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Human Math - How to Scale a Human-to-Human Network

Game B [1] Network Marketing Series

“A lot of people that I have come to admire are infinite game players stuck in a finite game… Playing outside of the rules of the game, and making up our own rules, but somehow still abiding by the boundaries of the finite game that our society has created for us.”Hank Willis Thomas [2]

My wife, Cara, shared a clever idea with me recently. She created a “Now” page on her website.[3]On her Now page, she wrote “My husband, Brian, and I are experimenting with living an ‘untethered’ life.” For the last few years, we have been experimenting with an untethered life, what we are now calling our Game B lifestyle, whatever that means.

As I live into the fullness of this untethered life — including giving up a “home” location in October — I realize my struggle in completing this next piece of the Game B Network Marketing series is intertwined with a feeling of ungrounded-ness which arises in me from time to time in the midst of this untethering experiment.

“Untethered” doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For us, it doesn’t mean disengaged or disconnected. It does mean untangling our lives, letting go of fixed ideas about things like “home” and “work”, questioning the conventional, examining our habits and making new choices. And at least for now, it also means location independent.

Untethered does not mean ungrounded, although there are times it can feel that way, like writing about Game B. Thank goodness I have such a wonderfully grounded partner — Cara is one of the most “embodied”, down-to-earth people I know. Letting go of the house, a 16 year-old bricks & mortar business, and most of the “stuff” we had accumulated over the course of our lives, has actually been the most grounding process we have experienced in our lives.

What am I participating with?

This morning as I was thinking how to finish this piece, I saw an email with the Hank Willis Thomas quote above. It captured how I feel about the Game B pioneers that I admire so much…”infinite game players stuck in a finite game…”

The last time I wrote on Medium was over three years ago when I wrote a series of Medium pieces on Open Participatory Organizations (“OPO”) to highlight the work of Bonnitta Roy, one of the early Game B pioneers and the best infinite game player I know. It is her work, and the years I spent working on her OPO and Sensemaking projects that informs this Game B Network Marketing series.

My untethered life with Cara began around the time I was writing those OPO Medium pieces. Although we were at the time both engaged in deep work with Game B pioneers (Cara was working with Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler in the Flow Genome Project), we don’t belong in their “map-making” circles. Cara and I have been entrepreneurs for many years and more recently, Game B experimenters — every-day people playing with Game B ideas and frameworks in our lives and looking for others who are tinkering/experimenting with Game B lifestyles.

We have been deeply inspired by the work Game B map-makers like Roy, Wheal, Schmachtenberger and Hall[4] and their work continues to provide us with “pointing out instructions” to guide us in our own lives and endeavors. But we are just game players, using our 30+ years together raising our two amazing daughters and our business experiences to be our day-to-day guide in our untangling of the Game A lifestyle that is still part of our everyday experience.

What are you participating with?” — a OPO question — a way of saying don’t get stuck in the “map” (e.g. Game B concepts) but rather participate in the actual “territory” — play the game don’t just talk about it. Applied to our context: am I just writing “about” Game B networking marketing or am I actually participating with network marketing with a Game B attitude and reporting back what is actually happening?”

It is hard work to report back what is actually happening in our network marketing experience and pointing out the Game B distinctions without a little map-making. So I hope you will indulge my story telling (and my poem in my last piece) — I want to ground my writing in what is actually happening in our lives, i.e. what we are participating with every day and to point out a few Game B observations along the way.

Deep Work — Untangling the Human Math of Game B Network Marketing

For the last several months, Cara and I have been tucked away in the New Hampshire woods in an off-season rental home, biding our time near family during the second COVID wave. Why does it matter? A year of lockdown capped by a few months in the deep stillness of a cold, snowy NH winter has provided Cara and me with extended periods to do deep work; deep work that offered us the time freedom to untangle things, like the Human Math that I wrote about in my last piece. [5]

“Human Math” may sound like hyper-conceptual stuff, but it is actually grounded in being small business entrepreneurs for many years and in our untethering process of the last few years. Most importantly, it is grounded in our actual participation with other humans in a network marketing company over the last two years.

Lockdown Anniversary

On December 31, 2019, Cara and I sold our 16 year-old business in suburban Philadelphia, another step in untethering our lives. Just two months later in early March, 2020, we started our pandemic lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic turned a three-night stay in a friend’s vacant home in Sanibel, Florida into a three-month quarantine on a deserted island.

When we returned from Sanibel to Philadelphia-in-lockdown over Memorial Day weekend, we witnessed first-hand what we already knew — our local business community, like so many others across the country, had been devastated by three months of quarantine. Now a year later, our favorite local spots have been absolutely crushed by the prolonged lockdown.

COVID exposed how a Game A mentality of success and progress — that everything can (and should be) done on an industrial “scale” — has made the businesses of our local entrepreneurs fragile. The Game A winner-take-all rationality has given us shiny new restaurants and the hottest new fitness chains in every town, but at a huge cost. We might celebrate our favorite local spots, like our favorite farm stand, yoga studio or bakery, but we are only beginning to see how our every day choices have hollowed out our communities across the country and industrialized everything — our agriculture, our food, our medicine, etc.

