If studying and learning from the past only serves to create more of the same problems we are experiencing, as Otto Scharmer eloquently presents in his book Theory U, and the way to a different future is by sensing into and connecting with future possibilities – a view, by the way, supported in much of Peter Block’s work around Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community, what is required to shift us – individually and collectively – into living into an emergent future rather than one that flows from the past?
This question excites me. Intuitively I completely get it – even as I work to get my head around it well enough to explain it to others and to live more fully into it in my life and work.
It requires tapping into new or underused leadership skills and capacities like activating intelligences in addition to cognitive – the intelligences that come from an open mind, open heart and open will.
Shifting the shape of leadership – internally and externally is the most significant struggle I witness in the people, teams and organizations I speak to and work with.
In Theory U, Scharmer speaks about the social field which he describes as the totality and type of connections through which the participants of a given system (organization, community, family, social network) relate, converse, think and act. When there is a shift in the social field, people connect with a deeper source of creativity and knowing and move beyond the patterns of the past. When this happens it is a memorable moment. It results in outcomes that include a heightened level of individual energy and awareness, a sustained deepening of one’s authenticity and personal presence and a clarified sense of direction as well as significant professional and personal accomplishment. It is felt individually and collectively. And it has been far too rare an occurrence in the past, sometimes because it feels elusive rather than something you can create or co-create with intentionality and sometimes because it almost doesn’t seem real.
What does it take to more permanently shift the social field? Awareness. Intentionality. The willingness to hold the space for this to happen and emergence to occur. Presence. Things that now and in the past we often say we don’t have time for because the business at hand is too pressing. We need results! Current leadership practices and organizational and social culture do not support creating the conditions to sense into and connect with future possibilities and this is the point of resistance and struggle in many organizations right now. Individuals see it, sense it, come close to it, yearn for it and then the risk feels too great to step partially or fully into needed new leadership practices.
Scharmer says the essence of leadership is to shift the inner place from which we operate both individually and collectively. It may well be the single most important leverage point for shifting the social field in this century. This is enormously exciting to me as I am more and more boldly emphasizing growing capacity through self-awareness, personal and, dare I say, spiritual journey – however that shows up for people.
How can we learn to better sense and connect with future possibilities that are seeking to emerge? Presencing is one means of sensing, tuning in and acting from one’s highest future potential – the future that depends on us to bring it into being. There are many avenues to presencing, individually and collectively. A few of them: meditation, physical exercise like running, mindfulness in any activity including walking, connecting to nature, yoga, Aikido and Shamanic practice. Any practice that requires us to activate a different source of intelligence: the intelligence of the heart, which gives us much greater capacity to listen into the emerging field of the future.
I know this experience of listening into the emerging field of the future. It is what happens when I follow the energy flow of intuition around work, life and the things that matter most in my life and journey. It is what happens when I am willing to let go and let come, when I can let go of attachment (or at a minimum identify it when it shows up) and surrender completely into what is wanting to happen (instead of trying to direct it or manage it).
Taking a note from Scharmer’s work on Theory U, I am immersing myself in this study and will start by observe, observe, observe, then retreat and reflect, then act in an instant. I am deeply curious about the future I am sensing into and connecting with and what magic will emerge for me and others as I do so.