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U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self

February 2, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 8.22.01 AMWe’ve formed an interesting little coaching circle to participate in the online course, “U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self,” with Otto Scharmer.   This is a course out of MIT which has attracted about 25,000 people from all over the world, all of whom are gathered in hubs, or coaching circles, or circles of friends.   This is the first time it has been delivered like this, so we’re all learning together about how it works.  There are videos, online lectures, platforms for discussion, assignments to do and self-test on, and share with your coaching circle, and the material is based on a new text by Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System.   

Scharmer is well known for his development of the Theory U. concept and this course moves between the Ed.X. site and the Presencing Institute.  We’re interested in these concepts because they offer some new ways to look at leadership that are inclusive.  Scharmer writes about what he calls “the blind spot”:

The current system produces results that nobody wants. Below the surface of what we call the landscape of social pathology lies a structure that supports existing patterns. For example, in an organization, a departmental structure defines the division of labor and people’s professional identities. In a modern society, the governmental, business, and nongovernmental sectors all develop their own ways of coordinating and self-organizing in a rapidly changing and highly intertwined world. A structure is a pattern of relationships. If we want to transform how our society responds to challenges, we need to understand the deeper structures that we continue to collectively reenact.

Including everyone in leadership is one of the ways to address eight “disconnects” in which systems proceed in certain ways because the people involved in them don’t see alternatives, even though the structures they’ve developed are not sustainable.  The kinds of approaches we use to try to “fix” what’s wrong, says the Presencing Institute, are often based on our sense of the past, and build on historical approaches rather than what is in front of us and “present” – so we need new ways of listening for what is happening and then working together to create a different future:

This future is not just about firefighting and tinkering with the surface of structural change. It’s not just about replacing one mindset that no longer serves us with another. It’s a future that requires us to tap into a deeper level of our humanity, of who we really are and who we want to be as a society.

graphic based on Scharmer's text and lectures

graphic based on Scharmer’s text and lectures

Why such learning matters in our field is suggested in a great paper by John O’Brien in which, after setting out some example of things that aren’t working (wait lists, bureaucracy, political instability, funding issues, politics – just to name a few), he writes:

A hopeful response to this difficult time calls for two distinct but complementary strategies. One strategy guides political action to entrench a policy of adequate individual funding, controlled by people with disabilities and their families and friends. The other guides a long-term process of culture change through community engagement. While these two strategies each make a necessary contribution, the urgency and clarity of political action can overshadow the slow and ambiguous work of building wider and deeper relationships with and around people with disabilities and their families.  

from “Community Engagement A Necessary Condition for Self-Determination and Individual Funding” by John O’Brien.

We are looking forward to sharing some of this information in upcoming workshops!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ernie Baatz permalink*
    February 2, 2015 9:23 am

    I was just reading a review of Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything” that analyzes responses to her book. He touches on similar themes to your article: disruption and the opportunity to find a new way. Here is a link to his review:
    One of the most interesting points was his observation that “Klein upsets the existing order of things in her book by declaring “the right is right.” By this she means that the political right’s position on climate change is largely motivated by what it correctly sees as an Either/Or question of capitalism vs. the climate. Hence, conservatives seek to deny climate change—even rejecting the science—in their determination to defend capitalism. In contrast, liberal ideologues—caught in the selfsame trap of capitalism vs. the climate—tend to waffle, accepting most of the science, while turning around and contradicting themselves by downplaying the logical implications for society. They pretend that there are easy, virtually painless, non-disruptive ways out of this trap via still undeveloped technology, market magic, and mild government regulation—presumably allowing climate change to be mitigated without seriously affecting the capitalist economy. Rather than accepting the Either/Or of capitalism against the climate, liberals convert the problem into one of neoliberalism vs. the climate, insisting that greater regulation, including such measures as carbon trading and carbon offsets, constitutes the solution, with no need to address the fundamental logic of the economic and social system.”
    I think it is hard for people to imagine something different than the current BAU – Business As Usual.


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