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About Our Shared Vitality Metric

Abstract. Uncertainty and stress are dumbing us down. In the wake of covid, our workplaces and communities beg for a sustainable uplift. A leading collective metric recruits ancestral smarts: elevating shared vitality and driving key objectives. Our brains evolved to optimize in collective discovery; let’s put that to work to be smarter now. 

Working with the brain. We are mammals. Our brains evolved to focus on the wellbeing of our group: our peeps. We, humans, make our living by cooperating. We stay alive by taking care of each other.


Neuroscientists say ‘the brain is made for sociality.’ It developed to know how our loved ones are doing: who has our back, what we can rely on from those around us.  

We inherited specialized neurons as well as finely-tuned neural pathways that track social safety. Human social radar evolved in service of staying alive. Your desire to belong is sourced by ancient ‘wiring’. We depend on favorable interacting with each other to be OK.  

In the modern world, this very social radar operates as a primary source of stress.  Who has my back? What is my status in a changing world? What must I do to be  OK? Prior to industrialization/urbanization, the vast majority of humans interacted with the same group of people all their lives.  

The opportunities and imperatives of the modern world: to invent ourselves, to ‘get somewhere, to ‘make a mark’ are unnatural for our brains, plying enormous stress.  WE evolved to be smartest in collective discovery: keeping out peeps ok. Our ancestors knew whom they could count on and what was expected of them. Status was largely pre-determined. Breathe that in: what would it be like to operate in a  world without concern for looking good? Hair products, advanced degrees and cute shoes don’t matter? 

Ancestral Smarts. High school coaches and theatre troupes well know that a  special kind of strength-plus-smarts arises when people are committed to something they can only win together. They become unstoppable: buoyant as they observe and take care of each other. Uplifted. The same principle works in organizations.  

We call that collective intelligence ‘ancestral smarts.’ We developed a Shared  Virality Metric that operationalizes the wellbeing-plus-intelligence dynamic. It’s a  leading indicator for performance. You may have experienced this in a team,  chorus, sports team, campfire… Your brain gets what it needs in that setting and turns on the juice: good brain drugs.  

A Leading indicator. ‘How are we doing?’ is the question that the brain evolved to address: collectively. Our ancestors had a built-in shared objective: staying safe from large-toothed predators. In the modern world, we are schooled away from “How are we doing”  and toward individual accomplishment.  

Our leading indicator finesses that learned cultural habit and operationalizes shared smarts.  


Gloria headed a senior team of 18 tasked to open new global markets. All stockholders, their Fortune 100 was at its nadir: 60-hour weeks, stock ‘in the toilet,’ people somewhere between depressed and despairing.  


Within weeks of employing a new leading metric, they were working 35 hours/weeks and ensuring that each had 4 pristine hours out of the office to reflect. 

Within a year, they opened new markets and products that remained cash cows for two decades. They became the highest-performing team in a huge organization. Without that metric for collective wellbeing, I guarantee they would have been sucked back into 60-hour weeks.  

Instead, their secret metric became a new reality. In the late ‘90’s it was NOT OK to be out of the office for a 4-hour block, much less every week. They covered for each other, made each other great. Finding ways to pull this off included new language that only they understood. They thrived. 

Homing in on a key objective and those cooperating to achieve it allows us to mimic the conditions in which our brains evolved. Our ancestors learned to use each other well to outsmart big, fast carnivores, be in the right place when fruit began to ferment, and run uphill when the ocean retreated. 

Their collective discovery drove complex languaging with allows us to keep experimenting.  

Kelly leads an ad agency. Shortly after being handed the role, she learned that most of their cash had been embezzled and their creative director wanted to retire. Worse, a key newcomer on their major client team was proving increasingly abusive: not uncommon in their industry.  

With one day’s training, they learned to map and score their value exchanges. They quickly identified where and how to invest enriching their daily interactions. Being creatives, they turned the metric into a piece of sculpture that they rebuilt together every Friday: representing that week’s collective wellbeing score. They all brought their highest standards: resulting in more and more best work.  

In short order, they went on to include their way of caring for each other as part of their brand promise to clients and other value partners. They fired their biggest client, celebrated their retiring creative director, engaged new people, and kept extending their form of collective care.  

Like our ancestors, they had the secret sauce: reflecting together about how we’re all doing makes us smart and happy. All but eliminates stress. Creatives know how to brand that stuff. I  call the leading metric: Shared Vitality. 

Competition dumbs us down. For 300,000 generations our ancestors relied only on the shared smarts of the small group in which they were born. We, humans, evolved to take care of each other. Sadly, modern humans are schooled to ‘score’  individual performance. In doing so, we put the brain in an unnatural state: the most disadvantageous situation for a human is sole performance. Celebrating individuals and shaming others creates enormous social stress: effectively dumbs us down.  

By contrast, what a small group of people can do in the right circumstances is not new and remains astonishing. Seals and Green Berets spend millions per person getting people in shape for high performance.  

I invented myself as a Business Anthropologist because I objected – even as a child  – to the stress humans create around ‘work’, business and money. These are cultural constructs: poorly-informed human-made habits. We can do so much better by finessing the relatively recent habits of industrialization. 

