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Theory U

Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges by C Otto Scharmer

Some of my notes…

In this sense, this is a book for those whom my MIT colleague, Donald Schon, called “reflective practitioners,” managers, principals, team leaders, government officials, and community organizers who are far too committed to practical results and dissatisfied with their current capabilities to rest on past habits; pragmatic, engaged people who are open to challenging their own assumptions and listening to their deepest inner voice. For it is only through this listening that we will unlock our collective capacity to create the world anew.

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What I see rising is a new form of presence and power that starts to grow spontaneously from and through small groups and networks of people. It’s a different quality of connection, a different way of being present with one another and with what wants to emerge.

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I first began noticing this blind spot when talking with the late CEO of Hanover Insurance, Bill O’Brien. He told me that his greatest insight after years of conducting organizational learning projects and facilitating corporate change is that the success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.

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Having spent the last ten years of my professional career in the field of organizational learning, my most important insight has been that there are two different sources of learning: learning from the experiences of the past and learning from the future as it emerges.

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And just as every good farmer focuses attention on sustaining and enhancing the quality of the soil, every good organizational leader focuses attention on sustaining and enhancing the quality of the social field-the “farm” in which every responsible leader works day in and day out.

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The same activities can result in radically different outcomes depending on the structure of attention from which a particular activity is performed. Put differently, “I attend [this way]-therefore it emerges [that way].” This is the hidden dimension of our common social process, not easily or readily understood, and it may be the most underutilized lever for profound change today. Therefore, I have devised Theory U to help us better understand these sources from which all social action constantly comes into being.

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On all these levels we are confronted with the same issue: we cannot meet the challenges at hand if we do not change our interior condition and illuminate our blind spot-the source of our attention and action.

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“Good, but not quite first-rate scientists are able to take existing frameworks and overlay them onto some situation. The first-rate ones just sit back and allow the appropriate structure to form. My observation is that they have no more intelligence than the good scientists do, but they have this other ability and that makes all the difference.”

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In order to enhance their resonance with the deeper fields of emergence, organizations need to establish three different kinds of infrastructures and places:

• Places and infrastructures that facilitate a shared seeing and sense-making of what is actually going on in the larger surrounding ecosystem (co-sensing)

• Places and cocoons of deep reflection and silence that facilitate deep listening and connection to the source of authentic presence and creativity, both individually and collectively (co-presencing)

• Places and infrastructures for hands-on prototyping of new forms of operating in order to explore the future by doing (co-creating)

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I started the interview the same way I often did, by asking “What underlying question does your work address?”

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“To me,” continued Senge, “here’s the essence of what systems thinking is about: People begin to consciously discover and account for how their own patterns of thought and interaction manifest on a large scale and create the very forces by which the organization then `is doing it to me.’ And then they complete that feedback loop. The most profound experiences I’ve ever seen in consulting have always been when people suddenly say things like, `Holy

cow! Look what we are doing to ourselves!’ . . . or `Given the way we operate, no wonder we can’t win!’ And what is always significant to me, in those moments, is the we. Not `you,’ not `them,’ but we…. A true systems philosophy closes the feedback loop between the human being, their experience of reality, and their sense of participation in that whole cycle of awareness and enactment.”

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Dynamic complexity means that there is a systematic distance or delay between cause and effect in space or time.

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Social complexity is a product of diverse interests and worldviews among stakeholders.

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Johnson & Johnson’s Michael Burtha portrays the movement of knowledge management from explicit to tacit when explaining that the real challenge lies in creating spaces for peers to share complex knowledge across units, functions, and organizations that will enable high-performance teams to operate effectively.

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Many people agree with Nonaka’s assessment that knowledge cannot be managed. Why? Because it’s a living process, not a dead body. Instead of managing or controlling knowledge, Nonaka says, we need to create the conditions that will allow all three aspects of knowledge management to emerge: IT systems, a knowledge creation process, and places that are conducive to this kind of work.

