social warmth sculpture: THINKING TOGETHER

Saturday, January 30th, 2010 | Uncategorized

This week I facilitated a green mobility summit for a global company in Europe. Seeing how this company, which operates in a very old and traditional industry, is beginning to change really inspires me:
 it is
-moving from denial to putting green center-stage

–moving from green technology to green mobility

–and realizing, that green mobility requires new ways of working and thinking together.

When we (about 80 people across all divisions and regions) left the meeting, we all felt somehow elevated—not just because we had dealt with the right topic (green) at the right time (now), but because we had moved during our meeting from individual statements (debate) to a process of THINKING TOGETHER (dialogue). When such a process starts to happen, when a group of people starts the process of thinking together, they achieve a whole new level of collective energy that elevates and uplifts them. Everyone feels present and warm.

The feeling reminds me of a word coined by the late 20th-century avant garde artist Joseph Beuys: SOZIALE WAERMEPLASTIK–social warmth sculpture. If you connect to the deeper levels of the social field you connect to the social warmth sculpture, to a malleable medium and a sense of connection that emerges from the inner energy of people. THINKING TOGETHER, and for that matter the U process, is a movement (and a state of attention) that connects us with that deeper field of awareness…


P.S.: I am not sure that the term WAERMEPLASTIK is translated well here. Even in German most people do not understand this term (which refers to a level 3-4 experience of reality; see Theory U). And whenever I try to translate an abstract concept like that into English I often see blank stares…
 Can anyone help here? What do you think? Do you know the experience I’m talking about above?

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21 Comments to social warmth sculpture: THINKING TOGETHER

Tom Burns
January 30, 2010

Otto, I was struck by your use of the term Waermeplastik to characterize the deeper levels of the social field that can be experienced in true dialogue or thinking together. Although , at present ,I cannot think of a more apt English term to describe this state, I do believe and experience that this Waermeplastik is possible to sense in all encounters we may have with our highest future potential, on an individual intuitive level, in empathetic encounters with others and in truly creative moments in art when we transcend a past mode of engagement. It seems to me that any threshold state that leads us through vulnerability, across the bridge of fear can bring us to a sense of Waermeplastik. Many years ago, as a teenager, I awoke in the night in a state of paralyzing fear, having encountered a terrifying image of myself as I awoke. The only thing I could finally do was to connect inwardly with a source of goodness. In that moment I experienced a mantle of warmth descend from my head, gradually to my feet, to the point where I even became physically warm. I was more present than I had ever been and in touch with a future potential that dispersed all fear. The reason I share this personal biographical moment is that it gave me an intuitive and even bodily sense of what I would call a warmth mantle, or sculptural warmth. Since then I have had occasion to witness this Waermeplastik manifest in social contexts,in therapeutic encounters in art therapy and even on one occasion in a women’s prison with a group of six traumatized women. This arose when five of the women and myself were reviewing a beautiful, tender charcoal drawing done by a very vulnerable woman from their circle. As they were looking at her picture ,each one started to describe a quality that they perceived that the artist herself had not seen. Eventually, we all saw together a presence in the clouds she had so skillfully drawn that was, for each one of us, a revelation, albeit momentary, of our highest future potential within the walls of that prison. We all felt it, and to me, it was once again a tangible perception of a warmth mantle, or sculptural warmth that united each one of us in that moment. This moment, even in the most dire circumstances, continues to generate new hope in me as I meet new challenges. This warmth mantle seems to me to lie at the heart of all true human encounters that lead us out of the prisons of past experience into those precious future moments of becoming, touching into the present. Tom.

Martin Wienert
January 30, 2010


I have no ‘explanation’ of the term “Wärmeplastik” – but was reminded of an article, which gives a good descibtion of this term:

Thanks for sharing your experience

Sunil Ganesh
January 30, 2010

Hi Otto:

Though i cannot comment on this word/ phrase, I have observed something in my recent experience. When the group detaches the self from the issue at hand there comes a moment when the pace of conversation slows down punctuated with long silence. The experience is invigorating since many transition that silence to truly discover the deeper reason.

I was conducting this workshop for an Engg company in India and i personally experienced this moment when the sub groups by themselves converged to dialogue on dimensions of their culture. As one member mentioned in that conversation – “It is not just the culture that needs to be shaped, but we are the ones actually shaping/ reinforcing the culture here”. The silence after that comment was reminded me of theory of relativity. I was fortunate to witness the energy therafter which led to the team working out some approaches as well.


