Archive for July, 2012

Indonesian Inspirations: The Asian Essence of the U

Thursday, July 12th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I am writing this on my return flight from an amazing week in Indonesia. First we celebrated the graduation of the 2012 class from the MIT IDEAS Indonesia program, a nine-month journey for high-potential leaders from business, government, and civil society that took them to the edges of society, systems, and their own selves (picture).

Hosted by the Minister of Trade in Jakarta, the IDEAS group presented their five action learning prototypes to the public:

1. Defense through Prosperity: Shifting the security frame from hard to soft power
2. Vulnerable Children: Using media to empower the most marginalized children in Papua
3. Ecosystem Protection: Rebuilding the well-being of ecosystems through economic inclusion (rather than by working against the marginalized)
4. Water: Cleaning up a river in Jakarta by engaging stakeholders across all three sectors
5. Microfinance—Financing an economic shift that transforms fisher’s core business from catching fish to watching and safeguarding fish

What I love about these prototypes is that they became much more than just a practice field for cross-sector engagement. Almost all of the IDEAS teams are now engaged in significant ongoing change activities that have emerged from their prototypes, although the IDEAS program officially ended last week. Several of the teams have co-founded new organizations that will support their ongoing activities. Others have formed cross-organizational alliances between existing institutions. Their work has produced what seems like a really rich field planted with promising seeds for the future…

Meeting the Minister of Trade reminded me how successful Indonesia has been in reducing its debt-to-GDP ratio from 83% in 2001 to as little as 24% today. It’s an amazing accomplishment in only about one decad! Contrast that with the progress on that issue in Washington and Europe…

With my colleagues Frans (Jakarta) and Dr. Ben (Singapore), I then ran several workshops for BNI, the second largest government-owned bank in Indonesia, as part of their institutional transformation journey. Here are a few insights from these sessions:

–The opening of the financial markets in Indonesia for foreign banks has been a mixed blessing. Today, of the 40 largest banks in Indonesia, only 13 are not foreign owned. The benefit that the international competitors brought was somewhat limited, as all of them concentrate on the top market of the affluent and rich, creating very few services and benefits for the underserved customers in the country. That market, the underserved regions and segments of society, is largely left to domestic (government-owned) players like BNI. So why do Indonesians need the international banks when all they do is skim the cream from the over-served market, with no or little contribution (or rechanneling) to the underserved markets?

–When you take a group of 60 or 100 people through a one- or two-day U process journey, you know by the elevated energy at the end that some sort of transformation has happened. But when exactly is the moment when the collective field starts to shift? It happens when, having faced and absorbed the current reality from all the relevant angles (observe, observe, observe), people begin to BEND, TURN, and REDIRECT the beam of attention from the “problems out there” (in the it-world) to themselves (the I-you world), that is, to their own actions that continue to reproduce the current unacceptable reality.

This moment is different from abstract reflection. In abstract reflection we miss the first step: the collective grounding of the whole group by getting them to absorb and internalize all the relevant perspectives and views. (This involves systems mapping and role playing in order to enact the dynamics of the system in real time.) Next you allow yourself a moment of stillness, you let everything sink in, and then you ask yourself: Why are we doing this to ourselves? THAT is the moment when the field starts to shift. It’s the moment when the individual and collective beams of attention start to bend, bend more, turn, and get redirected back to their SOURCE: why are WE doing this to OURSELVES?

This sounds easy and obvious, but in most real cases this shifting of the field does not happen because of one of the two following failures. (1) Either you are simply stuck in current reality — that is, the whole analysis is done on a simple systems (technical) level, missing the self-reflective turn (it-world fallacy, it’s all about stuff). Or, if you do bring in the self-reflective dimension (let’s say by coaching the key players), it’s done with partial and incomplete data and doesn’t close the feedback loop between self and other in a system (I-world fallacy, it’s all about me). The point of the U is to avoid both fallacies and steer the ship between these extremes, first by building a solid foundation of seeing a SHARED current reality, and then by turning our attention from the it-world to the source. When that happens, things get quiet, time slows down, space gets broader and deeper. In that moment you know that you are on the right track. You have no idea what is going to emerge from the next phase. But you do know that you are entering a deeper level of the social field…

–The essence of all leadership is something very simple: connecting to reality. Reality 1 is current reality, and reality 2 is the emerging future reality that needs us in order to come into being. In other words, leadership is about getting out of our personal bubble. New consciousness comes into being when and to the degree that we pierce and emerge from the bubble of our formal systems, in order to meet and encounter the real reality outside.

–That reality has many faces. One way of thinking about it uses a set of three numbers that reflect the ecological, socio-economic, and spiritual divides that afflict our world: 1.5, 2.0, 3.0. The number 1.5 refers to the fact that we are currently using the resources of 1.5 planets every year. The number 2.5 refers to the 2.5 billion people who live in poverty. And 3.0 refers to the one million people who commit suicide every year, three times the number who die from violent conflict or war.

