Winds of change

Monday, February 14th, 2011 | Uncategorized

As the wind of change is sweeping from Tahrir Square in Cairo across the Arab and non-Arab world, and thus inspiring all the rest of us, I have just returned from a road trip that was likewise full of experiences inspired by hope for change. Yes, the 18-day revolution that just happened in Egypt puts it right into the category of other nonviolent revolutions the world has seen—in South Africa (against apartheid); in Central Europe (to end the cold war); in North America (against racial discrimination); and in South Asia (to end colonial discrimination). Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Vaclav Havel are close relatives on the family tree of nonviolent resistance and grassroots leadership. Their type of leadership takes its power not from formal sources of authority, but from being connected to an emerging future possibility that young people especially feel very connected to.

Seeing the awakening of that leadership spirit in today’s young entrepreneurs and change makers is one of the most important sources of hope in our current age. Let me give you a few examples from my travels over the past few weeks:

–I spent a week in the Philippines with a group of young leaders from NGOs, education, and the business sector (ELIAS Philippines: Emerging Leaders Innovate Across Sectors). One of them is Bam Aquino the co-founder of Hapinoy. Hapinoy is a social business enterprise that is composed of dedicated young professionals who work in partnership with thousands of micro-entrepreneurs in the country. The guiding vision of this enterprise is to use microfinance to empower socially and economically challenged families. This social business enterprise uses business models to further social and ecological objectives. Today, Hapinoy has developed a full-service program that supports thousands of micro-entrepreneurs. The next evolutionary stage of this network would be to localize the distribution and the production of some of their products, thus offering even more entrepreneurial opportunities to those living at the base of the pyramid.

–Then I spent four days with a global group of over 600 biodynamic farmers from around the world, including other key players in the sustainable food value chain, as well as from schools, health, medicine, and inclusive education. Nicanor Perlas and Vandana Shiva (both of them recipients of the “alternative Nobel” Right Livelihood Award) also participated in this conference, which took place at the Goetheanum near Basel, Switzerland. For four days we took this group through the entire U process—a really powerful collective experience that sparked many new initiatives and generated an enormous amount of inspiration and energy. The younger farmers and participants in particular stepped up their leadership role in the movement. This experience reminded me that the whole economic process and all economic theory must start – where? – with NATURE—that is, with the EARTH, that is, with AGRICULTURE. This is why the biodynamic farmers, who are reinventing farming based on sustainability and social and spiritual awareness, are really interesting “acupuncture point” partners in transforming and evolving the economic system. Now everyone is back on their farm, and we will see how this story continues to unfold…

–After that I spent two days with principals and teachers of schools in the Netherlands. In the masterclass with 200 participants I started by asking how many of them already apply Theory U methods and tools in their everyday leadership and education practice. Half the hands went up: about a 100(!) of them. I was surprised to see that—and I don’t think they are representative of other countries. But it’s interesting how an almost unreadable book (Theory U) has slowly begun to reach the mainstream. Very slowly, though. What I found interesting about Holland is that it has (like Denmark) a rather progressive professional education community that now is dealing with a right-leaning government that emphasizes test scores and other short-term noise. Yet that noise from the political system has not kept the overall professional community from progressing (at least in many cases) toward better educational environments. I think that’s really cool.

–Even in Davos at the World Economic Forum, where I had the opportunity to present in three sessions (on cross-sector innovation, on transforming capitalism, and on mindfulness-based leadership), I found that more and more people are aware of the larger wind of change that is now starting to reshape and shatter even some of the most entrenched institutions on earth. What’s next? Who is the Mubarak in global finance that will crumble next? Who is it in the global food system? There is a lot that we can learn from Egypt—and we are just at the very beginning of that unfolding story.
–My final stop was in Zurich, where I was privileged to meet with two leaders of a group of Deans and Rectors who share a passion of mine: how to reinvent the 21st century business school? The name of the initiative is World Business School Council for Sustainable Business. Its members, Deans and Presidents of 20 globally leading b-schools, want to reinvent their institutions, working toward sustainability, social innovation, and entrepreneurship. They have asked me to work with them at their first strategic meeting in New York this spring, where they want to collectively create a new vision of the 21st-century business school. I find this initiative extremely inspiring since it squarely addresses a deep aspiration I have always had: to contribute to co-creating a global, green, generative leadership school (what I have called a—a topic I will return to in future blog entries.

