Indonesian Inspirations: The Asian Essence of the U

Thursday, July 12th, 2012 | Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts? Thanks for sharing them!

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

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

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3 Comments to Indonesian Inspirations: The Asian Essence of the U

Michael Bischoff
July 13, 2012

I remember your apology, Otto, at the beginning of the 1st Presencing Global Forum, for the hundreds of pages of writing about Theory U that you’ve put out into the world that is sometimes overwhelming and hard to understand. I think the simple and elegant summary of the U process in the second half of this post continue to redeem you. I think it is one of the most helpful summaries of it that I’ve seen. Thank you.

Adhitya Wisesa
July 13, 2012

Otto, excellent wriite up as always! I am so previllaged to become part of the journey with IDEAS 2

Saira Samee
September 2, 2012

Great overview of global problems that certainly cannot be solved at the current rate of global perception…great solution orientation described…we do need an alignment in our education system that emphasises a different model of thinking including strengthening talents and moral spiritual stamina in addition to the financial & delivery systems.

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