Archive for July, 2014

From Big Data to Deep Data

Friday, July 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Over the past ten months I have chaired and co-facilitated MIT’s IDEAS China program–a ten month innovation journey for a group of 30 or so senior Chinese business leaders. This year the IDEAS China program enrolled executives of a major state-owned Chinese bank. One goal of this team was to reinvent the future of their organization in the face of big data and other related disruptive changes, which provided me with a little more exposure to that aspect of the world economy. For example, Jack Ma, the visionary founder of Alibaba, says that “In five years, we anticipate that the human era will move from the information technology era to the data technology era.”

But what does it mean to be in an era of “data technology” and “big data”? Until today, it hast often meant that big companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple–the same companies that we used to love and now increasingly begin to question and fear–take your data without asking and sell it to other companies without your knowledge (until you notice the targeted Web commercials that appear on your screen). I find it interesting that people’s initially very positive view of these American big data empires is shifting first in Europe, but also in other parts of the world, including North America. Edward Snowden made all of us more sensitive to the misuse of big data. But that’s just the surface issue. The real problem is on a deeper level.

The real problem of big data is that we are increasingly outsourcing our capacity to sense and think to algorithms programmed into machines. While this seems very convenient and cool at first and offers access to services that many of us want, it also raises a question about who actually owns big data, about the rights of individuals and citizens to own their personal data and to exercise choices regarding its use.

While big data has certainly opened up a whole new range of possibilities, I would like to suggest a distinction between surface big data and deep data. Surface data is just data about others: what others do and say. That is what almost all current big data is composed of.

Deep data is used to make people and communities see themselves. Deep data functions like a mirror: it makes you see yourself–both as an individual and as a community. Over the past twenty years of my professional life I have been helping teams and organizations go through processes of profound innovation and transformative change across sectors and cultures. The one thing that I have learned from all these projects is that the key to transformative change is to make the system see itself. That’s why deep data matters. It matters to the future of our institutions, our societies, and our planet.

But what happens today with big data often is the opposite: big data is used to manipulate our behavior, to bombard us with commercials that we never asked for. Surface big data is used to outsource human thinking to algorithms, to reduce our level of awareness inside old patterns of habitual thought. Deep data, if developed and cultivated in the right way, could help us to enhance the level of awareness and consciousness and to change the system by shifting the consciousness of stakeholders in that system from ego-system awareness (awareness of my own silo) to eco-system awareness (awareness of the whole).

Let me summarize the distinction between surface big data and deep with two simple drawings:

Big data (science 1.0): data that informs about the world (source: A. Oechsner).

Deep data (science 2.0): data that helps us to see ourselves (source: A. Oechsner).

The journey from science 1.0 to 2.0 is a journey of bending the beam of scientific observation back onto the observing self–both individually and collectively.

At the end of our last meeting, the leaders of the Chinese state-owned bank reflected on their own journey of the past ten months. Every one of them reported a profound shift in how they think and operate. Here are two exemplary statements:

“This journey is not just about tools and knowledge; it shifts your way of thinking and it allows you in the face of challenges to jump out of the box of old thinking. It feels like my self has been shifting. I also felt that shift among my colleagues. We get to consensus more easily. I feel there is a shift of intention among my colleagues. As a result, we are more in touch with our experience and we are able to execute better.”

“To me, the IDEAS journey is a journey of the heart. It opened a new way of thinking, a new way of relating, and a new way of being.”

In essence, what the IDEAS participants described was a transformation of
• thinking: from downloading old patterns to thinking creatively
• conversing: from debate to generative dialogue
• collaborating: from ego-centric/reactive to more eco-centric and co-creative

Over the past months, while staying in their jobs, the participants split into four teams that each tried to prototype some new way of operating in order to explore future opportunities. What struck me was that each team ended up developing a new platform of cross-organizational and cross-institutional collaboration that used data as a tool for transforming the way their stakeholders communicate across boundaries. All of their prototypes are still in an early stage. But one lesson that was mentioned by the teams repeatedly was the importance of shifting their mindset from me to we, from ego to eco.

The question that their efforts have left me with is this: On a societal level, what types of deep data infrastructures might facilitate this bending of the beam of observation back onto the observer on the level of entire eco-systems?