For now I am happy to be back home and beginning to focus on a new book about transforming the economy and economics toward business and society 4.0.

That’s my little report. How does that resonate with your experience? Where do you see the winds of change happening? Thanks for sharing some of your experiences from wherever you happen to be on this planet!


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8 Comments to Winds of change

Lea B.
February 14, 2011

I just read this blog when i already decided to change my life and from now on follow and commit fully to my intuition i.e. what i experience as important – this kind of wind of change. i was studying a Masters Programme in Sustainability Economics and Management but this kind of learning at University, gathering credit points, doing exams, listening all the day took all my enthusiasm away. Thus I quit and start now trying to get internships at innovative institutions concerning microfinancing, social-entrepreneurship and so on. My academic education isn´t finished as I continue studying but without a set curriculum. And maybe, in the future, another Masters Degree (with respective work and input) will prove this decision right. Energy is there again and the will to work hard as well. Thank you for this blog, it encourages me and my belief in global substantial change.
Lea B.

Willi Schroll
February 15, 2011

Great article, combining analysis of the present dynamics with historical knowledge about similar nonviolent revolutions.

# To the topic of C21 business schools:
“How to reinvent the 21st century business school? The name of the initiative is World Business School Council for Sustainable Business. Its members, Deans and Presidents of 20 globally leading b-schools, want to reinvent their institutions, working toward sustainability, social innovation, and entrepreneurship. ”
That sounds nice … but I ask you to put the issue in a braoder context. I am thinking for quite a while about the state of the world and the vector field of values/actors driving this civilization actually into self-destruction.

# The trouble with business schools
… is their paradigm and the context of “super-values” they are in. As a business school they are in the tradition to put profits first. Full stop! If you check the reality of the “g factor” (green, grassroot etc.) you will be disappointed by the mere facts.

# My constructive proposal is this:
Forget the b-schools, create something completely new from the bottom up. (Thomas S. Kuhn told us that sometimes, in transition phases, talking and arguing with the bearers of the old mindset is a waste of time). Your (“global, green, generative leadership school”) sounds great for such a beginning! In my own vision I called this thing we need to _substitute_ all 10.000 b-schools a “planet school”, p school. Since it should break with the mantra “planet-people-profit”. The planet-level (holistic) view has to be implemented as a priority (including all “vital sub systems” like economical metabolism).

I wish you the best with your great efforts and I am encouraged by your dynamics to push things forward in my domain as a “foresight guy” (, I started for a while).

Best regards,

Check the comment of Lea B. to this post. This is perfect evidence for the thing I am talking about. The risk is that the _core_ mindset of the business schools will be untouched and they just will paint some dots of green in their curricula. The conclusion is clear: Do not re-form an anachronistic form, when some mentality + structural/institutional revolution – a new beginning – is necessary.
FT 2010: Schools ignore sustainability revolution
“There are more than 10,000 business schools worldwide. Just 326 have signed up for the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education. Only 60 schools are members of the Academy for Business in Society and 40 are in the Global Responsible Leadership Initiative. Just 149 schools entered the last Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes biennial rankings.”
You find selected ressources and facts like this in my structured bookmark collection on socialforesight
e.g. tagged business:

Yusuf Bashir
February 15, 2011

Hi Otto,
Sounds like another great trip. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s very inspiring to read how people around the world are stepping up and the collective conscious is being elevated. Also excited to hear about your next book. I don’t agree with you, about the last one being unreadable! ;-)
One thing that struck me about the incredible events in Egypt and Tunisia was the real absence of a leadership figurehead. While people like ElBaradei and Wael Ghonim were peripheral figures it seems like this new ability to communicate via social networking technology is enabling not just faster coordination but a sharing of vision, ideas and a sense of empowerment among people in a way that seems completely new and has mitigated the need for a strong leadership figure like we have seen in the past with MLK, Gandhi and others.

Ronald Sietsma
February 15, 2011

Hi Otto,
Thanks for sharing the signs of hope you see and meet in the world. Your Theory U inspires (together with appreciative inquiry) me and my fellow entrepreneurs to develop leadership and managing programs that really make the difference in organizations. We notice that there is a fertile soil in the managing field from which of a new kind of leadership is emerging.
I think that its OK that traditional b-schools take the challenge to reform their way of educating. When b-schools start developing in the ecological way hope rises for the near future that more organizations will have inspiring leaders that will support the necessary revolution. I hope that together we will be able to reduce the ‘noise’ as you called it in your blog….

