I love living in Boston, MA, on the east coast of the United States. I particularly love being there during the Indian Summer, when nature is turning the leaves a glowing red, making visible an inward turn of evolutionary forces. What more powerful image could nature put on show for us? Mother nature, contemplated from this perspective, seems to be issuing a global call that can be heard everywhere —a call for an inward turn, for profoundly renewing the foundations of our civilization, the ways we work and live.
Where can we find this shift and call for future? In the here and now: The future is already here! We just need to learn to pay attention to it. We need to learn to see the glowing leaves as a sign of the future in the midst of the everyday noise.
Here are four short stories about what I have seen lately—this fall. Read them, and if you feel moved to, please add your own story to the comments on this blog.
(1) U-Lab: The Power of Deep Listening.
I love teaching my U-Lab class at MIT Sloan. Teaching? Well, it’s really more holding the space. Creating a space for listening. Listening to what is emerging. And being vulnerable, willing to open up and to let go, to jump into the unknown—and staying with what is wanting to emerge. Each week the Lab participants engage in several practices (e.g., an empathy walk; presencing-based case clinics) and then reflect on them in their circles and in a weekly one-page paper that the U-Lab staff and I get to read. What have we seen in those reflection papers over the past few years?
One consistent theme has been the power of deep listening. Most students are able to profoundly transform their listening in just six weeks. And they are amazed at the impact this has on their experiences. Because the moment you begin to pay attention differently, what changes is no less than . . . EVERYTHING. That’s because our experience of reality arises in our consciousness through the structure that we use to pay attention. There is no other way.
The first step in the U-Lab class to shifting your listening is to go on an empathy walk. Pick a person who seems very different from you (in class, worldview, life-style, or political views, for example). And then connect with and make yourself a guest in that person’s life. Empathize with that person by putting yourself in her shoes, her feelings, and her thinking—in her “skin.”
After that exercise I ask the students what they notice about their listening. One Lab member responded: “I am noticing that in order to truly listen I have to create a place for the person I am listening to in my heart first.”
That sentence reveals the first golden nugget I wanted to tell you about. It’s a key to unlocking a profound shift in our relationships to others, to the world, and to ourselves.
The next story looks at how this shift can happen collectively.
(2) Climate Change: Five Conditions for Shifting the Collective Field
Another major activity for me this fall has been the launch of a seven-month transformation action learning program with a huge Chinese state-owned enterprise. According to the Forbes Global 2000 list (which for the first is topped by a Chinese company) that enterprise is currently the largest company on the planet. One reason I enjoy working with Chinese leaders is precisely because my experiences with them are so different from how Western media tend to portray them.
The team of the state-owned enterprise that I’m working with is composed of senior executives and high-potential younger leaders from across the company. Their goal is to develop ways to evolve and reinvent the company and the industry given the disruptive changes they face.
In one session we focused on climate change (as we do in all leadership programs of this sort). Here is how it works: Folks split into six teams, each representing one of the following countries or country groups: USA, EU, another developed country, China, India, and one other developing country. Each team is given a short briefing paper outlining their own interests and issues, and then the participants enter the negotiation room. There are six tables (one for teach team), with lots of food on the tables of the developed countries, and little or no food on the tables of the emerging and developing countries. Then the facilitator (Prof. John Sterman) addresses them as if he were the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon. He summarizes the current science and urges them to reach decisions that are appropriate to the global climate challenge that they face. The participants are given some time to discuss the issues in their delegations (at their tables) and with the other groups before each team is asked to present their commitments to climate action to all of the other delegations. The Secretary General asks each team to present their commitments by answering the following questions:
1. When will you stop increasing your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
2. When will you start reducing your GHG emissions?
3. At what rate will you reduce your emissions?
We then use a peer-reviewed scientific climate-change model to calculate and simulate the impact of their decisions on the climate for the remainder of this century. After seeing these projections and their impacts, the groups are asked to review and revise their decisions. Usually they commit to much more radical cuts then they did in the first round.
Having seen this simulation with several other groups before, I knew what to expect after round two: even after making much more radical commitments to reducing GHG emissions, the outcome of their decisions is still massive climate destabilization, catastrophic sea-level rises, and temperature changes that will destabilize societies on a scale never seen before. The participants tend to have strong emotional reactions after this experience: denial, depression, and cynicism—the usual wicked triad. They are deeply disturbed and confused by the outcome of the exercise.
But this time it was different. Together the six teams almost had a breakthrough after round two. It wasn’t quite a breakthrough, but it was close, and you could sense that the tide had started to turn. We began to see a shift from one mindset (“ego”), in which the delegations engaged in finger-pointing and made decisions that served their own narrow self- interest, to another mindset (“eco”), in which delegations let go of their narrow country ego and devoted their full shared attention to collectively solving the challenge at hand. In short: they shifted their mindset from ego to eco.
On my way home that night I remember thinking that what I had seen was pretty amazing. In one microcosm, I had just witnessed the kind of shift that is deeply necessary now on a much larger scale around the world. So what were the enabling conditions that allowed this collective shift to happen? Here are four that I saw at play:
• A container: All the key players were together in one space.
• Science and data: The best possible data and science were readily available.
• An activation of the senses: People were able to see, sense, and feel the possible impacts of their decisions. Example: They saw what would happen to Shanghai if the sea level rose two meters over time, plus another two-three meters during a typhoon: Shanghai would cease to exist.
• Making the system see itself: The people who made up “the system” saw themselves as if reflected in a mirror—collectively.
• Leadership: time, space, and patience in holding up the mirror for the group.
Watching this process I can tell exactly when the shift started happening: it was when the system started to see itself. That is, when the participants went from thinking “Climate change is what they are doing to us!” to thinking “Look at what we are doing to ourselves!”
How did the shift happen? By letting reality sink into the collective mind. By allowing the (eco-systemic) global reality to penetrate the (ego-systemic) mindset of the institutional decisionmakers. That penetration creates a shift that Goethe once eloquently articulated like this: Every object, well contemplated, opens up a new organ of perception within us. Meaning: the current global crisis, jointly contemplated by the community of decisionmakers that is generating it, opens up a new organ of perception—a new level of common awareness and possibility for collective action—within us and between us.
That’s the second amazing golden nugget I’ve found this fall. If replicated on a large scale, it could help us to bring about the collective (ego to eco) shift necessary today. The climate change simulation model and additional methods and tools are freely available on www.climateinteractive.org.
(3) Abu Dhabi: The Knowing – Doing Gap
The third story comes from Abu Dhabi, where last week I attended a World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council session with a group of 1,000 amazing thought leaders and change-makers from across all sectors, systems, and cultures.
