Capitalism 4.0 and Neuroplasticity of the Collective Brain

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

crossposted Huffpost

I have just returned from an interesting experience in Washington. D.C.:  a panel discussion with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The event was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a leading neo-conservative think tank responsible for much of the intellectual core and agenda of the Bush-Cheney administration. So why would I go to a place that co-engineered much of the thinking that led us into the disaster of the Iraq War and the financial crisis of 2008, costing us trillions of dollars, and causing massive waves of human suffering across cultures?

Three reasons. One, I was invited by my friends at the Mind and Life Institute, which hosted one of the panels at the event. Two, because I am annoyed by the collective paralysis that we are witnessing in Washington and that is creating such huge problems both domestically and globally. I am more than happy to contribute anything I can  to creating spaces for dialogue across intellectual and political divides. And three, because Arthur Brooks, who took the leadership at the AEI in 2009, is breaking away from many taboos of the old thinking and trying to do something new. It’s that kind of spirit that we need in many more places today.

That being said, I don’t agree with many of the official AEI talking points. But I did discover, particularly in informal conversations, a lot more common ground than I imagined I would—including a thought-provoking conversation with Paul Wolfowitz (former U.S. defense secretary and former president of the World Bank). Here are three observations from my trip to Washington last week: discovering common ground, capitalism 4.0, and searching for neuroplasticity of the collective brain.

Common ground: There is surprisingly fertile common ground between the value-based core of the conservative movement on the one hand and people (like me) who believe that we are living in a moment of profound disruption that requires us to evolve and profoundly transform all our institutions of business, government, and education. What is that common ground? Three points: entrepreneurship; individual creativity; and mindfulness. Together these forces represent the power of business and social entrepreneurship and the power of civil society.

But what’s missing? One thing is the environment. What could possibly be more conservative than environmental conservation? There is nothing inherently left or right in addressing environmental issues. As we see in the rise of the green parties in other parts of the world, they often are quite independent of the left-right axis of traditional political thought. But in the United States the far right has done everything to deny the environmental challenges that we’re dealing with today. You could sense the ripple effect of this denial in parts of the audience when the Dalai Lama and Diana Chapman Walsh, former president of Wellesley College, talked about environmental challenges like climate change. There was a bit of an awkward silence. It reminded me of the reaction I experienced in Davos at the World Economic Forum after suggesting that we break up all the banks that are too big to fail. An awkward moment like this happens when people hear truths that are obvious but unpleasant. Yes, they are uncomfortable, but those are exactly the moments when cracks to the future can open up.

So my first takeaway is this: Traditional right-left polarization keeps the political discourse locked into false dichotomies of the past. Finding common concerns with many people at the AEI event reconfirmed my intuition that we need a completely different force field in politics today—not necessarily a new political party, but something very different from what we have now.

Searching for Capitalism 4.0

During the first panel of the event, Jonathan Haidt of NYU suggested that today’s capitalism has three different story lines: (1) capitalism as heartless exploitation,  (2) capitalism as the greatest discovery of mankind, and (3) a “more ethical capitalism” that relinks morals and markets, including a constructive role for religion and ethics.

Haidt suggested that His Holiness believes in story 1 (“I am a Marxist,” the Dalai Lama occasionally likes to point out with a smile). Haidt said that his co-panelist Glenn Hubbard, Dean of the Columbia Business School, believes in story 2. Hubbard was previously the chief economic adviser to George W. Bush, oversaw the tax cuts, and became well known for his interview in Charles Ferguson’s Oscar-winning documentary film Inside Job (2010), in which the 2008 economic crisis is linked to the deregulation that Hubbard and many others (including Democrats) advocated for.

Jonathan Haidt then said that he sees the emergence of story 3. That story begins with capitalism as one of the “greatest human achievements” (see story 2), but unlike story 2 also focuses on the externalities that we are facing now.

Reflecting on Haidt’s point of view, which seemed to resonate with many in the room, I would like to point out two issues that time constraints prevented me from raising during the panel discussion on Thursday.

First, the framing of the three stories misses a story that matters even more: a story of profound institutional transformation—story number 4. And second: the framing of the three stories lacks a structural analysis that gets at the deeper core of our institutional transformation challenges today. Just bringing in religion, morality, and some other good wishes will not do the trick.

So here is another view that frames our current situation in the context of four logics and paradigms of economic thought. They all respond to the basic coordination problem of our modern economies, but in a different way.