Employing a metric for collective wellbeing curates the conditions in which our brain evolved to optimize. The best brain drugs you can’t buy kick in. The uplift in collective intelligence, wellbeing, and performance is unmistakable. 

Outside the bounds of unnecessary social stress, our brains perform beautifully. They do what they’re honed to do: optimize in sincere small-group reflection with a  shared objective. [Think: ancestors around a campfire.] 

Learning culture. Managers seek learning organizations for good reason: the world will keep changing and new responses will be required. Yet the quest for learning organizations has made little progress since Senge introduced The Fifth Discipline in 1990. 

Our Shared Vitality Metric operationalizes a learning culture. Gathering the data requires putting the brain where it likes to be, making for elevated intelligence - the kind of smarts we need for agility in a changing world. 

I had the pleasure of meeting an SVP in a high-performing pharmaceutical company shortly after they recruited a new CEO. Hired to extend their market leadership, he promptly angered the ‘best scientists money can buy’: greatly upsetting my client’s orderly world.  

The apex of competition, these people had doctorates in fields that I couldn’t begin to spell. I understood how deeply their professional pride had been (unintentionally) assaulted. I  channeled their shared fury into a new inquiry: a better way for the best scientists in the world  to operate [read: way smarter than any shallow MBA…]

To their surprise, they collectively invented a way they could do better science together.  Previous to that day, the gold symbol for the ‘best scientists money can buy’ was how long they could keep their grants funded. That day, the ‘best scientists in the world’ designed a new leading indicator: how fast could they fail a new drug?  

A new measure of collective vitality shifted their culture. Powered by their professional pride and a whole new kind of shared smarts, they transformed from individual high performance to an ongoing inquiry. Like life itself.


The company moved quickly from Fortune 500 to 100 in the ensuing five years.  

Give the brain what it needs and rewards soon follow. Here’s an example from a  very different world.  

Chuck was consulting with a clinic in a small city, the market leader. He had it running well with a single Optometrist and a staff of about 15 local high school grads and dropouts. He called me because he knew that the national chains would soon try to seize their market. 

When asked to reflect together on the wellbeing of their community, the group quickly identified opportunities that no national chain could access. Whose child wasn’t able to hit the ball? Who was laid off or not coming in? Who needed someone to come to their home?

They shortly came to realize that this new ‘strategy’ of applying their insider community  knowledge required them all to ‘act like doctors.’ We were all surprised by how quickly and confidently they stepped up.  

That required noticing who was excelled with a patient or a task. In no time the best work learning community arose:  

➢ Their eyes on customer vulnerability generated immediate collective uplift (brain  drugs) 

➢ Smarter, they found new ways to help  

➢ Recognizing the ways they were stepping up to be ‘doctors,’ they got excited about  each other’s high standards and kept raising clinic operations  

➢ Tracking shared wellbeing kept them focused on their own winning ‘game’, much like  Gloria’s Fortune 100 senior managers  

A year later, the Optometrist died suddenly of a heart attack: right when the new mall was opening. The ‘doctors’ were shocked and saddened, but they knew what to do! They quickly recruited a young Optometrist who liked their approach.  

Shared Vitality. Our brains evolved to attend to collective care. What makes our Shared Vitality Metric self-sustaining is that it engages the brain in its natural focus:  how are our peeps? Is everything OK? How about now? The question itself is inexorable.  

The brain employs that data like a tough CFO. Recall how you feel when you look at your diary on Sunday evening and see THAT meeting at 2 pm the next day. Ugh. Your brain is doing what it is supposed to do: draining you of energy for a meeting proven to yield minus ROI. That very same brain does quite the opposite eyeing a coffee date with HER. Yay!  

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Our Metric puts that valuable data to work in service of advancing key objectives.  Data is gathered in trios: three people working toward the same objective, observing the interactions that are integral fulfilling their shared objective: value  exchanges. 

Each Trio estimates their total interaction investment and scores the ROI - the  overall value uplift. They meet with two other Trios every three weeks to compile a shared vitality score. At quarter end, they compare with other success measures.  Expect home runs. 

“The uplift was so fast! We could focus only on enriching our interactions with each other and  all of our value partners. We haven’t stopped; we’re still figuring out ways to take better care…  We don’t have one minute for anything else.” 

- Heather, Director, Workplace Innovation 

Heather’s group achieved their KPI’s in record time: built the growth section of their  business with client kudos. The ad agency went in pursuit of the right clients and  talent by focusing on increasing their rich interactions. The clinic cultivated new  enriching exchanges among themselves and all over town.  

The scientists invented new drugs; the general managers forged new strategic alliances. Other organizations found their own ways to re-invest. No one has time  for anything that does not elevate value partners. New kind of exchanges arise  naturally when partners attend to each other’s ROI.

Employing the Shared Vitality metric illuminates the invisible networks of  interactions that comprise our lives. Because it’s based in the way the brain naturally tracks ROI, employing the metric will uplift any human community. Focus  on collective care - shared vitality – will put you in shape to thrive in a changing  world.  

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