Here is my takeaway from the manifold conversations at that meeting. Many conventional thought leaders conceive of the current global crisis in terms of closing a knowledge gap: if only we could close the knowledge gap (on how to address the current challenges), we would be able to take appropriate action. But true change making practitioners often express the other view: the real gap today is not a knowledge gap, it’s a gap between knowing and doing. That is, the real problem is a collective capacity gap of sensing and shaping the emerging future at the scale of the whole system. If that is so, how can we create new spaces that allow people to co-sense, lean into, and co-shape the emerging future?
In my view, it would mean reframing the existing structure of public conversation that focuses on decision-makers (institutional leaders) on the one hand and decision-framers (thought leaders) on the other by introducing a third category of change-makers that focus on creating the conditions that allow individuals and systems to go through transformative change (ego to eco). Because this third category of change makers is largely missing, we tend to have the same old conversations time and time again.
(4) Indonesia 2013: YES WE CAN!
Today, as I write this blog entry, I am leaving Jakarta, Indonesia, where I attended the graduation workshop of the fourth IDEAS Indonesia program, a nine-month collective innovation journey with leaders from across all sectors of Indonesian society (business, government, civil society, academia, media). They came up with five fabulous prototype projects that allowed them to explore the future by doing: from sustainable tourism to community-based sustainable mining and reforestation practices.
In all five projects the participants somehow succeeded in shifting a multi-stakeholder situation from working in silos to collaborating more creatively, collectively, and intentionally in order to better serve our commons. That shift from ego to ego came in many different forms. But in reflecting on this process, the IDEAS fellows realized that one important precondition to making these shifts happen had to do with shifting the inner place. Here is how one of them, the CEO of a company, reflected on his personal journey over the past nine months: “It feels as if my life has brought me to a crossroads. Over the past few months, I realized that I had forgotten or not achieved many of my childhood dreams. But then I realized that I still can make a change. I feel empowered to do what I wanted to do when I was younger. Through you and with you my new friends in this circle, I feel more invincible now. At the same time, I also feel a heightened sense of humility.”
I just love that quote—such a beautiful microcosm of a nine-month journey: waking up, remembering my dream, attending to my power to create change, connecting to a circle of friends that makes me “more invincible now,” and grounding myself in “a heightened sense of humility.”
In listening to the first-person stories of the fellows, I heard time and again the following three themes and awakening capacities: (1) deep listening, (2) discovering new sources of energy by engaging in care- and compassion-based action, and (3) courage to let go of fear and to commit to serve the well-being of all.
One evening we were invited to meet with the new Vice Governor of Jakarta, who together with the new Governor is among the most beloved and admired political leaders in Indonesia today. They have managed to take on corruption and huge vested interests in order to better serve the well-being of all. In short, they do what many had hoped from the Obama White House team: deliver.
So how can they cope with powerful vested interests turning against them? Total transparency! They put the state budget and every single stakeholder meeting they have instantly online. Interestingly, the Vice Governor talked about essentially the same key themes that earlier in the day the IDEAS fellows had talked about when reflecting on their experience: caring for the well-being of others, courage to fearlessly implement, and co-creating new economic models that serve the well-being of all.
Summing up: It feels as if the spirit of our time calls for a global fall, for turning our evolutionary forces inward, for discovering the fire from within that helps us lean into and operate from the emerging future. So where can we find early examples, the first red leaves, for this turn?
We generally find them first in the following places: (1) on the periphery of systems, (2) locally, (3) with young folks (Gen Y), and (4) in situations of systemic breakdown and/or the emergence of new systems. The above four stories represent just some of the first leaves that are beginning to glow. Which ‘leaves’ do you see in your environment glowing?
On February 11–12, 2014 we will bring many more of these ‘leaves’ and change makers together from across systems, sectors and cultures at the Global Forum on Transforming Ego-system to Eco-system Economies at MIT in Boston, Massachusetts. Please join us on that occasion in Boston or virtually through free live-streaming.
Greeetings from (currently) China,
We live in an age of profound disruption. Global crises, such as finance, food, fuel, water, resource scarcity and poverty challenge just about every aspect of society. Yet, this disruption also brings the possibility of profound personal, societal and global renewal. We need to stop and ask: Why do we collectively create results nobody wants? What keeps us locked into the old ways of operating? And what can we do to transform these root issues that keep us trapped in the patterns of the past?
The book Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-system to Eco-system Economies ponders these questions and proposes a new line of thought that is summarized in the 10 insights below.
(1) The root cause of today’s global crises originates between our ears — in our outdated paradigms of economic thought.
Wherever you go and talk with people, they already know or feel that we are approaching a moment of disruption. You’ll find this is the case whether it’s a team at the top of global companies, governments, civil society organizations, or citizens gathered for grassroots-level community meetings. Most people today feel that we live in a time where something is ending, and something else wants to be born. This feeling is so common that we almost take it for granted now. Yet, just 10 or 15 years ago it didn’t exist the way it does today.
The symptoms of the current crises can be summarized in terms of three divides that disconnect self from the primary sources of life: ecological, social, and spiritual. The ecological divide manifests in symptoms like environmental destruction. We currently use 1.5 times the regeneration capacity of planet earth. In other words, we actually use 1.5 planets! The social divide manifests in increasing rates of poverty, inequity, fragmentation and polarization. And the spiritual divide shows up in increased rates of burnout, depression and in an increasing disconnect of GDP from the actual well-being of people.
Figure 1 depicts these symptoms of our current crisis as the surface level of an iceberg model. The ecological divide is based on a disconnect between self and nature. The social divide disconnects self from other. And the spiritual divide is based on a disconnect between self and self — between the current self (which resulted from our journey of the past) and the emerging future self (that may result from our journey to the future).
What driving forces cause the deepening of the three divides? If the symptoms represent the visible part of our current reality iceberg above the waterline, what does the systemic structure below the waterline look like?
Figure 1 shows two levels of causal factors below the waterline. At first there is a set of eight systemic key issues. A structural disconnect between:
- the infinite growth imperative and the finite resources of planet earth;
- between the Haves and the Have Nots;
- between the financial and the real economy;
- between technology and real societal needs;
- between institutional leadership and people;
- between gross domestic product (GDP) and actual well-being;
- between governance mechanisms and the voiceless in our systems; and
- between actual ownership forms and best societal use of property.
Figure 1: Three Levels: Symptoms; Systemic Disconnects; Paradigms of Economic Thought
These structural disconnects depict a broken system. But what is the root cause that gives rise to these disconnects and their systemic bubbles?
We believe that the most important root cause for these systemic disconnects originates directly from our paradigms of economic thought.
Like most things on earth, economic frameworks also have their life-cycle of birth, development, growth, and finally a phase of outliving their usefulness. The frameworks of modern economic theory are no exception. For example, after the world economic crises of the 1930s, the mainstream economic thinking evolved by opening up to Keynesian macroeconomic thought, which then shaped policy making for the better part of the remaining century. Then, after the stagflation crisis of the 1970s, mainstream economic thinking evolved again by opening up to Milton Friedman’s articulation of monetarism, which influenced policy making for the decades that followed. How then has the mainstream economic thinking evolved and opened up as a result of the global financial crisis in 2007/8?
