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From prototype to real-life practice
– by Hinrich Mercker
A flash flood in Alexandra, the South African township, in 2000: urban agglomerations must adapt to climate change
In October, 30 aspiring leaders from South Africa and Indonesia will find out how the City of Munich is adapting to climate change. They will go to the neighbourhoods, visit the town hall and meet citizens’ action groups. There will be meetings with architects and the staff of municipal utilities. The 30 visitors are meant to develop a feel for what moves people – and how global warming will change their everyday lives.
In InWEnt’s new Climate Leadership Programme there will be no technocratic lectures with vast statistics and PowerPoint presentations, a kind of knowledge transfer the participants are only too familiar with anyway. They all work in high-profile positions for companies, public administrations, civil-society organisations and universities and have proven to be highly promising employees. Their superiors expect them to achieve even more, which is why their employers nominated them for this unique programme.
The programme’s underlying tenet is that global warming presents challenges to all kinds of social systems – from individual families to municipalities and interest groups, from small business to multinational corporations. Single actors will not be able to solve the relevant problems on their own. Rather, cooperation with ever more different partners will become necessary, and some of them will probably have been considered rivals and competitors so far. Leaders who want to excel in this kind of environment must be capable of empathy – they have to understand what is driving actors with different backgrounds.
Hinrich Mercker, who designed the leadership programme with his team at InWEnt, is cooperating with Otto Scharmer, a management expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Scharmer is doing research on how leaders manage to introduce and implement innovations (D+C/E+Z 7-8/2007, page 296). Obviously they cannot simply build on established knowledge – otherwise they would not be innovators.
Scharmer teaches that several things matter. Innovators have to
– understand the things they want to change from as many different perspectives as possible, in order to
– anticipate what a future solution could look like and, on that basis,
– develop the initial steps towards achieving it.
Learning from the future
The MIT researcher speaks of “learning from the future”. The point is that solutions for unfamiliar, new tasks – such as arise due to global warming – cannot be solved by reflecting on past experience. Creativity is indispensable. Innovators must anticipate what will prove sustainable. Scharmer also speaks of “presencing”.
In order to stimulate the imagination, it is useful to drop well-established attitudes and get involved in other realities than those one is used to. Travelling in foreign countries can help, because travellers are exposed to other cultures. Scharmer also recommends other ways of expanding one’s horizon, “shadowing” for instance. This is about two leaders from different fields accompanying and observing one another for one work day respectively. Interviews are another important option – thoroughly questioning people with relevant expertise.
An abundance of new impressions can be stimulating, but may also prove overwhelming. In order for constructive, new ideas to emerge, Scharmer therefore recommends contemplation. Inspiration usually comes at moments of rest. Once ideas emerge, they must be put to use. Scharmer suggests to collectively develop small prototypes and test new concepts step by step. This approach will eventually make an anticipated solution reality.
InWEnt’s Climate Leadership Programme is based on Scharmer’s approach. Self awareness, of course, is not an end in itself. Mercker emphasises the programme’s practical relevance, and the programme’s participants actually do not take much time off work. Over one year, they only spend 20 days together. Occasional workshops will be held in their home countries, and there will be two five-day blocks: the kick-off in Munich and a retreat in South Africa at halftime. After the retreat, the implementation of the prototypes will begin in real-life practice. (dem)