1.0:                  Organizing around centralized power: state and central planning
à giving rise to socialist and mercantilist economies (single sector)

2.0:                  Organizing around decentralized power: markets and competition à giving rise to entrepreneurs and the private sector (two sectors: public, private)

3.0:                  Organizing around special interest groups: negotiation and dialogue à giving rise to the NGO sector (three sectors, conflicting: public, private, civic)

4.0:                  Organizing around shared awareness and cultivating our commons à giving rise to co-creative relationships among the three sectors (government, business, civil society) in order to innovate at the scale of the whole system.

These four logics mirror four different stages of economic development. Each earlier stage is included in the later ones. As economies move from 1.0 to 2.0, 3.0, and now possibly to 4.0, the consciousness of the human economic actors also evolves from traditional (1.0), to ego-system awareness (2.0), to stakeholder awareness (3.0), and to an eco-system awareness (4.0) that we see beginning today.

The problem of our current economic debate is that we are trying to solve 21st -century problems with 19th- and 20th- century economic thought. That is: our discourse is stuck between “more markets and free enterprise” (2.0) and “more regulation and government” (3.0). In reality, neither of these approaches will suffice. Trying to solve 21st-century problems with 19th- and 20th-century economic thought is like driving a car at high speed while only looking into the rear mirror. That is what the economic debate looked like while it drove us into the crisis of 2008. As Einstein famously reminded us, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.

The present economic discourse does have three major views: 1.0—the authoritarian solution (à la Putin); 2.0—the free-market capitalism solution (the neo-liberal view); and 3.0, the stakeholder capitalism solution, which basically advocates “more of the same” in terms of the 20th century welfare state (the progressive view). But the problem with these three views—and the problem with Haidt’s three stories—is this: they all look backward, they all drive into the future while using frameworks of the past. What we need is a 4.0 framework and narrative that is based on transforming the patterns of economic action and thought from ego-system to eco-system awareness, in order to innovate at the scale of the whole (as I have laid out here).

Neuroplasticity of the Collective Brain

A panel moderated by Arthur Zajonc, president of the Mind and Life Institute, started off with remarks by Richard Davidson, one of the leading neuroscientists of our time.

Davidson talked about the neuroplasticity of the brain, a concept that has replaced the older static view of the brain. Neuroplasticity is based on the discovery that the structure (anatomy) and function (physiology) of the brain are much more malleable by our behavior and the environment than previously thought. For example, recent advances in epigenetics suggest that our behavior can alter the expression of the genes. According to a recent study, even a single day of mindfulness practices can change the epigenetics of your brain.  What follows from this is that well-being and its key drivers, such as generosity and conscientiousness, can be learned. Says Davidson, “There is absolutely no doubt that these factors can be learned.”

Listening to Richie Davidson’s intriguing presentation, I thought: Boy, the plasticity of the human brain is an unbelievable leverage point that points us to our ultimate leverage points as human beings: paying attention to our attention. It calls for a new type of leadership work that focuses on the cultivation of our inner instruments of knowing. But what would it mean to cultivate the neuroplasticity of the collective brain at the level of a whole system? That would seem to require a new type of leadership work that we all need to learn to engage in.

I followed that train of thought by structuring my own remarks around four major points.

One, that there are two sources of learning: learning from reflecting on the past, and learning from sensing, leaning into, and actualizing emerging future possibilities.

Two, that in order to activate the future-based learning cycle, leaders and change-makers have to go through a three-stage process:

  • Observe, observe, observe: Go the places of most places of most potential and listen with your mind and heart wide open.
  • Retreat and reflect: Allow the inner knowing to emerge. Share, reflect, and go to an inner place of stillness to connect with your deeper sources of knowing. Contemplate Who is my Self? What is my Work? 
  • Act in an instant: Explore the future by doing. Co-create rapid-cycle prototypes that generate feedback from stakeholders, which then helps to further evolve your idea.

Three, that in order to activate that deeper cycle of innovation and future-inspired learning, leaders have to engage in a new leadership work that focuses on cultivating three deeper capacities of knowing:

  • The open mind—the capacity to suspend old habits of judgment by paying attention to our attention (mindfulness);
  • The open heart—the capacity to empathize, to experience a problem from the viewpoint of another stakeholder, not your own view (compassion);
  • And open will—the capacity to awaken and activate the deeper creative, entrepreneurial core that is dormant in each and every human being.

There are many examples of exceptional business leaders who embody these deeper capacities in different ways. Steve Jobs is famous for his claim that the only way to do your best work is by following your heart. Do what you love, and love what you do.

Another one is Bill O’Brien, the late CEO of Hanover Insurance. Summarizing his experience as a successful leader of transformative change, he told me, “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.” What he meant is that what matters most is not just What leaders do or How they do it—the process they use—but the Inner Place from which a leader operates, the quality of awareness and attention that they bring to a situation.

