Reflections on “A Consciousness-Based Systems Change Model for the XXI Century”

An Invitation to Change-Makers to Improve the Quality of the Social Field in the Current Moment

Helio Borges
Field of the Future Blog

--

Image: Screenshot of HLA Fall Webinar Series 2023 — #3 — Otto Scharmer. Illya Prigogine quote.

Otto Scharmer, a senior lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute, presented the foundations of his new book at the Fall Webinar Series of the Humanistic Leadership Academy. Here, I present vital aspects of his lecture.

He unconventionally conducted his lecture, guiding a collective meditation. He did not ask the attendants to focus on their breathing, bodily sensations, or a mantra but to focus their attention on "the most important object of contemplation in this century— the current reality."

He uses a new Systems Thinking approach; instead of the Iceberg Model, he uses a Land Regeneration metaphor to depict the Consciousness-Based Systems Change Model.

The water level for the Iceberg model is the soil for the Consciousness-Based Systems Change Model. He says that the most critical capital in land regeneration is soil quality. The farmer's mission is to improve the soil's quality because everything that grows above ground is a function of the quality of the soil underneath.

This metaphor applies to the quality of the Social Field in society. We make it better by improving the quality of our relationships.

He uses the model to share his insights on the current reality, describing the massive institutional failure and the challenges of our time in various sectors and systems. To transform the current reality, we cannot rely on solutions that were successful in the past. The answer, he says, is to develop a new collective leadership capacity based on two principles:

  • Changing consciousness.
  • Making the system see and sense itself.

He invites us to look at our practice as systems leaders and cultivate the quality of our listening, conversation, leadership, ownership, and governance to improve the quality of the Social Field in the current moment by being small islands of coherence. Because

When a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos have the capacity to lift the entire system to a higher order. Scientist and Nobel Laureate Illya Prigogine, 2020

The current moment of disruption and transformation in various sectors and systems

Otto Scharmer begins by describing the current moment as a time of massive institutional failure, in which we collectively create results that nobody wants, such as climate change, hunger, poverty, violence, and destruction of communities, nature, and life. He says these times call for a new consciousness and collective leadership capacity to meet these challenges more consciously, intentionally, and strategically.

From Output and Efficiency to Eco-system and Regeneration Centricity

He then shows how various sectors and systems, such as agriculture, education, energy, business, finance, technology, and governance, are undergoing a fundamental shift from an old model 2.0, which is organized around output and efficiency, to a new model 3.0, which is organized around user and stakeholder centricity, to an even more radical model 4.0, that is organized around eco-system and regeneration centricity. He says this shift is driven by an evolving human consciousness that moves from ego-system awareness to eco-system awareness.

The need for a new consciousness and a new collective leadership capacity to create a future of greater possibilities

He asks how we can learn and lead in times of disruption when we cannot rely on the experiences of the past. He says that the answer is to develop a new consciousness and collective leadership capacity that allows us to create a future of greater possibilities. He says that this capacity is based on two principles:

  • We cannot change a system unless we change the consciousness or the mindsets of the people who are enacting the system,
  • We cannot change the consciousness or the mindsets unless we make the system see and sense itself, which means creating a collective mirror that reflects the reality of the system and its impact on the whole.

He sustains that this is the foundation for unlocking the potential of collective creativity and innovation in any larger system.

The framework and method of Theory U as an awareness-based approach to change systems

Next, he introduces the framework and method of Theory U as an awareness-based approach to change systems. Theory U is based on 20 years of action research and learning by doing with a global community of practitioners. Theory U has three main elements:

  • A framework for seeing the blind spot of leadership and systems change, which is the interior condition from which we operate;
  • A method for implementing awareness-based systems change, which is practical methods and tools for change-makers;
  • And a new narrative for evolutionary societal change, which is updating our mental and institutional operating systems in all of society's sectors.

He affirms that Theory U integrates various methods and lineages for effecting change, such as action research, design thinking, mindfulness, cognition science, phenomenology, and civil society movements.

