The objective was: developing the capacity of Deep Listening, a crucial leadership skill for the 21st century, which enables us to respond to disruptive change. We did this through a combination of theoretical content (Iceberg Model, Levels of Listening) and practical exercises (Dialogue Walk, Stuck Exercise and Case Clinics). Overall, these exercises sharpened our ability to perceive social fields and act upon them. A social field is the structure of relationships among individuals, groups, organisations and systems that give rise to collective behaviours.
Our second gathering was all about preparing ourselves for the Co-Sensing phase, opening up our perception to make sense of the system we are in with a fresh perspective. Throughout the Practical Workshop we introduced our cohort to several tools to help them conduct Learning Journeys, the key approach to Sensing.
What is a Learning Journey?
It is a day or half-day trip into a different social reality than where we usually operate, that lets us experience an unknown aspect of the issue we’re tackling. It usually involves interviewing, or at least talking to stakeholders who are affected by the challenge at hand, but in a way that we know little about.
How is a Learning Journey different than a field trip? Beyond collecting factual information, a Learning Journey engages us at a deeper level, as it asks us to experience an emotional connection, to engage with stakeholders through Deep Listening, to exercise empathy and reflexivity.
A Learning Journey can also happen spontaneously, as it’s more about sharpening our awareness, our ability to integrate information in a more purposeful way, than about systematically collecting data to analyse. Learning Journeys allow us to sense the field, informing our next course of action through intuition rather than analysis. It’s a way of engaging the heart into an enquiry that the mind alone cannot fully apprehend.
Levels of Listening is a fundamental tool to sharpen perceptive capacities to eventually achieve ecosystem awareness and co-creation. To find out more, watch this video by Dr. Otto Scharmer himself.
Dialogue Walk as a way of practicing Deep Listening and sensing the reality of someone else. How it works: 1- A pair goes for a 30 minutes walk. 2- For the first 15 minutes, one person speaks, and the other listens, without interruptions, clarifying questions, or any type of reaction. 3- The second 15 minutes are equally spent, but with the roles of speaker and listener reversed. For the purpose of our social lab, the following questions served as guides for the speaker role:
“In this social lab, I want to work on _________”
“My experience with (the above) has been _________”
“My view of this topic changed or shifted when ________”
We also practiced Social Presencing Theater through the Stuck Exercise, which engages our somatic intelligence to express the emerging future, i.e. viable ways that we might solve a challenging situation. To find out more about this tool, visit the Theory-U tools section of our Toolbox.
Finally, another tool that we explored is the Case Clinic, through which a case giver exposes a leadership challenge they are experiencing and for which the next course of action is unclear. The other members act as coaches who listen and support the case giver in clarifying their next steps. To find out more about this tool, visit the Theory-U tools section of our Toolbox.
One Co-Creator experienced the following: “I thought this was going to be one of those exercises where you’re asked to be all emotional, putting your feelings in the middle. Actually it helped me to achieve greater clarity in a very factual and straightforward manner.”
In the second part of this day, we proceeded to a brainstorming session in view of forming clusters around our topics of interest. The following transversal clusters emerged, with topic teams of 3-5 people in each of them:
- Customer Behaviour
- reconceptualising the subject of consumption in a circular economy in order to reinvent consumer-producer interactions
- voluntary simplicity and ways to support it, degrowth
- Electronics: product life expectancy and repairability (to be cross-fertilised with the two topics above)
- Circular Business Models
- in agriculture
- in machinery
- in textile that is embedded in construction
Where are we in the U-Process
During the Sensing phase of the U process, we define an orientation of enquiry. It can be a core question representing the change that we are seeking to make. From there, we explore the system around it. Through the Learning Journeys, we get out of our bubble to sense another social field, see reality with new eyes, generate new ideas, build relationships with others and cultivate the conditions for a mindset shift.
This requires suspending our habits of judgement in order to really tune into what is changing both around, and within us. Only when we manage to listen differently, we will be able to perceive what is emerging in the process.