One of the great questions of recent times is how to scale up the appreciation and understanding of systems theory. With humanity facing so many systemic issues, many organisations and businesses are now realising that their current way of thinking and operating is no longer working in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. The question therefore is how to rapidly develop within people a profound capability in systems thinking, and in a manner which can be rapidly scaled up to many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people.
This was the question facing Fritjof Capra a couple of years ago, not long after he had published his latest book The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision which was co-authored with Pier Luigi Luisi. Fritjof Capra is one of the world’s leading thinkers in systems theory and he is the author of many influential books, such as The Tao of Physics; The Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter; The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture; The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living; and Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius. His solution was to develop the online course Capra Course, based on the Systems View of Life.
The Fall 2017 edition of Capra Course will be starting on 6th September, the fourth edition to be run. During the filming process for the lectures, I was invited by Fritjof to join the team as the course development manager, first focusing on how to build the course platform and more recently focused on helping to ensure that the course and its teachings reach as many people as possible. For this reason, especially as we now have some experience in the on-line teaching of systems thinking, I therefore wanted to share with you in this article how we have been evolving the course and some of the experiences of those who have already taken part.
One of the remarkable aspects of Capra Course has been the diversity of those wishing to take part. In some cases people are looking to develop their knowledge of systems theory, having perhaps been recently introduced to Fritjof’s extensive catalogue of books. But probably the majority of people have already had some introduction to Fritjof’s thinking and theories, and they are looking to deepen their understanding while also being able to converse directly with Fritjof himself over the duration of the course, via the on-line forums.
I recently interviewed Fritjof for an article for Sustainable Brands about the Earth Charter. In the interview, Fritjof spoke about the discussions we had had about the charter during the Spring 2017 edition:
FC: I love these discussions in my online course. I find them more substantial than classroom discussions, because the participants and I have much more time to prepare our comments, questions and answers. In our discussion of the Earth Charter, several participants expressed their admiration for the writing process of the Charter, in which many voices from around the world were heard over an extended period of time. “It seems to me,” wrote one of the participants, “that many authors and contributors of the Earth Charter experienced a great depth of listening with a whole lot of love and patience to the many voices they heard and they captured those voices to produce a holistic document.”
We also discussed the merits and problems of written documents in general, from Paulo Freire’s notion that literacy enables people to imagine the world differently, to the problem that such documents — the Earth Charter, the Declaration of Independence or the recent Paris Climate Agreement — represent the level of consciousness of the authors at a particular time and fixes the agreed-upon values in time and space.
In another lecture, I had discussed the nature of power, distinguishing between power as domination of others and power as empowerment of others. So, in our conversations I applied this important distinction to a “systems view of documents.” I argued that, whereas legal texts, contracts and media generally serve to dominate others, the purpose of joint manifestos and declarations, often composed through elaborate collaborative processes involving many individuals and communities, is to empower others.
These are just some examples of the extensive conversations we had on the Earth Charter.
Two comments from the Spring 2017 edition demonstrate this. After just the first lecture, Vaughn wrote that:
“I thought that I knew a bit about systems thinking after years working with avionics and other engineering systems. The first lecture was a real light switch for me – I can now see much more clearly where the early work on ecology fits in and why the paradigm shift with the benefits of high speed calculation are so profound. The perspective given in the lecture is crystal clear. You have resolved a long standing question in my mind – it is obvious but now I understand why. I bought the book months ago – now I am really reading it.”
And Veronica wrote that
“I want to thank you for the support you made available during the course. I really think this course is a wonderful opportunity to expand one’s mind and a trigger to work towards a better and viable existence for all life and planet alike. Now I need to act and become a ripple effect in my own measure, that is for sure. Thanks again.”
During the second edition in the autumn of 2016 participants started to ask about how they could continue to stay in contact with both Fritjof and their fellow alumni. In order to help them, we developed the Alumni Network which everyone who has participated in the course has access to. With four courses of alumni present (we also include those people who were present at the recording of Capra Course), we are seeing some new and special relationships being made, and new initiatives emerging.
The alumni network, like the main course, has an online forum where people can exchange ideas, with Fritjof joining in as well when his diary permits. There are also a range of groups which participants have created based around particular themes, for example health, creativity and ethics, education, educational leadership, systems philosophy, art, and self-organisation and citizen’s self-leadership. In addition, we have two geographical groups, Bay Area and London for those participants who wish to meet other participants.
Fritjof is extremely supportive of these groups, and this month he met two groups of alumni in Berekely, California.
One key aspect of the Alumni Network are the masterclasses given by Maria and myself. In these masterclasses we focus on the professional aspects of being a systems thinking, how to put the theory into practice and how to really engage large businesses and organisations. Maria and I share a lot of our own practices and experiences from our work in this area, and provide mentoring and advice for those participants who wish to develop their careers in this area, and become more effective activists and change agents.
After our most recent masterclass was, Manuel, one of the participants, shared these notes with us all afterwards.
All masterclasses are recorded, so any new participants of Capra Course will always have access to the recordings.
At the most recent alumni meet-ups with Fritjof, people also discussed the opportunity for alumni to present their projects. So to complement our masterclasses, we will also be helping people to record presentations and in some instances host live webinars in order to facilitate as much interaction as possible.
People join Capra Course from all four corners of the earth, but this does not prevent some really interesting connections and friendships develop. A recent example comes from the Fall 2016 edition, where I came to know Emilio Goldenhersch who I had the pleasure of getting to know when he joined Fritjof Capra’s Capra Course in the autumn last year to deepen his already keen interest in the systems view of life. His interest and knowing in systems thinking was one of the inspirations which led him to become of one the co-founders of Mindcotine, and extremely interesting start-up which combines the very latest in VR technology with mindfulness practices, psychological therapies, biofeedback and community engagement.
As a result of our conversations, Emilio invited me to become a mentor for Mindcotine, and it has been wonderful to see the success of their crowd funding campaign which resulted in many newspapers and journals from many different countries reporting about their innovations. I also wrote this recent article for those of you wishing to know more: Self-Empowerment Through VR to Quit Smoking
After completing the Spring 2017 edition, Rose from Madrone in the USA wrote to Fritjof to say that:
“Wow, I am loving this course. What a wonderful way of unfolding these concepts we are being introduced to, and building a sensible way to understand some of the systems concepts and ways of thinking.”
I hope that this article has helped you understand the many different elements of Capra Course and how they blend together to create an extremely special learning experience for those who are both new to systems thinking and those who already have had experience in working with systems thinking in both theory and in practice.
Registration is now open for the Fall 2017 edition. We are capping the numbers at 200 to really ensure that Fritjof can converse in detail with every single person taking part, and to allow him to fully research and answer everyone’s questions. Fritjof is now limiting his international travel, and so Capra Course is now the main way in which people can spend time with him and be taught by him. It really is an incredible opportunity to develop our understanding of systems thinking, and so should you be interested in taking part, please visit the course website: www.capracourse.net
And if you work for an organisation or business and would love to see the organisation as a whole evolve its appreciation and understanding of systems thinking, we are also able to offer private editions as well. Please contact Mira the course administrator via firstname.lastname@example.org should you wish to find out more about this option.