An example of acting from this deeper place is Eileen Fisher, the founder and CEO of Eileen Fisher Inc., a highly successful women’s clothing company. She not only uses mindfulness practices for herself, as Steve Jobs did; she also introduced mindfulness moments in her company, just as Twitter co-founder Evan Williams has done in his company. For example, at Eileen Fisher, every meeting begins with a moment of stillness.

My fourth point related to the pressing societal challenges that we face across societies today. The number one leadership challenge in today’s major systems and sectors of society is the same. Leaders need to change how their key stakeholder systems interact. Instead of interacting based on a narrow ego-system awareness, they need to collaborate based on a shared eco-system awareness—that is, an awareness that focuses on the well-being of all.

What does it take to move stakeholder systems from ego-system to eco-system awareness? It takes a journey. A journey that we are seeing in many successful stakeholder projects in many cultures that moves them through the stages of “observe observe,” to listening with their minds and hearts wide open, to accessing their “deeper sources of knowing,” and finally to learning by rapid-cycle “prototyping,” by connecting head, heart, and hand.

I ended by asking His Holiness how we can apply the power of mindfulness and compassion not only to individuals but to evolving the system as whole. He gave two responses. The first one: “I think you know better [than I do] (laughter). You already have the experience…” He then continued: “My thinking is to emphasize the education. That’s the fundamental approach.” That approach is part of a major initiative to renew the foundation of education worldwide that the Mind and Life Institute is about to launch.

So here are my three reflection questions of this week: (1) Considering the collective paralysis in Washington DC, what would it take to shift the public discourse to a true dialogue? (2) Considering the evolution of capitalism: What would it take to take the eye off the rear mirror and onto the real challenges that we face in terms of Economy 4.0? (3) Considering the power of neuroplasticity, what would it take to unlock the neuroplasticity for our collective brain—that is, the sum total of our social, economic, and spiritual relationships?

Useful links:

Here is the link to recorded live-stream of the session.

The framework of Capitalism 4.0.

I will expand on these topics in my weekly blog posts here (bookmark).

Shifting the Social Field: Contemplation, Compassion, and Collective Action

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

crossposted Huffpost

In a previous post, I blogged about my impressions of the World Economic Forum in Davos: about the increasing interest in mindfulness in mainstream circles, which co-exists with what might be called the “collective sleepwalking” of our elites—and ourselves. Here I share a recent experience that offers insight into the question: What does it actually take to awaken ourselves, the collective sleepwalkers?

Fields of Dormant Future Possibility

We live in a moment of profound disruption. Something is ending, and something else is wanting to emerge. There is a huge dormant potential in the world today that is waiting to be activated: a potential for profound renewal and change. People are tired of the usual conferences and approaches to organizational change that produce lots of talk but no substantive action. We are collectively creating results that nobody wants and will continue doing so until we can answer the question: How do we activate our future potential at the collective level?

I have spent the past 18 years pursuing this question. That quest has led me and my colleagues to create a “social technology” that blends leadership, mindfulness, and systems thinking. My colleagues and I have come to refer to this new social technology as “presencing.” The presencing method uses a sequence of co-sensing (“observe, observe, observe”), stillness (co-inspiring or “connecting to sources of knowing”) and co-creating (“acting in an instant”) to help people bring about profound innovation at the level of the whole system.

Global Presencing Forum: Ego to Eco

 Last week, along with my colleagues, I helped organize an event on the campus of MIT in Cambridge, MA, designed around the principles of presencing. We brought together 250 leaders and change makers from 28 countries; another 800–1,000 online participants watched the live-streamed plenary sessions, and some of them hosted parallel events in their local communities.


We called the event the Global Presencing Forum. Co-sponsored by MIT’s Community Innovators Lab, the Presencing Institute, and the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the Forum brought together innovators who seek to generate profound change in social systems by shifting the awareness of the people within these systems, including themselves, from what we call ego-system awareness to eco-system awareness.

The Forum was designed to connect the four following groups:

  • leaders and innovators from business, government, and NGOs
  • grassroots movement builders and social entrepreneurs who come from, and work with, the most socially marginalized
  • thought leaders in transforming the economy toward sustainable well-being
  • pioneers in blending mindfulness with cognition science

Below I list some of the most interesting insights and initiatives that emerged during the two-day Forum. I also describe some of the methods we used.

Emerging Results 

Collaboration across boundaries:

Several new initiatives were launched. Equally important are the many new connections that were forged between existing initiatives and new partners.

