From Huffington Post
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” This quote from Plutarch is as true today as it was two thousand years ago. Still, the misconception of education as a vessel-filling activity remains. In this column, I outline an idea that could reshape our universities while also prototyping new ways of addressing urgent societal challenges. The kindling of the flame that Plutarch talked about has never been more relevant than now.
Let’s start with 2017
Last week my column focused on 2017:
- The year 2017 mirrored the epochal year 1917 by putting a new challenge in front of us: the challenge of vertical development.
- By “vertical development” I mean the capacity to deal with disruptive change, which requires us to let go of the past and to let come the future, to shift our awareness from one state to another. In the language of tech: vertical development is about suspending your habit of installing yet another app and instead upgrading your entire operating system.
- From that perspective we can interpret the current global surge of terrorism, fundamentalism, xenophobia, Trumpism, and autocracy as expressions of the same underlying phenomenon: the missing capacity as a society to respond to challenges in generative ways, by evolving ourselves “vertically,” by upgrading the way we listen and attend, the way we converse and think, and the way we organize and coordinate in the context of larger systems.
Last week I suggested that such an upgrade of our societal operating system (OS) should include advancing and transforming our economies, our democracies, and our education systems. It is the latter that I focus on in this column: how to how to reinvent our institutions of higher education through their transformation from an ivory-towered into a distributed ecosystem for societal renewal.
The difficulties we have in meeting today’s global challenges, such as implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) worldwide, are not caused by a knowledge gap. We have all the knowledge we need. The problem is a knowing-doing gap: a disconnect between our collective consciousness and our collective actions. In most societal systems we collectively create results that (almost) nobody wants. Examples: the ecological divide (the self-nature disconnect), the social divide (the self-other disconnect), and the spiritual divide (the self-self disconnect—that is, the disconnect between my current and my emerging future self).
These gaps and divides are amplified by the silo structure of our key institutions and the mindset of the decision makers that operate inside them. To address these issues at their root requires two things: new platforms for cross-sector co-creation and an upgrade in the operating system that people use to collaborate—practices that facilitate a shift from ego-system to eco-system awareness.
Read the full post at Huffington Post.
Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan, a Thousand Talents Program Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and cofounder of the Presencing Institute.