Global Fall Stories: Fire from Within

Monday, November 25th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I love living in Boston, MA, on the east coast of the United States. I particularly love being there during the Indian Summer, when nature is turning the leaves a glowing red, making visible an inward turn of evolutionary forces. What more powerful image could nature put on show for us? Mother nature, contemplated from this perspective, seems to be issuing a global call that can be heard everywhere —a call for an inward turn, for profoundly renewing the foundations of our civilization, the ways we work and live.

Where can we find this shift and call for future? In the here and now: The future is already here! We just need to learn to pay attention to it. We need to learn to see the glowing leaves as a sign of the future in the midst of the everyday noise.

Here are four short stories about what I have seen lately—this fall. Read them, and if you feel moved to, please add your own story to the comments on this blog.

(1) U-Lab: The Power of Deep Listening.

I love teaching my U-Lab class at MIT Sloan. Teaching? Well, it’s really more holding the space. Creating a space for listening. Listening to what is emerging. And being vulnerable, willing to open up and to let go, to jump into the unknown—and staying with what is wanting to emerge. Each week the Lab participants engage in several practices (e.g., an empathy walk; presencing-based case clinics) and then reflect on them in their circles and in a weekly one-page paper that the U-Lab staff and I get to read. What have we seen in those reflection papers over the past few years?

One consistent theme has been the power of deep listening. Most students are able to profoundly transform their listening in just six weeks. And they are amazed at the impact this has on their experiences. Because the moment you begin to pay attention differently, what changes is no less than . . . EVERYTHING. That’s because our experience of reality arises in our consciousness through the structure that we use to pay attention. There is no other way.

The first step in the U-Lab class to shifting your listening is to go on an empathy walk. Pick a person who seems very different from you (in class, worldview, life-style, or political views, for example). And then connect with and make yourself a guest in that person’s life. Empathize with that person by putting yourself in her shoes, her feelings, and her thinking—in her “skin.”

After that exercise I ask the students what they notice about their listening. One Lab member responded: “I am noticing that in order to truly listen I have to create a place for the person I am listening to in my heart first.”

That sentence reveals the first golden nugget I wanted to tell you about. It’s a key to unlocking a profound shift in our relationships to others, to the world, and to ourselves.

The next story looks at how this shift can happen collectively.

(2) Climate Change: Five Conditions for Shifting the Collective Field

Another major activity for me this fall has been the launch of a seven-month transformation action learning program with a huge Chinese state-owned enterprise. According to the Forbes Global 2000 list (which for the first is topped by a Chinese company) that enterprise is currently the largest company on the planet. One reason I enjoy working with Chinese leaders is precisely because my experiences with them are so different from how Western media tend to portray them.

The team of the state-owned enterprise that I’m working with is composed of senior executives and high-potential younger leaders from across the company. Their goal is to develop ways to evolve and reinvent the company and the industry given the disruptive changes they face.

In one session we focused on climate change (as we do in all leadership programs of this sort). Here is how it works: Folks split into six teams, each representing one of the following countries or country groups: USA, EU, another developed country, China, India, and one other developing country. Each team is given a short briefing paper outlining their own interests and issues, and then the participants enter the negotiation room. There are six tables (one for teach team), with lots of food on the tables of the developed countries, and little or no food on the tables of the emerging and developing countries. Then the facilitator (Prof. John Sterman) addresses them as if he were the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon. He summarizes the current science and urges them to reach decisions that are appropriate to the global climate challenge that they face. The participants are given some time to discuss the issues in their delegations (at their tables) and with the other groups before each team is asked to present their commitments to climate action to all of the other delegations. The Secretary General asks each team to present their commitments by answering the following questions:

1. When will you stop increasing your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
2. When will you start reducing your GHG emissions?
3. At what rate will you reduce your emissions?

We then use a peer-reviewed scientific climate-change model to calculate and simulate the impact of their decisions on the climate for the remainder of this century. After seeing these projections and their impacts, the groups are asked to review and revise their decisions. Usually they commit to much more radical cuts then they did in the first round.

