Three Stages of Global Movement Building: Soil, Seed, & Eco-system Activation

Otto Scharmer
Sep 18, 2018 · 9 min read

One year ago Jo Confino, Executive Editor at HuffPost, and I teamed up to launch a new initiative that focuses on moving the new economic narrative from marginal to mainstream. The idea was to blend the core competencies of our two organizations: HuffPost’s capacity to spotlight new stories and to reach younger audiences, and the Presencing Institute’s capacity to build online-to-offline learning platforms that activate deep change. Enabled by the support of Partners for a New Economy and Kendeda, HuffPost has since created a new section that spotlights new economy stories as well as a Facebook page, while the Presencing Institute (PI) has developed the Transforming Capitalism Lab, a platform designed to support transformational learning and global movement activation for an economy that works for all.

At PI the approach to movement building is inspired by our u.lab experience, an online-to-offline platform for deep learning that has attracted over 100,000 participants since its launch three years ago and has activated a global eco-system of societal innovation around place-based hubs and small-group coaching circles. When we launched u.lab in 2015 we knew that the key to activating transformative learning globally lies in blending free online methods and tools with powerful offline learning practices that allow coaching circles and place-based communities to bring about deep change in the context of an inspiring global community.

When exploring how to refine this approach for the purpose of achieving profound societal innovation, we realized that today the offline activities are even more critical than before. How can we build a movement that focuses on renewing the foundations of our civilization — our economic, our democratic, and our educational institutions — in order to bridge the ecological, social, and spiritual divides?

A Global Movement: Soil, Seeds, and Eco-system Activation

What emerged from our explorations is a process for global movement building that is based on three stages: preparing the soil, sowing and growing the seeds, harvesting and activating the field (figure 1).

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Figure 1: Three Stages of Global Movement Building

Preparing the Soil: In the first stage of planning this process we are focusing on finding the right partners, testing and refining the right online and offline practices, and aligning the various lines of activities (September — December 2018).

Sowing and Growing the Seeds: In stage two we will launch these elements as a multi-local process for moving change initiatives from idea to impact, from ideation to prototyping (first half of 2019). Supported by a global platform and light-handed orchestration and co-facilitation, this process will unfold as a multi-local innovation journey that links change makers across sectors and geographies around specific impact areas such as farming & food, finance & money, and learning & leadership, among others.

Harvesting and Activating the Field: The third stage will consist of a series of regional Field of the Future Festivals — i.e., events that feature inspired change makers in each region. The Field of the Future Festivals will activate and amplify regional eco-systems of profound civilizational renewal by making the movement sense and see itself.

Based on our pilots in 2018 we believe that the there is a significant but untapped potential for profound societal change in the world today. That untapped potential may well be the most significant and least leveraged force for change today.

Core Practices: Attention, Conversation, Eco-system Activation

We believe there are three core practices that, if enacted, can unleash this potential.

1. Pay attention to your attention. It all starts with how we pay attention as individuals. Figure 2 maps two different fields of attention — i.e., two different ways of responding to disruption. One response is to freeze (and close) the mind, heart, and will, which results in the amplification of ignorance, hate, and fear. The other is to lean into the emerging future by opening the same capacities (mind, heart, will), which results into the amplification of curiosity, compassion, and courage.

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Figure 2: Two Responses to Disruption, Two Social Fields: Absencing, Presencing

Living in an age of disruption means that we tend to be torn between these two fields of attention. We can respond to disruption either by turning backward (“making X great again”) — i.e., closing the mind, heart, and will — or by leaning forward into the field of the future.

Paying attention to your attention means activating your awareness on a higher level and making sure that your attention is aligned with your intention; i.e., not getting stuck in the upper cycle in figure 2 by reacting against the symptoms of destruction but grounding yourself in the generative capacities of co-creation and presencing, i.e., the lower cycle of figure 2.

2. Form your own hub or circle of change. All profound change emerges from community, from a holding space. A generative holding space is a social field that embodies and strengthens the qualities of the open mind, open heart, and open will. Groups that experience such deeper qualities of the social field report a shift in their awareness and energy that activates the presence of their highest future potential. The best way to do this at scale is to self-organize in place-based hubs and/or small circles (5–7 participants) and use structured methods and tools that help groups activate their deeper sources of creativity and knowing.

3. Activate your own eco-system of change. While the first practice focuses on the individual and the second on the circle level, this third practice focuses on activating your own eco-system of partners and stakeholders around an issue you care about. This activation process usually goes through a journey of connecting and co-convening them in order to progress on a journey of co-sensing and prototyping emerging future possibilities.

Organizations across sectors and systems all face the same problem: how to move from a hierarchical and siloed way of organizing to one that co-evolves with the surrounding innovation eco-system. Creating real institutional change usually requires taking an eco-system of partners on a journey from ego to eco, from me to we. Eco-system activation is a process that nobody can do alone. It takes partners, places, practices, and a shared journey — that often turns out to be the road less travelled.

The Transforming Capitalism Lab will support and connect change makers around all three types of practices: individual attention, circles of change, and eco-system activation.