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As Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts put it, “We’ve already moved from management to leadership-and we’re about to go beyond leadership to inspiration. In the 21st century, organizations have to achieve peak performance by creating conditions that allow them to unleash the power of their people-not leading them, not by managing them, but by co-inspiring them. “17

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What’s missing? The “cross-institutional places” in which we could enable productive conversations among all key stakeholders, including supply-chain members, customers, the community, investors, innovators, and the stakeholders that are marginalized or voiceless in the current system. That’s the institutional blind spot today. We must find room for all the key players in any given ecosystem if we are to gather and co-create our futures. It is time for us, as I describe throughout our field walk, to begin to lead from the emerging future.

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The sociologist Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University reports that 40 percent of all Americans claim to be currently involved in a small group that meets regularly and provides support or cares for its participants. Roughly half of these groups are church-related.

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This “quiet revolution” shows a ballooning interest in topics such as personal mastery, dialogue, and flow. The power of attention and the experience of flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 27 have long been cultivated in the practice of dialogue. At its essence, dialogue involves a collective shift of attention from politeness to conflict, from conflict to inquiry, and from inquiry to generative flow.28 My colleague Bill Isaacs, the founder of the MIT Dialogue Project, has used dialogue as a change method in a steel mill, in a local health care system, and as a way to build leadership capacity in multinational companies.29

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When I met Fritjof Capra at a study group on systems thinking in the social sciences, we discussed countercultural movements and he said he thought they should always incorporate three aspects: the ecological, the social, and the spiritual. “The issue is that these movements tend to dissociate what in reality belongs together.

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I had “come home” to a circle of people I had never met or even heard of before.

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I find these root questions alive in the hearts and minds of people across various cultures and civilizations. They are:

i. How can we create a more equitable global economy that would serve the needs of all, including today’s have-nots and the future generations?

2. How can we deepen democracy and evolve our political institutions so that all people can increasingly directly participate in the decision-making processes that shape their context and future?

3. How can we renew our culture so that every human being is considered a carrier of a sacred project-the journey of becoming one’s authentic self?

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At this deeper level, the root of the social divide is not outside but within. It is the self. To be more precise: it is the separation between self and other, which materializes in social conflicts (meso level, or midlevel), and in the social divide (macro level). As long as we aren’t ready to face and confront this inner abyss, we are probably still stuck in premodern patterns, which will do nothing really useful to facilitate crossing the current

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Finally, investigating the spiritual question at this deeper level leads to perhaps the most significant clash: the clash between the self and the Self.

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Institutions rarely cross the boundaries of this issue matrix divide. Each field has professional graduate programs, training courses, research programs, funding mechanisms, international gatherings of experts, journals, and communities of practice. What’s missing is the discourse in between.

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“What has been lacking in the twentieth century is a central cultural thought that would unify all these things-economy, technology, ecology, society, matter, mind, and spirituality,” he said. This decline in integrative awareness and thinking, we concluded, has been replaced by a focus on business and making money as the default common aim.

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When we learn to access that deepest part of the U, we begin to realize that love takes no position, as the author David Hawkins says.

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The Indo-European root of the word “lead” and “leadership,” *leith, means “to go forth,” “to cross the threshold,” or “to die.” Sometimes letting go feels like dying. But what we’ve learned about the deeper process of the U is that something has to change-a threshold must be crossed-before something new can come.

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When we truly pay attention, we stop our habitual mode of downloading and open up to the reality in front of us.

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Four learning barriers keep the virus alive and keep the system locked into the mode of downloading:

1. Not recognizing what you see (decoupling perception and thought)

2. Not saying what you think (decoupling thinking and talking)

3. Not doing what you say (decoupling talking and “walking”)

4. Not seeing what you do (decoupling perception and action)

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The first step in the U process is to learn the skill of “stopping downloading.” This applies to all areas: individuals, groups, organizations and even societies.

