“Why do our attempts to deal with the challenges of our time so often fail? The cause of our collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change. This ‘blind spot’ exists not only in our collective leadership but also in our everyday social interactions.” Otto Scharmer, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Dr Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT, chair of the Presencing Institute and proponent of Theory U, a reflective pathway to organisational and societal change.

This new process of formulating ideas and policy from what is emerging, rather than being continually influenced by past events, is currently being most thoughtfully investigated by Adrian Pyle, Director of the Uniting Church’s Relationships Innovation in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

Tapping Our Collective Capacity

At this time of ‘massive institutional failure’ Otto Scharmer believes we are collectively creating results that nobody wants.

  • Climate change
  • AIDS
  • Hunger
  • Poverty
  • Violence
  • Terrorism
  • Destruction of communities, nature, life — the foundations of our social, economic, ecological, and spiritual well being.

A recent paper, The Blind Spot of Institutional Leadership, investigates the absence of ‘a collective leadership capacity to draw together all stakeholders’ across all sectors – business, government and civil society.

‘Presencing’ is a way of dealing with this.

What Is ‘Presencing’?

Presencing is a combination of being truly present in the moment – knowing the direction in which you want to go, ‘observing, observing, observing’ – and reflecting with an open mind, an open heart and an open will, sensing the emerging possibilities so that the next step is apparent, can be trialled and feedback gathered in the innovation process. On the way judgement, cynicism and fear will, hopefully, be bypassed.

Travelling The U – Developing Seven Leadership Capacities

Instead of our usual ‘shortest distance between two points trip’ from A to B across the top of the U:

“We move down one side of the U (connecting us to the world that is outside of our institutional bubble) to the bottom of the U (connecting us to the world that emerges from within) and up the other side of the U (bringing forth the new into the world).

On that journey, at the bottom of the U, lies an inner gate that requires us to drop everything that isn’t essential.

This process of letting-go (of our old ego and self) and letting-come (our highest future possibility: our Self) establishes a subtle connection to a deeper source of knowing. The essence of presencing is that these two selves — our current self and our best future Self — meet at the bottom of the U and begin to listen and resonate with each other.

Once a group crosses this threshold, nothing remains the same. Individual members and the group as a whole begin to operate with a heightened level of energy and sense of future possibility. Often they then begin to function as an intentional vehicle for an emerging future.

1. Holding the space of listening
The foundational capacity of the U is listening. Listening to others. Listening to oneself. And listening to what emerges from the collective. Effective listening requires the creation of open space in which others can contribute to the whole.

2. Observing
The capacity to suspend the “voice of judgment” is key to moving from projection to true observation.

3. Sensing

The preparation for the experience at the bottom of the U — presencing — requires the tuning of three instruments: the open mind, the open heart, and the open will. This opening process is not passive but an active “sensing” together as a group. While an open heart allows us to see a situation from the whole, the open will enables us to begin to act from the emerging whole.

4. Presencing
The capacity to connect to the deepest source of self and will allows the future to emerge from the whole rather than from a smaller part or special interest group

5. Crystalizing
When a small group of key persons commits itself to the purpose and outcomes of a project, the power of their intention creates an energy field that attracts people, opportunities, and resources that make things happen. This core group functions as a vehicle for the whole to manifest.

6. Prototyping
Moving down the left side of the U requires the group to open up and deal with the resistance of thought, emotion, and will; moving up the right side requires the integration of thinking, feeling, and will in the context of practical applications and learning by doing.

7. Performing
A prominent violinist once said that he couldn’t simply play his violin in Chartres cathedral; he had to “play” the entire space, what he called the “macro violin,” in order to do justice to both the space and the music. Likewise, organizations need to perform at this macro level: they need to convene the right sets of players (frontline people who are connected through the same value chain) and to engage a social technology that allows a multi-stakeholder gathering to shift from debating to co-creating the new.”

Theory U At Yarrambat (Vic)

Last November, Adrian Pyle invited a diverse group to participate in a deep conversation, considering Theory U and how we might ‘reach community/neighbourhood people’.

I was intrigued, expected an interesting two days, and was pleased to attend as the Editor of PWF, representing ‘grassroots community’.

We were a diverse group of entrepreneurs, online communicators, designers, psychologists, historians, theologians – including American Shalom-maker Dr Dave Cooper of Drew University’s Shalom Initiative.

Adrian asked us to consider what a ‘U-shaped’ approach to community building would look like, to take the time to ‘be there’ and allow ‘whatever’ to percolate up.

One of our group, Harriet Wakelam, wrote in her blog about ‘Community – A Universal Need For Greater Local Connection’.

“This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest in a converation hosted by Adrian Pyle (who has the enviable title ‘Director of Relationships Innovation’ for the Uniting Church)…Our only connection was Adrian.

We met to talk about community, mess, voices, conversation, spaces and what a connected, holistic neighbourhood could be. We arrived not sure of exactly why we had been asked, but prepared to offer our authentic (messy), selves to discuss provocative ideas about what a neighbourhood could be.

I was moved to tears, laughed, heard stories, and reflected on wisdom that I would one day love to possess. I was perplexed, challenged and safe.”

Harriet concluded that actions don’t create relationships, but relationships often create actions.

I agree.

Patricia Hale, an insightful local government officer, succinctly summed up our two days saying how we had created a space for each of us to spend some of our life authentically ‘being’ with little requirement to ‘do’ and a great expectation of listening and acknowledging others.. possibly creating the sort of space we would want for our communities.

Could Presencing Help Local Grassroots Sustainability Action?

Adrian strongly believes that

“real spiritual growth is an essential element to a life well lived and that Christian communities should be one of many accessible media for exploring spiritual principles. He is therefore passionate about finding ways to reform the church as a change agent (and not as an entity that is about blind conformity) and to encourage the church to humbly offer itself as one such agent.”

In the US, the Communities of Shalom (common-good) work to uncover and align hidden assets to raise the quality of life in their immediate neighborhood, to transform the world one community at a time – Asset-Based Community Development.

Local community groups and Transition Towns here in Australia have started relocalising, sensing what is needed and acting on what is possible for them…almost presencing?

Personally I have been musing for some weeks now over what was a profoundly moving experience at Yarrambat and I would very much like to see a lot more Theory U-based deep conversations, especially in the light of our recent floods, and in working with Indigenous communities.

I would love to see the Australian Uniting Church, auspicing more of Adrian’s deep conversation, helping grassroots groups across all community sectors innovate to help with renewal, continuing what many have started, and helping governments maximise scarce resources through presencing.

Deep… and exciting!

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