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…
2012 was a year full of endings and beginnings. At the Presencing Institute (PI) we tried to contribute to the latter by supporting small “seed initiatives” including, over the past few months, the delivery or completion of:
–the 1st Presencing Master Class, with 72 participants from many cultures (2 year advanced program)
–the launch of our new Global Well-being and GNH Lab-Innovating Beyond GDP (co-created with the German Ministry for Development Cooperation/GIZ)
–the 3rd MIT IDEAS Indonesia Program, a nine-month U journey for senior leaders from government, business, and civil society on transforming business and society for sustainability
–the 1st MIT IDEAS China Program, to train senior leaders from the Chinese government and SOEs (State-Owned Enterprises) how to lead transformative change for sustainability
–Katrin and I completed the manuscript for our forthcoming book, Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies.
We also regionalized the delivery of our four-day Presencing Foundation Program, which is now offered in Brazil (November 12, 2012), and in 2013 in Africa (March), Asia (June), Europe (July) and Boston (October). https://www.presencing.com/programs/foundation-program
Also in 2013 we intend to hold:
a small Global Well-being and GNH Forum in Berlin (July 5) and
the 3rd Global Forum in Boston (Oct. 24-25) which will showcase transformative change towards Society 4.0. In 2014 the Global Forum will move to Asia.
Our intention is to create a method and platform that integrates science (the third-person view), social transformation (the second-person view), and the evolution of the self (the first-person view) into a coherent framework of consciousness-based action research that inspires and scales the transformation of our economy from ego-system to eco-system awareness. We call the platform for this intention the “U.school.”
If you are interested in joining this effort or the conversation, check out our redeveloped website featuring projects, programs, groups, and people working with this intention. There you will have access to a newly integrated 10,000-person online community.
We hope to meet you in one of these activities, initiatives, or community conversations this year as we collaboratively lay the foundations for the great call of our time-the transformation of capitalism, consciousness, and self.
The last weeks have been amazing. The most intense workload and energy field I have ever experienced feel as if they are finally coming full circle and now moving to the next higher level, spiraling up. Here are a few highlights:
–In Beijing we completed a six-month U-based leadership journey with senior leaders from the Chinese government. It was an amazing experience that began when the group joined us here at MIT for ten days [in June, 2012]. After that I conducted three more modules with them in China, which were nothing short of amazing. When the group reflected on its own process, it took three or so hours to complete the sharing just on personal learnings. The participants felt a shift in mindset from head to heart. They also talked about a shift in relationships. And about a shift in how they approach their work. After just a few months, they also created some pretty amazing prototypes, including one on energy efficiency and one on the rapidly growing elderly population. What struck us was that in all these prototypes you could witness a shift of mindset in how they approached the issue: from “government knows the problem and delivers what it believes to be the solution” to “government holding the space for co-sensing across stakeholders and empowering them to co-create what they most care about.”
–In Denmark we continued our work with the health leadership team of a whole region (including the leadership teams of five different hospitals; see earlier blog entry). The prototypes this group managed to create in just two months were stunningly successful. We did a new Social Presencing Theatre practice on “current reality” (Sculpture 1) and the “emerging future” (Sculpture 2). They enacted the transformation from Sculpture 1 to 2, from the old to the new system, as a transformation from an institution-centric system that is organized around a fixed set of fragmented institutions (Sculpture 1) to a relationship-centric system of direct connections across institutional boundaries (Sculpture 2).
The new system was organized in two overlapping spheres. One revolved around the patient (for a seamless patient journey across institutions). The other one revolved around the citizens (the healthy people who pay for the whole show) and the communities—which is of course where health and sickness originate. In Sculpture 2 the management team of the hospital had to leave their old top-dog position in order to (a) hold the entire space of cross-institutional relationships and (b) reach out to connect directly to the sphere of citizens and communities. So interesting!
–In Austria I co-facilitated a workshop with the Minister of Education on her project to renew the Austrian educational system. She and her team have made amazing progress in just a few years! The meeting comprised school innovators, principals, and state and federal officials. Reflecting on what is dying and what is wanting to be born, here is what one of them said: “We are tinkering with all these reforms, with all these innovation initiatives, we are renewing the “house” of education with another window here or another door there — but frankly, what we need most is a radically different FOUNDATION for the entire house!” I loved that. Isn’t that so true?
–In Brazil we delivered the Presencing Institute’s Four Day Foundation Program for the first time. Wonderful experience! Also a very interesting meeting with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Environment and with folks from Natura who are founding partners in launching the Global Well-being and GNH Lab in January 2013.
–The Global Well-being and GNH Lab is a joint initiative by the Presencing Institute with the Global Leadership Academy of GIZ (German Ministry of Development Cooperation). With the Prime Minister of Bhutan as patron, this initiative brings together leading change-makers from Bhutan, Brazil, India, China, Europe, and the U.S. The organizing question for the Lab is, How can we shift the center of gravity of the economic system from material growth to real well-being, from transactional and manipulative relationships to transformative and co-creative relationships? Deep immersion learning journeys (in Brazil and Bhutan) lead to dreaming up and prototyping practical ways of implementing new measures of economic progress (“beyond GDP, beyond material growth”). The outcome of the Lab will be a web of multi-local prototyping initiatives that will span and replicate across cultures.
–The most important thing happened yesterday, however. We submitted to our publisher the manuscript for our book Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. Finally! A small step for mankind, but a BIG step for us…
This IS a moment of real endings and beginnings. The door to the future seems wide open. Let’s plant our seeds of the future in this moment by contemplating the real intentions we have for the next few decades ahead. Now. And for the next two weeks. And then let’s go out and make it happen!
What intentions or seeds of the future have clarified for you or have drawn your attention? I will live with that question for the next week or two and share what emerges in the next entry. Feel free to start the sharing in the comment section below…
As always in the Fall term, I enjoy teaching my classes at MIT Sloan. This year i have a participant from Harvard Ed School in my class who reflects on her class experience with a short animation clip every now and then. See for yourself:
on the empathy walk:
on the movie Inside Job
don’t you love it?
I have just returned from a three-day workshop with the management teams of five hospitals and other key players in the health system of a large region in Denmark.
The objective was to transform their institutional relationships from their current state (characterized by competition + conflict) to a more co-creative state (of compassion + common intention) that puts the patients in the region first..
Our journey went through several stages. First, all of the participants conducted extensive stakeholder dialogue interviews across the entire region before the workshop that we discussed and reflected on early in the workshop. Then we created a “current reality movie” through role playing (stepping into the shoes of other stakeholders). Later on that day we used Social Presencing Theatre to map both current reality and the emerging future. Current reality featured a largely system-centric structure that was transformed into an emerging future featuring a patient/family/citizen-centric structure.
We spent the remainder of the workshop identifying and exploring the opening of “cracks” that would allow these leaders to move the system from its current reality into a better future.
Something shifted in the collective field of the group when, on the last day, these institutional leaders reflected on their progress. One head of a hospital said to the head of another hospital, with whom they had been in a multi-year structural conflict: “It never occurred to me that I have never asked you ‘How can I help you?’” In the stillness after that sentence I could feel a quiet shift of the heart – theirs and mine.
This group was very serious about putting the well-being of the whole community first and each of their institutional ego-interests second. That is easily said but rarely happens. It’s hard work. They say they succeeded because of the process we went through together in the workshop. But I believe that the Scandinavian culture has something to do with it too. Together with Singapore, Scandinavia has the world’s best system of public administration (schools, health care, government efficiency, absence of corruption).
Why? What’s different there? Well, I think I saw some of their positive qualities in the workshop: they are compassionate with each other, passionate about the well-being of the whole, and willing to relinquish some of their own institutional ego. Two significant turning points that allowed that shift to happen were the sensing interviews and the Social Presencing Theatre exercises – in other words, the left-hand side of the U. On the right-hand side (intuition to action) we used the case clinics as a very helpful tool.
When the participants described their vision for the future, they suggested that instead of all the mechanical productivity measures that today drive health care delivery, the health care system should be driven by direct qualitative feedback from the patients. That’s exactly what Bhutan does in measuring gross national happiness (GNH): it has developed measures that reflect the quality of its citizens’ experience. Reconnecting our systems to the lived experience of its citizens would be a major shift in how we run our key institutions in society today.
Where have you seen examples of that—and what can be learned from it?
I spent last week in Zhejiang, China, where I enjoyed reconnecting with a group of senior government officials, academicians, and business executives. When I met them for the first module in Boston in June my MIT colleague John Sterman ran a climate-change-simulation game with them that put the participants in the shoes of all of the countries negotiating with each other on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. After each round, the results of their negotiations were input into a science-based simulation model that calculated the outcomes of their decisions for the climate. The result of this multi-round simulation was catastrophic: the combination of sea-level increase and a typhoon would have caused key areas of their province in China to be submerged.
Four weeks ago when I led the next module with the group in China, midway through we lost all ten of the mayors in the group (it includes about ten mayors of cities and communities with populations of 500,000 to 5 million) when they were ordered home to lead disaster preparations in advance of two typhoons headed for their region. Working day and night for three days, they helped to coordinate the evacuation of 3 million people from their homes. The typhoons and the ensuing flooding were the worst in the past 60 years. But due to the superb disaster preparedness not a single person was killed.
During this week we met in Hangzhou Lin’an, from where we took a side trip to visit some thousands of year-old Gingkoe trees. Several of them had grown and then “given birth to” (a holding space) for the next generation. The picture below shows a tree that is part of a five generation tree of trees, each generation growing on top of another (the oldest one apparently 12,000 years old). Five generations of trees in one big tree eco-system. What a beautiful picture of evolution that we are part of on planet earth!
Another side trip at the edges of our workshop led us to the construction site of a Silicon Valley–style innovation eco-system (the fifth of its kind in China). When I drive around in the United States I am sometimes shocked to see the erosion of bridges, streets, schools, and other public infrastructure; when I return to my home town in Germany I find people still discussing the pros and cons of the same Autobahn extension that they were already talking about 30 years ago. But in China they envisioned, planned, and and are building an entire high-tech innovation eco-system in a mere 12 or so years. Simply breathtaking to see and feel that dynamism!
On the last day, after the completion of the workshop, some of the participants arranged for me to visit with the head monk of a nearby Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou (picture), one of the major Buddhist temples in China. He told me that he was increasingly invited to teach the essentials of Buddhism to corporate leaders in China. I asked whether he also teaches them in the temple and monastery. Yes, he responded, he runs three-day workshops in which the CEOs live and work with the monks at the monastery; and for three hours per day, he teaches them.
During the meeting I received a small statue of the Maitreya Buddha as a gift from the head monk and the two senior officials of the provincial government who also attended the meeting. The Maitreya Bodhisattva is the Buddha of the future, who is expected to follow the reign of the historic Shakjamuni (Gautama) in the future. The Maitreya Buddha is also the Buddha of Compassion. One of the government officials explained to me that since the U process is about letting go of the past and letting come the emerging future, the Maitreya Buddha would be particularly connected to it. The Maitreya Buddha is usually depicted with a very big belly and is very relaxed, smiling, and compassionate, allowing him to harmonize seeming contradictions. I thought to myself that that’s what I experienced on the day of my visit: head monks teaching business CEOs, Party and government officials telling me about the Maitreya Buddha, compassion and the U, and all of us together in a generative conversation that planted important seeds for future work…
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