For example, the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) on Climate Change, Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security is a multilateral partnership of six countries formed in 2007 to address the urgent threats facing coastal and marine resources. Its current challenge is to build a collective capacity to deliver on its objectives, in a scenario of deep social, cultural, economic and political complexity. At the Forum, CTI representatives linked up with similar (smaller-scale) regional initiatives with the goal of collaborating more effectively across boundaries and building capacity toward a vision that is organized around cultivating the commons.

Shifting how individuals relate to each other and to the whole system:

Some participants observed and experienced subtle new ways of relating to each other. A long-time leader of a major global bank told me after the Forum: “I was so surprised by the quality of awareness and connection in the room. It happened very naturally. I have never seen anything quite like it.” I asked him what qualities of connection he was referring to. He said:  “There was very little ego in the room. The ego-awareness was gone, and the eco-awareness was activated in just about everyone. It was quite a natural process. Very different from what I experience otherwise. As if a dormant collaborative gene has been switched on…”

Activating the potential of online learning:

Additional feedback came from our online audience. One participant reported “an unexpected experience of being deeply connected,” while another said “I never felt so connected and transformed before.” Because, personally, I have never experienced anything transformative through an online medium, my colleagues and I are now inquiring into what this participant and others found to be particularly helpful or inspiring, in order to explore how it can be replicated in future online programs (such as the MOOC I will be offering later this year through EdX).

Activating the Field of the Future

Here are seven tools and practices that we and the participants used in the Forum to co-sense and activate our best future potential.

1. A core group that “holds the space” with a common intention. Before the Forum began, 24 senior facilitators who guide presencing-based transformation processes around the world met for three days to share what we are learning through our work. The night before the Forum, we convened this same group along with all of the invited speakers. Forty of us sat in a circle and shared our aspirations for the highest potential of the Forum (picture). It was the power of this setting that helped this core group to collectively hold the space (collaboratively and without further planning) to maintain a high-quality learning environment for all of the participants over the next two days.


2. Mindful methods and tools. Activating the field of the future requires a method. We call this method “Theory U” or “presencing.” It’s a process that is grounded in our capacity to pay attention to our attention as the ultimate leverage point for life-enhancing change. To practice paying attention to our attention, Arthur Zajonc, President of the Mind & Life Institute and author of Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, led us through a mindfulness practice for moving from focused attention to open awareness. For the rest of the Forum, participants were invited to use this mindfulness practice while listening to speakers and story presenters. This created a more empathic and generative quality of collective attention than people are used to experiencing at conferences, where too often we simply debate and re-confirm what we already know.

3. Experiential labs: storytelling and theater.  During the afternoon of day one, each participant joined one of eight Experiential Labs. These blended stories told by leading change-makers with group dialogue, personal reflection, and a highly experimental form of collective sense-making we call Social Presencing Theater. In my Lab, Eileen Fisher, CEO and founder of Eileen Fisher Inc., and Michelle Long, Executive Director of BALLE (Business Alliance of Local Living Economies, the fastest-growing network of sustainable enterprises in America), reported on the outcomes of their participation in the Global Wellbeing and Gross National Happiness Lab. During the dialogue, one of the participants said, “I feel that I am watching the beginning of a new movement that blends the power of entrepreneurship with the power of mindfulness and compassion.”


4. Connecting to source. During the evening of the first day, we hosted an East-West dialogue that explored how each of us can access deeper levels of individual awareness. Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein of congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City said the process requires us to stop, turn, and listen to what wants to emerge. Tho Ha Vinh of the GNH Centre in Bhutan shared the Bhutanese context of Gross National Happiness and its underlying values and principles. Ego, he explained to us, is essentially about craving and fear, while eco is about compassion and mindfulness. This dialogue echoed themes from earlier in the day when Kang Yoto, an elected leader and Islamic scholar from Bojonegoro, Indonesia, shared his interpretation of Al-Fatihah (the first chapter of the Quran), which, he said, communicates the importance of cooperation and giving to others as opposed to seeking gain for oneself.

5. Awakening the undocumented part of our story. On day two, Sofia Campos, chair of United We Dream (the largest immigrant-youth-led organization in the U.S.) and a Master’s student at MIT, talked about the violence experienced by the deeply marginalized groups in U.S. society. She spoke uncomfortable truths: two million undocumented people have been deported since President Obama was elected (a rate of 1,500 each day); two million Americans are incarcerated, mainly black and brown men and most for non-violent drug crimes. The United States leads the world in both of these shameful categories.

