Go Deeper to Go Higher.
Reflections from the first gathering of “Leaders for a New Climate.”
With Drew Jones and Sara Schley at MIT; Oct 19-21, 2010
It is the evening before the last day of Leaders for a New Climate a workshop that Drew Jones of Climate Interactive and I have created. The title has two meanings by intention: 1) How to be an effective leader in abating Global Climate change and 2) How to create new respectful climates for engagement with others. Others with a capital “O” that is – your adversaries of all stripes, both real and imagined.
Bleary eyed after two full days of teaching, heads propped up by the wall next to our table at the Cambridge Brewing Company, Drew asks, “What can we do tomorrow that will really make a difference in the lives of these people? They are so dedicated. We’ve just opened the door a crack to systems thinking and mental models. We know we have a couple of year’s worth of material – or a lifetime for that matter. And we have 7 hours tomorrow. What’s the most powerful thing we can offer?”
We’ve cast our net wide in the invitation to this course seeking to create a community that reflects the diversity of backgrounds and views present in the Climate Change debate. We’ve also made the invitation broad by intention to include techie– or as Drew self-effacingly refers to himself “geeky” -- types focused on Climate science and computer modeling as well as those focused on the human transformations that it will require for us to create a healthy planet. Paraphrasing our late mentor Dana Meadows our initial invitation read,
“Note to more-technical people: you will be asked to explore your vision of climate success and reflect deeply and critically on your assumptions about how to make it happen. It is good practice.
Note to less-technical people: you will be asked to explore the quantification of the biogeochemical and economic systems of energy and climate. It is good practice.
And given the enormity and urgency of the task before us, Dana said,
"I choose to believe that we have just enough time. That we have as yet vast, untapped collective creative capacity sufficient to create as yet unimagined ways of truly living together — all of us — on this small planet. What we do not have is any time to waste.”
From the opening round of introductions, we’d won on the diversity count. We had Achim the German Astrophysicist and Yang the MIT engineer and others holding down the technical wizard end of the spectrum and Jessica the eco-psychologist, Lynnea the minister and religion PhD and others holding down the personal/ spiritual transformation end. We had Eugene from Nigeria, Blaise from Cameroon and Jane from the UK coming from overseas. The course was held at MIT’s Sloan school of management brand new Green building overlooking the Charles River and Boston with views to inspire.
As for our leaders – Drew has his graduate degree in Systems Dynamics from MIT and is the Co-director of Climate Interactive an organization of internationally acclaimed Climate systems computer modelers. He has world class technical credentials. Yet he’s a guy who advocates strongly that inter and intra-personal communications skills are essential to the work. I lead all kinds of personal transformation experiences, was a religion major in College. Yet I also have an MBA and have done most of my sustainability work over the last two decades in the trenches of hard-core corporate America. We’re hard to quantify. We like to hang out at both ends of the spectrum and in between.
Indeed this is why we’ve come together to do the course. Drew and I have known each other since we met at MIT 18 years ago. He was a student and I was a consultant for a program at the business school. To put it simply and excuse the cliché, I love the guy. He is that rare combination of a man who is comfortable in many worlds. Like me he believes that global and personal transformation are inextricably linked. And he’s a generous champion of others by nature. Not to mention brilliant, accomplished, yet mid-west humble and respectful of others. Last spring during our first conversation in several years Drew surprised me. I knew that he was fully immersed and receiving great acclaim for his work with colleagues at Climate Interactive using systems models to predict Carbon trends. I assumed that perhaps he was done with the intra-personal stuff. But no.
“The simulations are in service of surfacing and testing our assumptions and mental models.” He said. “They are not an end in themselves. Anybody who thinks otherwise – that you can solve the big problems with this science alone is doomed to fail.”
And then he pointed me to a video clip of his professor at MIT, mentor and colleague, John Sterman. John is a world renowned expert in systems modeling and Carbon. Yet he says of Climate Change and the related environmental and social crises we now face, “The solutions are not a Manhattan project, but a Social movement.” Akin to Civil Rights. And then echoing Dana Meadows, who was also a mentor of his he says, “It will take all of us and we have just enough time.” And all parts of us, I’d add.
So we set out to design a learning experience that would support and challenge people in this stretch from the social to the technical and from the global to the personal and back again. Here’s a brief synopsis.
Day 1: We play the World Simulation of international climate negotiations that Drew and his CI partner Dr Beth Sawin and their team has created. It mimics and models the country level negotiations at Copenhagen 2009 and other UN sponsored summits. The bottom line is bad news: if we remain with business as usual we’re looking at increases in atmospheric Carbon and temperature that are way beyond sustainable according to scientific consensus. The participants are left despairing.
Day 2: Now that they’ve been hit with a sledge hammer re the realities of the challenge we face with Global Climate Change we introduce some tools for inspiration. Vision and dialogue and tools for working across boundaries. Participants begin to map out their own sense of the climate system, leverage points and where they can make the most difference. A group camaraderie builds. None of us are alone in this.
It is exhilarating and exhausting work and we are recovering at the Cambridge Brewing Company. Drew looks tired and I can only imagine how I look. Not a good hair day by now for sure. Now let’s go back to the scene I described above where he asks,
“What can we give these people in the 7 hours we have left?”
“More on the simulation and how to run it do you think?”
“No,” Drew says, “Our community of activists has to be more willing to truly engage the other side without arms crossed in defensiveness. We have to let go of certainty and really get curious about others’ views.”
“Yes, and yet what does it take to get to a place where you can genuinely inquire?” I ask. I’m now picking up momentum, excited by where the conversation is heading.
“You have to be open.”
“But that’s easier said than done,” I say. “Because what are you feeling like when you’re not open, when you’re shut down; mad, sad, glad or scared?”
“Scared,” Drew says.
“Yup. There’s no way in my experience, to get from a place of antagonism and aggression to openness and inquiry without looking deep into the eyes of our own fear demons. We’ve got to get to the level of feeling here.”
“You know how we use the ‘Iceberg’ to introduce Systems Thinking; Events, Patterns, Structures and Underlying Mental Models? And we do that at the global and organizational level when we teach it? Well I’ve used that for personal coaching as well and it’s really powerful. Maybe we connect the two in some way.”
We realize we’re too tired to go much further.
“Let’s sleep on it and see what comes up.”
I don’t sleep much -- at 1:30 AM I wake up with a flood of ideas and icebergs swimming in my head. I begin to scribble in my notebook.
Global t1, Personal t1, Personal t2, Global t2.
The following is what emerges in rough form. Drew and I meet for coffee at 7:30 AM before the group arrives in the spacious, light-filled café at the new Green building. I show him my little notebook. “Can I do this?” I ask. “Go for it.” he says. We agree that Drew will introduce the core concepts of the “Iceberg” model – one our community of colleagues has used for many years to introduce Systems Thinking. And he’ll close in the afternoon teaching applied systems thinking. I’ll take the bulk of the morning to show how our Global challenges and dysfunctions are inextricably linked to our Personal ones. And vice versa – healthy Personal practices deeply influence our aspirations to catalyze Global transformation. The model looks like this. Please see the attached PDF for full presentation and better resolution.