Best regards Ronald (Netherlands)

Lynne Wintergerst
February 16, 2011

Thanks for blogging your perspective on the winds of change you witnessed on your recent trip: your writings consistently draw the curtains for me shedding a fresh light of hope on a tired and hurting world.

I am in my 3rd year of a Masters in strategic foresight. In my first unit of study I was introduced to Theory U and your work resonated through to the insides of my toenails. I have no doubt that “a global, green, generative leadership school (what I have called a” would usher in transformation in any culture. Your work is timeless yet timely, personal and acutely focused yet universal in relevance and impact. I am not too troubled about what has been done in the past as I too believe that these unsustainable bastions of power will fall. I am more concerned about those starting their journey in leadership: how will they be guided to prepare for and navigate the future? I was a member of the Australian administration’s education vision to prepare Papua New Guinea for independence in the 1960s: I know just how wrong education administration can get it and what damage that can do. The uni I attend in Australia made strategic foresight an undergraduate study for the first time in 2010. I am thrilled to know that the same Theory U that I first heard about at 63 is now being taught to 18 year olds just out of high school. Broad stream educational paradigms are changing and will continue to do so if we can only keep politics out of that arena and give the people a voice and a choice. I look forward to your future blogs on g-schools.

Deborah Knox
February 17, 2011


Love all that you do, but I am particularly interested in the work you are doing with the World Business School Council for Sustainable Business. I have been attempting to find ways to get contemplative practice as well as more contemplative ways to work with groups as living systems to invite whatever wants to emerge to emerge (influenced by my training with you, Reos Partners and MatrixWorks). I even submitted a proposal to the Graduate Management Admissions Council’s contest seeking innovative ideas for graduate management education this past fall, proposing that meditation be included in business school curricula as part of their leadership development offerings. I pointed out that such practice cultivate the very qualities all the business schools and businesses are calling for, namely, agility, resilience, openmindedness, innovativeness, EQ, empathy, intuition, presence, etc. (I have an MBA admissions-consulting sideline, so I keep very current with what is happening in the business schools. Parenthetically, I have also worked with Jim Collins on a number of his books over the years.)To support these claims, I drew from many of the latest findings in neuroscience, but I unfortunately did not get past the first round of judging! I did hold a session on meditation, the brain and leadership at my 20th reunion at Stanford Graduate School of Business this fall. Not a lot of attendees, but those who came ate the material up. Several years ago I tried to introduce Matrixworks to the school, but I ran into a lot of resistance.

A huge advocate for sustainability, social enterprise, etc. I have also introduced what I’ll call “leadership tools” to a social enterprise incubator called the Unreasonable Institute here in Boulder, CO. I have been trying to sell them on having me present regarding work like Matrixworks and Theory U/Change Lab, but I am not sure if that will happen this year.

In any event, I would love to find a way to be involved in your work. I wrote to you a few years ago after I took your first online global Presencing class. I would so greatly appreciate it if you would be open to having a conversation, whether via email or over the phone.

Keep up the amazing work. I am always so touched and inspired when I read your blog!!


Ralf Lippold
February 18, 2011

Otto – Thanks again for your more than timely and relevant thoughts. Back in 2008 I had a dream – I’d be happy to build this together with all your dreams of making the change in the world one that we ALL will ENJOY :-)

Cheers and best regards from Dresden, where today lots of energy flew through (on Twitter & Facebook especially,

PS.: We are sitting on the edge of a tectonic shift that is just going to happen – not just down South in Africa and the Middle East. Up here similar symptoms of the system that is dying are seen and articulated by citizens, on the Web, in the media – only the ruling class (politicians and managers at top positions try to keep their seats warm – doesn’t that sound in some sense familiar?) How come that the official statistics name 3 Mio unemployeed people in Germany, whereas there is another 6.5 Mio people who are living on less than the unemployeed (they have fallen to the lowest social net, and out of the statistic – as an economist, I am always very specific about statistics in general. Questioning them always brings up flaws, one would not have believe beforehand).

Ralf Lippold
March 10, 2011

Winds of change are spiky :-)

>>> don’t be surprised to see similar in other areas of the world, especially where you live!

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