Dialogue on leadership: An evening with Otto Scharmer

I was fortunate last night to spend the evening n the company of Otto Scharmer, who was in São Paulo as a guest of Natura, and speaking at the Instituto Evoluir.

His talk last night was an overview of his work relating to his book “Theory U: Learning from the Future as It Emerges: Learning from the Futures as It Emerges.”

Otto began though by discussing two related areas of research that I have already written about on this blog; the New Economic Foundation’s work on The Happy Planet Index, and problems of overconsumption and our global footprints.

Otto distinguished between two forms of learning. The first was the most common scenario practiced by business consultants and gurus -> act – observe – reflect – plan – act. In this cycle, the expert learns from the past, and applies the learning to the current situation. But Otto has previously carried out a great deal of research looking at what makes people creative and innovative, and here he sees a new model of learning, where people learn from the “future” as it emerges. Perhaps another way of saying this is to be able to learn from the present moment, and not to be stuck in past and out-of-date patterns of thinking. Otto calls this form of learning “presencing”. This word may be slightly difficult to translate from English, but the word is formed from the word “presence” relating to being in the moment, and the “ing” part of the word turns it into a verb, alerting us to the fact that this is a dynamic process, and not a stationary “thing”.

Otto also asked the audience two very interesting questions, and asked us to discusses these questions with the person sitting next to us. These were:

What do we see around us in our lives, or inside ourselves, that is dying?

What do we see in our lives that is being reborn or emerging?

As someone who is British I have been unable to switch off from the news recently, due to the rioting and violence of the previous few days. The day before, I had been discussing these riots and the breakdown in British society from the perspective of chaos, complexity and emergent theories. I told my partner sitting next to me that I saw not only the destruction of the riots, but also a collapse in trust of politicians, the police and the media, for many different reasons.

Otto passed the microphone into the audience, and my fianceé immediately put her hand up but to volunteer me as the first person to talk about what we had discussed! I was not ready for this, so in Portuguese I asked the audience for permission to speak in English, and I told them that all I could see right now was this destruction, violence and collapse. Otto then asked me what I could see forming in this place, and as I was stressed and a little embarrassed as I had not prepared myself to speak in public, I blurted out “we need a politics of truth!”

This resonated greatly with the audience, all who could see that that too was needed here in Brazil.

Later, Otto took us through his Theory U model. I will not go into detail here, as you can listen to Otto introduce the topic himself in this video:

As Otto though describes “As a practical social technology, Theory U offers a set of principles and practices for collectively creating the future that wants to emerge (following the movements of co-initiating, co-sensing, co-inspiring, co-creating, and co-evolving.”

It is interesting, since Otto has been influenced by Henri Bortoft, and some years ago published an interview with him. I was taught for a week by Henri, who teaches the first week of the MSc in Holistic Science, and you will find many references to his work on this blog. In my work as a consultant and teacher of chaos, complexity and emergence, I teach the phenomenology of Bortoft, and I too look to take people on a journey, from being stuck in a purely rational, logical and detached mode of though and consciousness, to a more balanced point where we become more create and innovate, using all our faculties of knowing, sensing, intuition and feeling.

Ultimately, with this level of consciousness, we can reach a much deeper understanding of our place in nature. I can find no better explanation of this than that of Satish Kumar, founder of Schumacher College and author of many books, including “You are therefore I am” of which this is the opening line:

“Nature is the greatest teacher” said my mother while we were walking from home to our farm.  “Greater than Buddha,” she continued, “for even he learned from nature.  He became enlightened while sitting under a tree, contemplating on the compassionate, generous, ever-giving tree.”

Satish will be coming to São Paulo next week as the keynote speaker of the Strategy and Execution Summit. I will be there at the summit, looking after Satish and also hosting Symnetic’s sustainability lounge. Please come back next week as I will be blogging from the summit and writing more about Satish’s visit.

More information on Theory U:

4 responses to “Dialogue on leadership: An evening with Otto Scharmer

  1. Very nice Simon – and I love the personal example you’ve given in this. Am trying to introduce the U here in some of the work I am doing around food security and wish I had the chance to meet Otto – or better have him here for the others to listen to!

  2. Pingback: What can Goethe teach people in business? Otto Scharmer interviews Thomas Johnson « The Transition of Consciousness·

  3. Pingback: Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer on Consciousness and Leadership | Transition Consciousness·

  4. Pingback: Dialogue, Conversation and the Art of Laura Tetrault | Transition Consciousness·

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