January 31, 2010

I struggled a lot with the term WAERMEPLASTIK and thought perhaps that English is just too flat a language to capture all of the ideas within it. I am glad to hear that some Germans do not understand it in German either! For me, warmth mantle or warmth sculpture really captures something. It feels structural and organic at the same time– animated by compassion and human spirit/creativity.

Ian Wallace
January 31, 2010

Hi Otto
The key part of Beuys’ Plastic Theory was that it embodied the flow of powerful intentions into transformative actions. However, most group thinking remains stuck at intention and never actually gets to action. This is usually because of the nature of group behaviour and how it reinforces homogenised and narrow minded thinking.
Paradoxically, the trigger for a group to take collective action is a voice of dissent or perceived external threat. How do you use Theory U to actually catalyse action beyond warm fuzzy groupthink?

Isabelle Mahy
January 31, 2010

Dear otto,
maybe “plasticity”. I’m not sure about english but it would be in french, where “plasticité” is the quality of a fabric, of an object, of an artwork to change shape, to morph and eventually to come back to its initial shape. It also qualifies relationships, so a collective synergy enacted at level 3-4 could be defined with this quality of warming plasticity to describe the experience.
– Isabelle

Juergen Große-Puppendahl
January 31, 2010

Hello Otto,

Here I am giving my comment to a possibly social warmth sculpture experience:

Almost two weeks ago I attended a seminar called ‘Embodied Presence and Meditation’ in Vienna. On the second day of the seminar the person leading the seminar sit down left next to me. Some seconds after the person sit on her chair I felt a warmth streaming from my left leg to my head. Is that the social warmth sculpture you are talking about?

Perhaps the following link to oxford brookes university might be of interest to you or anybody else.


Juergen Weisheit
February 1, 2010

Hello Otto,
indeed Waermeplastik, always impossible to find a proper translation for that term. According to my understanding and some german sources we need for any growth in nature and also in society a sort of right “temperature” or climate. Between the polarities of cold, abstract fragmented thinking and formation processes (thats´s one pole)there could be also the other pole of too much heat or chaos. Waermeplastik brings both the poles into fluidity or creative state or interrelatedness, so that something new , a new form of life or concepts or acting can be born. Maybe that sounds also too abstract but i think it fits well the frames of engaging head , heart and hands and the generative process along the U.

Emil Möller
February 2, 2010

makes me think of ‘Satsanga’

Robin Wood also points to this in his book ‘The great shift_catalyzing the 2nd Renaissance'; see

upcoming meetings of embody this, see Renainassance2 on Feb 12th & 18th in Brussels & London respectively, on

Juergen Große-Puppendahl
February 2, 2010

@Juergen Weisheit

Hello Juergen,
Thanks for responding. Since Vienna I am feeling anew reborn.


Max Neill
February 4, 2010

I think you’re right to point people to the life and work of Joseph Beuys and the concept of social structure. Beuys saw the whole of society as a kind of living sculpture to which we all contribute our artistry. Rather like bees whose hives generate honey, so in our social interdependence, human beings generate ideas.

Warmth was always important to Bueys, after crashing his plane in the tundra, he was buried deep in snow. He wrote later “My friend was strapped in and he was atomized on impact – there was almost nothing to be found of him afterwards. But I must have shot through the windscreen as it flew back at the same speed as the plane hit the ground and that saved me, though I had bad skull and jaw injuries. Then the tail flipped over and I was completely buried in the snow. That’s how the Tartars found me days later. I remember voices saying ‘Voda’ (Water), then the felt of their tents, and the dense pungent smell of cheese, fat and milk. They covered my body in fat to help it regenerate warmth, and wrapped it in felt as an insulator to keep warmth in”.

Maybe this was the point in his life where he reached the deepest part of the U, it is certainly stamped across all his subsequent artowork. His story makes us picture him slimy and swaddled like a newborn. The presence of the tribesmen meant that he did not succumb to the cold as he would if he had been left alone. Practicing social thinking immerses us with our own ‘tribe’ as we take our journeys, we nourish each other with mental cheese and milk, we generate a warm accepting field of felt and act quickly to protect and nurture what emerges from beneath the snow.

