Archive for June, 2013

Tending the Garden

Joanie tending her garden

Joanie tending her garden

I’m having so many special moments in the garden these days (almost too many to count). I wanted to share a story of something that happened one morning a few weeks ago that still resonates with me; a story of joy and sorrow of the most profound kind. This to me in some ways demonstrates what a garden is, how it goes beyond beauty, function or food, and the importance and inspiration that springs from what we sow in our relationships.

Recently, I was watering my starter plants in the greenhouse with our sweet cat Sandra, who was rubbing and purring away. Her joyful song echoed in the small warm space and we were both humming along. In the distance I saw my friend Chris coming towards the garden shed. Chris helps me care for our property and knows the land as if it was his own. Chris was carrying a beautiful hand picked bouquet of flowers from the yard, a lovely spring mix of roses and other blooms. As he presented me with this lovely bouquet, I was touched by his random act of kindness.

I thanked him, and as we were catching up on life I asked about his ailing mother. He had just moved her closer to his home so he and his wife Janie could better care for her. He shared with me that his mother had passed away that morning, after he had spent a long evening by her side the night before. It was an unexpected loss. They knew her time was coming, but didn’t expect it so soon. He spoke of the warmth and tenderness a mother brings and of the sadness of loss. It was a difficult day for Chis, and yet, he had thought to gather a bouquet for me.

What resonates with me is Chris’ act of kindness and desire to give to another while being engulfed in grief.

Chris writes, “That particular morning was a little surreal for me. I found myself simply tempted to do what I did. I think it comes down to coping with a loss. The loss of a mother’s care, touch and love needed some attending to. It’s interesting to see what different reactions people go through in such a time. My choice was just spontaneous. Bring joy to someone, to overcome the loss in one’s heart. You were appreciative of the gesture. That was exactly the mending I needed to help me through the day. I have to thank you for simply being there at the right time.”

There is joy and sadness in everyday life. Sharing our joy and sorrow with those around us shows how common our experiences are, and how we are deeply connected through feelings and emotions.

We all carry and feel sadness and joy. Being able to express these feelings to another as they’re happening is a gift. It feels like living in the moment to me. I am truly grateful for all the lessons life brings, so many of which happen in and around the garden…

With Gratitude,


Presencing Institute: Transitioning from Ego-system to Eco-system Economies

Katrin Kaeufer

Katrin Kaeufer

This post was written by Katrin Kaeufer and Otto Scharmer of the Presencing Institute.

Finance. Food. Fuel. Water shortage. Resource scarcity. Climate chaos. Mass poverty. We have entered an Age of Disruption. Yet we believe that at the same time, the possibility of profound personal, societal, and global renewal has never been more possible. However, addressing the issues of our time demands that we move beyond trying to put out fires one by one and shift our collective attention to our fundamental humanity and to our common desire to co-create a world we can live in. Such a shift requires relationships that enable collaboration — across institutions, sectors, countries, and systems.

What we do

Over the past ten years, a small core of MIT-based and -affiliated researchers and innovators have been developing, applying, and refining a set of Transformational Leadership methods and tools under the aegis of the Presencing Institute (PI). The U-Process, as the methodology has come to be called, enables leaders and change-makers across systems and regions to effectively address unprecedented challenges  in areas such as healthcare, food and fishing, banking, education, governance, community development, and more.

The Presencing Institute serves as a collective vehicle for advancing this movement of profound innovation and social change by shifting the drivers from the interests of self and ego toward a concern for the well-being of the whole. Thus a shift “from Ego-system to Eco-system Economies.”  (Eco derives from the Greek oikos, meaning the whole house;  this is also the root of the word economy.)

Otto Scharmer

Otto Scharmer

Transforming our current ego-system economy into an emerging eco-system economy means reconnecting economic thinking with its true root, which is the well-being of the “whole house” rather than just a few of its inhabitants. This requires an awareness shift, not only by individuals and organizations, but also by the global community.

In order to drive this forward, the Presencing Institute focuses on:

  • Co-initiating and supporting Living Examples that embody such eco-systems in the economy
  • Advancing Social Leadership Technologies that enable systems to improve
  • Institutional Innovations that facilitate horizontal co-creative relationships in our otherwise silo-like organizational and sectoral environments.

Innovation Labs: Global Well-being and Gross National Happiness Lab

“Living Examples” sponsored by the Presencing Institute include Innovation Laboratories that bring together diverse constellations of leaders and stakeholders around common concerns and intentions. The Innovations Labs focus on critical bottlenecks and leverage points for bringing about profound innovation and change.

One of these Innovation Labs, the Global Well-Being and Gross National Happiness Lab, addresses the need to develop metrics other than gross domestic product (GDP) to measure economic progress. A shift toward a new economic model requires an awareness and understanding of well-being and how it connects to our economic activities. Over the years, countries, communities, and global think tanks have been developing alternative metrics and indices relevant to their own contexts. Gross National Happiness (GNH) is one of these, as pioneered in the country of Bhutan.

In partnership with the GIZ Global Leadership Academy — a program commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) — the Presencing Institute has initiated a living laboratory to explore new ways of measuring and implementing well-being and progress in societies around the world. The ultimate purpose of the Lab is to develop and implement local prototypes like the GNH Centre Bhutan in multiple contexts and countries.