Unfortunately, there has not been any significant evolution or opening of the mainstream thinking since the financial crisis, and our economic debates are still shaped by the same frameworks, faces, and false dichotomies that ushered in the crisis. This is even more worrisome as the 2007/8 crisis may well mark a bigger disruption than the two crises previously mentioned. This is precisely why the development of an advanced economic framework is one of our primary tasks today.
The main shortcomings of conventional economic frameworks and theory can be summarized in two words: externalities and consciousness. While externalities have been discussed at length, consciousness tends to not even be noticed.
(2) The blind spot of modern economic thought can be summarized with a single word: consciousness.
Consciousness doesn’t register as a category of economic thought. It happens to be a blind spot. However, in the reality of business leadership, the real role of a CEO has everything to do with it. For example, most work of managing change boils down to helping conflicting stakeholder systems to move from one way of operating to another, that is, from just seeing their own point of view to seeing the problem from multiple perspectives. Whenever people leave their own points of view and begin to appreciate the perspectives of other stakeholders as well, the consequence will be better collaborative relationships and better results.
Yet, in spite of its growing practical relevance, consciousness still doesn’t register as a category of economic thought.
(3) The evolution of the economy and of modern economic thought mirrors the footprints of an evolving human consciousness.
The history of the economy and of modern economic thought can be reconstructed as the embodiment of an evolving human consciousness. The modern economy is based on division of labor, which consequently has led to enormous leaps in productivity. Division of labor comes with the question: How do we coordinate all these individual activities to a coherent whole?
Viewed from this angle, we can differentiate four responses to this question, which include the stages of economic development that come with them:
1.0 Organizing around centralized coordination: This involves organizing around hierarchy and central planning, giving rise to centralized economies (socialism, mercantilism), and embodying the traditional forms of values and awareness.
2.0 Organizing around decentralized coordination: This involves organizing around markets and competition, giving rise to the second (private) sector, the free market economy. This embodies the state of ego-system awareness, that is, a concern for the well-being of oneself.
3.0 Organizing around special interest group driven coordination: This involves organizing around stakeholder negotiations and dialogue, giving rise to the third (social) sector and the social market economy (stakeholder capitalism). This embodies the state of stakeholder awareness, that is, a concern for the well-being of oneself and one’s immediate stakeholders.
4.0 Organizing around commons: This involves organizing around awareness based collective action (ABC) as a mechanism to transform stakeholder relationships from habitual to co-creative. This way of operating embodies eco-system awareness, that is, a concern for the well-being of other stakeholders and the whole.
Although each culture and country navigates its own journey through these states and stages, there is a tendency to move from 1.0 to 4.0. There also is a growing complexity through these states, as earlier forms continue to exist in the later stages, i.e., 1.0 institutions (like hierarchies) and 2.0 institutions (like markets) continue to exist in a 3.0 or 4.0 economy, but they do so in an evolved larger meta-context defined by the respective stage. 1
Historic examples for 1.0 include the 18th century mercantilism. For 2.0 we only need look at the 19th century free market or laissez faire economies. The 20th century version of the social market economy or stakeholder capitalism brings us to 3.0. Examples of where the current 3.0 model hits the wall include various types of global externalities. The collapse of the climate talks in Copenhagen and the successful intervention of Wall Street banks after 2008 to prevent effective banking regulation to be passed are prime examples for the systemic failure of Capitalism 3.0 to deal with the major challenges of our time.
Thus, the evolution and complexity of the real economy is calling for an evolution of our awareness from 1.0 (habitual), 2.0 (caring about the well-being of my ego), and 3.0 (caring about the well-being of my ego and some of my direct stakeholders) to 4.0 (caring about the well-being of my ego, all stakeholders, and of the whole eco-system).
In other words, the economic imperatives of our time call for an evolution of our self from ego to eco, from one state of awareness to another. This is not just for moral reasons, but also for economic reasons because getting stuck in the state of the ego no longer makes for good business.
(4) To paraphrase Einstein, the problem with today’s capitalism is that we are trying “to solve problems with the same consciousness that created them.”
The issues of the three divides may be more intense today, but they are not new. So what have we learned in dealing with them over the past 100 or so years?
We treat the symptoms. For each problem we created ministries, academic departments, NGO clusters, foundations, journals, conferences, career tracks, and so on. In short, we’ve established for each problem a silo solution, a small industry that responds to the respective issue on a symptom basis. If we have learned one thing from the past 100 years it might be: We cannot solve these issues by addressing them one symptom at a time. We keep missing the interconnectedness among the three divides and the deeper systemic root issues from which they originate. We are busy doing exactly what Einstein warned us against: reacting to problems with the same consciousness that created them.
We’re wasting our resources by trying to solve 4.0 (eco-system) problems with 2.0 or 3.0 response patterns. And by debating whether our response should be shaped by 2.0 or 3.0 mechanisms, we are wasting our public conversation with false alternatives. The real questions that we should be asking are: How do we advance our economic thought and action to 4.0? How do we construct pioneering pathways into the co-creative eco-system economy?
(5) Helping stakeholder systems shift their way of operating from ego-system to eco-system awareness is the central leadership challenge of our time.
Helping stakeholder systems to shift their way of operating from ego- to eco-system awareness is “central” not only in the sense that it is shared across systems, but also in that the well-being and survival of our children and future generations depends on our ability to develop such collective capacities now.
Today’s companies can be likened to today’s nation states. Both are too small for the big problems and too big for the small problems. As a consequence, top-level leaders face major multi-stakeholder challenges that require them to link with and influence large groups of key stakeholders in their eco-systems or extended enterprise. The bigger your extended enterprise, the more success will depend on your ability to make the stakeholders in your system see each other, see the whole, and to care about the well-being of the whole.
We have been doing change work in a variety of systems, including business, education, health, government, and community-based organizations. What struck us throughout these experiences is that the fundamental leadership challenges across these systems are basically the same. They deal with convening large, complex stakeholder groups, making them listen to each other, bringing them on a journey of seeing the system through the eyes of other stakeholders, taking them to a place of deep reflection and stillness, and allowing them to connect to their own sources of inspiration and energy.
(6) The shift from ego-system to eco-system awareness requires a journey that involves walking in the shoes of other stakeholders and attending to the three instruments of inner knowing: open mind, open heart, and open will.
What does it take to shift the awareness of a stakeholder system from ego to eco? As described in the book Theory U: it takes a journey. A journey that not only involves walking in the shoes of other —often the least privileged — stakeholders, but a journey that involves the awakening of three inner instruments of knowing: the open mind, the open heart, and the open will. 2
Open mind is the capacity to see with fresh eyes and to suspend old habits of thought. Open heart is the capacity to empathize, to see the situation through the eyes of another stakeholder. Open will is the capacity of letting-go and letting-come: Letting-go of old identities (“Us vs. Them”), and letting-come a new sense of possibility and self.