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On the other hand, I have been amazed that regardless of how difficult a situation may seem, at the moment you choose to actually look at the situation, to look straight into its ugly face, new powers to deal with it are given to you.

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The primary job of leadership, I have come to believe through my work with Schein, is to enhance the individual and systemic capacity to see, to deeply attend to the reality that people face and enact. Thus the leader’s real work is to help people discover the power of seeing and seeing together.

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It was then that Ursula spoke up: “Thank you, George. Your story makes me wonder whether our physicians’ network project presents problems too big to solve-or too small to be inspiring.”

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“You all seem to agree,” I began, “that the current system operates on Levels i and 2, while at the same time you also agree that the future system should shift to operate from Levels 3 and 4. So, given the fact that you are the patients and the physicians of this system and this is something you all agree on, what keeps you from operating that way? Because, after all, you are the system. The system is not “them” in Berlin, it’s not “them” in Brussels. The system is right here in this room. The system is created through the relationship among you-nowhere else.”

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As a facilitator in charge of moving a whole group through this collective field shift, part of your strategy should be to keep people from entering a debating/downloading behavior and mind-set; you intervene at the moment when people start issuing their usual debate-style statements.

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“It’s really very simple,” she responded. “Before I go up front, my practice for over thirty years is of opening my heart and consciously sending unconditional love to everyone in the room. It’s creating a field or surround of love. What has helped me to deepen my capacity to be present is meeting with a circle of women called the Circle of Seven over many years.”

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There are various leverage points to deepen one’s capacity to operate from that deeper source. They are:

Pick a practice.

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That is, most of them do something in the morning, such as getting up early and using the silence of the first hour to connect to a source of commitment and creativity. Some meditate. Some use other contemplative practices. There is no standard recipe, just as there isn’t a standard practice.

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It’s just like in chaos theory: you reduce the behavior of complex systems to the relationship of three or so variables. When I started to see the essence of the health care system in terms of this equation, I realized that the core axis around which the whole system revolves is the relationship between patients and physicians.

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Sometimes it’s very intense, but you literally have the experience that absolutely nothing could possibly go wrong. That doesn’t mean it always turns out according to your plan. It means that whatever turns out is exactly what is right in that moment, and that is the music.”

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He told me he believes that when he moderates, he has more than the visible people present at the table-he also wants to hear what the “invisible” have to say.

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When I was chairing the board of a new school, sometimes I would imagine invisible children at the table. I was actually working for these children who were not yet born or were not yet there. They were my reason for being there. I try to listen into the space. The future is also at the table.

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On a farm you don’t go out and pull up a shoot once a day just to check on how things are going. Instead, you water it and give it time. Nor do seeds want transparency or publicity. So, too, in organizations. The last thing you want is to have people constantly checking.

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“I attend [this way]-therefore it emerges [that way].” The same applies to the collective level.

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In my ten years of working with organizations I have observed four basic patterns of conversational reality creation: downloading, debate, dialogue, and presencing (see Figure 15.3).

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Downloading: talking nice or exchanging polite phrases to

Debate: talking tough or exchanging diverging views to

Dialogue: thinking together from diverse perspectives to

Presencing: creating collectively from an authentic presence and source of stillness

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These inflection points constitute a social grammar. They are:

• Opening and suspension (open mind)

• Deep diving and redirection (open heart)

• Letting go and letting come (open will)

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Opening up these deeper levels requires overcoming three barriers: the Voice of Judgment (VOJ); the Voice of Cynicism (VOC); and the Voice of Fear (VOF).

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The capacity to operate from the deeper levels of the U can only be developed to the degree that a system deals with the forces and challenges of resistance. Anybody can have a peak experience. But only those who develop the discipline to face down these forces of resistance will be able to operate reliably from the deeper levels and spheres of social emergence.

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There are three points about this story that I would like to highlight. One, mindfulness and presence can happen anytime, anywhere, in the midst of our everyday life. It doesn’t require us to travel to the moon and back (although for some that has actually been the way into this experience). What it requires is an inward shift of attention.