Image: Screenshot of HLA Fall Webinar Series 2023 — #3 — Otto Scharmer. Shifting the locus of attention

The leverage point of shifting the source and locus of attention from ego-system to eco-system awareness

Otto Scharmer then explains the leverage point of shifting the source and locus of attention from ego-system to eco-system awareness. This shift is the ultimate leverage point in all the dimensions of systems change because it determines the quality of our listening, conversation, leadership, ownership, and governance. He says that there are four levels of sourcing our attention and action:

  • From the center of our own system, which he calls I in me;
  • from the periphery of our own system, which he calls I in it;
  • from outside the boundaries of our own system, which he calls I in you;
  • and from what is emerging from the surrounding sphere, which he calls I in now.

He says that as we move from the outer to the inner spheres, we move from a more shallow to a more profound way of relating to ourselves, to others, and to the whole. For him, this shift is the essence of systems thinking and systems leadership.

The invitation to look at our own practice as systems leaders and to cultivate the quality of our listening, conversation, leadership, ownership, and governance.

Otto Scharmer invites us to look at our own practice as systems leaders and to cultivate the quality of our listening, conversation, leadership, ownership, and governance. The quality of those capacities increases as they evolve from habitual awareness to awareness of the whole.

By cultivating these qualities, we can activate the islands of coherence that can lift the entire system to a higher order.

Listening. He sustains that the most critical practice for leadership is listening, which is the foundation of everything. He declares that listening can be done at different levels, evolving from factual to empathic to generative, and that we need to assess the appropriate level for each situation.

Conversation. The evolution of the quality of conversations goes from debate to dialogue to collective creativity, and we need to move beyond the subject-object view to a more relational view.

Leadership. The leadership styles should go from traditional forms like MBO to more participative forms, up to humble leadership, into the areas of our not knowing.

Ownership. Ownership should grow from public ownership to family ownership to steward ownership, focusing on the enterprise's purpose.

Governance. For him, governance affects us all; therefore, it should advance from markets and hierarchy to multi-stakeholder processes to awareness-based collective action, acting from a shared awareness.

Image: Screenshot of HLA Fall Webinar Series 2023 — #3 — Otto Scharmer. Convergence toward Regeneration, Ego to Eco, and Presencing.

One Story: Convergence Toward Regeneration, Ego to Eco, and Presencing

As the systems above ground and our practices and capabilities as change-makers and human beings evolve toward the space of convergence at the center of the model, three fundamental shifts happen:

  • From Extraction to Regeneration.
  • From Ego to Eco.
  • From reaction to past issues to sensing and operating from emerging future possibilities — Presencing.

As we embody those principles, we begin to activate these islands of coherence that form, when connected, eco-systems of coherence that have enormous potential to produce the changes that many of us feel are necessary at the current moment. Otto Scharmer.

Another Story: Operating Model 1.0, Matrix of Manipulation

He explains that the other story concerns the operating model 1.0, Matrix of Manipulation, which is manipulating human behavior from outside: Authoritarian Leadership; Feudal Ownership; Autocratic and Kakistocratic (government by the worst) Governance; AI and Social Media, operated by Dark Tech, which is the cause of Mass Misinformation, Mass Polarization, and Mass Depression; Dark Money; Hyper Extractive Business models; Fracking for fossils; Indoctrination in education; Attention to Echo Chambers; Silencing and Othering.

Small Islands of Coherence

He says those two stories define the current moment, and we are right in the middle. He sustains that You, your own Heart, your own Self, are the smallest unit of those islands of coherence. It is the small groups, the small initiatives, and the enterprises you are part of that have the capacity to lift the system to a higher order. Finally, he asks You:

Above the soil, in what of those systems are you operating? Underneath, where do you see your own evolution? Remember, the future is a possibility that looks at You in order to manifest. Otto Scharmer. 2023.

P.S. I’ve been a Consciousness-Based Systems Change practitioner for eight years, and I can affirm that the person I am now and the work that I do in the current moment would have been totally different hadn't I come across Theory U and Otto Scharmer in 2015. I am greatly grateful for that.

Helio Borges: hborgesg@gmail.com / +584143287997.

--

--

Helio Borges
Field of the Future Blog

Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges