Can organisations help us go from ego to eco-system awareness?
Why we need to reimagine ecosystems, social systems and self
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? That’s The Power Question we asked ourselves at the WorldBlu summit in Miami. What would you do for yourself, for others, and for the world? It reminded me of Otto Scharmer’s Theory U and what he calls the Three Divides:
Otto Scharmer calls the diagram above the ‘iceberg model’ of our current socioeconomic system because:
beneath the visible level of events and crises, there are underlying structures, mental models, and sources that are responsible for creating them. If ignored, they will keep us locked into reenacting the same old patterns time and again.
The Eco Divide is between self and environment; the Social Divide is between self and other; and the Spiritual Divide is between my current ‘self’ and the future, emerging ‘self’ that represents my greatest potential. As Otto says:
the leadership challenge across all sectors is the same: to go from ego to eco-system awareness.
The speakers we saw on the final day of The Power Question Summit addressed these three divides — Eco, Social and Spiritual. Whilst it was a business summit, we all recognised that organisations don’t exist in a vacuum. If we want to transform work, we have to look at the role it plays in the wider system.
The Eco Divide — how many slaves work for you?
Artist Justin Dillon developed a lifestyle survey called the Slavery Footprint to raise awareness about modern day slavery, putting the onus on the consumer to make better choices. “All of us are the Chief Procurement Officers of our lives,” he said.
Rather than punishing organisations whose supply chains involve slaves, Justin set up the Made in a Free World movement, a community of consumers and businesses celebrating products made in freedom — ‘buycott’ rather than boycott. Justin concluded with this message:
“Freedom requires us to do something we haven’t done before, something that we aren’t good at…”
Made in a Free World gives companies the opportunity to be heroes rather than villains because organisations have huge influence and the potential to effect global change. Isn’t that why we invented organisations in the first place? John Buck and Sharon Villines, authors of the book ‘We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy’, observed the origins of the word ‘organisation’. The Latin word organum means “tool or instrument” and the and the suffix -ation means “an action or the result of an action”. Therefore
“a human organisation is is the result of people coming together to become a tool to accomplish a task, a task that one person could not accomplish alone.”
What better way to abolish slavery once and for all than to leverage the power of our global organisations?
The Social Divide — how can you reimagine education?
Writer and partner of WONDER, By Design Sam Chaltain opened his talk with the fact that the pace of technological change is accelerating exponentially. So why, he asked, has the design of our education system changed so little? How can we design education for our children’s J-curve instead of a distribution curve?
Indeed, I found myself asking the same question about organisations. In this brilliant talk, Fred Kofman makes the point that a footballer’s job is to help the team win. If you incentivise a defender for the number of goals he saves, losing 0–1 is better than winning 5–4. So we can agree that the goal of the team is superior to the role of the position. So why do we incentivise individuals in organisations, rewarding them for individual rather than team performance? Similarly, if the goal of school is to prepare children for their future, to set them up for success in work, why are we creating conditions (such as excessive testing at a young age) that sub-optimise their ability to learn? As Sam puts it, the end-goal of education is not what you know, but who you become.
“We need to prepare our kids for their future instead of our past.” — Sam Chaltain
Sam showed us this incredible video of one of nature’s wonders concluding that “the principle for the future of learning is not an assembly line, it’s a murmuration of starlings.”
The Spiritual Divide — how are you violent?
It was an utter privilege to meet Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. He delivered a powerful message to us that when we threaten children with punishment, we plant the first seeds of violence and fear. He added:
“The only remedy for human beings is to transform their culture of violence to a culture of non-violence. In a culture of non-violence there is no room for punishment, there is penance instead.”
He explained that even passive violence is problematic because it fuels the fire of physical violence. To end violence, we have to cut off the fuel supply and be the change we wish to see in the world. One audience member asked him if negative emotions like fear or anger could ever do good and he replied:
“Anger is like electricity; it can be powerful but it can also be destructive. We must learn to channel it so we can use it for the good of humanity.”
For me, this was a powerful reminder that it’s ok for me to get angry about things — the state of our education system in the UK, the toxic work cultures and archaic organisation structures I encounter — so long as I channel that energy so that it can be used for the good of humanity.
A great example of this was the final speaker of the summit Benny Tai, who initiated the ‘Occupy Central with Peace and Love’ campaign in January 2013 in Hong Kong. The campaign was inspired, of course, by Mahatma Gandhi’s example of civil disobedience during the Indian independence movement.
Early on in the campaign, Benny received a letter threatening his livelihood and his family. In the face of fear, he had a moment of clarity: “we are the lords of history,” he realised, “and we have the power to make a difference.”
To return to Otto Scharmer’s Theory U work, how can we make a difference? We are currently in a ‘state of organised irresponsibility’, as Otto says in his book ‘Leading from the Emerging Future’, ‘collectively creating results that nobody wants.’ His suggested solution is a practice called ‘presencing’:
“a blended word combining sensing (feeling the future possibility) and presence (the state of being in the present moment). It means sensing and actualising one’s highest future possibility — acting from the presence of what is wanting to emerge.”
The speakers at The Power Question Summit all shared their different answers to the question ‘What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?’ What’s common is that they have all taken responsibility for being part of the solution. They have felt the future possibility — freedom in work, life and learning — and they are doing something now to actualise their highest future possibility. I hope that me sharing their stories here will inspire others to do the same.