Two, the greater the pressure of the external challenge (the bigger the mess in front of me), the more natural it feels to enter the dark space of absencing (kicking the machine), which I will explain in more detail below.

Three, the point of moving into Fields 3 and 4 is to stop interacting with objects and start dealing with everything we work and interact with as if it were a sentient being that we can directly connect to from within (the foam without eyes).

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The problem is that this type of conversation-viewed from an organizational learning point of view-tends to result in dysfunctional behavior: it prevents a team from talking about what’s really going on. They talk about the real stuff somewhere else-in the parking lot, on their way home. But at the meeting everyone’s time is wasted when they do nothing more than exchange polite comments. If individuals and teams don’t talk about difficult issues, what Chris Argyris calls “undiscussables,” they won’t reflect on them and nothing will change.6

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The bigger the gap between what is said (“I am fine”) and the actual situation (“I am about to die”), the higher the likelihood of some kind of breakdown in the system further down the road.

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Field i

“How are you?”

“I am fine.”

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Field 2

“How are you?”

“I am terrible.”

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The debate style of conversation can be useful in organizations because it allows a team to get all the different views on a subject on the table. I have found that in East Asian and South East Asian cultures the best way to get into Field 2 is not through confrontational debate (as in the West) but by a process that starts by engaging participants in small groups and allows all participants to share their various observations and views on a topic. This avoids face-saving related blockages that prevent the diverse perspectives to come out. Still, it delivers the same fundamental Field 2 bottom line: the expression of different and diverging views.

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Field 3

“How are you?”

“Not sure. But how are you, my friend?”

“Not sure either. I too arrived with an uneasy feeling.”

“Oh, really? How interesting. Tell me about it. What’s going on in your life?”

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Dialogue comes from the Greek logos, “word” or “meaning,” and dia, “through,” and can be literally translated as “meaning moving through.”I I

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Field 4

“So, Otto, I’m wondering if you’d like you and your work to be held by this circle?”

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“I saw myself standing on the bridge, and I knew I had to jump to make a difference. But an incredible inner gravity was holding me back. Part of me said, `Tell him why his way of doing stakeholder dialogue interviews is useless.’ The other, the scary part, said, `Open your heart. Allow him to change you.’ In that moment a memory was welling up in me: not long ago, when I

was working at the headquarters of a pharmaceutical company, I had been in exactly the same situation as Walter. I had to convince business units and production sites of lots of conceptual positions, statements, and `to-dos’ that didn’t relate to my own experience. The more useless I felt, the more my communication style changed to teaching or instructing them.

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Sadly, these are not just imaginary conditions. They actually describe how we currently prevent our children from connecting to their deeper sources of knowing. But if this is the way we organize the world for most of our children, we also have the power to change it.

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The blind spot resides in the white space between the units and divisions. Most people can’t see this white space because it would involve a deeper collaboration across organizational boundaries.

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Olsen, the CEO, although present, didn’t associate his authority with any of the positions discussed and debated among the Operations Committee members. Yet by carefully listening to all the

arguments and weighing all the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, he undoubtedly influenced what happened in the group. Through this sustained listening practice he gradually created a culture in which people began to trust the collective process of debate rather than waiting for the CEO to dictate where to go.

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Perhaps its most interesting finding was the identification of “tolerance to experiment at the margin.” Experimentation and failure are important today, argued the authors of the study, in order to grow the seeds for tomorrow’s successes.

That is exactly what did not happen in East Germany. Everything was centrally planned. The failure to develop prototypes of innovative living microcosms was painfully evident.

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An effective infrastructure for learning lies at the heart of sustained performance.

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When you do that twenty-five years in a row-three after-action reviews on every shift-you become one of the world’s leading logistics companies.

