January 16, 2015

The Thematic in a Nutshell


A brief explanation of the Intent Thematic as explained by its key terms:

The Problem

Current common sense dictates that our lives are concerned with the pursuit of self-interest and that altruism, at best, is enlightened self-interest. This assumption has had catastrophic consequences for ourselves as individuals, for the groups we interact with, and for the power relations we participate in.


It is intuitively sound to say to somebody that groups succeed when individuals act for reasons bigger than their self-interest. The measure of the success of a company, for example, is the profit or the surplus it produces. By definition a surplus only exists because the people co-operating in an enterprise produced something bigger than what they collectively took out. They gave more than what they took.

What The Individual Wants

The issue is that people actually think that when they act for reasons that are bigger than their self-interest they are cutting their own throats. And when they acting in their own self-interest they are doing what is good for them. In truth, exactly opposite is the case.

When you ask people what they want out of life: you can ask it in various ways: Why do you go to work? What do you aspire to? Doesn’t matter how you ask the question, you always get a bag of words that have four themes in them.

Firstly, there will be a theme around security: “it’s important to feed my family, to have a roof over my head, pay the bond.” Then there will be a theme around fulfilment: “it’s important to have a sense of learning and challenge”. Thirdly, here will be a theme around significance or power: “that it is important for me to be recognized by others.” And lastly,  there will be a theme around harmony. For some people Harmony is really important. Unlike power -which has a competitive edge, harmony is co-operative.

If you ask people what do they want out of life, actually they will say these four things. Security, fulfillment, power and harmony.  And they think that to pursue their own immediate self-interest is the best way to get those four things.


Security, Fulfilment, Power and Harmony as a Product of the Intent to Give

What they don’t realize is that those four things are the product of acting on the basis of everybody else’s interests rather than your own. Every moment that you’re in, you are always faced with two issues. There is a set of issues around what you are getting from the world, and a set of issues related to what you are giving to the world.


If you base your security on what you are getting from the world, because the world rarely gives you what you want at that particular point in time, you’ll never be secure. Whereas if you base your security on the basis of what you are contributing you’ve always got control over that, you’ll always be secure. And the asset that best demonstrates this is the house: because a lot of people think that security is wrapped up in owning a house.

The brand promise of security is that that which promises to make you secure, promises to stand between you and catastrophe. Like your house is going to do that. If someone beats you to a pulp today and you go home I don’t think your house is going to say: “Caroline who beat you?” On the other hand if you walk up to your front door and you see the neighborhood hooligans have sprayed an X on your door, you’d be annoyed. So, are you there to look after the house, or is the house there to look after you? Clearly no asset that you own admits to having a responsibility to look after you. But you have a responsibility to look after every asset that you own.

You can make a very solid argument to say that the more assets you own, the less secure you are. So your security is never based on what you have or get. Your security is based on what you give.


hand-112867_640Exactly the same argument has to be true for happiness and fulfillment. If my happiness is based on what I am getting from the world, I will be discontented. If my happiness is based on the quality of what I am contributing, because I’ve always got control over that, I will always be fulfilled and happy.

The implication of this to power becomes very obvious if you consider what happens when you want something from somebody else. Say you want somebody’s watch. Clearly their ability to withhold the watch gives them power over you. So if you want something from somebody else, their ability to withhold what you want gives them power over you and makes you manipulable.

Whereas if I want to give somebody something, what I’m trying to give them they have no power over. In other words my weakness is based on what I am getting from somebody and my power is based on what I’m willing to give or lose. That’s true in any context. It’s true in any transaction: the person who sets the price is the person who can lose in the transaction first. The person who can’t lose the transaction is obviously still negotiable.


The implication of this for harmony is, let’s say I do want your watch, clearly your ability to withhold your watch gives you power over me, you can manipulate me and that makes you dangerous to me. Not only are you dangerous to me, but precisely because I’m trying to get something out of you, I am dangerous to you. So while I want the watch, you are dangerous to me and I am dangerous to you. And because we are dangerous to each other, we are going to have conflict.

clasped-hands-541849_1280On the other hand, if I shift my intent in this engagement from what I’m trying to get from you to how I can be helpful, then first of all you can’t withhold the watch so you lose your power over me and I’m safe from you. But precisely because I want to be helpful to you, you’re safe from me. And if I’m safe from you and you’re safe from me, we have harmony. So what we have to understand is that things that we try to pursue in our lives, which is security, fulfillment, power and harmony, are actually based on the intent to give unconditionally. The more you construct your intent and your engagement with the other on the basis of serving them and acting in their best interest, the more you earn those four fruits of life.

