The U-Process facilitates the transition from an individual viewpoint (ego-system awareness), to a collective one (ecosystem awareness). For one who has never experienced this shift, it may sound like a vague claim full of social innovation jargon like “collective intelligence”, “transformative learning” and “ecosystem co-creation”. You can appreciate the concept at an intellectual level, but it’s really once you experience it that you understand how much of a transformation it is.
Co-creation is a generative state in which ideas and actions “emerge from the whole”, meaning that the social field informs the actors’ behaviour. What is a social field? It’s the web of relationships between people, organisations and institutions that determine collective behaviour and the workings of a community, and ultimately of society. Social fields make up the systemic forces at play at this crucial juncture of our history.
When in the state of co-creation, and an idea comes to your mind, it’s not your idea. It’s the idea of the whole environment, of the living beings within it. By maintaining a constant flow of information (a form of energy) through openness, intention and collaboration, the organisms begin to operate as one bigger super-organism, like a hive or the symphony of an orchestra. Each part of the whole has a specific function and only together can these functions be performed in a beneficial way.
To be in that state, your perceptions have to be heightened. You must be attuned to your surroundings, including the people, the space, the nature around you. You have to “lean into the future”, to listen deeply and suspend the “voices of cynicism, fear and judgement”. That means consciously noting when you revert to a negative outlook based on your social conditionings. It means staying reflexive of your own thought patterns and seeking to increase the quality of your presence.
I experienced the “ego-to-eco” shift during the “co-sensing” part of the U-Process, when the group dynamics started to feel vibrant and motivated, like a group of people on an adventure together. I started to see myself from a different perspective, and my position in the system that my mind mapped of the Beyond Waste community changed significantly. Before, I saw myself in the middle of this social innovation lab, working hard to stay in control of the programme, and carrying the weight of the responsibility to achieve interesting outcomes, sometimes tired and stressed. Then, my position shifted from the center to the side of the system, intricately linked to the other actors through relationships. I felt a weight off my shoulders, and the realisation that no matter how hard I worked, I was not the sole determinant of whatever would happen. The world is moving its course and I can only do my best from where I am. As a result, I felt peaceful and more open to possibilities.
Illustration by Krista Kaufmann
Personally, I experienced the “ego-to-eco shift” as a cultural change, in fact I would even call it an epistemological change. Our Eurocentric epistemology, the way our knowledge is constructed and produced, is based on duality, on a separation of Man and Nature. The hegemony of dualism is at the source of the multiple and interrelated crises that the SDGs attempt to solve. Through the “ego-to-eco shift”, we aim to discover and develop epistemologies based on unity, to develop mentalities that are inherently conscious of the whole system. Through the social lab we introduced elements of Eastern and Indigenous epistemologies such as mindfulness meditation, Qi gong, a form of collective embodied art called Social Presencing Theater, nature connection practice and dragon dreaming, a collective project planning method. Through these practices, we created an environment where our connection to others facilitate the emergence of a collective intelligence that acts in the interests of the whole community.
This change of paradigm means building an ecology of knowledges. It means acknowledging the systematic suppression, and later marginalisation, of Indigenous epistemologies by way of colonialism and cultural imperialism, and actively inviting diversity and equitable collaboration as a driver of innovation. State-of-the-art expertise and millenary know-how are not mutually exclusive. Two of my most significant discoveries from the “ego-to-eco shift” was journaling as a tool to heighten self-awareness, and learning to sense others’ energy fields. During one meditation where we were focusing on the social field, I perceived the subtle movement of thought forms around my peers, felt our individual bubbles gently overlapping each other as I sat there with my eyes closed. I felt the potential of unprecedented levels of collaboration, and the immensity of untapped human capacities.
Illustration by Krista Kaufmann
In conclusion, my lived experience of the “ego-to-eco shift” simultaneously afforded me detachment and empowerment in my quest to lead a transition from linear to circular economic thought. It allowed me to practice using different types of intelligence and be more perceptive to signals from my environment. It sparked a research interest into social fields, or the characteristics of ecosystem co-creation and innovation, for building ecologies of knowledges.
My ideas for the future of this social lab is to continue with a second cycle, to partner with a new core team, to convene a new cohort of committed individuals willing to step out of their comfort zone and try a new way of being and interacting. To collectively step into our full potential to co-create the future, not be subjected to it. My greatest wish is the inclusion and active participation of government, business, academia and civil society in this social lab.
Are you interested? Contact me.
de Sousa Santos, B., Arriscado Nunes, J. & Meneses, M.P. (2007). Introduction: Opening Up the Canon of Knowledge and Recognition of Difference. In de Sousa Santos, B. (Ed.), Another knowledge is possible: Beyond northern epistemologies (pp. vii-xvix). London: Verso
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997(74), 5-12
Scharmer, O. (2017). The Blind Spot: Uncovering the Grammar of the Social Field. Huffpost, retrieved 20.02.2019.
Erica Mazerolle-Castillo is a social innovator, community coordinator, and educational designer currently working at Impact Hub Lausanne. She is the catalyst of the Beyond Waste social lab. When not driven by her desire to build a conscious world through social innovation and learning, she dreams about living in the forest near a river and spending her days reading, writing, drawing and practicing yoga.