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Today, we are in an age of disruption. Global crises challenge just about every aspect of society – finance, food, fuel, water, resources, poverty. The list goes on and on.
Yet this disruption brings with it the possibility of profound personal, societal and global renewal. We need to stop and ask ourselves why we collectively create results that nobody wants? What keeps us locked into the old ways of operating? And, perhaps most importantly, what can we do at a societal level, but specifically in business schools, to transform these patterns so that we are no longer locked in the past?
Solving today’s crises is only possible if we transform the prevalence of “ego-system” awareness with a new framework of economic action and thought that is based on ecosystem awareness – a mindset that aims to create wellbeing for all stakeholders in a system. We need a triple revolution; a revolution of economic thought from ego to eco, a revolution of relationships from reactive to co-creative, and a revolution of institutions from hierarchical entities to co-creative ecosystem economies.
One of the first steps in this transformation is understanding our current crises. Earth’s natural resources are being depleted on a massive scale; 2.5bn people subsist on less than $2 a day; rates of burnout and depression are rising; individuals are busier, yet this does not generate increased happiness and wellbeing.
We attribute these divides to many systemic disconnects: between the financial and the real economy, between the infinite growth imperative and our finite resources; between the haves and have-nots, between institutional leadership and people; between gross domestic product and wellbeing, and between technology and real societal needs.
The transformation from ego-system awareness to ecosystem awareness in stakeholder groups including business, government and non-governmental organisations, is the most important leadership challenge of our time. To go through such a journey from ego to eco, from supersized me to me-in-we, leaders need to provide new learning environments and new methods and tools that will allow stakeholder groups to undergo the necessary transformation.
I have seen the ego-system beginning to crumble in many important places and systems around the world. In the US it is particularly prevalent in the millennial generation, which tends to favour a more lifestyle-based approach anchored in social and community spaces. And I have seen MIT Sloan Fellows who are mid-career executives looking to be part of a bigger narrative, to have a greater impact on wellbeing in their communities. The old mindset is clearly starting to hit a wall.
As we commit to what I describe as the “U Process” – letting go of the past to lean in and realise emerging future possibilities – it is also important to form a global leadership action school, a landing place for a new generation of leaders and change makers who can inspire and co-create the transformative journeys that are needed.
Already, several initiatives are being seeded around the globe. An example is the Global Well-Being and Gross National Happiness (GNH) Lab, which, through a partnership with several governments and organisations including the Cambridge-based Presencing Institute, Germany’s GIZ Global Leadership Academy (Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation) and Bhutan’s GNH Center, is exploring ways of measuring and implementing wellbeing and progress in societies around the world.
As for the overall transformation, the door of possibility is wide open. We have an emerging global movement around economic transformation that can move the economic operating system from state-centric, free market-centric and social market-centric to a co-creative ecosystem economy. The main shift – from social market centric to a co-creative ecosystem economy – is one that moves away from organising around special interest groups to organising around global common good to generate wellbeing for all.
Otto Scharmer is a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan and co-author of ‘Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies’ (2013) with Katrin Kaufer.
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