Awareness-Based Systems Change

Leading change and activating movement building requires a method. Figure 3 depicts the state of the art in systems thinking with an iceberg model. All systems thinking is based on a distinction between symptoms and root causes and helps change makers move from reacting against symptoms to addressing those root causes. What differentiates the different schools of systems thinking is the number of layers below the waterline. While the traditional focus has been on structures and thought (mental models), more recently we have seen more and more emphasis on a fourth level that in the figure is labeled as source. It’s the sources of our actions, attention, and intention, i.e., the inner place from that we operate, that makes all the difference. Another word for the fourth level could have been awareness or consciousness. Leading change from that fourth level basically means: form follows consciousness.

Awareness based systems change can be summarized by three simple principles:

· You cannot understand a system unless you change it. (Kurt Lewin)

· You cannot change a system unless you transform consciousness.

· You cannot transform consciousness unless the system senses and sees itself.

The first principle speaks to the importance of action learning and action research. The second points out that unless we change our awareness from a siloed to a systems view, from ego to eco, nothing much will change. And the third articulates the essence of how Theory U-based interventions actually work: by making a system (e.g., a stakeholder group) sense and see itself through the eyes of each other and the whole.

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Figure 3: Four Levels of Awareness-Based Systems Change

The Three Divides

In the Theory U variant of awareness-based systems change we often cluster the problem symptoms according to three major divides: the ecological, the social, and the spiritual (see figures 3, 4). Likewise, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 can be sorted similarly, as suggested recently by our colleagues from the UN SDSN SEA hub (figure 4).

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Figure 4: The Three Divides, 17 Sustainable Development Goals

The implementation of the 17 SDGs by 2030 requires more than just another wave of strategic programs and initiatives. It requires a systemic approach to addressing the underlying root causes of the divides. It requires not only innovation within the system, but also transformation of the system. To use an analogy that most readers will relate to, it will not be enough to just get a new app. What’s needed is a profound update of the whole operating system (OS).

Updating Our Societal Operating Systems

Looking at the evolution of our societal systems — and of their operating systems — we see that most of them have gone through similar stages. Figure 5 provides an overview of five sectors, all of which show the same evolutionary pattern.

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Figure 4: The Three Divides, 17 Sustainable Development Goals

The current mainstream in most systems uses OS 2.0 (output- and efficiency-centric), while the current innovators in these sectors operate with OS 3.0 (outcome- and user-centric). I believe that the systems innovators of the future will co-pioneer OS 4.0 (an operating system with co-creativity and eco-systems at the core). Moving from 3.0 to 4.0 will require in the case of:

· Health: moving from fighting symptoms of sickness to strengthening sources of well-being

· Learning: moving from standard curricula to activating the deeper sources of learning (whole child, whole systems learning)

· Farm & Food: moving from reducing negative impact (i.e., organic ag) to food production as a medium for healing planet and people (using regenerative ag)

· Finance: moving from single-issue impact investing to transformative systems change (eco-system impact)

· Corporate Responsibility: moving from profit-driven enterprise to purpose driven companies that are profitable and make the world a better place (mission-driven enterprise)

Infrastructures for Profound Societal Renewal

Our current societal moment is defined by three conditions: post-truth, post-democracy, and post-human. To transcend these three conditions we need to create new societal innovation infrastructures (see figure 6):

1. Learning infrastructures that link the intelligences of head, heart, and hand (whole person, whole system)

2. Democratic infrastructures that allow civic participation that is more direct, distributed, and dialogic

3. Economic infrastructures that allow all stakeholders to co-sense and co-shape the system in ways that are more intentional, conscious, and collective.

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Figure 6: Innovations in Infrastructures

The Power of Place: Holding the Space

What will it take to create these new infrastructures? A network of places across the planet that supports this movement by providing methods, tools, research, and capacity building to support the shift from an ego-centric to an eco-centric economy and society. A prototype for such a network of places is currently in development in Berlin, on a campus adjacent to the Tempelhof airport (the landing strip for the Berlin Airlift in 1948). The idea is simple: to create a landing strip for the Field of the Future — for the 4.0 ways of operating across sectors and systems that will help our institutions and communities evolve (figure 7).

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Figure 7: Berlin Tempelhof Campus — A Landing Strip for the Field of the Future?

The people are here, the places are here, the practices and projects — i.e., the living examples of the new — are emerging. The only thing missing is an enabling infrastructure that connects, cultivates, and amplifies all these elements — an infrastructure that makes the emerging global movement aware of itself.

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Figure 8: How to Operate from the Field of the Future

The journey of preparing the soil, of sowing and growing the seeds, and of harvesting and activating the Field of the Future is a call for profound civilizational renewal felt by many people across places today. If it resonates with you, join us in co-inspiring and co-developing this movement in your contexts now. Find more information on how to connect here.

A great thank you to my colleagues who created the wonderful images for this post: Olaf Baldini (figure 1, 8), and Kelvy Bird (figure 3)!

Field of the Future Blog

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