Sofia finished by showing this remarkable video, which left many in the audience in tears. “Many of us have undocumented parts of our story,” Sofia said.  “In order to know others,” she continued, “you have to know yourself.”  Emotions were strong because Sofia brought us back to our awareness of the “undocumented” parts of our collective social experience.  In sharing her own story as an undocumented American who arrived as a child with parents fleeing terrorism in their native Peru, she emphasized how essential it is to have space in an open-hearted community that upholds and embraces those who are wrongly criminalized and despised by the larger society, and that does so based on dignity, love, purpose, and compassion.


6. Prototyping the new. Nietzsche once said: Art is the only revolutionary force. In the presencing process, we employ a variety of artistic tools that help people crystallize intention into action: guided journaling, drawing, and theater, followed by a quick and chaotic process in which participants search for others with whom they can collaborate on an idea or initiative.

7. Weaving the field of the larger eco-system. At the close of day two, we invited participants to describe some of their emerging initiatives. The landscape of small and not-so-small initiatives and connections will be very interesting to watch and support as their momentum grows. Several individuals commented on the personal and relational shift they experienced over the two days. For example, more than 20 Brazilians attended the Forum, many of whom had not known each other or their projects beforehand. By the end of the Forum many had found connections and possibilities for collaboration; including an intention for a societal transformation “hub” in Sao Paulo that could be an ongoing source of support for these connections.

Shifting the Field

So, what does it take to awaken the sleepwalking entity that is our collective self? What does it take to sense and actualize the space of future potential around us?

What it takes is a social field and a social space that facilitates a turn, a bending of our beam of observation back onto ourselves, back onto its source. The bending of the beam of observation is called reflection when it happens as a mental process. It’s called empathy or compassion when it happens as a process that activates the intelligence of our heart. And it’s called entrepreneurship, or love, when it happens as a process that activates our deepest capacity to create.  What I saw at the Forum was the beginning of a collective opening process on all three of these levels: opening the mind (reflection), the heart (compassion) and the will (creative core).  When that opening happens, we still have the same problems, but we can approach them more in more present, more connected, and more co-creative ways.

Where have you seen conditions that allow groups to move from the state of sleepwalking (same old, same old) to waking up and co-sensing a new space of possibility? What examples come to your mind, small or big, and what can we learn from them?

Thank you for sharing!

And thanks to Adam Yukelson, Dayna Cunningham, Julia Kim, Katrin Kaufer, and Frans Sugiarta for contributing to this post!




Cultivating Collective Mindfulness: The Leader’s New Work

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

In my previous blog post I shared my observations from the World Economic Forum in Davos: about the rising mindfulness movement on the one hand, and the continued supremacy of what could be called collective sleepwalking on the other. Collective sleepwalking results in three deep divides that are the signature of our civilizational crisis today: the ecological divide—the disconnect between self and nature (resulting in overuse of planet earth’s finite resources—we are using 1.5 planets today); the social divide—the disconnect between self and other (resulting in two societies: the 1% vs. the 99%); and the spiritual divide—the disconnect between self and self (resulting in suicide now taking more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined). Looking into the mirror of our time, I see a reflection of 1914, when sleepwalking Europeans, awake but not seeing, moved the world toward WWI, then WWII, and the rest of 20th-century history as we know it.

Collectively Creating Results That Nobody Wants

The reality is that we—all of us, not just the financial elite—are the collective sleepwalkers. How do we wake up? Why is it that, across so many major systems, we collectively create results that nobody wants? Nobody wants to increase environmental destruction, poverty, cultural ADHD, or suicide. Yet we keep doing it. Why do we collectively recreate these patterns?

The Blind Spot

The root cause of our current economic and civilizational crisis is not Wall Street (although the decoupling of the financial and the real economy is a huge problem). It’s not infinite growth (although overusing earth’s finite resources is another enormous problem). It’s not Big Business or Big Government (although their disconnect from the real needs in our communities needs to be fixed). It’s also not leadership, governance, or ownership. The primary root cause is more fundamental than any of these structural issues or systemic disconnects.

Our current crisis originates between our ears: in our outdated paradigms of economic thought. It originates in the disconnect between our dominant models of economic thought (which gravitate around ego-system awareness, in which stakeholders maximize benefit only for themselves) and the collaboration imperatives of our global eco-system economy (in which stakeholders seek to improve the well-being of all, including themselves). We have an enormous disconnect between ego-system thinking and the eco-system reality.

Economic Evolution as an Evolution of Consciousness

The main shortcomings of conventional economic theory can be summarized in two words: externalities and consciousness. Economic externalities have been discussed at length by policymakers and researchers, and many have tried to address them. By contrast, the issue of consciousness—by which I mean not only what we do or how we do it, but the level and quality of awareness we operate from when taking action—is completely ignored, not even registering as a legitimate component of economic thought. Why is it so important?