Figure 2: Theory U: One Process, Three Instruments (Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will)
The effectiveness of accessing these three instruments depends on the ability to deal with the sources of resistance (“three enemies”):
- VoJ (Voice of Judgment): The VoJ shuts down the Open Mind by habitually judging self and others. All creativity techniques start with somehow suspending the VoJ.
- VoC (Voice of Cynicism): The VoC shuts down the Open Heart by offering an easy alternative to making oneself vulnerable. The problem with that easy exit is that it does the same thing as the VoJ: it blocks one’s opening process for accessing the deeper sources of creativity.
- VoF (Voice of Fear): The VoF tends to shut down the Open Will by not letting go but holding on to old identities, ideologies, and Us vs. Them belief structures.
The better we learn to deal with these three “enemies,” the higher our mastery will be in accessing the deeper sources of our co-creative knowing.
(7) Addressing the current global crisis at its root calls for a 4.0 update of the economic operating system through reframing eight “acupuncture points” of the global economic system.
When in the late 19th and early 20th century the 2.0 laissez-faire capitalism hit the wall in the form of poverty, inequity, environmental issues, and cyclical financial crises, societies responded by creating a string of institutional innovations that set the stage for capitalism 3.0 (unions, federal reserve banks, legislation for labor, farmers, and the environment). Today, as capitalism 3.0 hits the wall of global externalities, we need another update of our economic operating system to 4.0.
This time the institutional innovations need to involve another set of acupuncture points. Here is a list of institutional innovations that all deal with closing the feedback loop of “matter” and “mind” in the economy, that is, of economic action and the well-being of the ecological-social-spiritual whole (“eco-system”). They are:
- Nature: Close the feedback loop of production, consumption, reuse, and recycling through “earth-to-earth” or closed-loop design.
- Labor: Close the feedback loop from work (jobs) to Work (passion) by building infrastructures that foster and ignite inspired entrepreneurship.
- Capital: Close the feedback loop of capital by redirecting speculative investment into ecological, social, and cultural-creative renewal.
- Technology: Close the feedback loop from technology creation to societal needs in underserved communities through needs assessment and participatory planning.
- Leadership: Close the feedback loop from leadership to the emerging future of the whole through practices of co-sensing, co-inspiring, and co-creating.
- Consumption: Close the feedback loop from economic output to the well-being of all through conscious, collaborative consuming and through new well-being indicators such as GNH (Gross National Happiness).
- Coordination: Close the feedback loop in the economy from the parts to the whole through ABC (awareness-based collective action).
- Ownership: Close the feedback loop from ownership rights to the best societal use of assets through shared ownership and commons-based property rights that safeguard the interests of future generations.
As depicted in Figure 3, the journey from 2.0 to 4.0 (as spelled out in more detail through the Matrix of Economic Evolution in the book) is not only a journey from ego to eco, it is a journey of reframing the essence of economic thought around all eight acupuncture points that reintegrate matter and mind in the economy.
Figure 3: Eight Acupuncture Points of Transforming Capitalism to 4.0
For example, nature, labor, and capital are no longer conceptualized as a mere commodity but reframed as eco-systems, entrepreneurship, and creative capital, respectively.
(8) Shifting the system to 4.0 requires a threefold revolution.
What does it take to put economy and society 4.0 onto its feet? It takes a threefold revolution: an individual, a relational, and an institutional inversion. Each inversion is a U-type of process as indicated in figure 2. It is a process where some deeper or dormant capacities are opening up or awakening. Inversion means turning inside-out and outside-in.
Individual inversion means to open up thinking (open mind), feeling (open heart), and will (open will) in order to learn to act as an instrument for the future that is wanting to emerge.
Relational inversion means to open up communicative relationships from downloading (conforming) and debate (defending) to dialogue (reflective inquiry) and collective creativity (flow) in order to tune as groups into the field of the future.
Institutional inversion means to open traditional institutional geometries of power from 1.0 and 2.0 forms of coordinating and organizing — centralized hierarchy and decentralized competition — to 3.0 and 4.0 forms of coordinating around co-creative stakeholder relationships in eco-systems that generate well-being for all.
Figure 4: The Matrix of Social Evolution (all system levels, all structures of attention)
Figure 4 depicts the three transformations for the individual (column 1), the relational (column 2) and the institutional inversion (column 3 and 4) in the form of a Matrix of Social Evolution that integrates all system levels (micro-meso-maco-mundo) and all structures of awareness (1.0 to 4.0).
Some of the first research with this framework shows that many change makers do have level four experiences on the micro and meso level, but that the level four examples for the macro and mundo level are rare and seen as critical bottlenecks in the current development stages of the systems.
(9) We need new types of innovation infrastructures in order to build collective leadership capacities on a massive scale.
Many people think that what’s missing in order to move to a new economy is just a set of better ideas. That, of course, is not the case. We need much more than new ideas. We need new innovation structures and social technologies that will allow groups to move from their habitual levels to the new co-create level 4. These infrastructures will include:
- Co-initiating: Creating spaces for convening stakeholders around a shared eco-system.
- Co-sensing: Going to the places of most potential and observing with one’s mind and heart wide open.
- Co-inspiring: Creating spaces for connecting to the sources of creativity and self.
- Co-creating: Creating spaces for exploring the future by doing (prototyping).
- Co-shaping: Creating spaces for embodying and scaling the new through practices.
Of these infrastructures, the co-sensing and co-inspiring ones are particularly underdeveloped in society today. Trying to advance societal innovation by just talking about them or by talking about their final stages (number 4 or 5 of the above infrastructure list) is like playing a violin without a body, or to use another analogy, building a house without a foundation and ground floor.
What would be necessary today is an interconnected set of global sensing hotspots that would allow for local, regional, and global players to connect around specific issue areas in order to co-sense, co-inspire and co-create through multi-local prototyping.
(10) The shift from an ego-system to an eco-system economy requires a global movement that needs to be supported by a new leadership school. That school should create collaborative platforms across sectors, systems, and generations and work through integrating science, art, and the practice of profound, awareness-based change.
We began with locating the root cause of today’s predicament between our ears and in our old patterns of thought, particularly our economic thought. To shift these patterns takes no less than an intentional global infrastructure (or leadership school) that focuses not only on a new framework, but also on practical methods and tools to realize the shift from ego to eco and how to awaken a new quality of thinking that links the head, heart, and hand.
Such a new leadership school would be a home base for the emerging global movement of 4.0-related transformation journeys. At the same time, it would prototype a 21st century action university that integrates three forms of knowledge: technical knowledge (know-what), practical knowledge (know-how) and transformation knowledge (know-who: self knowledge). Here is a first set of principles that are essential for this type of school and which are designed for global-local replication:
- Engage systems at all levels and states: Engage systems by using the entire Matrix of Social Evolution (figure 4).