Having seen this simulation with several other groups before, I knew what to expect after round two: even after making much more radical commitments to reducing GHG emissions, the outcome of their decisions is still massive climate destabilization, catastrophic sea-level rises, and temperature changes that will destabilize societies on a scale never seen before. The participants tend to have strong emotional reactions after this experience: denial, depression, and cynicism—the usual wicked triad. They are deeply disturbed and confused by the outcome of the exercise.

But this time it was different. Together the six teams almost had a breakthrough after round two. It wasn’t quite a breakthrough, but it was close, and you could sense that the tide had started to turn. We began to see a shift from one mindset (“ego”), in which the delegations engaged in finger-pointing and made decisions that served their own narrow self- interest, to another mindset (“eco”), in which delegations let go of their narrow country ego and devoted their full shared attention to collectively solving the challenge at hand. In short: they shifted their mindset from ego to eco.

On my way home that night I remember thinking that what I had seen was pretty amazing. In one microcosm, I had just witnessed the kind of shift that is deeply necessary now on a much larger scale around the world. So what were the enabling conditions that allowed this collective shift to happen? Here are four that I saw at play:
• A container: All the key players were together in one space.
• Science and data: The best possible data and science were readily available.
• An activation of the senses: People were able to see, sense, and feel the possible impacts of their decisions. Example: They saw what would happen to Shanghai if the sea level rose two meters over time, plus another two-three meters during a typhoon: Shanghai would cease to exist.
• Making the system see itself: The people who made up “the system” saw themselves as if reflected in a mirror—collectively.
• Leadership: time, space, and patience in holding up the mirror for the group.

Watching this process I can tell exactly when the shift started happening: it was when the system started to see itself. That is, when the participants went from thinking “Climate change is what they are doing to us!” to thinking “Look at what we are doing to ourselves!”

How did the shift happen? By letting reality sink into the collective mind. By allowing the (eco-systemic) global reality to penetrate the (ego-systemic) mindset of the institutional decisionmakers. That penetration creates a shift that Goethe once eloquently articulated like this: Every object, well contemplated, opens up a new organ of perception within us. Meaning: the current global crisis, jointly contemplated by the community of decisionmakers that is generating it, opens up a new organ of perception—a new level of common awareness and possibility for collective action—within us and between us.

That’s the second amazing golden nugget I’ve found this fall. If replicated on a large scale, it could help us to bring about the collective (ego to eco) shift necessary today. The climate change simulation model and additional methods and tools are freely available on

(3) Abu Dhabi: The Knowing – Doing Gap

The third story comes from Abu Dhabi, where last week I attended a World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council session with a group of 1,000 amazing thought leaders and change-makers from across all sectors, systems, and cultures.

Here is my takeaway from the manifold conversations at that meeting. Many conventional thought leaders conceive of the current global crisis in terms of closing a knowledge gap: if only we could close the knowledge gap (on how to address the current challenges), we would be able to take appropriate action. But true change making practitioners often express the other view: the real gap today is not a knowledge gap, it’s a gap between knowing and doing. That is, the real problem is a collective capacity gap of sensing and shaping the emerging future at the scale of the whole system. If that is so, how can we create new spaces that allow people to co-sense, lean into, and co-shape the emerging future?

In my view, it would mean reframing the existing structure of public conversation that focuses on decision-makers (institutional leaders) on the one hand and decision-framers (thought leaders) on the other by introducing a third category of change-makers that focus on creating the conditions that allow individuals and systems to go through transformative change (ego to eco). Because this third category of change makers is largely missing, we tend to have the same old conversations time and time again.

(4) Indonesia 2013: YES WE CAN!

Today, as I write this blog entry, I am leaving Jakarta, Indonesia, where I attended the graduation workshop of the fourth IDEAS Indonesia program, a nine-month collective innovation journey with leaders from across all sectors of Indonesian society (business, government, civil society, academia, media). They came up with five fabulous prototype projects that allowed them to explore the future by doing: from sustainable tourism to community-based sustainable mining and reforestation practices.