The current capitalist economy is fundamentally ego-centered: it is structured to satisfy my wants as an individual and to privatize or even atomize decision making. Most attempts to deal with social and ecological problems encourage consumers and producers to extend their awareness beyond themselves, to internalize the well-being of other stakeholders. But this process is inadequate to deal with the size and complexity of the crises we face today.

What’s really needed is a deeper shift of consciousness. We need to care and act not just for ourselves and a few close partners, but in the interest of the entire eco-system in which economic activity takes place.

The economic imperative of our time calls for an evolution of the dominant logic and operating system from one that is based on ego-system awareness to one that is based on eco-system awareness. To paraphrase Einstein, the problem with today’s capitalism is that we are trying to solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them.

The Leader’s New Work: Bending the Beam of Observation

What would the path toward an intentional, co-creative eco-system economy look like? It would take us on a journey that links together three intertwined parallel transformations —personal, relational, and institutional. All three of these transformations must deal with essentially the same inner movement: shifting the state of awareness from ego to eco by awakening the intelligence of our heart.

The good news is, the research that my colleagues and I have been doing for the past 19 years has shown us some reliable ways to do precisely this.

Personal Transformation: From Me to We

One of the early and important moments that led me to pay attention to consciousness was when I heard the late CEO of Hanover Insurance, Bill O’Brien, sum up his own leadership experience with the observation, “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.”  When I heard this I thought, Wow! He claims that what matters most is not what leaders do or how they do it, but the inner place from which they operate—i.e., the quality of awareness and consciousness that they bring to a situation. I asked myself: What do we know about this inner place, about this source of social reality creation?

We know nothing! Because it’s hidden in the blind spot of our everyday experience. We can see and record what leaders do and how they do it (the processes they use), but how could we track what was going on in that inner place? To do that, I realized that we would need to bend the beam of scientific observation back onto the observing self.

Bending the beam of observation onto its source is the essence of the leader’s new work. Engaging in this new type of leadership work allows leaders and change-makers to tune three critical instruments of their inner knowing: the open mind, the open heart, and the open will. (see figure).

Fig 2

Figure 1: Theory U—Leading from the Emerging Future

The open mind represents the capacity to see the world with fresh eyes and to suspend old habits of thought. Having an open heart means having the capacity to empathize, to see any situation through the eyes of someone else. And an open will is the capacity of letting-go and “letting-come”: letting go of old identities (like “us versus them”), and letting come a new sense of self and of what is possible.

As the saying goes: the mind works like a parachute—it only functions when it’s open. The personal transformation I’m talking about here unleashes profound ways of opening up that helps us tune in to and operate from the emerging future. Leaders need to extend and deepen their capacity for listening—from downloading (listening only to confirm what I already know) and factual listening (listening for information that challenges what I already know) to deeper empathic and generative listening (sensing and presencing the emerging future).

Relational Transformation: From Ego to Eco

Most key leadership challenges of our time boil down to something very simple: transforming stakeholder relationships that operate based on transactional ego-system awareness into relationships that operate based on transformative eco-system awareness. Ego-system awareness means paying attention to the well-being of oneself. Eco-system awareness means focusing on the well-being of oneself and of the whole (all the stakeholders in the system, including nature).

Shifting from one to another requires a profound shift in the types of conversation we have with each other: from downloading and debate to dialogue and collective creativity.

Institutional Transformation: From Silos to Collective Creativity

An institution that moves from ego to eco reshapes the traditional geometry of power characterized by hierarchies and competition into a co-creative eco-system of stakeholder relationships that generates well-being for all. As this organizational transformation evolves—from centralized and decentralized to networked and eco-system-based—we will also see our larger economic system also evolve from its earlier forms (state-centric, market-centric) to more mature stages of development. (For more on all three transformations, see the Matrix of Social Evolution.)

Building a New Collective Action Leadership School

So what will it take to wake up from our collective sleepwalking? It will require applying the power of mindfulness, both individually and collectively, to the evolution of business, democracy, and society.

To accelerate and advance this shift we need a bold initiative to build the collective capacity of mindful leadership on a massive scale. We need new innovation infrastructures and social technologies that enable diverse groups to act in new ways by co-sensing, co-inspiring, and co-creating the future that wants to emerge.

At the heart of this new collective leadership capacity is a profound shift of awareness from ego to eco. Many people know that in the age of disruption that we have entered, the big systems around us will continue to crumble and collapse. What’s called for now are new is a deeper shift in the quality of our relationships—a shift of the heart—that allows us to co-create, prototype, and scale new forms of collaborative institutions.

