Sustainable Systems

Influence Your Own Behavior Change


Let’s continue this journey into how our work can become our Calling.

Many of us have at least a vague sense of what makes us feel most alive — the thing you would do for the rest of your life if money were no object. The tricky bit is actually DOING it! So let’s learn a little bit more about behavior change, and hack ourselves to happiness.

I just finished reading Influence by Robert Cialdini.

The six strongest psychological factors that can be used to influence other people’s behavior are:

1) Reciprocity : once someone gives us something we feel compelled to give back to clear the debt.

2) Commitment and Consistency : once we do something we want to act in a fashion that is consistent with the original action to maintain our self-image

3) Social proof : we do things because other people do them. The lemur effect & “first follower” phenomenon.

4) Liking : we are more influenced by people who we like

5) Authority : this is about duty and obligation

6) Scarcity : when something is limited we can be more easily influenced to try to get it

This book is about how to influence other people, but I’d like to experiment with how to use these cognitive biases to influence our own behavior toward the desired goal of a more purposeful work life.

I think this is all about Self-Image. We need to be more aware of how we see ourselves and how this affects what we think we should do in the world.

We might start with Liking: how can we treat ourselves better and slow down the self-badgering that many of us do to ourselves?

Then we might use Social Proof by surrounding ourselves with people who get our deeper and more intimate sense of purpose, and can model the good behaviors that we want to join. Just hanging out with these people who impress a “positive influence” on us continues to shift our self-image.

Now that we have sufficiently altered our self-image, we might start using Commitment and Consistency to act in accordance with that new mental models of ourself. We can reinforce this by doing one-time new activities that chip away at the calcified self-images that no longer serve us. Instead of trying to do a month-long health fast, just drink one smoothie. Instead of committing to a Yoga Teacher training, go to one class. Then, celebrate the small win and fall in love with yourself a little more.

My hunch is that Scarcity is not a good way to shift toward a more meaningful life. But it is good to keep in mind that you have only one life to live.


People Hate Their Jobs = Huge Business Opportunity


70% of people hate their jobs.

This is a huge problem and a massive opportunity. Imagine how much better organizations would perform if people were excited to be at work, thereby producing inspired, high-quality output!

This past summer, I started prototyping some consulting in “life design.” (This is not life coaching) The first thing I did with my clients was to get their motivational/energy account balance – what gives you energy vs. what drains your energy.

We need to build companies that actually give life-energy to their employees- that make us jazzed. We need to walk out of meetings rejuvenated, not exhausted.

Easier said than done. An experience that gives one person energy can be draining to the next, so to be energetically profitable (heard it here first, folks!) people need to be pretty self-aware.

If happiness is the end goal in most people’s lives, companies try to sell stuff or experiences as a means to that end. Since we all know that’s a sham, maybe companies can redeem and repurpose themselves toward the mission of actually creating fulfilling lives for people – starting with their employees!

My next post will explore, “What is Personal Development Anyway?” to look at some stories of a growing movement of people who are ditching the bullshit and getting serious about getting happy.

And then we will start moving toward a “Business Case for Personal Development”





Company as Monastery: The Strategic Advantage of Employee Actualization


What if Employee Personal Development was the primary objective of a team, organization or community?

This inquiry is still a fresh, raw topic for me. This will be my overarching question for the next year, so look out for weekly blog posts for the next three months as I do more research and noodling on the topic. You can follow this series with the tag co.purpose

Image credit:

The Gist
Nurture the Soil and the Plants will Take Care of Themselves

All too often, companies are life-sucking rather than life-giving to their employees. Our economy is based on wealth-extraction rather than wealth-generation and a history of treating people as an expendable resource rather than a core asset through which to grow new value.

The Thesis

By supporting the personal growth, artistic mastery and self-actualization of its employees as the primary mission, a company can achieve strategic advantages and increased performance in all areas of a quadruple-bottom-line. The mechanism would be that employee actualization would lead to higher motivation, more creativity, better communication and more elegant self-organization.

 A New Vector for Infinity

Infinity is an important design pattern for any system, so as we build the next economy, we must ask, “Toward what infinity are we heading?” What variable will we maximize?

My opinion: let’s change the direction from money to love.

Our economy is running up against the limits to growth, and unfortunately the structure of the economy is dependent on infinite financial growth. Since money, as currently designed, is debt – I don’t really want to grow that infinitely. It makes more sense to grow something that is capable of infinite expansion: love and consciousness.

Really dude? A love-based economy? Are we going to be chanting on boardroom tables now?

Bare with me here. By love, I mean re-connection. An awareness of interconnectedness. The capacity of a system to understand itself and be auto-transformative, self-changing. A good business needs to be keenly aware of its own nature, its own strengths and weaknesses, and the context in which it operates. A good business needs to be able to change itself. This is innovation at the level of the GOAL of the system, in the language of systems thinking. 

Employee Personal Development Yields Better Self-Organization

People who know what their strengths and weaknesses are can self-select into the most appropriate roles and tasks for a given situation. With passions clarified and unlocked, people will have personal incentive to find the most appropriate way to contribute: work will be fun for them!

What does personal development mean for you? How might work deepen our sense of purpose, and help us grow as people?



The Art of System Intervention


The great systems scientist Donella Meadow’s work reminds us where to apply our energy to have the biggest impact.

One challenge I’ve found is that the highest level work is both the most difficult to do, and the most intangible. Luckily, I’ve found that art is a pretty nice solution to that conundrum- it allows us to communicate at a deep enough level such that we can question the assumptions that create our mindset, and it has a tangible product.

So I ask you, what is your art? How might you elevate your work in the world into an artform, mixing technical proficiency with intuitive flair to produce something that only you can offer?


A little geek porn for you as you ponder:

Unwritten Goals and Currencies


Donella Meadows outlined twelve archetypal points of leverage for shifting systems. She counts the Goals of the system as one of the highest points of leverage. What is the goal of our current monetary system? What old cultural stories are programmed into it? Is one of the goals the maintenance of privilege? What other unwritten goals are encoded in the culture of money?

If the economy is the DNA of a cancer cell that is ravaging this planet, how might we reprogram this DNA to be on a different mission? Currencies are definitely tools for regulating information flows in a system, but might they also be a medium for transforming the goals of a system? How might a currency transaction actually be a conversation about our values and vision, enabling us to “vote” on what future we’d like to live into?

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