- Engage all levels of intelligence: Integrate open mind (IQ: intellectual knowledge), open heart (EQ: emotional and relational knowledge), and open will (SQ: self knowledge).
- Systems Thinking: Integrate methods and tools derived from 30 years of organizational learning research and practice. 3
- MOOCs: Use massive open online courses that combine course delivery with interactive personal, small-group dialogue and the presence of a global community of change makers that effects transformative change.
- Deep immersion: Use deep dive learning journeys and generative listening practices in order to connect communities and places of most potential.
- Science 2.0: Use scientific methods that let the “data talk to you.” The challenges of this century involve extending the concept of science beyond looking exclusively at exterior data (third-person view). We need to bend the beam of scientific observation back upon the observer in order to investigate the more subtle levels of experience of the second- and first-person view. 4
- Presencing: Use practices that allow leaders to sense and actualize the emerging future and to clarify the two root questions of creativity: Who is my Self? What is my Work?
- Power of Intention: Focus on the capacity to connect with the deeper intention of one’s journey, connecting us more deeply with one another, the world and ourselves.
- Prototyping: Link head, heart, and hand in order to create living examples and prototypes that allow us to explore the future by doing.
- Power of Place: Complement the massive expansion of online learning with an equally massive global network of vibrant entrepreneurial hubs that focus on activating co-sensing and co-creating as a gateway for unleashing entrepreneurial potential. Great innovations happen in places. Learning how to design and hold spaces for reflection, generative conversation, and system-wide transformation is a mission critical capacity today.
Fig. 5: An Ego-2-Eco Transformation Leadership School—A Set of Global Acupuncture Points
Profound personal, societal and global renewal is not only possible; it is crucial for our planetary future. What is needed are change makers willing to lead from the emerging future; leaders who are willing to learn about and practice the journey from ego-system to eco-system economies. We have the places, living examples, frameworks and tools in hand. Now what we need is the co-creative vision and the common will to bringing it into reality.
Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-system to Eco-system Economies is available from amazon.com.
here is a FT opinion piece from today on our new book
I will post an exec summary in not too long.
thanks for sharing this link
I am just returning from a week in Indonesia where we visited Belitung, a beautiful island that is famous, among others as the home of the Rainbow warriors, a real life story of a school in a shed for ten marginalized misfit children—an inspirational story told by Andrea Hirata’s bestselling novel and film, English: The Rainbow Troops (see picture shows our group in a replica of the classroom).
We went to Belitung to take a sensing journey in order to learn about the situation on the ground. We also wanted to review the five prototype initiatives that our tri-sector group of IDEAS change makers is working on. One night the Bupati (the Bupati is the directed elected Regent of a community of 100,000 to several million people) invited about 30 stakeholders of the community: Governmental Department Heads, NGOs, religious leaders, business leaders, etc. It was late when we arrived back from dinner, (8.30 PM), everyone was exhausted from a long day that started for many at 5 AM, and there was a considerable amount of tension in the room, that is, frustration about the current condition of the community.
People where tired, the noise and music from next door was considerable, and it looked for a moment that the whole thing could easily go nowhere. But then, slowly but surely, the evening took a really remarkable turn. What emerged is a situation and shift that in my eyes is a true microcosm of our developmental situation globally today. Before we knew it was 11 PM and absolutely no one wanted to leave.
So here is a brief version of that story that in our 2014 Theory U/ Society 4.0 Fieldbook will be described in more detail. The design outlined below was developed over dinner on the fly (I only learned that same day about the event).
1. Opening: The Bupati as the host opened the meeting. I made a few remarks about the three divides as the universal leadership challenge across all communities and civilizations today.
2. Movie: Then we showed a ten minute inspirational video clip that shared the story and amazing pictures of space astronauts who fly into space and then “turn the camera” back onto our planet earth and are stunned by the beauty and living presence of planet earth.
3. Small Groups: We asked them to “turn the camera back onto planet Belitung” and share in small groups what they notice, what is dying, what is wanting to be born. The small groups were mixed with community members and with participants from our tri-sector program (change makers that with the exception of the Bupati all came from out of town).
4. Social Presencing Theater: Then we asked them to return back into our large circle. Inside that circle we had placed 15 sheets of paper that each were labeled with one of the key stakeholders in the community: the Bupati, the administration, the legislature, religious leaders, teachers, fisher folk, mother nature, children, youth, mining companies, oil companies, central government, police, etc. We asked them to add missing stakeholders roles (which they did). And then I asked them to enact the voice, view and concerns of all stakeholders in a live “current reality movie” in which everyone was invited to stand up and step into one of the stakeholder roles (anyone but one’s own role) and “to speak from the I.”
What happened was an amazing outburst of energy, in which the whole complex and intertwined and highly conflicted current reality situation came fully alive within minutes.
5. Reflection: Then we asked them to reflect what they had seen. “Review the tape: If the current reality movie we have been watching illuminates important aspects of the current system, what are you noticing about it?”
What followed was moment of transformative silence. You could hear a pin drop. Then the first person spoke up: “I noticed that at first everyone was blaming the Bupati for all the problems. We thought that the big leader is the sole source and the solution to all our problems. Later we realized that we all had our role to play. That we need to shift the way we communicate.” What ensued was an amazingly sharp and precise sequence of reflections in which they noticed that the deeper problem of their situation was not the Bupati or the other stakeholders, but the deeper mindset and awareness.
“Nobody takes responsibility,” said a second person. “Instead of blaming the Bupati, people should be asking themselves what they can be doing and assuming responsibility in what they can do to solve the problem.”
A third person said: “We need to improve communication between stakeholders. This role-play exaggerated how we could be doing more. By exaggerating these roles and placing them in little boxes it’s clear how communication can be improved.”
Finally, someone said: “Every stakeholder only spoke from their ego. But we were unable to really think together as a community.”
6. Leverage point: At the end, when everything was said and done, one of the youngest participants posed a question to the facilitators and the whole group. “The problem is” he said, “that we never had such a conversation before because we normally have no space that can hold and facilitated such a conversation that we saw tonight. What can we do to create such a space?”
7. Next steps: The group will form a small core group that reflects the diverse stakeholder group composition and that takes responsibility for co-creating a conducive space that allows such a dialogue process to be continued.
To me, it felt as if I had seen a microcosm of a general stuck situation that we experience in countless communities and systems today. What intrigued me was the experience that with the minimal infrastructures of holding the space (indicated in the seven steps above), the community did everything by themselves. They did it. They transformed the old pattern. And you could feel how much they loved the energy. It is a small but hopeful beginning of a long, long journey.
Where have you seen similar stories recently? Are we talking about a beginning pattern here? Thanks for sharing your experiences!