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In the case of people who deal with cultivating the context of social fields, we have to do this work by bringing more attention and focus into the various process dimensions of our organizational entities. This includes all four functional processes, core processes, stakeholder conversation and ecosystem innovation processes.

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What is, in the end, more valuable-a culture that is ennobling but economically unstable or a stable economic entity that changes its culture to whatever is needed to survive?”17

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I share this with you because I firmly believe the pressure on our frontline practitioners right now is enormous. Nurses and physicians in the hospitals, teachers in the schools, local line leaders in companies, and farmers all tell the same story: the pressure keeps increasing, and they can’t take it any longer. They feel that the system is dysfunctional, they feel trapped, and they know that collectively they often produce results that nobody wants. Yet they don’t know how to change it or how to get out.

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“Providing health information is important but not always sufficient,” he says. “We also need to bring in the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions that are so often ignored.”

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Multi-stakeholder dialogue creates a discourse that involves all key stakeholders in a multilateral interaction. Rather than being tightly controlled, the agenda is open, evolving, and transparent to all participants; any stakeholder may raise issues and concerns and co-determine the agendas of the meetings.

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Still, such dialogue may be unable to turn opposing views into productive co-creation. While the communication forms in the third circle (dialogue) tend to be good at identifying controversial issues and articulating diverse views, they tend to be less effective at turning those views into collective action or at forming new stakeholder constellations around emerging opportunities.

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Furthermore, we have no places in a given community or ecosystem that intentionally connect leaders across institutions and sectors. Frontline practitioners cannot easily build shared understanding and conversations to better sense and seize emerging opportunities that cut across institutions and sectors. This obvious deficiency brings us to the other aspect of the root system of society: the grounding of the social field and its meta-processes in nature, in the power of place.

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As long as we are mired in the viewpoint of the outer two circles, we are trapped in a victim mind-set (“the system is doing something to me”). As soon as we shift to the viewpoint of the inner two circles, we see how we can make a difference and how we can shape the future differently. Facilitating the movement from one (victim) mind-set to another (we can shape our future) is what leaders get paid for.

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As such, the U approach is firmly grounded in process consultation (PC) as one of its principal parent disciplines.2

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Practice: Take four minutes each evening and review the day as if you are looking at yourself from outside. Pay attention to how you interacted with others and what other people wanted you to do or suggested that you do. Do this nonjudgmentally. Just observe. Over time, you will develop an internal observer that allows you to look at yourself from someone else’s point of view.

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Newly appointed directors begin this program by engaging in three activities: a kickoff dialogue, which is a go-minute conversation about their leadership journey and challenges; a shadowing practice, where they follow an experienced director from another part of the organization for a full day (see a more detailed description below); and a series of dialogue interviews with their most important stakeholders.

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The opposite of co-initiation is marketing-to try to get people to “buy in” to your idea. That almost never works because it’s just your idea. So part of the art of convening these players is to loosen your own grip on the idea-without necessarily giving it up. You lead by painting a picture that is intentionally incomplete; you make a few strokes; and you leave lots of blank space that others can add to and participate in. By operating this way, you shift the power dynamics from ownership to belonging, to seeing your part in a larger social field or whole.

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Practice: Here is a checklist for a foundation workshop, the kickoff event that for the first time convenes all the prototyping team members and connects them with the core group of champions that initiated and is sponsoring the project initiative. As always, there is more

than one possible design that can make the foundation workshop a success. But this checklist of desired outcomes may be useful for testing the design you come up with. To create focus and commitment, clarify:

What: what you want to create

Why: why it matters

How: the process that will get you there

Who: the roles and responsibilities of the players involved

When, where: the road map forward

Additional goals:

To uncover common ground by sharing the context and story that brought us here.

To spark inspiration for the future that the team wants to create.

To use “Minitraining” in dialogue interviews and deep-dive best practices.

To plan the action for deep-dive journeys: by identifying core people, organizations, and contexts that need to be explored and visited (a target list of the places with the most potential).

