This post is a part of our series of Book Summaries, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books. The following has been modified from Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer’s Leading from the Emerging Future, 2013. During a recent Irvine Foundation New Leadership Network convening, David Sawyer read the first two paragraphs from this piece to frame the conversation each morning.
The most significant change at the beginning of this century has been the creation of platforms for cross-sector cooperation that enable change-makers to gather, become aware of, and understand the evolution of the whole system, and consequently to act, build and test prototypes that originate from that shared awareness. And the most important ingredient is always the same: a few fully committed people who would give everything to make it work.
If we want to upgrade our community operating system, we need to start by updating the thinking and awareness that underlies it – the quality of results produced by any system (and any community) depends on the quality of awareness from which people in the system operate. The main leverage you have is the quality of your relationship with the other stakeholders.
And how can we develop the level of awareness and shared understanding that leads to positive outcomes?
- Invite more people into the “dynamic space” to build shared understanding and co-create the future they care about – these are containers where the fields of conversation are transformed from debate to dialogue and collective creativity; transforming the quality of conversation in a system means transforming the quality of relationship and thought, and subsequently the quality of tomorrow’s results
- Explore the edges of the system – go on a “learning journey” and walk in the shoes of some of the most marginalized people in the system; the new in any system shows up first at the periphery – that’s where you see the problems and the opportunities as if through a magnifying glass
- Stop and suspend old habits of judgment and thought – this means opening your mind, breaking habitual patterns, suspending judgment and allowing new information to enter
- Practice empathy and generative listening – this means opening your heart and seeing reality from a different angle; this requires listening deeply to the views and experiences of others, taking them in as part of seeing the whole system
- Shift your attention from what you are trying to avoid to what you want to bring into reality
- Retreat and reflect – meditate, and go to the places of stillness where knowing comes to the surface
- Act in an instant and develop a prototype – a prototype allows you to quickly generate feedback from all the key stakeholders and evolve and iterate your idea; if you, like many others, are already overcommitted in your existing institution, engage on prototyping projects and innovation issues that are institutionally relevant and link well with the strategic agenda of your organization
- Iterate and scale – review all the prototypes, conclude what has been learned, take out what isn’t working, and strengthen what is working
This new awareness requires an internalization of the views and concerns of other stakeholders in one’s system, such that people develop the capacity to perceive problems from the perspective of others. If you want to change others, you need to be open to changing yourself first.
The result is decisions and outcomes that benefit the whole system, not just a part of it.