I’ve just returned from two weeks in Asia. Our first stop was Bali, where we had a Deep Dive innovation workshop with the IDEAS Indonesia fellows, a tri-sector group of Indonesian leaders from government, business, and civil society. By the end of the workshop the participants had developed five different prototyping initiatives:
1. heaven on earth: sustainable business & eco system
2. community centre inc
3. global village
4. strengthening local wisdom eco tourism
5. dating IDEAS
Sometimes, when you move into the prototyping work, people lose their connection to the whole and just focus on their own prototype initiative. But in this group everyone is not only working on their own prototype but also supporting and participating in some of the others.
Then, also in Bali, we held the 1st Presencing Foundation Program in Asia, co-facilitated by my South African colleague Marian Goodman, Frans Sugiarta from Indonesia, and Dr. Ben Chan from Singapore. A wonderful group of change-makers from across all walks of life – as you can see from the picture.
Last year we decided in our PI (Presencing Institute) core group to regionalize the delivery of the Presencing Foundation Program (a four-day introductory program). Since then we have delivered it in Brazil, Boston, South Africa, Bali (last week), and now in Berlin (this week, starting this evening, see picture).
It’s really wonderful to see our global community becoming more multi-polar and mulit-regional, just as the world is also more multi-polar.
I spent this past week in Beijing at Tsinghua University, where I attended the 2nd World Peace Forum. The opening speech by Vice President Li echoed the opening speech of President Xi last year at the 1st World Peace Forum. The main message is simple: Peace is more than the absence of war. Peace and security depend on the presence of development, cooperation, equality, innovation, and win-win principles. It strikes me that this is the only approach to peace and security that is in synch with the complex challenges of the 21st-century world. But, to succeed, it requires a profound shift in mindset from the 20th-century cold war thinking that is still dominant in too many places today.
As we speak, we are witnessing (participating in) an increasingly global uprising of civil society against corrupted politicians and a system of organized irresponsibility. Turkey. Brazil. Egypt. Syria. The problem is not the corruption of individual leaders. The problem is a system that creates results that nobody wants and that increasingly hurts people’s life prospects, particularly for the younger generations. What do YOU see going on in your context? What can we do to help make this a moment of positive transformation and breakthrough rather than reverting to outdated patterns of the past?
Hi – I have just returned from the annual BALLE conference in Buffalo, NY, dubbed by Business Week as “a Davos for Main Street.” It was a fantastic meeting. Several long-time members of these annual gatherings described this one as a watershed that felt different and opened up new spaces of connection and possibility. What is it that made this one different? I asked. Here are some of the themes that I heard folks describe in answering this question and in reflecting on the meeting as a whole:
• Linking the new economy and the local economy with the deeper issues of personal transformation and spirituality
• Treating the whole set of acupuncture points that the new economy movement is focusing on (money, food, place, ownership, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, collaborative consumption, etc.) as a set of interrelated issues that need to be addressed as a whole
• Linking the discourse of economic transformation with the transformation and evolution of economy theory from “ego-system awareness” (neoclassical economic theory) to “eco-system awareness” (something that we try to articulate in our new book, which was also launched at this event)
• Reconstructing the evolution of the economy and the evolution of economic thought as the embodiment of an evolving consciousness from ego-system to eco-system awareness.
The speakers at the meeting were extremely inspiring. Janine Benyus, founder of Biomimicry 3.8, talked about ecological performance standards for cities and about safe, circular, local productions. Judy Wicks, co-founder of BALLE, talked about two patterns of growth: as an invasive species (examples: McDonald’s, Coca-Cola) or as a place-based eco-system that builds self-reliance and resilience for all (example: Zingerman). Nipun Mehta, founder of ServiceSpace, shared some amazing stories that exemplify the transformative power of generative generosity. Michelle Long, Executive Director of BALLE, talked about the “me to we” movement, about leading through love—changing the world by opening your heart. Eileen Fisher, founder of Eileen Fisher Inc., talked about the power of awakening the deeper sources creativity as a new starting point for change that puts individual transformation first.
And on and on… A wonderful web of connections. And yes, this meeting tells all of us that something very important is happening on planet earth right now. It’s a moment of slowing down and sometimes disruption that creates a new space of awareness among, around, and within us. This moment calls for our attention… now!
We will take all these sparks — and others from other countries — to the next level of manifestation at our upcoming Global Presencing Forum on Transforming Ego-system to Eco-system Economies here in Boston at MIT. We are in the final stage of figuring out the date and will announce it in about a week or two…
ok, once a year or so i put on a tie. this time it happened in Bhutan last week at the occasion of the opening ceremony of our Global Wellbeing and GNH Lab. Princess Kezang Choden Wangchuck gave a very inspiring speech.
On behalf of the Global Well-being and GNH Lab and its members I would like to express our deepest gratitude for the opportunity to visit your country and to learn and work together with our dear colleagues from the GNH Center Bhutan.
We believe that we as a global community face a profound crisis that is manifest in three major divides:
• the ecological divide — that is, our growing disconnect from nature,
• the social divide — that is, our growing disconnect from each other,
• and the spiritual divide — that is, our growing disconnect from ourselves.
These three divides have been addressed in the West by reacting to the symptoms and by creating, for each problem, one ministry, one NGO cluster, and one specialized academic department, each of which fails to address the deeper root causes of our current situation.
What brings us here to Bhutan is the search for the root issues that underlie the symptoms of our current crisis. We believe that perhaps the most important root issue is an outdated paradigm of economic thought.
What inspires us about Bhutan is that GNH aims at bridging and transforming the three divides by helping people to live in harmony with nature, serve others, and realize their innate wisdom and potential.
The intention of the Global Well-being and GNH Lab is to advance the transformation of our economic paradigm from ego-system awareness to an eco-system awareness that creates well-being for all.
The intention of our visit is to learn from you and to build an ongoing platform of collaboration and partnership that helps us to renew the foundations of our economic, educational, and political systems by linking them to a deeper shift that we see happening around the world — a shift of awareness that revolves around the awakening of the heart.
(see also: next blog entry on our experience in Bhutan)
We just returned from a one-week deep dive in Bhutan, where we went to learn about the Bhutanese approach to Gross National Happiness (GNH). “We” were the participants in the Global Well-being & GNH Lab — an innovation collaborative that brings together change-makers working in government, business, and civil society from Bhutan, Brazil, China, India, Sri Lanka, the United States, and Europe. (The Lab is co-sponsored by PI, the GIZ Global Leadership Academy, and the GNH Center in Bhutan.) The deep dive in Bhutan was an eye-opening and awareness-expanding experience.
Here are a few observations.
Four levels of GNH
What is GNH and how does it work? Contrary to Western perceptions, GNH has nothing to do with the feel-good type of happiness. It is grounded in the Buddhist concept of compassion, of enhancing the happiness of all beings. Last week we heard the concept of GNH being used and referred to in at least four different ways:
1. As an index. The index is developed from 33 indicators that make the actual well-being of the population much more visible in the following nine domains:
o Psychological well-being
o Time use
o Cultural diversity and resilience
o Good governance
o Community vitality
o Ecological diversity and resilience
o Living standard
2. As a process and policy screening tool. All new policies and regulations in Bhutan are tested and reviewed for their impact on the well-being of people in the above nine domains;
3. As a development strategy. The country aspires to depart from the Western consumerism-based development models through an alternative economic paradigm that better balances the material, social, and the spiritual dimensions of well-being;
4. As a mindset of mindfulness. Mindfulness cultivates a positive attitude toward the world and the ability to become aware of oneself.