In all five projects the participants somehow succeeded in shifting a multi-stakeholder situation from working in silos to collaborating more creatively, collectively, and intentionally in order to better serve our commons. That shift from ego to ego came in many different forms. But in reflecting on this process, the IDEAS fellows realized that one important precondition to making these shifts happen had to do with shifting the inner place. Here is how one of them, the CEO of a company, reflected on his personal journey over the past nine months: “It feels as if my life has brought me to a crossroads. Over the past few months, I realized that I had forgotten or not achieved many of my childhood dreams. But then I realized that I still can make a change.  I feel empowered to do what I wanted to do when I was younger. Through you and with you my new friends in this circle, I feel more invincible now. At the same time, I also feel a heightened sense of humility.”

I just love that quote—such a beautiful microcosm of a nine-month journey: waking up, remembering my dream, attending to my power to create change, connecting to a circle of friends that makes me “more invincible now,” and grounding myself in “a heightened sense of humility.”

In listening to the first-person stories of the fellows, I heard time and again the following three themes and awakening capacities: (1) deep listening, (2) discovering new sources of energy by engaging in care- and compassion-based action, and (3) courage to let go of fear and to commit to serve the well-being of all.

One evening we were invited to meet with the new Vice Governor of Jakarta, who together with the new Governor is among the most beloved and admired political leaders in Indonesia today. They have managed to take on corruption and huge vested interests in order to better serve the well-being of all. In short, they do what many had hoped from the Obama White House team: deliver.

So how can they cope with powerful vested interests turning against them? Total transparency! They put the state budget and every single stakeholder meeting they have instantly online. Interestingly, the Vice Governor talked about essentially the same key themes that earlier in the day the IDEAS fellows had talked about when reflecting on their experience: caring for the well-being of others, courage to fearlessly implement, and co-creating new economic models that serve the well-being of all.

Summing up: It feels as if the spirit of our time calls for a global fall, for turning our evolutionary forces inward, for discovering the fire from within that helps us lean into and operate from the emerging future. So where can we find early examples, the first red leaves, for this turn?

We generally find them first in the following places: (1) on the periphery of systems, (2) locally, (3) with young folks (Gen Y), and (4) in situations of systemic breakdown and/or the emergence of new systems. The above four stories represent just some of the first leaves that are beginning to glow. Which ‘leaves’ do you see in your environment glowing?

On February 11–12, 2014 we will bring many more of these ‘leaves’ and change makers together from across systems, sectors and cultures at the Global Forum on Transforming Ego-system to Eco-system Economies at MIT in Boston, Massachusetts. Please join us on that occasion in Boston or virtually through free live-streaming.

Greeetings from (currently) China,


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A global Spring in the making?

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I’ve just returned from two weeks in Asia. Our first stop was Bali, where we had a Deep Dive innovation workshop with the IDEAS Indonesia fellows, a tri-sector group of Indonesian leaders from government, business, and civil society. By the end of the workshop the participants had developed five different prototyping initiatives:
1. heaven on earth: sustainable business & eco system
2. community centre inc
3. global village
4. strengthening local wisdom eco tourism
5. dating IDEAS
Sometimes, when you move into the prototyping work, people lose their connection to the whole and just focus on their own prototype initiative. But in this group everyone is not only working on their own prototype but also supporting and participating in some of the others.

Then, also in Bali, we held the 1st Presencing Foundation Program in Asia, co-facilitated by my South African colleague Marian Goodman, Frans Sugiarta from Indonesia, and Dr. Ben Chan from Singapore. A wonderful group of change-makers from across all walks of life – as you can see from the picture.

Bali: Foundation Program Asia

Bali: Foundation Program Asia

Last year we decided in our PI (Presencing Institute) core group to regionalize the delivery of the Presencing Foundation Program (a four-day introductory program). Since then we have delivered it in Brazil, Boston, South Africa, Bali (last week), and now in Berlin (this week, starting this evening, see picture).

Berlin tonight: Presencing Foundation Program Europe

Berlin tonight: Presencing Foundation Program Europe

It’s really wonderful to see our global community becoming more multi-polar and mulit-regional, just as the world is also more multi-polar.

I spent this past week in Beijing at Tsinghua University, where I attended the 2nd World Peace Forum. The opening speech by Vice President Li echoed the opening speech of President Xi last year at the 1st World Peace Forum. The main message is simple: Peace is more than the absence of war. Peace and security depend on the presence of development, cooperation, equality, innovation, and win-win principles. It strikes me that this is the only approach to peace and security that is in synch with the complex challenges of the 21st-century world. But, to succeed, it requires a profound shift in mindset from the 20th-century cold war thinking that is still dominant in too many places today.