For example, today we use GDP to measure economic progress. GDP is an excellent measure of surface data. But what would the equivalent deep data tool be for measuring real economic progress in a community? I believe that it would include a new indicator system that is grounded in real outcomes (like life expectancy), and in the wellbeing of individuals and their communities (like quality of life). Last year we–the Presencing Institute, with the GIZ Global Leadership Academy (German Ministry for Development Cooperation) and the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan– launched the Global Wellbeing Lab, The lab links leaders from government, business, and civil society around the world who are working to pioneer new indicators and deep data tools that help communities and eco-systems begin to see themselves.

Where are you seeing the seeds of such new indicactor systems or deep data tools today? What can be learned from these first living examples? What would deep data mean for your self? What are the sources of well-being and happiness in your own life and work and what metrics could help you to see yourself in a more meaningful way? How can we co-pioneer the shift from big data to deep data in society today?

Beijing, Brazil, 7-1: Awareness Shift in Soccer, Society

Friday, July 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

I happened to be in Beijing earlier this week, and of course everyone was talking about the 7-1 (World Cup semifinal between Brazil and Germany). Since Chancellor Angela Merkel was also visiting Beijing this week, the running joke was that the 7-1 score was Merkel’s birthday present to her hosts, honoring the founding of China’s Communist Party (7/1/1921).

While in my heart I empathized with the feelings of the people from Brazil, a country I love and whose soccer I admire, I also felt joy in seeing the fruits of the Klinsmann/Loew revolution in German soccer. Ten years ago those co-coaches began a transformation of leadership on and off the field, and a transformation of the ugly (results-oriented) style of German soccer to a philosophy inspired by the Dutchtotal football and its more recent incarnation as tiki taka in Spain. Brought to Germany by Klinsmann and Loew, as well as by coaches like Pep Guardiola, who after winning everything with Barcelona now works with two thirds of the German team at Bayern Munich (and who is another major hidden parent of the historic 7-1 win this week).

Back in 2010 the German team tried to copy tiki taka from Spain and Barcelona. They played inspiring soccer, only to lose to Spain in the semi-finals. In 2014 the German team evolves tiki taka by blending it with some of the virtues of earlier German teams, such as mobilizing collective energy and will.

The soccer they play today is a complete departure from the soccer German teams played prior to 2010 or 2006. The team has no real boss, no real superstar; they enjoy a style of distributed and fluid leadership. The team also has no clear starting eleven. They keep changing their lineup and their positions, with two of their best players even missing the entire tournament (Reus and Gundogan).

So what is driving the success of the German team? It’s a philosophy that requires all players to operate from a shared awareness of the evolving whole. Everyone is required to be aware of what’s happening everywhere on the field–the changing positions, the emerging spaces among their own team members and their opponents, to keep the ball moving. It’s that shared awareness of the evolving whole that allows them to pass the ball faster than the opposing team at times can comprehend, or react to. It was the chief reason the Brazil defense collapsed and conceded four goals in six minutes of the semifinal this week.

Responding to that style of soccer cannot be fixed by firing the coach or replacing players. It requires starting at a deeper level: in the quality of our thinking, or our sensing, of our awareness of the whole. Making the transformation–shifting the way we operate from an awareness of the parts to an awareness of the dynamic whole–is the quintessential transformation challenge that we face in all sectors of society today: finance, food, health, education, sustainable business practices, you name it. Over the past several years I have worked in transformation initiatives in all these sectors. And the most important leadership challenge is always the same: the challenge is to change how people think and work together across institutional boundaries from a silo or ego-system awareness to a systemic or eco-system awareness.

The best soccer teams in the world have gone through this transformation over the past decade or so. But for the rest of society, that journey is still ahead of us. Not only in Brazil. Also in China, in the US, in Europe, in Africa.

As for Sunday, may the better team on that day win. Even if the German team should lose, I am still happy about the path Die Mannschaft is on. I only wish we could all help the Brazilian’s team spirit to rise from the ashes and return to the brilliance of its many golden years. The selecao will rise again, no doubt! In the meantime, let’s enjoy the finale.