To support this ego to eco shift we need a new type of awareness-based collective action leadership school—a distributed platform that focuses on pioneering profound innovations by an approach that links and integrates all sectors (business, government, civil society), system levels (micro, macro, mundo) and all intelligences (head, heart, hand).

We already have much of what it takes in the form of living examples, methods, tools, frameworks, and capacity building mechanisms. What’s missing is a shared platform and common intention by an inspired core group to make it happen on a larger scale—a school that integrates science, consciousness, and profound societal renewal.

To explore this space of possibility and to learn from ongoing experiments already being conducted around the world, the Presencing Institute and the MIT Colab are co-hosting a Global Forum on economic transformation on Feb 11–12 at MIT. Change-makers from across all sectors, systems, and cultures will be attending. Free live-streaming will be available (the on-site event is already fully subscribed).

Over the coming months, I will share in this weekly blog more about the ego-to-eco shift, how mindfulness can be applied to our collective challenges today, the highlights of the Global Forum, and how we can bring the three revolutions that are necessary today (personal, relational, institutional) to life.

For more detail on the ego-to-eco shift: Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System To Eco-System Economies.



Davos: Mindfulness, Hotspots, and Sleepwalkers

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

(cross-posted w HuffPost blog)

I just returned from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. I came away with three observations: mindfulness is approaching a tipping point; human energy hotspots are the real attractor; and collective sleepwalkers remain dominant.

Mindfulness. Mindfulness is close to reaching a tipping point. Only two years ago, mindfulness and mindful leadership were discussed at the WEF for the first time. Since then, almost all of the mindfulness-related events there have been oversubscribed. Mindfulness practices like meditation are now used in technology companies such as Google and Twitter (amongst others), in traditional companies in the car and energy sectors, in state-owned enterprises in China, and in UN organizations, governments, and the World Bank. As Loic Le Meur, a serial tech entrepreneur from Silicon Valley puts it: “It’s funny, everyone I know has started meditating. In the Valley, there’s a real social pressure on you [to do it]. Six months ago I gave in and started my own daily practice.”

What is happening? Here are three drivers of this trend:

  • New tech: our hyperconnectivity and fast-paced lives have caused us to disconnect more and more from ourselves.
  • New challenges: leaders are facing more situations that require them to access their self-awareness and emotional intelligence in order to be successful.
  • New science: the past ten years have brought breakthrough research in cognition science, particularly about the impact of mindfulness on brain plasticity. As cognition scientist Richard Davidson puts it: Even a few hours of meditation can change the epigenetics of our brain.

After I hosted an evening session on mindfulness in Davos, the CEO of a private equity fund said to me: “This night was a turning point for me. I realized that as a leader and a human being I not only need to engage in training and practices that keep up my physical fitness, but I can also engage in training and practices that develop and keep up my quality of mindfulness. This has been my most important experience in Davos this year.”

Hotspots. My second observation concerns hotspots of energy. What makes 2,500 of the world’s elite business, government and thought leaders in civil society travel to this remote and (otherwise) sleepy small town in Switzerland? My sense is that they come to participate in a distributed field of energy hotspots. What fuels these hotspots? It’s not the big staged events. It’s not the tightly structured panels and speeches by heavy hitters and big names. There’s a field of human interconnectivity that flows through the corridors, lounges, coffee bars, dinner tables, evening parties, and shuttle rides. It’s like an inverted or flipped event: the formal public events are just an occasion to get together, a backdrop; but the real event, the real encounters and learning, happens in the fluid and mostly self-organizing space outside the meeting rooms. It was in that space that South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and F. W. De Klerk had their first sit-down meeting in 1992. It is this self-organizing aspect of the WEF that could be developed and focused much more intentionally on the central challenges of our time (see below).

Sleepwalkers. Observation number three: Davos is a mirror of the world as it currently is. Looking into that mirror, what do we see? We see 1914. Let me explain.

In his excellent book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, British historian Christopher Clark argues that

the protagonists of 1914 were sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.

European leaders “sleepwalked into 1914″ essentially because all of the parties involved analyzed the larger situation from a narrow, shortsighted, self-interested perspective that didn’t anticipate the long term consequences of their individual decisions for the whole system. There simply was no place in which the players could have come together to jointly consider the impact of their decisions on the entire European and global community. The outcome? World War I, the Versailles Treaty, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War. Seventy years of totalitarian systems in major parts of the world, over 100 million casualties. What is the situation today? In principle, it is the same.


