Archive for February, 2014

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.