I have come to see my work more and more in terms of the work of a farmer. What does a good farmer do? Enhance the quality of the topsoil. What does a good farmer of the social field do (that is, a facilitator, coach, or leader)? The same thing. We all try to increase the quality of the topsoil of the social field. This very thin sphere connects what is underneath (earth, lithosphere) with what is above (sky, atmosphere). And through this connection, the soil becomes fertile. In management and leadership, in all sorts of social processes, we do the same thing. We are grounded in two worlds: a complete collective seeing of the “it” world, and then, when we redirect the beam of attention back toward its source, the distributed “I” world.

That is the essence of the U process. Working with groups in Asia has also taught me to better articulate the simple essence of the U: breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in: going down the left-hand side of the U; breathing out: going up the right-hand side of the U. Who is breathing here? It’s the collective breathing of a distributed social field, an emerging field of inspired connections among us…

Thoughts? Thanks for sharing them!

BTW, here are the youtube clips of an interview that Desi Anwar did with me for her “Face2Face” show that aired on Indonesian TV last weekend. I haven’t watched it yet but my Indonesian friends said that Desi once more created a great piece:

Part 1/5
Part 2/5
Part 3/5
Part 4/5
Part 5/5

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Back in Berlin

Sunday, July 1st, 2012 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The past few weeks felt like many streams coming together to form an ever more powerful river. I owe this observation to Peter Senge, who expressed it when he left Berlin after our streak of events there last week. Here are some of my recent experiences, which illustrate Peter’s point:

–A watershed New Economy Conference on the US East coast brought together 400 thought leaders and grassroots activists from across North America (two weeks ago).
–At MIT, Peter and I hosted a ten-day Leading Innovation for Sustainability program for high-potential leaders from the Chinese government, SOEs (state-owned enterprises), NGOs, and Tsinghua University to launch a six-month action learning journey. This group is so co-creative and insightful!
–The Global Forum, held in Berlin’s Radialsystem with 500 participants (350 in person and 150 via live webstream), demonstrated the power of linking deep human awareness with profound societal systems transformation.
–Also in Berlin, we convened the fourth and final module of our two-year Presencing-in-Action Masterclass. It was an unforgettable collective presence experience that began by leaning into the presence and pain of the Holocaust past while also attending to the light and shadow in each of us.
–A Berlin-based strategy retreat for the PI core team generated priorities for the coming year or two. Among them are (1) the 2013 Forum in Asia–probably Bali; (2) the next Masterclass, starting probably in Fall 2013; (3) the founding of a u.school Awareness Action Research Group; and (4) the first seminar with PhD students before or after the 2013 Global Forum.
–In a planning meeting with GIZ (the German Ministry for Development Cooperation) we got the go-ahead for a 2012 launch of our Social Well-being Lab. The lab will include Bhutan (with the Prime Minister of Bhutan as patron), Brazil, Germany, and others, and will be co-hosted by the GIZ Global Leadership Academy and the Presencing Institute.
–The next day, still in Berlin, I met with the team of the new German President, Joachim Gauck, in the President’s Office (Bundespräsidialamt) and then in the afternoon with some of the Merkel team in the Chancellor’s Office (Bundeskanzleramt) in order to learn about and discuss the challenges and opportunities they face going forward.
–A Youth and Social Entrepreneurship Summit called MISSION U brought together 100 students from seven or eight social entrepreneurship schools across Europe. These 100 students used the U process to take a deep dive into some of the Berlin-based hotspots of social innovation, followed by a two-day presence retreat that I helped them with. Very cool gang of Gen Y social entrepreneurs…

Here is what emerges for me from that growing river that Peter referred to:
–The events mentioned above are part of something much bigger: the rise of a new global movement around linking spirituality, science, social change, and a practice of inner cultivation.
–Berlin rocks! The city is alive, and its milieu of artists, social entrepreneurs, counterculture, civil society, and global community makes it a hotspot of social renewal today. Over the past ten days we staged four global Presencing Institute gatherings here in Berlin. We found that the city works in amazing and transformative ways. Show me another major capital that has confronted and reflected on the shadowy aspects of its past in a way that Berlin has and continues to do.
–If a school of business or government in Berlin offered me the opportunity to launch Theory U-based Master’s, PhD, and Exec Ed programs (the “u.school”) there, it would be very difficult to say no.

My own journey started almost 30 years ago in West Berlin’s Free University and in the peace movement on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Coming back after all these years with a global community of change-makers has been a moving experience for me. I will have to wait to see what grows out of this new web of connections. But it feels as if something has started to come into being over the past two weeks…

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