The standard rhetoric of the financial elite at the WEF–that the economy is back, or coming back–and the official political rhetoric about sustainable development or “sustainable growth” gave me a queasy feeling. Their operating assumption seemed to be that by doing more of the same, we will be able to deal with the major challenges of our time. Nothing could be further from the truth. The official rhetoric only sounds good as long as you are completely ignorant of – or choose to ignore – the facts. What do these facts tell us?

The Three Divides. Societies around the planet are dealing with three divides: ecological, social, and spiritual.

  • The ecological divide is represented by the number 1.5: we use resources at 1.5 times the rate the earth can regenerate them. In other words, we have a split between the self and nature.
  • The social divide is represented by the number 1 billion: roughly 1 billion people live in extreme poverty; we have a split between the self and the Other.
  • The spiritual divide is manifest in a split between one’s current self and one’s highest future possibility (emerging self). We have increasing rates of burnout, depression, and suicide. On a macro level, in developed societies, higher GDP does not translate into greater well-being (more happiness). In short: although we’re busier than ever producing and consuming stuff, our rate of happiness and well-being is going down.

The Davos mirror on the world highlights a key feature of our current reality: as in 1914, there is a profound disconnect between financial and political elites on the one hand and the real situation that is about to unfold on the ground–the real impact of their decisionmaking on the whole system. Anyone who claims that “more of the same” will put our societies on the path of well-being and shared prosperity is either cynical or in denial of the facts–in short, is sleepwalking.

So Clark’s diagnosis of sleepwalkers that are watchful but unseeing and blind to the whole applies as much for 2014 as it does for 1914. What would it take to awaken us, the collective sleepwalkers? What would it take to apply the power of mindfulness (which we have seen emerging in individuals and small communities) on the larger systemic issues, on bridging the three divides? How can we evolve and transform capitalism and democracy in a way that reframes the intellectual and institutional foundations from ego-system awareness to eco-system awareness–in order to generate well-being for all?

My next blog entry will focus on that question.

Global Fall Stories: Fire from Within

Monday, November 25th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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,


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10 insights on the Ego-2-Eco Economy Revolution

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

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.

Fig 1

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.

Fig 2

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:

  1. Nature:  Close the feedback loop of production, consumption, reuse, and recycling through “earth-to-earth” or closed-loop design.
  2. Labor:  Close the feedback loop from work (jobs) to Work (passion) by building infrastructures that foster and ignite inspired entrepreneurship.
  3. Capital:  Close the feedback loop of capital by redirecting speculative investment into ecological, social, and cultural-creative renewal.
  4. Technology:  Close the feedback loop from technology creation to societal needs in underserved communities through needs assessment and participatory planning.
  5. Leadership:  Close the feedback loop from leadership to the emerging future of the whole through practices of co-sensing, co-inspiring, and co-creating.
  6. 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).
  7. Coordination:  Close the feedback loop in the economy from the parts to the whole through ABC (awareness-based collective action).
  8. 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.

Fig 3

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.

 Fig 4

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:

  1. Co-initiating: Creating spaces for convening stakeholders around a shared eco-system.
  2. Co-sensing: Going to the places of most potential and observing with one’s mind and heart wide open.
  3. Co-inspiring: Creating spaces for connecting to the sources of creativity and self.
  4. Co-creating: Creating spaces for exploring the future by doing (prototyping).
  5. 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:

  1. Engage systems at all levels and states: Engage systems by using the entire Matrix of Social Evolution (figure 4).
  2. Engage all levels of intelligence: Integrate open mind (IQ: intellectual knowledge), open heart (EQ: emotional and relational knowledge), and open will (SQ: self knowledge).
  3. Systems Thinking: Integrate methods and tools derived from 30 years of organizational learning research and practice. 3
  4. 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.
  5. Deep immersion: Use deep dive learning journeys and generative listening practices in order to connect communities and places of most potential.
  6. 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
  7. 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?
  8. 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.
  9. Prototyping: Link head, heart, and hand in order to create living examples and prototypes that allow us to explore the future by doing.
  10. 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

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.

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FT piece on Ego 2 Eco Economy book

Monday, September 2nd, 2013 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

here is a FT opinion piece from today on our new book

Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-system to Eco-system Economies

I will post an exec summary in not too long.

thanks for sharing this link


Stories from the Rainbow Warrior Land

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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!


A global Spring in the making?

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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.

Bali: Foundation Program Asia

Bali: Foundation Program Asia

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).

Berlin tonight: Presencing Foundation Program Europe

Berlin tonight: Presencing Foundation Program Europe

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?

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The Power of Place

Friday, June 14th, 2013 | Uncategorized | No Comments

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…

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