As we speak, we are witnessing (participating in) an increasingly global uprising of civil society against corrupted politicians and a system of organized irresponsibility. Turkey. Brazil. Egypt. Syria. The problem is not the corruption of individual leaders. The problem is a system that creates results that nobody wants and that increasingly hurts people’s life prospects, particularly for the younger generations. What do YOU see going on in your context? What can we do to help make this a moment of positive transformation and breakthrough rather than reverting to outdated patterns of the past?

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Back in Berlin

Sunday, July 1st, 2012 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The past few weeks felt like many streams coming together to form an ever more powerful river. I owe this observation to Peter Senge, who expressed it when he left Berlin after our streak of events there last week. Here are some of my recent experiences, which illustrate Peter’s point:

–A watershed New Economy Conference on the US East coast brought together 400 thought leaders and grassroots activists from across North America (two weeks ago).
–At MIT, Peter and I hosted a ten-day Leading Innovation for Sustainability program for high-potential leaders from the Chinese government, SOEs (state-owned enterprises), NGOs, and Tsinghua University to launch a six-month action learning journey. This group is so co-creative and insightful!
–The Global Forum, held in Berlin’s Radialsystem with 500 participants (350 in person and 150 via live webstream), demonstrated the power of linking deep human awareness with profound societal systems transformation.
–Also in Berlin, we convened the fourth and final module of our two-year Presencing-in-Action Masterclass. It was an unforgettable collective presence experience that began by leaning into the presence and pain of the Holocaust past while also attending to the light and shadow in each of us.
–A Berlin-based strategy retreat for the PI core team generated priorities for the coming year or two. Among them are (1) the 2013 Forum in Asia–probably Bali; (2) the next Masterclass, starting probably in Fall 2013; (3) the founding of a Awareness Action Research Group; and (4) the first seminar with PhD students before or after the 2013 Global Forum.
–In a planning meeting with GIZ (the German Ministry for Development Cooperation) we got the go-ahead for a 2012 launch of our Social Well-being Lab. The lab will include Bhutan (with the Prime Minister of Bhutan as patron), Brazil, Germany, and others, and will be co-hosted by the GIZ Global Leadership Academy and the Presencing Institute.
–The next day, still in Berlin, I met with the team of the new German President, Joachim Gauck, in the President’s Office (Bundespräsidialamt) and then in the afternoon with some of the Merkel team in the Chancellor’s Office (Bundeskanzleramt) in order to learn about and discuss the challenges and opportunities they face going forward.
–A Youth and Social Entrepreneurship Summit called MISSION U brought together 100 students from seven or eight social entrepreneurship schools across Europe. These 100 students used the U process to take a deep dive into some of the Berlin-based hotspots of social innovation, followed by a two-day presence retreat that I helped them with. Very cool gang of Gen Y social entrepreneurs…

Here is what emerges for me from that growing river that Peter referred to:
–The events mentioned above are part of something much bigger: the rise of a new global movement around linking spirituality, science, social change, and a practice of inner cultivation.
–Berlin rocks! The city is alive, and its milieu of artists, social entrepreneurs, counterculture, civil society, and global community makes it a hotspot of social renewal today. Over the past ten days we staged four global Presencing Institute gatherings here in Berlin. We found that the city works in amazing and transformative ways. Show me another major capital that has confronted and reflected on the shadowy aspects of its past in a way that Berlin has and continues to do.
–If a school of business or government in Berlin offered me the opportunity to launch Theory U-based Master’s, PhD, and Exec Ed programs (the “”) there, it would be very difficult to say no.

My own journey started almost 30 years ago in West Berlin’s Free University and in the peace movement on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Coming back after all these years with a global community of change-makers has been a moving experience for me. I will have to wait to see what grows out of this new web of connections. But it feels as if something has started to come into being over the past two weeks…

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Global Presencing Forum On Society 4.0 Revolution

Monday, May 21st, 2012 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Hi — I’m back. I have been on a writing retreat for the past couple of months and took some time off from the blogosphere. But now, with a draft of the Society 4.0 Revolution book done, I am back online.