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Take deep-dive journeys to the places of most potential. Deep-dive learning journeys connect people to the contexts and ideas that are relevant to creating the possible future. The deep-dive journey moves one’s operating perspective from inside a familiar world-one’s institutional bubble-to an unfamiliar world, one that is outside, surprising, fresh, and new. A deep-dive journey is not a benchmarking trip. It is designed to access a deeper level of emerging reality by observing hands-on practices through total immersion. It incorporates a combination of shadowing, participation, and dialogue.

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Mr. B. realized that it wasn’t people he had to change, but rather his relationship to them: How could they become the source of change? What would it take to help them to become the drivers of change, rather than making them react to his efforts?

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“When you become a director, you will be confronted over and over with one thing: `Listen. Listen and learn to listen more.’ That’s the first rule.

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Each team member of a deep-dive journey keeps a journal; each team has digital cameras, cell phones, and Web space for real-time documentation and cross-team sharing; to speed up the process, the teams should also receive both strategic and operational support in setting up their learning journeys (which does tend to consume some time).

Before each visit:

• Gather relevant information about the site you will be visiting. (Use the Web.)

Make it clear that you want to talk to/shadow/work with people and not get a standard presentation.

• Prepare a questionnaire as a team (but feel free to deviate from it).

• Conduct a mini-training session on effective observation and best sensing practices.

• Prepare a thank you gift and assign roles (speaker, time keeper)

After each visit:

Do not switch on cell phones or PDAs before completing the after-action reflection.

Plan a time for immediate reflection as a group.

During this reflection, each participant should describe his or her observations but try not to reach any conclusions in the first round. Stay focused on what emerges from the flow. Here are a few sample questions:

i. What struck me most? What stood out?

2. What was most surprising and unexpected?

3. What touched me? What connected with me personally?

4. If the social field of the visited organization were a living being, what would it look like and feel?

5. If that being could talk, what would it say (to us)?

6. If that being could develop, what would it want to morph into next?

7. What is the source that allows this social field to develop and thrive?

8. What limiting factors prevent this field from developing further?

9. Moving into and out of this field, what did I notice about myself?

io.What can this field tell us about our blind spot?

n. What can this field teach us about our future?

12. What other ideas does this experience spark for our initiative (our way forward)?

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Practice: Take an object (such as a seed) or a situation and observe with undivided attention for at least five minutes. When you notice your mind wandering to other ideas or thoughts, correct your course and return to the task of pure observation.

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Listening to Anna, Ursula suggested she do a round of stakeholder dialogue interviews. Anna later recounted, “That meant I had to change my approach. Rather than giving to them what I thought they wanted from me (and which obviously was wrong), I instead asked them what they needed me for.

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Practice is Spend four minutes each evening reviewing when during the day you engaged in Listening 3 (open mind and heart) and Listening 4 (open mind, heart, and will). If you cannot identify a single instance of deep listening, take note of that too. If you do this exercise for a month, your effectiveness as a listener will rise dramatically-without a single dollar spent on further training or coaching.

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Practice 2: Pick your various key stakeholders and have a dialogue conversation in which you put yourself into their shoes and look at your own job from their point of view. Before each interview, take your moment of stillness and intention-setting to open up. Here are the four questions that I have used in the case of the global car company mentioned above, and that you could use as a starting point for your own list of questions:

i. What is your most important objective, and how can I help you realize it? (What do you need me for?)

2. What criteria will you use to assess whether my contribution to your work has been successful?

3. If I were able to change two things in my area of responsibility within the next six months, what two things would create the most value and benefit for you?

4. What, if any, historical tensions and/or systemic barriers have made it difficult for people in my role or function to fulfill your requirements and expectations? What is it that is getting into our way?

