the stresses placed on our biosphere – may also enable our older centre of gravity to figure out how to save our species.

Older people are more likely to reach Kegan’s fifth and final ‘mental complexity’ stage, the self-transforming stage. With this comes vital capacities that make it more likely we can manage, act on and move past many of the barriers which have left us facing “the biggest wakeup call in history”.

A full explanation, audio plus video soon, is here.

Photo: Robert Keegan Title: Matthew Mezey