Eight Accupuncture Points for Transforming Capitalism

Friday, July 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

I’m just returning from the annual BALLE conference in Oakland. BALLE (the Business Association for Local Living Economies), is the fastest-growing network of sustainable and value-based enterprises in North America. It was founded some fourteen years ago, but the origins of this networked grassroots movement go back to the 1990s, when Judy Wicks, the founder of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia, decided to source and manage her café 100 percent locally and sustainably, using socially just practices. People loved it and it became a legendary success. But instead of turning her winning formula into a regional or national brand, chain, and eventually an empire, she decided to reinvest her profits in the health and well-being of her local community. She set up a foundation through which she taught everything she had learned to her competitors, using her money to help suppliers upgrade in order to serve all the cafés and restaurants in the region.

That shift from ego to eco, that is, from empire building (which is driving the Apples, Googles, and Facebooks of our age) to generating well-being for all, was the original spark that inspired the local living economy movement in many places across North America.


When you look at the local living economy movement today, it’s remarkable to see how much has been accomplished in just the few years since it began. Making our food cycles more local, sustainable, and inclusive has gone from fringe to almost mainstream in just 15 years. Next up for the localization movement: make investment, manufacturing, and production more local and sustainable (by moving money from Wall Street to bio regions, with 3D printing, etc.). As the Wall Street Journal wrote this week, entrepreneurs are turning to a new source of funding: their neighbors.

What’s next? Fifteen years ago the conversation was about localizing and entrepreneurship. Now these things are going mainstream. So what are the pioneers of the movement talking about now? What is the next frontier? What I picked up this week can be best summarized in two words: broadening and deepening.

Broadening means broadening the scope from buying locally to investing locally, focusing more on policy changes, more on empowering marginalized communities, and more on cross-sector collaboration (linking business, government, and civil society).

Deepening means creating room for the interior dimension of leading profound change: expanding the conversation about transformative leadership, mindfulness, compassion, sources of well-being, creativity, and spirituality. It means asking, Who are we today — and who do we want to be tomorrow?

This interior deepening on both the individual and the collective level is a remarkable development that mirrors a broader shift in society today, where ideas like mindfulness have gone mainstream in health, education, and leadership.

And yet at the same time, we also see the noise cranking up: countries falling apart, fragmentation, violence and civil war on the rise in many places, not only Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine.

The challenge of our time is to stay awake to what is happening around us, while also giving most of our loving attention to the seeds of the future that we want to take root in the world. Speaking of seeds, here are eight systemic areas ripe for reinvention that I heard people talking about at the BALLE conference. In combination, they constitute a set of leverage points for transforming the current system:

1. Place: reinvent how we deal with soil and nature. Instead of treating it as a commodity (that we buy, use, and throw away), treat it as an eco-system that we cultivate.
2. Entrepreneurship: reinvent our concept of labor. Instead of thinking of work as a “job,” think about it as entrepreneurship powered by passion and compassion.
3. Money: reinvent our concept of and how we deal with money and financial capital. Instead of extractive, capital should be intentional, serving rather than harming the real economy.
4. Technology: reinvent how we develop technologies. Empower all people to be makers and creators rather than passive recipients.
5. Leadership: reinvent how we lead. Instead of individual heroes, we need people working together to develop a collective capacity to sense and shape the future.
6. Consumption: reinvent how we consume. Instead of promoting consumerism and using metrics like GDP, move toward conscious collaborative consumption and metrics that focus on well-being like Gross National Happiness (GNH) and the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI, which is now being developed in about 20 U.S. states).
7. Governance: reinvent how we coordinate. Move away from being limited to the old three mechanisms, hierarchies, markets, and negotiation among organized interest groups, and move toward a fourth mechanism that operates through awareness based collective action (ABC), through seeing and acting from the whole.
8. Ownership: Advance the old forms of state and private ownership by creating a third category of ownership rights: commons-based ownership that better protect the interests of our children and of future generations.

If we focused on and advanced these eight key acupuncture points we could begin to transform the old system of capitalism into an economy that creates well-being for all (for more detail: link, book).

But what is the animating force that could move this ego to eco shift from small seeds to action? What I saw in the BALLE conference, and what I am seeing in various other places across the planet, is that something begins to grow together that belongs together: the power of entrepreneurship — and the power of the awakening intelligence of the heart.