8. Create collective sensing organs that allow the system to see itself. Maybe the biggest institutional gap in seeking profound systems innovation is today’s lack of collective sensing mechanisms. We have lots of collective downloading mechanisms (commercials, TV, and, unfortunately, much of our education system). By contrast, collective sensing mechanisms use the power of shared seeing and dialogue to tap an unused resource of collective sense making and thinking

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Practice 2: Pick your various key stakeholders and have a dialogue conversation in which you put yourself into their shoes and look at your own job from their point of view. Before each interview, take your moment of stillness and intention-setting to open up. Here are the four questions that I have used in the case of the global car company mentioned above, and that you could use as a starting point for your own list of questions:

i. What is your most important objective, and how can I help you realize it? (What do you need me for?)

2. What criteria will you use to assess whether my contribution to your work has been successful?

3. If I were able to change two things in my area of responsibility within the next six months, what two things would create the most value and benefit for you?

4. What, if any, historical tensions and/or systemic barriers have made it difficult for people in my role or function to fulfill your requirements and expectations? What is it that is getting into our way?

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Practice: One enormously useful practice for creating collective sensing organs is the World Cafe method,

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Don’t be surprised when your resistance shows up again and again. It happens to everyone. But as you become a pro, you know in advance that it will pop up at certain

Stages and that your job is to be prepared to meet and deal with it through calmness, appreciation, and focus. Moving down the U invites you to suspend your Voice of Judgment, VOJ, reverse your cynical view of a situation, VOC, and overcome your fear, VOF, of letting go of your old self-that part of you that must die in order for the new to take shape.

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Practice: Go through the following four-step meditation (by way of reflective journaling or visual imagination):

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Intentional silence: Pick a practice that helps you to connect with your source.

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They all practice something in their everyday lives that helps them access their best source of creativity and self.

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Practice 2: Running a presencing retreat workshop. The flow of a retreat workshop follows the U: sharing key insights and ideas from the deep-dive journeys; moving into the space of silence; crystallizing ideas for prototyping initiatives and action planning.

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The road to accessing one’s creativity includes the stages of (1) nothing much happening, (2) boredom, and then (3) noticing and responding to an inner impulse that evolves within yourself. It is difficult to learn how to do these things when you are managed by a tight system of exterior activities, rewards, and controls.

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Circles of Presence: Create circles in which you hold one another in the highest future intention. There is an invisible movement going on in the world. It’s a movement that is manifest in a variety of forms and practices. These practices rest on the same underlying principle: to form a safe collective holding space in which the participants support one another in making sense of and advancing their life and work journeys.

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The spiritual energy economics at issue here can be summarized in a simple equation: E = D m. Personal energy (E) is a function of making a difference (D) in something that matters to me (m).

If your work doesn’t make a difference, that’s a problem. Or if you work on something that doesn’t matter to you, that’s also a problem. In those cases you will tend to deplete your energy. The work itself won’t recharge you. But if you make a real difference, doing something that truly matters to you, then you are on a loop of ever-increasing energy: the more you give, the more you get back.

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Practice 1: Creative tension exercise: This practice was devised by Peter Senge and Robert Fritz, composer, filmmaker and organizational consultant. In its classical form, it works as a meditation in three steps: First ask (1) What do I want to create? and (2) What does the current reality look like by contrast? Then (3) Picture both images together (e.g., as a split screen) and note the creative tension between them.

This practice is an excellent tool to use as you start up the right-hand side of the U (crystallizing). I have found it useful to modify this exercise slightly in the U context this way: during the first step, focus on your future state in your journey. During the second step, do not only concentrate on how the current reality differs from your desired

Future, but try to figure out where in today’s reality you find the seed elements of the future. Then, in the third step, picture the creative tension in a three-dimensional space. Move between the poles. Go into the seed elements (with your mind and heart) and evolve with them toward the desired future state, and return from there to current reality, and so forth. Many practitioners use this exercise successfully.

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First thing in the morning, ask yourself: “What are the one or two most important things for me to do today? How am I going to use the best quality time of the day?” The underlying principle here is that energy follows attention.

