Ecosynomics: Transforming to a Collaborative Future

Transformation involves changes in basic assumptions.  Changing the basic economic paradigm assumption from managing scarcity to an “ecosynomics” one of great abundance is a transformation that my good colleague Jim Ritchie-Dunham is working on.  In his new book Ecosynomics, he presents this transformation as a theoretical perspective, a data-based analysis, and perhaps most importantly a lived and applied experience with a range of organizations that all have a very deeply collaborative culture.  From work with some of the most commercially mundane companies – a sock manufacturer, a pet food company and a toy company – as well as multi-stakeholder organizations and NGOs, Jim provides a pathway for developing transformative collaboration.

14-08-06 ecosynomics book cover

Jim’s exploration began with “positive deviants”, popularized as black swans by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Why do some organizations simply seem to do so much better on a range of outcomes, than others?  It’s a popular topic, but Jim developed a unique framework out of his own inquiry.

“Vibrancy” is a core concept of his framework – a term that arose frequently as a description of what people experience when things are going really well.  He found people talked about experiencing vibrancy in terms of five relationship aspects:

  • The “self” or “me”:  do you feel that you are fully participating and working to your potential?
  • The “other” or “you”:  are others participating fully and expressing their potential?
  • The “group” or “us” which can mean the network as a whole:  are people fully experiencing the “we” as an energetic, empowering whole?14-08-06 Levels of vibrancy
  • Nature and the “levels of perceived reality”:  what is considered “real,” just outcomes and things, or development and learning, as well as possibility and potential?
  • Spirit and creativity:  is there a flowing and development of ideas and innovation that generate a feeling that “anything is possible”?

He also found that for each of these, people focus on three aspects of “reality”:

  • Possibility-light:  experiencing inspiration and seeing possibilities
  • Development-motion:  seeing the process by which a particular possibility can be realized
  • Things-matter:  focusing on the realization of possibility, the here and now

The traditional economic perspective focuses on the “things-matter” – products and outcomes.  The capitalist tradition focuses on the self, the socialist on the other/you, and the communist (theoretically, if not as enacted) on the “group”.

The five relationship aspects are represented by the five lines moving from the center in Figure 1 and the three levels of perceptions of reality represented by the three circles.  Jim proposes that high-performing organizations and societies have healthy relationships across the three levels of the five relationships.  Traditional economics is not replaced, but rather subsumed by ecosynomics.  However, Jim says, if we start by looking at possibilities rather than by focusing on mechanisms to control scarcity, evidence shows that we will be much better off.

Core Tool:  Agreements

The core tool, if you will, in this transformation is agreements.  These are the “rules of the game”—guidelines that are usually implicit, although they include explicit ones such as contracts.  These agreements address four questions at each of the levels:

  • Resources – how much?
  • Allocation – who decides?
  • Value – by what criteria?
  • Organization – how shall we interact?

Low vibrancy where the agreements are not working result in meetings that make you want to reach for medications, versus high vibrancy meetings that you leave feeling more energy than when you began.  He aims to support the latter experience being part of daily life by supporting development of agreements that support high vibrancy.

Phew.  A lot to condense that is pretty heady.  However, this provides a framework to analyze an organization and networks with a relatively simple survey.

The book presents a detailed description of what ecosynomics is like as a culture and its routines…Jim operationalizes it by describing where he has seen it operating in the positive deviants (black swans).One is with a multi-stakeholder initiative in the US, meeting 90% of the state of Vermont’s energy needs through renewable energy and increased efficiency by 2050.  Work is developing in numerous settings around the world, growing out of expanding data-collection with 2,200 respondents to the survey in 90 countries.

Jim’s most in-depth work is with THORLO, a very successful sock manufacturer in North Carolina, where he is a part-time member of the management team. This is promoted by a pretty amazing owner of THORLO, who is also CEO, nick-named JLT.  Jim writes that “People talk about supporting each other in being their higher selves or bringing out more of their contributions, about seeing possibilities and converting them to probabilities, and about the diversity in the room.” He describes the on-going process of ensuring a high-vibrancy leadership team and organization with “harmonic vibrancy moves” that arise from a pace of on-going “integrated collaborative conversations” (the process is described in detail) around the concept of “brand stewardship”.  One employee describes his own shift by saying:  “I began to no longer provide input to them (other employees) as an expert, but instead I engaged them in conversations about our higher purpose and about the “what and why” of what we were doing.”

Take the 1- or 12-minute version of the survey now to test the level of harmonic vibrancy in your life!

Learn more by taking an e-course, joining workshops or contact Jim at

—————————–Some Reflections from Jim In our work with 73 groups (large and small, in the global south and north, all sectors) over the past 7 years, I would like to highlight for this blogpost three issues we have found.  One is particular to global efforts, one comes up in networks, and one is common to all efforts. Regarding global efforts, we have used the “harmonic vibrancy” survey to assess the experience and outcomes in 2,200 groups in 90 countries in dozens of languages.  It has been very interesting to see what expressions, of those listed in this blogpost by Steve Waddell, have been easy to translate, and which have been more challenging.  To be clear, the terms we use emerged from listening to people in many cultures describe their experience.  While most of the expressions seem to map to the same constructs, some vary significantly.  The five relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit) and three levels of perceived reality (possibility, development, outcomes) have turned out to be relatively easy to translate into all of these languages.  The outcomes and leadership quality terms often prove more challenging, varying by language-culture, such as the expression for “collaborative leadership” in German and the technical term for vibrancy in Spanish.  It seems to be an issue of mapping the descriptions people give for their experience of higher vibrancy, harmony, and abundance across cultures. In networks, whether a Global Action Network (GAN) or a city-wide effort, the question of who is the “we” that is being assessed comes up every time.  Some people in the network experience a clear, deep connection to the larger “group” being formed as a network and others experience a nebulous, at best, connection to the larger network, with more direct feelings of connection to their local node within the network.  For example, in our on-going work with the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, a GAN, members have asked, “Is the “we” the whole of GPPAC, as a global network, or is it my national node that belongs to the global network?  Am I reflecting on the experience when we come together every few years at a GPPAC conference or in my daily experience of communications and sharing across the network?”  We see the same in two on-going city-level efforts in the USA and Mexico.  As a citizen in Tampa Bay asked, “What am I a ‘member’ of?”  This seems to be a connection and experience that is very clear for some people to describe and less so for others. In all 73 groups we have met and in all 2,200 groups we have surveyed, many people find it difficult to see and accept that they can change their fundamental agreements, and that this will enable them to have a different experience and achieve different outcomes.  While the “idea” and the desire for the shift in experience and outcomes seem to be clear and obvious to all, the actual seeing that it is possible to identify fundamental agreements and shift them remains very challenging for many people, even after they have gone through the exercise of collaboratively creating their own Agreements Evidence Map (describedhandbook). These three issues are areas of inquiry that we will be researching over the next couple of years.  Anyone who wants to engage in this research, contributing their own unique perspective, is welcome.  jimrd (at)

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