Western alternative indicators for measuring economic progress, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), often lack the teeth to influence actual policymaking. But the Bhutanese approach to GNH is full of very tangible effects on a policy level. A few examples: Bhutanese citizens enjoy free education and free healthcare services and a literacy rate close to 100%; 80% of the country is covered by forest, 50% of which is protected; Bhutan bans advertising in public places; it has implemented policies for achieving 100% organic farming by 2020; it limits the import of cars and helicopters; it puts a very high priority on the well-being of animals; and, for GNH considerations, it did not join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Not everyone will agree with these GNH-informed choices. But no one can say that GNH is just about feeling good. In fact, the opposite tends to be true. GNH has had much more influence on real policy choices than any other alternative economic progress indicator to date.
The power of leadership
How is it possible that a tiny and poor country like Bhutan can be so much more innovative in creating alternatives to GDP than all the other much more resource-rich countries of the world combined? Because of leadership. GNH in Bhutan is not, like in the West, a bottom-up movement. It’s the result of enlightened top-down leadership. Jigmi Y. Thinley, the Prime Minister, explains why he sees alternatives where other world leaders tend to see none.
“The GDP led development model that compels boundless growth on a planet with limited resources no longer makes economic sense. It is the cause of our irresponsible, immoral, and self-destructive actions. Irresponsible, because we extract, produce, consume, and waste ever more, even as natural resources are rapidly depleting. Immoral and unethical because [we have] consumed far beyond our share of natural wealth… Self destructive, because, aided by technology, we are bringing about the collapse of our ecological life support systems. Having far outlived its usefulness, our fundamentally flawed economic arrangement has itself become the cause of all problems. Within its framework, there lies no solution to the economic, ecological, social, and security crises that plague the world today and threaten to consume humanity.” (UN Head Quarters, New York, 2nd April, 2012)
When was the last time you heard a Prime Minister (or any politician) being so outspoken and clear?
The power of entrepreneurship
GNH in Bhutan originated from the top. But it is also starting to grow bottom-up. We visited some of these social mission driven enterprises during the week. One of these learning journeys took us to the startup company Greener Way, an organization that has managed to change the face of the country in the area of recycling and waste management.
The idea for this company was planted a few years back in a student dorm, over a bottle of wine and some very inspired conversations among fellow students. Then, a small core group of them committed themselves to creating Bhutan’s first recycling firm. Over the years, with lots of support from family, friends, agencies, and donors, as well as waste generators, the group succeeded in creating Bhutan’s first waste management and recycling firm in the capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu. For more detail Picture: Karma Yonten, CEO (and Lab participant), Greener Way
The power of place
From the moment you arrive in Bhutan, located in the Himalayas between China and India, you can sense that it is a special place. You feel the presence of humanity in a more profound way than you do in other places. It’s as if Bhutan was a little island that globalization and Western materialism has not yet penetrated. Going to a place like this can make us question our lives on a deeper level. Who are we as human beings? What is our role and purpose? What kind of progress do we want to create? What kind of planet do we want to leave behind?
We reflected on these questions when we took a day in order to hike to Tiger’s Nest, one of the most sacred places in Bhutan (picture). On the way back, each of us took a couple of hours of solo time, in order to listen to our own emerging thoughts about those deeper questions. What is it that we are called to do now?
Prototyping to explore the future by doing
On our final two days in Bhutan we formed prototyping teams to explore the future by doing. The teams we created include a GNH Business Lab, a team to implement and scale a GPI indicator system across individual states in the U. S., a team that focuses on wellbeing and the informal economy in India, and a team that focuses on co-creating a web of Transformation Hubs in several parts of the world.
In the GNH Business Lab, for example, we developed an intention of reframing business in terms of being part of a larger social movement that then gives rise to new forms of eco-system wide wellbeing and related business opportunities. Our team includes entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and senior business and government leaders from Bhutan, Brazil, and the United States. In the following six months we will prototype and scale a co-creative eco-system engagement strategy that will be tested in Bhutan, Brazil, and the United States. More to come…
SEWA: Self-Employed Women’s Association
Another of the prototyping initiatives asks the question, What development does India need to maximize the well-being of its people? It involves SEWA, Oxfam, and some company partners and focuses on linking micro, meso, and macro perspectives in order to empower young people in the informal sector as part of a broader discussion of the kinds of development India needs to maximize the well-being of all of its people.
On the trip home, some of us visited SEWA and its core leadership team in Ahmedabad. It was a very moving experience. Founded 40 years ago, SEWA today is one of the most significant and highest-impact NGOs on the planet. Its 1.7 million members all come from the informal economy. The informal economy in India is not exactly small — it represents 93% of the workforce in India. In spite of its significance for well-being in India, the informal economy remains largely invisible.
We were impressed during the SEWA visit with the positive approach to the future and to each other that the circles of SEWA leadership displayed (picture).
Despite daunting challenges, the collective will and spirit of change seemed more powerful than in most other places we have been to before. The prototype with SEWA and Oxfam will focus on reinventing SEWA’s approach in order to make it more relevant to the aspirations and needs of the next generation of women leaders in India’s informal economy. As one of them said in our conversations: “We aspire to create a different type of company. Not the old-style business corporation. But another one that is more cooperative, more creative, and more shared. We don’t want to replicate the old model. We want to create something new.”
Back home in Boston, I feel inspired and humbled by these connections and initiatives from around the world that aim at the very same thing: to shift the economy from ego (me) to eco (wellbeing of all). Its a movement in the making. Its a global field of inspired connections that grows, widens, and deepens every single day. Where and when do you feel connected to that movement? What initiatives do you see and what seed ideas do you carry that may be relevant here?
(see also next blog entry: opening remarks in bhutan, GLobal Wellbeing and GNH Lab)
Something interesting is happening in Central Europe. I just returned from Berlin where i attended a global gathering on Banking for a Better World. The meeting was sponsored by the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, which comprises 22 banks operating with social and ecological responsible banking principles in everything they do. It’s a small group of innovative banks, including GLS, Triodos, and BRAC Banks. Their combined total assets are minuscule in comparison with those of the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks. But then, all profound innovations start very small…
Why do socially responsible banks matter? Because we need to fund the movement that all of us care so deeply about. We need to redirect speculation-driven money back into the heart of the real economy, back into the sources of social, ecological, and cultural renewal.