Game B Entrepreneurs

When you strip away all the hype of entrepreneurship, it boils down to someone with enough conviction to take action to start something new and to accept the consequences of her actions. The entrepreneur puts her money and her life behind an idea that she thinks has enough promise to build into something new. Every day brings a new challenge, so she must stay clear, strong and agile if she hopes to survive and thrive. She can afford to make lots of mistakes as long as the mistakes are small and she quickly learns from her mistakes. That is until the time comes when your business is ripe for industrialization, like our business was several years ago.

What has not always been obvious to local entrepreneurs (like us) is that Game A demands that your business “scale” or industrialization will eventually eat your lunch. To be honest, for most of my adult life I had bought into the “creative destruction” idea as a positive sign of progress and innovation. It happened slow enough, and I enjoyed many of the innovations, so I, like many of us, accepted Game A capitalism as the only real game. After a year in lockdown, our collective eyes have been opened to what has been hidden in plain sight for our whole lives — Game A is a finite game and more and more people are feeling the precarity of our Game A economic system.

So if we untangle the concept of “scale” and make it more human, maybe we can start playing Game B on a Game A game board and eventually build up enough escape velocity to create Game B businesses from start-up, rather than just navigating Game A with a Game B mindset.

For now, we are looking at the bridging of the Game A system of traditional network marketing (offering game changing “Game B products” [6]) with the Game B Human Math in order to allow many more ordinary people to flourish in network marketing.

Game B Human Math — Source Code for Team Flow

It should not surprise you at this point that the genesis of my idea for the “human math” of Game B network marketing came out of work done with Bonnitta Roy on team action potential. Working with a human math, you can begin to work at the human source code level to address the organizational challenges of things such as motivation, alignment and collective action.[6]

I am honestly surprised I didn’t see it sooner, but it took a lot of untangling the experience of being entrepreneurs to see what was “hidden in plain sight.” Our years owning a local business should have given us everything we needed to be successful in network marketing in a Game B way, but it was the period of deep work this winter that helped us untangle how we think about things like “owner,” “employer,” “employee,” “customer,” “business” and “team” and generate the insights of that make Game B network marketing possible (and inspired this series). Untethered from our fixed ideas of entrepreneurship and business, a new level of our Game B lifestyle started to take shape.

Network marketing is simply grass roots marketing of products — you are either 1) a customer of the products or 2) a customer who gets paid to market the company’s products.[8] The complexity of the business (eg. product development, sourcing, technology, logistics, finance, customer service etc.) are neither the responsibility nor the burden of the network marketer.

Network marketers get paid so well because scaling a grassroots (human-to-human) network is so challenging. As the human system (network) grows, complexity escalates. Working at the source code of the human being — the human math — gives us the basic protocols to release the complexity and create the conditions for Team Flow i.e. exponential scaling, in our human-to-human network.[9]

When you work with the human math and a Game B mindset (an omni-win approach which maximizes human flourishing), you begin to see how network marketing might be a framework worth experimenting with. Of course, it helps to be working with a company with exceptional products (Game B products — products that disrupt the power of Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Agriculture, etc.) but this is something for a later piece in this series.

A “simple and duplicatable” system is the holy grail of network marketing. If you have a simple duplicatable system, people will flock to your team and your network will grow exponentially. However, exponential growth of human network escalates the complexity exponentially and escalating complexity is what discourages and exhausts so many network marketers.

You might grow a huge network because you are lucky enough to be at the right company at the right time, but it is my supposition that the successful network marketers who have “simple duplicatable systems” have figured out how to work with the human math, at least intuitively. I think this may be why I have found them to be so enchanting.

So just imagine taking luck out of the equation by learning to trust your intuition and/or learning how to work with the human math and bringing a Game B orientation to your own network marketing project.

This is why I am so energized by team action potential in the context of network marketing — it offers a simple duplicable network marketing system with the potential for Game B outcomes.

Finding my way back to Roy’s Team Action Potential feels like the right place to end this piece. I bit off more than I had planned to chew on, so I will explore more of the details of human math and how to approach network marketing with a Game B orientation in my next piece of this series.

Next piece in this Series: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love AI

[Previous piece in this series]

[1] What is Game B? See the Game B Wiki.

[2] Artist Hank Willis Thomas on playing infinite games, Interview with Yancey Strikler, The Ideaspace

[3] For more on Now pages, see Derek Sivers Now page.

[4] Daniel Schmachtenberger, Jordan Hall, see Game B Wiki.

[5] The period of deep work allowed me to reread and immerse myself in Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin. For more time-freedom, I recommend reading the works of Bonnitta Roy, who has been unpacking, and adding to, Gebser’s work for over 20 years.

[6] We will touch on Game B products in next piece of this series.

[7] A Source Code for Team Flow, Roy April 2018

[8] Customers that get paid for marketing are often called “distributors”, but this is a misnomer in today’s network marketing, since products are sold directly to customers from the company (i.e. there are no inventories).

[9] Release the Complexity, Bonnitta Roy January, 2017

Experimenting with Game B Network Marketing, Breaking Kayfabe, Open Participation, Team Flow…

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