Transformation as a concept has been with us for well over a generation, pioneered by such innovators as Werner Erhard with his est, and the Landmark Forum. It developed from traditions within Hinduism and Buddhism, and was applied in a social context. Group processes can catalyze satori, or a sudden flash of insight on the nature of reality.
This transformation was thought to be primarily on an individual level. People would become enlightened one by one. Eventually, you might arrive at an enlightened organization, much like the Buddhist Sangha or Hindu Ashram. However, it was rarely applied to an entire group, to enlighten the group as a group, all at the same time.
Social transformation has emerged as a driving force in addressing the disruptive changes everywhere evident as we transition out of the modern age into a planetary era, where all major problems are experienced on a global scale.
Despite these brilliant innovations, we still find ourselves living in a world characterized by results none of us really want. We face floods, fires, hurricanes, random acts of terrorism and financial instability. The traditional bonds of global society that have held us all together until now seem to have come unraveled.
At the core, we face major disconnects in the pivotal areas of global society: Ecological, where we perpetuate an unsustainable system that is slowly eroding our infrastructure, Social, where 1% of people control 50% of the wealth and Spiritual, where our little self is unable to arrive at our Big Self, our Highest Possibility.
Every institution you can think of is undergoing rapid change, such that no one can keep up. This ranges from government agencies to the military to public education to corporations to non-profit organizations. All the rules we learned growing up no longer apply; the newer ones have yet to be written down.
The latest stage of transformation, social, is intuitive, action-focused and participatory. Dr. Otto Scharmer, a former German activist before the fall of the Berlin Wall, committed himself to creating a world where institutions actually serve people, rather than systematically disempower them. He went into the academic world to discover new ways of being, and ended up synthesizing such disparate perspectives as Zen Buddhism, Systems Theory and Change Management.
Dr. Scharmer discovered a principle that has the most profound implications for our future survival as a species: To live your dream, rather than your nightmare, take the past out of the present, and bring the present into the future. We need not rely on our memory. We can transcend our rational mind to make it our servant, not our master. We can learn to let go and let come, to master a process of going inward in a group context and touch the present moment.
This process Dr. Scharmer calls Theory U. We go in as a group, opening up our mind, our heart and our will. We touch the present moment and ask, “What wants to be born?” As we get in touch with the emerging future, we share our vision with our teammates, and prototype a model, which we eventually take out into the “real world” as a pilot project.
You might wonder, “How can a process designed in a university change the world?” Better yet, “How can an engineering school, known worldwide for molding hardcore technicians, ignite a spiritual revolution?” If we look at MIT, we can see that it has pioneered the Media Lab, which, with Wired Magazine, spawned the digital generation, with President Clinton an active follower.
MIT also offers the Sloan Business School that inspired a revolution in the corporate arena by applying learning theory to management issues. Every company can be a learning organization. Dr. Peter Senge, who pioneered this vision, mentored Dr. Scharmer when the German professor first came aboard.
Theory U takes advantage of the hands-on, practical orientation of MIT to take it out into the real world. Dr. Scharmer was compelled, in creating his Presencing Institute, to solicit corporate clients. In the process, he got to reality test his cherished ideas in a no-nonsense atmosphere.
You might then ask, “What have I have in common with an MIT student?” They are all rich people who have access to the best minds of their generation. They can simply walk over to Harvard University for the humanities. They have abundant leisure time to study.
While the Presencing Institute has a sophisticated theoretical framework to capture its processes, its orientation is to take its breakthroughs out into the street and leverage digital media as much as possible. If the directors find a methodology has revolutionary potential, they build upon it.
At the core of Theory U you is a meditative process of going inward. Dr. Scharmer picked it up from Zen, but any number of enlightenment traditions can be employed, including TM, mindfulness, prayer and contemplation. A team undergoing this transformation together spends a day by the forest or the sea to get in tune with their deepest self, their highest possibility.
Finally, you may feel that you really aren’t all that bright when compared to the world’s best minds. You may not be a Stanford, Cal or MIT alumnus. You may have never even gone to college. You are an average reader and write as little as you can. In what way can you consider yourself smart?
Actually, we have multiple intelligences, including cognitive, emotional, social, spiritual and kinesthetic. You can be a total Brainiac, but without street smarts, you may never get rich. You could be a daring entrepreneur, but if you fail with emotional and social intelligence, you will alienate your entire staff.
With the mastermind principal, a group of stake holders intent on social transformation pool their intelligence to arrive at a Third Mind, Divine Mind. Ideas coming from no single participant emerge from nowhere.
Thanks to Dr. Scharmer’s passionate commitment to change the world, Presencing is already out in the world on every continent, backed by his U.Lab, which provides the resources and methodology for transformation in all kinds of institutions, from city government to hospitals to corporate board rooms.
The Presencing Institute has mobilized MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses), offered to the public at no cost. This combines coordination with participants around the world in local, improvised hubs where people share their experience in person, while being networked with white boarding and discussion via online video.
So far, this institute has enjoyed 100,000 participants in 168 countries with extensive follow-up. Results have been immensely encouraging, as the demand has surged such that they are now offered on a recurrent basis. If you have always nursed the impulse to change the world, here is your chance. The price is right. Just a little of your time and no money. Just access to the Internet and a mobile device.
May we always remember President Obama’s original campaign slogan, “YES WE CAN.”