Deepening Our Listening Experience

Creating a national movement toward positive change is in process as you read this, fueled by unrest across America with the current flow of ‘politics as usual’ and a desire for sweeping actions. In this week’s reading for U Lab activity, Otto Scharmer defines a series of deepening activities in awareness that may be helpful in reflecting your own process. Terms may be different than what you are used to, though. What do you think? How are you/we deepening our listening experience?

• Downloading: At the beginning there is a spark of becoming aware that moves us beyond continued downloading—beyond reenacting patterns of the past. Attended to from this angle, the world is seen through the lens (and limitations) of our old habits of thought, when nothing new can enter our minds.

• Seeing: If continued, the moment of awakening awareness deepens when we suspend our habitual judgment in order to see reality with fresh eyes. When the world is attended to from this angle, we see it with an open mind but also from a viewpoint that makes the observed appear to be separate from us.

• Sensing: If further continued, the moment of awareness deepens when we redirect our perception toward sensing from the whole field. Attended to from this angle, the boundary between observer and observed collapses and opens up a cognitive space that allows the system to see itself.

• Presencing: If continued even further, the moment of awareness continues to deepen as we let go of the old and connect to the sources of our being and of what wants to emerge. Attended to from this angle, the boundary between observer and observed fully collapses, morphing into a holding space that allows participants and the system to sense and see itself in terms of both the current reality and the future that wants to emerge.

• Crystallizing vision and intention: If further continued, the awareness continues to manifest as we envision and let come the future that wants to emerge. Attended to from this angle, the relationship between observed and observer, or system and self, starts to transform through a profound process of inversion. That inversion begins with the vision and intention crystallizing (as opposed to being crystallized by the observer).

• Prototyping living microcosms: If further continued, the awareness continues to manifest as we enact prototypes in order to explore the future by doing. Attended to from this angle, the relationship between observed and observer (system and self) continues its inversion as the prototyping process is guided by the context or by “being in dialogue with the universe” (as opposed to being guided by the observing self).

• Performing and embodying the new: If continued even further, the awareness continues to manifest as we embody the new practices and infrastructures. Attended to from this angle, the relationship between observed and observer (system and self) completes its inversion through embedding and performing the new from the larger eco-system (as opposed to from the observing self).

While participating in numerous profound innovation and change projects and initiatives, I realized that while most experienced leaders actually do know these deeper levels of the U from their own experience, most organizations, institutions, and larger systems are firmly stuck on levels 1 or 2. Why? I believe it is because we lack a new social leadership technology. Without a new leadership technology, change-makers and leaders don’t really shift fields but end up with more of the same. We call these attempts “restructuring,” “redesigning,” or “re-engineering,” and more often than not they serve only to deepen our frustration and cynicism.

In creating a new refreshing and energizing movement in America, one that empowers constructive change toward a better country and world, these principles can be extremely effective. However, if we don’t allow ourselves to growth beyond the current methodologies, change is arduous at best and maybe not at all. Like Einstein said long ago, ‘We cannot fix problems with the same thinking that created them.’

Viewpoints from a systems-thinking icon…

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