February 7, 2010

Wittgenstein showed that the capacity of language far exceeds the conceptual patterns that inhere in it.

Bertold Brecht made a strategy of ‘Verfremdung’ – to make strange – centring round the importance of disrupting our normal taken for granted way of seeing things in order to mobilise us internally. Think how he answered the anti-communist interrogation before fleeing US?

IMO there is some value in not using words that are too easily mistaken for being understood (the usual big vague words and common phrases)? That there may value in putting together awkward and poetic clusters of fresh language?

Maybe I should not assume I understand what you mean, what you have experienced, are being…?

The question maybe how to help any ‘language’ to speak past the head to the whole person? …the whole climate of interrelatedness known as group/ experienced as an embodied warmth mantle. (Only when we share such an experience, then it may be said we are communicating?)

Some asides

Renata Keller
February 7, 2010

Hi Otto, I just came across your blog by chance and was struck by your experience taking 80 people from an individual to a collective process. Having had similar experiences many times and just recently within groups exploring what it means to hold a philosophical context in one’s life, the way I experienced what you call ‘Waermeplastik’ felt more like a fire, a strong, excited force that embued the discussion, the whole. Through creative friction, effort and individual grappling with the issue itself, something gets released that is beyond the content itself, it is consciousness moving forward and wanting to evolve through us, our own humanity being the mouth piece of this emergent force. The ‘warmth’ you are referring to I see as our shared deepest humanity. ‘Waermeplastik’ is an interesting term. To me it would look like an ever moving creative exploration of the future emerging through us, and the joy and goodness that gets released, which may not be dissimilar than the universal force of creation manifesting through us… As you said it was doing the right thing at the right moment which is also an interesting aspect for this emergence…

otto scharmer
February 13, 2010

Hello all, what a great conversation. tom, renata, sunil–thanks for sharing your personal experiences on this. inspired by this conversation i went back and dug out one of the speeches that have inspired me most: Protect the Flame–the last speech by joseph. see my next blog entry (from today).

Berthold Asche
February 14, 2010

Hallo Otto,
mein English ist nicht gut und würde nicht ausreichen, das, was ich meine, auszudrücken.
Um einer Skulptur ein Leben zu geben, ihr einen Ausdruck zu geben, denke ich, ist es für den Gestalter notwendig sie bis in die kleinste Kleinigkeit vorzufühlen. Dazu gehört es, meine ich, die körperliche Wärme des Objekts zu erfahren, als wäre es lebendig. Wenn der Gestalter dann schon so weit ist, dies zu können, und Beuys konnte es wahrscheinlich, ist der Schritt, das soziale System in seiner Gesamtheit zu spüren, zwar kein kleiner, aber ein physikalisch möglicher.

Carlos A. Inada
February 15, 2010

Dear Otto — have you seen this documentary about Joseph Beuys’ social sculpture?

Gerda Tobler
February 17, 2010

Dear Otto Scharmer
As a (Swiss) artist, thinking intensively about initiating a kind of ‘soziale Plastik’ i.e.’Wärmeskulptur’ in my country by the means of a collaboratory intervention, I would like to cite some more words to this subject of Joseph Beuys himself (only in German, sorry):
(…) “Das hat ja bei mir dazu geführt, dass ich sage, es muss ein anderer Kunstbegriff geprägt werden, der sich auf jedermann bezieht und nicht nur Sache der Künstler ist, sondern sich nur anthropologisch deklarieren lässt. Das heisst: Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler in den Sinne, dass er etwas gestalten kann … und dass in der Zukunft das gestaltet werden muss, was man die soziale Wärmeskulptur nennt. Das würde die Entfremdung in der Arbeitswelt überwinden, ist auch ein therapeutischer Prozess, ist aber auch ein Wärmeprozess. Das geht wieder ganz klar zusammen mit dem Prinzip der Brüderlichkeit*, das den Wärmebegriff in sich hat. Das heisst: Jeder arbeitet für jeden, keiner arbeitet nur für sich, sondern jeder befriedigt die Bedürfnisse eines anderen. Während ich selbst von den Leistungen anderer lebe, gebe ich wieder etwas an andere ab, dieses auf Gegenseitigkeit, was ja in einem solch auseinandergenommenen physiologischen Organismus wie im Bienenstock wunderbar zu beobachten ist (…)” (S. 89, Heiner Stachelhaus, ‘Joseph Beuys.’, claassen 1987).
*(Nowadays, Beuys would probably say ‘Geschwisterlichkeit’ instead of ‘Brüderlichkeit’.)
I am very hopeful that your ‘Theorie U’ that I get to know right now will help me to find a way to realize ‘my’ admittedly unmodest social art-piece: It is dealing with 68 billions Swiss francs, the same amount that the Swiss Government was able to credit to save the private Swiss bank UBS in october 2008.
Thanks a lot in advance for your prescious inspirations and presencing techniques! / direct link to the description of the project ‘Das 68-Milliarden-Ding’