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Convening the players: A strategic microcosm connects key players across boundaries who need one another in order to take their system into the best future way of operating. For a microcosm constellation to be productive, it usually needs five types of practitioners:

(1) practitioners who are accountable for results (problem owners, such as the CEO of the hospital); (2) practitioners on the front line who know the real problems first hand (e.g., physicians); (3) people at the bottom of the system who normally have no voice and no say about how others spend their money and who bring a different view and focus that can help to reframe the overall issue (e.g., patients or citizens); (4) people outside the system who can offer a view or a competence critical to the success of the project (creative outsiders); and (5) one or a few activists who are wholly committed to making the project work (who have the right heart and who are willing to give their lives to make it work).

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This story, of course, is a beautiful demonstration of the U: create the intention to solve a problem, dive into it, work like crazy, and break the flow (stop), pay attention to the ideas that start to slip in through the back door of your mind; then develop and embody that idea.

Practice: Focus on what really matters. Work a lot. Take a shower. Get an illuminating idea. Dry yourself off and prototype the idea.

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Practice: Use the framework of Figure 19.2 to assess your current system: First, draw four circles; then identify each of the key stakeholders in your ecosystem outside the circles; in the circles themselves list the communication qualities of the key stakeholder relationships; notice which communication qualities (channels) are activated, and which ones are not. If possible, use this stakeholder communication assessment as a starting point for thinking together about how to move the system from the outer to the inner circles of communication and governance.

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Practice 2: Peer-coaching case clinics: Case clinics and peer coaching need a structure in order for teams to work together successfully. The structure below outlines one example.

Imagine you have 70 minutes per session and four persons per team. Here are some specific parameters you could use to construct your clinic.

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Example is Ralf Schneider and his team at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the world’s largest global services company, designed a leadership development program that takes deep-dive action learning journeys to some of the current spots of societal crisis and breakdown.

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That is the idea behind the Social Presencing Theater we are, at this writing, in the midst of creating.14

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Practice is On the evening before facilitating or leading a workshop or gathering, take a few minutes to align your intention with the best future possibility of the group or community that you will be working with the next day. Establishing this relationship will help you to improve the quality of intuitions that slip through the back door of your mind when you have to respond to real-time situations.

Practice 2: When conducting large-group events, I have found it useful to hold a collective intention-setting session the evening before the event begins. It usually takes no more than five or ten minutes. When the room setup is complete and most of the preparations are done, you call the core group together and stand in a circle; everyone then says one or two things about what they personally consider to be the event’s purpose or goal: What should this event accomplish, and what future possibility do they want to facilitate and serve? I have found that groups that engage in intention setting the night before are likely to establish a better field and holding space throughout the event than groups that do not.

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The U process can be thought of as a social breathing process. The left-hand side of the U is the inhaling part of the cycle: total immersion in the current field, taking everything in. The right-hand side of the U is the exhaling part of the cycle: bringing the field of the future into reality as it desires. Between these two movements, breathing in and breathing out, there is a small crack of nothingness. That silent pause is the mystery or source at the bottom of the U. It’s where the letting go (of the old) connects with the letting come (of the new). That crack can be thought of as the eye of a needle: the Self.

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Education. Table 22.1 below spells out nine knowledge and learning contexts that a prototype twenty-first-century school (and university) would need to provide for its students and faculty.

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Innovations in cultural infrastructures that reinvent our institutions of education. Table 22.1 below spells out nine knowledge and learning contexts that a prototype twenty-first-century school (and university) would need to provide for its students and faculty.

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3 The four questions are: (i) What is your most important objective, and how can I help you realize it? (What do you need me for?) (2) What criteria will you use to assess whether my contribution to your work has been successful? (3) If I were able to change two things in my area of responsibility within the next six months, what two things would create the most value and benefit for you? (4) What, if any, historical tensions and/or conflicting demands have made it difficult for people in my role or function to fulfill your requirements and expectations?

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