So there isn’t this contradiction between the social good and the individual good. It’s the same thing. When people act in their immediate self-interest they are producing an experience of the world which is hostile to them, they’re in conflict with the world. They are discontented, and insecure. Whereas people who are doing the opposite achieve the opposite.


Now the question is: what does that mean for command relationships and leadership in the world. When we ask people to define leadership they normally say something consistent with  the idea of achieving a result through people. The intent in that statement is clearly to take. The implication is that people are the means, and the outcome or the result you are trying to achieve is the end. Now if I am using you as a means to achieve something from you, clearly I am out to get something from you. So the current take on leadership and command relationships is that  they are there to get things out of subordinates.

The Ideal Boss

boss-454867_640Now if ask people, intuitively, to construct an ideal boss, and we’ve had the opportunity to do this around the world – initiatively you would expect to have disparate information. People would say boss who is kind, who is approachable, who listens, and who is supportive. A boss who is honest and fair who gives me an opportunity to learn, who is knowledgeable. What you get is a huge bag of words. But what becomes apparent is there are synonyms in the bag. You can distill the bag, reduce it to some core themes.

There are essentially only Two core themes: the first is concerned with care, because someone who listens and who is compassionate, cares for me. What the subordinate is actually saying to the boss is: have a genuine interest in me, don’t just be in this relationship to get something out of me.  Care about me. But then there’s a harder theme. If you are looking for someone who is honest, they won’t always be nice. Sometimes they will say things that are upsetting. The reason why you want the honesty is not that you are masochistic, you don’t enjoy being upset, but it’s the person’s honesty that helps you to understand where you are, where you can learn and where you can grow. So the two themes that come out of this are care and growth

The reason why people really would commit to a boss, work for a boss because they wanted to, are because the boss sincerely cares for them and gives them an opportunity to grow. Those things are universal: we found them in Japan, we found them among employees in gold mines in South Africa, we found it in military organisations, wherever you go, every human being on this planet says: the boss I work for because I want to, cares for me sincerely and gives me an opportunity to grow.


Care and Growth and Legitimacy

One has to understand why these words are so universal. To do that you have to ask yourself, well what are you asking somebody if you’re asking them to describe the boss they’d work for because they really wanted to. If you work for somebody because you really want to, because they do all those things for you, that person asks you to do something, you’d probably do it. Which means you give that person the right to ask you to do something, or to exercise power over you. Which suggests that these criteria of care and growth are the universal criteria for legitimate power.

When you see it from that point of view, the universality makes sense. The first relationship of power you have with another person in your life is with your parents. There are two people in that relationship: there is the big one, and there’s the little one. The job of the big one to the little one is to care and grow them. In other words the job of the big one to the little one in any relationship of power is care and growth.  It gives the one in authority the right to be in charge.

Achieving People Through Results

referee-390694_640Now that requires a shift in the intent of the boss, from the big one, from being able to get something out of the subordinate, to being able to give something to the subordinate.  What care and growth requires of people in command relationships is that they invert how they view their jobs. Their role isn’t to achieve a result through people. Their role, and it sounds bizarre, is to achieve people through results. And very often people in executive positions say, you’ve just left the planet, you must have been smoking your socks.

But if you think about what a good coach does, that’s exactly what a good coach does. A bad coach walks into a team and says: my job as coach is to achieve results and I am going to use you, Mr Athlete, as my resource to do that. The athlete would get riotous, as he should.  In fact, it is the athlete’s job to produce a result.  The coach’s job is to care for the athlete, to grow the athlete. That does not mean to say that the coach loses interest in the job. Clearly he watches what happens on the field and what happens on the scoreboard, not because those things are his job, those are the means of doing his job which is to coach the athlete.

He literally uses the job as the means whereby he produces an athlete. His product is an athlete. Until people in command relationships – whether in the state, whether in corporates, whether it is enterprises, understand that their product is the people working for them we will stay in crisis, we will continue to turn the forests into chop sticks, we will continue killing off the frogs in Canada, we will continue eating up this big cheese we are sitting on until there’s nothing left.

We have to change this insanity of thinking that self-interest is the way to pursue our wellbeing as a species. The pursuit of self-interest destroys you as an individual; it destroys you as a group that you’re working for and completely undermines the legitimacy of the relationships of power in any establishment.

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