Johannes Heimrath
February 22, 2010

Dear Otto, indeed, this is a livley and thoughtful thread here. And, in fact, what you try to translate is not even in German an easily understood idea. But in search of more “handles” for his idea of a “social sculpture” for people to get hold of it, Beuys coined another expression, wich I use very often and which works fine to help people grasp the idea: It is the term “Waermefaehre” (Wärmefähre with twice a-umlaut) which translates literally to “ferry of warmness”. Beuys used the term once in a talk in which he associated the concept of a “Sonnenstaat” (“sun state”, “state of the sun”) by Renaissance philosopher Tommaso Campanella. Campanellas respective work is better known in English as “City of the Sun”. And I think Beuys was just fascinated of the feeling of warmness and light in that concept, that he draw upon it. The Ferry of Warmness is manifested by humans in dialogue, and conversation is the very means to create the ferry and make it move. The Ferry of Warmness travels from heart to heart and transports warmness between humans. (To me it seems more accurate to speak of warmness instead of warmth to point to the fact that it was the radiation of cordiality, heartiness, the deep attachment and connectedness among us human beings, which deeply touched Beuys in that image.) After having coined the expression “Waermefaehre” he ended his line of thought by saying that without love no new society can be created.
So although the terms Social Sculpture, Sculpture of Warmness and Ferry of Warmness still remain somewhat mysterious, and only a few anthroposophs in Germany make use of them, I personally find especially the scent of crazyness in them very powerful to invoke a feeling of togetherness between people if they understand that the Ferry of Warmness needs an investment to make it travel, and, as long as it travels, it can be loaded with virtually every emotion. This makes dialogue very effective and nourishing, even in conflict.
All the best,

otto scharmer
March 13, 2010

Ferry of Warmness–i love that term, johannes!

wendelin kuepers
April 2, 2010

Dear Otto,
thanks for this valuable link to Beuys vision (reminded me to our discussion we have had during our studies at UWH)
In a way and between the lines a warm plasticity can be felt while reading those comments here… For me plastic is an embodied experience (body and brain) which is about inciting us to take charge
Recently I read about Catherine Malabou’s philosophy of plasticity as transsubjectivation. (also considering insights from neurobiologists)
For Malabou plasticity is a relationship between form and form and a
subject is plastic in the sense that she or he is able to receive form (passivity) and to give form (activity), and by this able to transform its and the way of being.
“Plascticity… is a name for the orginary unity of acting and being acted upon, of spontaneity and receptivity. A medium for the differentiation of opposites, plasticity hold the extremes together in their reciprocal action, enabling the function of a structure of anticipation where the three terms of the temporal process are articulated: the orgininary synthesis, the hypotyposis or embodiment of the spiritual, the relation of the moments of time. ….. the orginary operation of receiving and giving form is not a rigid and fixed structure but an instance which can evolve, which means that it can give itself new forms.” (Malabou 2005, 186)

Malabou (2005) The Future of Hegel. Temporality, Plasticity and Dialectic, tr. de Lisabeth During, London/New York, Routledge,

If the future (and our not yet embodied being in it) is understood not simply as a moment in time, but as something malleable and constantly open to change through our interpretation, then presencing and your Beuys inspired work becomes an essential contribution for a more sustainable transformed form of post-Capitalistism.
My research on an embodied pheno-practice is closely linked to that important undertaking and I do look forward to possible collaboration!

Nancy Kristiansen
May 13, 2010

Simply put, for me…..warm, fuzzy, like the feel of cats fur brushing against your cheek, but the sensation brushes against your heart, your energy center. And the sensation is shared by all participants with a keene awareness of the mutuality of the experience.

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