Although our 11- year-old and I are still mourning the penalty shootout loss of Bayern Munich to Chelsea last Saturday, let me share three quick things:

1. We all are watching the next financial crisis in the making. Wall Street has been preventing effective banking regulation from being implemented, while Europe is still in the finger-pointing rather than the problem-solving phase of its euro crisis. On both sides of the pond we see financial and political elites who are either unwilling or incapable (or both) of addressing the real root issues that created the 2008 crisis and that now are building up to the next financial disruption or meltdown…

2. At the same time we also see many sources of hope. One is the discussion about Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a substitute for GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as suggested by the Bhutanese Prime Minister a few years back. At the Presencing Institute we are preparing an action research initiative on how GNH can redirect economic development in both the Global North and the Global South (GNH Lab).

3. On June 18-19 we will meet in Berlin to explore these and other related issues at the Global Presencing Forum. At that Forum we will convene change makers from across all sectors, systems, and cultures to explore, reflect on, and co-inspire ways for moving from ego-system to eco-system economies that create well-being for all (“Society 4.0″).

Since the Forum has been oversubscribed for many months, the only option for joining us this year is via virtual participation (video live streaming). If you miss any online sessions you will be able to see them for two more months after the fact (we will keep the video recordings online for web participants for at least two months).



more info and enroll

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Connecting the dots

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The past two weeks were amazing. It feels as if we’ve stepped into a new space. Five years after the first co-initiation meeting for the Presencing Institute and about ten years after starting to create a set of living examples, tools, and capacity building mechanisms, as well as research results, we finally took a significant step towards the primary intention that guided us from the very outset of this journey: forming a global action leadership school that convenes, connects, and co-inspires change makers across generations, sectors, and cultures. The purpose of the school is to cultivate the “inner condition of the intervenor,” to shift the inner place from which we operate. It will be an instrument for catalyzing positive change on all levels of society (from personal to global) and shifting from ego-system to eco-system awareness by creating an economy that works for all.

We have been prototyping the core components of the school in a variety of places – but we had never created a global core group of master practitioners who would be at the heart and frontline of the project. Last week we did. We launched the first Presencing Institute Masterclass (“Presencing-in-Action Lab”) with 75 participants from 24 countries and all continents. This amazing group represents an inspiring microcosm of change initiatives that are currently are under way around the world. The Masterclass will meet four times from Fall 2010 to Summer 2012 (for about a week each time) in order to help each other deepen the impact of these change initiatives and function as a global field of inspired connections. The members will also continue to generate new ideas, connections, initiatives, and collective creativity.

Launching the Masterclass (Lab) was one big step (pictures).

Presencing-in-Action Lab

The other one concerns Social Presencing Theater. Social Presencing Theater is a practice that links awareness, embodiment, constellation principles, practical applications, and theater. The Masterclass was the first place where we used social presencing theater as a principal diagnostic tool in cases brought by the participants. The results were stunning. Powerful stuff. Seeing this line of work – which Arawana Hayashi has been pioneering at the Presencing Institute over the past few years – rise to the very center of our application and capacity building work was the other breakthrough that made my heart jump for joy.

Energetically, it feels as if we have crossed an important threshold as a community of change makers. The global online community now includes more than 4,500 individuals from many cultures. For example, last week’s Presencing Foundation Program in Boston took place with more than 90 participants (oversubscribed more than a month earlier). I get the same response in other places and communities. In workshops and discussions with leaders from the World Bank in D.C. and the UN in Europe earlier this week I felt the same opening. It’s so evident to most of us that “more of the same” simply is not an option. That premise opens up a whole new territory of awareness and conversation.

My main insight from these last two weeks is something very simple: until now I had thought that creating the new school would be something we would do “in the future.” But now, with the help of some close colleagues and friends, I am starting to realize that maybe we ARE ALREADY operating the school: the Masterclass (Lab), the various Foundation Programs, Global Classroom courses, the tri-sector leadership development work for countries (ELIAS/IDEAS), as well as the various practical applications, are all vibrant aspects of the emerging school.

More on this sometime later this week.

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