By WiT, Feb 27 2014 02:58PM

First posted November 2010 - Lesley Cramman

I have recently been part of a ‘global classroom’ of 200 people from around the world who came together weekly on-line over a month to study with Otto Scharmer of MIT.

I wasn’t at all sure that on-line learning in this way would be for me, but really surprisingly it was and I loved it. It is exciting to log in at the same time as people from all over the world to share the same learning experience at the same time. We built an on-line connection, sharing ideas, questions and confusions which was both stimulating and affirming.

So how does what I learned about Presencing and Theory U connect with what we are doing in learning-space? The answer is that it gives another lens through which to look at current social change as well as a process to help connect at a deeper level of knowing. It provides new ways of looking at things I thought we were good at, but now realise we could be so much better.

So how might it be useful? In the UK, with the current financial constraints facing all of our public services, business as usual is not an option. Tinkering around the edges of the system is not enough – we need to radically rethink and redesign services that people really want, and that are efficient and effective. This demands the creation of a new relationship between citizens and our public organisations.

This is where Otto Scharmer and his ideas about Presencing and Theory U can help. He describes Presencing as ‘learning from the emerging future and then acting’. His central belief is that the quality of results in a social system trying to change itself depends on the quality of the relationships, and that this is a function of awareness and deep listening. How we attend to individuals and situations has a profound impact on how a conversation or situation emerges. We need to get the listening right to form new relationships and gain new ideas and insights for creating a new future.

Theory U identifies four levels of listening:

L1 – download: hearing what we expect to hear. How many times do we think we are ‘consulting’ or even ‘co-producing’ when all we are really doing is reconfirming our view of someone or something?

L2 – factual listening: confirming or disconfirming what we already know

L3 – empathic listening: really working to understand another’s point of view and why they hold it. This is something we all need to be good at but takes time to learn when time is often what we lack. Scharmer would ask how we can possibly change the world if we don’t understand one another and what is needed.

L4 – generative listening: this uses all of the insight generated through the previous levels, and through reflection can help us sense new and emerging possibilities.

Theory u demands that we listen with open minds, open hearts and open will. It is from this point of insight based on awareness of social need and social change that we are better able to act.

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