The GNH and Well-Being Lab was launched in January 2013, with twenty-five participants representing a wide range of institutions and geographic locations. These include:

  • India: Oxfam: SEWA
  • Brazil: Natura, Ministry of Environment, Minas Generais State Office for Strategic Priorities, Arapyau Institute
  • USA: State of Oregon, Eileen Fisher, Tata Consulting Services, Demos, BALLE
  • China: Tsinghua University
  • Germany: Wuppertal Institute
  • International: OECD
  • Bhutan: GNH Centre, Greener Way
  • Sri Lanka: Centre for Environment & Development
  • UK: Oxfam

These participants went on a learning process that led them to Brazil and Bhutan where they explored innovation in well-being and sustainability and gained first-hand experiential exposure to some of the approaches and major challenges encountered within areas of relevance to global well-being (e.g., sustainable economic development, cultural resilience, environmental conservation, governance). In a Strategy Workshop they are working to identify a constellation of multi-local prototyping activities for new ways of measuring and implementing well-being in societies worldwide.

Other labs that are ongoing or being developed are the: (1) Finance Lab, (2) Health Lab, (3) Food and Fishery Lab, (4) Resilient Cities Lab, and (5) Education Lab.

Social Technologies: Developing the capacity to act from an emerging future possibility

In order for groups and individuals to co-create in innovation labs, a processes that enables them to act and think based on emerging future possibilities, instead of repeating the patterns of the past, is required. We call this capacity presencing, a blend of the two words sensing and presencing. In our earlier research we interviewed Bill O’Brien, the former CEO of Hanover Insurance, who conveyed this insight from his years of experience with transformation and change processes: “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.” This implies that it is not only important What we do, and How we do it; he believed that the inner place from which we operate defines the quality of the outcome of our action. Similarly, presencing is a process that allows groups and individuals to connect to and act from this highest future possibility. It is a process that requires us to suspend our judgments, redirect our attention, let go of the past, lean into the future that wants to emerge through us, and let it come.

We believe that the ability to shift from reacting based on the experiences of the past to leaning into and presencing an emerging future is probably the single most important leadership skill today. It is a capacity that is critical in situations of disruptive change, not only for institutions and systems, but also for teams and individuals. Today we face rapidly changing environments that increasingly require us to reinvent ourselves. The more dramatic the changes in our environment, the less we can rely on past patterns, and the more we need to learn to pay attention and tune in to emerging future opportunities.

From our experience with change processes, we have learned that the decisive variable in this process is a shift of consciousness. Today’s thinking shapes how we enact tomorrow’s reality. Part of our task in the Presencing Institute is  articulating a language that defines the shift in awareness and consciousness that we see happening in our work, as well as developing Social Technologies that are accessible to a broad audience.

Institutional innovations: Global Presencing Forum

Another important program at the Presencing Institute consists of experiments we call Institutional Innovations. We believe that a shift in consciousness in our society requires places for dialogue that give people opportunities to “see” the current reality, to experiment with new ideas, and to collectively act and innovate. One first attempt to create such spaces is the Global Presencing Forum, a highly experiential and interactive learning space that brings together eco-system innovators. The first forum was held in Cambridge, Mass., in 2011 with support from the 1440 Foundation (250 participants), the second in Berlin  in 2012 (270 participants), and we are currently planning the next forum for Spring 2014 in Cambridge.

The evolution of economic thought embodies the evolution of consciousness

From our work with societal transformation processes we believe that a transformation to a more just and sustainable society starts with our collective awareness and how we think about key economic concepts and relationships. The following is a brief example of this based on our research on economic transformation, and it illustrates how the evolution of the economy and of economic thought embodies an evolution of consciousness.

Consider the evolution of the division of labor. Historically, we can identify three ways of coordinating an economy. The first, or 1.0 economy, features central planning or a state-centric coordination mechanism that focuses on inputs and operates according to a strict hierarchy, regulation, and control. Mercantilism and state socialism are examples.

The second, or 2.0 free market economy, corresponds with the rise of the private sector and of competition. The coordination mechanism is decentralized, focusing on outputs rather than inputs. The laissez-faire economy of 19th-century Europe is an example.  The result has been enormous growth, enormous successes, and enormous problems in the form of negative externalities.

The third, or 3.0 social market economy, corresponds with the rise of the social sector and with stakeholder negotiation among diverse interest groups. This phase comes with institutional innovations, including the creation of federal reserve banks, social security systems, labor unions, and environmental standards all designed to limit possible negative externalities in the market.

While the 3.0 approach has served the OECD countries throughout most of the 20th century, we now see the limits of the 3.0 approach in its failure to address global externalities.  The evolution of the economy and of economic thought embodies the evolution of consciousness.  The centralized 1.0 economy requires the individuum to fit into an existing hierarchical structure; the market-driven 2.0 economy builds on an ego-system awareness, in which the individual takes initiative to maximize his/her own utility. Most neoclassic economic theory is based on the 2.0 rational actor called homo oeconomicus. But we see that current reality is characterized by another type of rationality that we refer to as the 3.0 type, or stakeholder awareness. Here individual actors internalize some of the externalities of their key stakeholders into their own decisionmaking.

Today the biggest challenge is yet another transition: moving the many ego-system and stakeholder-based awareness structures toward what we call eco-system awareness.  If I am “eco-system aware,”  I not only maximize my own well-being, but I internalize the well-being of all other participants in the eco-system that I’m dealing with. This implies a rethinking of how we coordinate the economy, from the three old mechanisms — hierarchy, markets, and stakeholder negotiations — to something that Otto Scharmer calls ABC — awareness-based collective action. This requires creating a holding space where awareness can broaden and deepen, from ego to eco.

At the beginning of the 21st century we find ourselves in a debate that revolves around three major options: (1) just muddle through, doing more of the same, (2) go backwards in history, or (3), move forward by building a co-creative stage in which the three sectors — business, government, and civil society — are not working against each other, but co-creatively with each other. At the Presencing Institute we are working on the third option by initiating and facilitating living examples, developing social technologies, and experimenting with spaces for public dialogue.