One of these strategic areas of investment is what in Germany is called the Energiewende—the currently ongoing transformation of the energy system from fossil and nuclear to renewable sources of energy. It’s the biggest infrastructure project in Germany since World War II, moving the country into what Jeremy Rifkin has termed the third industrial revolution.
How did that happen? How is it possible that in a world in which governments tend to be firmly in the grip of special interest groups (example: Washington, where health, energy, and financial reforms have not touched any of the powerful vested interests to date) that the tide is turning from organized irresponsibility (that is, our current 1.5 planet footprint) to pioneering the way toward a more sustainable economy?
What explains such a medium-sized miracle in Germany?
Briefly: It began in the late 1970s and early ’80s with a massive 30-plus-year-old grassroots movement that staged a series of enormous demonstrations against nuclear power construction sites all over Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The movement discussed all of the ideas and concepts (including the concept of Energiewende) that 33 years later a conservative German government adopted as government policy. It began by bringing the ideas raised by the grassroots activists into civil society conversations. It also created a vehicle for launching those ideas into the world of politics: the Green Party. The German Green Party was founded in 1980 and first elected to the national parliament in 1983. From 1998 to 2005 it was a coalition partner in the German government. During that period, the ideas of the Energiewende moved into the mainstream of politics and policymaking.
But in 2010/11, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, influenced by the powerful energy industry, decided to undo the phasing out of nuclear power that the earlier Red-Green German government had set in motion. Then, in 2011, the disaster at Fukushima happened, and the political landscape shifted again. The experience of the nuclear meltdown combined with the strong grassroots reaction in Germany (where the majority of the population supports the exit from nuclear energy) prompted Chancellor Merkel to put the Energiewende back into action—despite strong objections from the traditional energy sector. Today, most Germans still support the Energiewende although it has resulted in higher energy prices for them.
So what’s the pattern here? A well-established grassroots movement that starts with ideas and civic circles, moves to spontaneous actions and grassroots mobilizing, and results in political decision-making and large-scale refocusing of entrepreneurial action. As a consequence, we see an emerging movement of civic, people-owned energy co-operatives that are trying to take over from the big public utilities (which for many are a synonym of party politics and corruption) and big energy companies (whose reputations are not much better). The shift from fossil and nuclear to renewable sources of energy is also fueling a shift toward more distributed, more local forms of shared ownership. In Germany alone there now exist 500 locally owned co-operatives focusing on renewable, local energy production.
Where have we seen a similar pattern recently, where a grassroots-based common will wins out over the multi-million-dollar campaign of the vested interests? Switzerland. On March 3 the Swiss people decided to force public companies to give shareholders a binding vote on executive compensation, effectively ending a period of obscene bonus payments that business executives gave to each other without effective shareholder oversight. In spite of a massive public campaign by the entire political and business establishment of the country, 68% of voters approved the proposal, one of the largest majorities in a referendum ever.
Another example from Germany is the Bavarian citizen initiated referendum in 2010 of a total ban on smoking in all public places, in spite of a massive campaign by the tobacco industry.
So what can we learn about how these grassroots movements express, facilitate, and embody a common will that prevails, against all odds and against the massive firepower of organized special interest groups, in order to make their communities better places? One thing we learn is that elements of direct democracy, like the use of a referendum, can (if linked with quality spaces for public conversation) be a very effective vehicle to weaken the dependency of politicians from special interest groups and to move a country forward.
Where else have you seen examples of this kind of action? And what key learning can we take from their stories?
I am writing this on my return trip from launching the Global Well-being and Gross National Happiness (GNH) Lab with a journey to urban favelas in Brazil and to communities in the Amazon rainforest region near Belem and Santarem.
It was fascinating to hear each Lab participant reflect on these community experiences from a different angle. Where some of us (mostly participants from North America and Europe) saw a real sense of community, others, mostly from the Global South (who often have experiences of much deeper community), saw a lack thereof. Where some of us (from the Global North) saw unacceptable poverty, others, particularly from the Asian Global South, saw quite advanced conditions of material livelihood. Where some of us (from the corporate sector) saw good sustainability and community partnership practices (like revenue-sharing), others, from the global civil society movement, saw just another capitalist trick to manipulate and disenfranchise marginalized communities. Where some of us, particularly North America–based grassroots activists, thought that the positive contribution of government equals zero, others, particularly from East Asia, Latin America, and Europe, saw the government in a much more mission-critical role.
In short: the Lab is a bit like a microcosm of our global community, a diverse group that spans all continents and sectors and many systems and ideologies. Listening to the conversations in the early part of the week I wondered: did these people really visit the same community I did? We talked as if we had had immersion experiences in very different worlds—and I guess, we did.
That being said, one thing that everyone was deeply impressed and moved by was the power of the social entrepreneurs that we have met in the favelas and communities. Amazing individuals that effect incredible changes under the most challenging conditions. It makes you feel really really humble. In many ways, what we intend to do with the Lab is to help to unleash the power of social entrepreneurship from often local or project bounded impact to transforming and shifting the whole system.
In the second part of the week we went to the Amazon rainforest area. We will never forget the last 3-4 days that we spent on a regional boat that we boarded in Santarem and that took us via the Amazon, Tapajos, and Arapiuns Rivers to the Atodi community. The boat had three levels. The first level was for food and eating. The next level had 35 hammocks hung in two dense rows that allowed us to sleep— the whole group in a single space (picture).
The third level was the Global Well-being University deck on which we conducted our discussions under the open sky (the picture below shows a Lab participant from SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India, presenting the work they do with their 1.6 million members).
Sitting in the circle of our open-sky Global Well-being School made me really happy. It’s what I dreamed the U.school could bring into being. (I first experienced a similar feeling in 1988 when I teamed up with a dozen of European students and faculty to take the trans-Siberian train from Budapest to Beijing, where we joined a World Future Studies Federation conference.)
On the second last day we took a six hour silent hike into the rainforest under the guidance of the Atodi community. The experience was beyond words. We felt embraced by nature’s essence in our whole being. It was a deeply regenerative experience. It reconnected me and us with our source. (picture: a rainforest tree shot from the roots upwards)
Coming back from the Amazon, our group was no longer the same as when we arrived. Each of us had changed. We feel more open on more levels, in more profound ways. We could feel the collective body of our heart to heart connections. As a group we also realized that GNH and the Global Well-being Indicators — beyond GDP — are just a very small aspect of the profound changes that are necessary today.
As I write these final lines, I am sitting in my office back in Boston and watching the snowflakes fall. I feel blessed by the wonderful things that I have always taken for granted: access to clean water; access to food and shelter; access to quality space; access to energy and transportation, access to community.
I also feel that a part of the Amazon and of the whole Global Wellbeing Lab community is still with me, in my heart. Quite amazing change makers from Bhutan, India, Brazil, China, Europe, Sri Lanka, North America. I know that something will grow out of these seeds that this past week were planted in our hearts. But at this point, no one can say what it will look like. So let me end with a nice shot of our Amazon U.school boat at night…
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