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Who is Otto Scharmer?


Our effectiveness as leaders depends not only on what we do and how we do it, but also on the inner place from where we operate, both individually and collectively.

Dr. Claus Otto Scharmer is cofounder and lecturer of the Leadership Lab For Corporate Social Innovation at MIT. He also is a visiting professor at the Center for Innovation and Knowledge Research in Helsinki, a faculty member of the Fujitsu Global Knowledge Institute in Tokyo, and a co-founder (with IN guest Peter Senge, also of MIT) of the Society for Organizational Learning and The Global Institute for Responsible Leadership. He has consulted with multinational firms in the US, Europe, and Japan, and sits on the board of Learning Lab Denmark‘s "Creative Alliance" action research project.

Raised on a pioneering biodynamic farm in northern Germany, Scharmer became sensitive at an early age to the "field" of social reality, which, like the agricultural fields his father tended, consists of two aspects: the visible realm of the surface world and the invisible world underground. To Otto, the role of the organizational leader, like the farmer, was to focus his/her attention on sustaining and enhancing the quality of the "soil," the invisible realm of subjective interiors beyond the third-person surface. This would prove to be an important metaphor as his academic career took off.

Scharmer received both his MBA and Ph.D. from Witten-Herdecke University in Germany. In 1991, his article "Strategic Leadership Within the Triad Growth-Employment-Ecology" won the McKinsey Research Award. In 1989-90, he co-founded and directed "Peace Studies Around the World," a year-long global studies program in which participants studied the politics of peace and conflict at twelve universities on every continent. Dr. Scharmer was awarded the 1991 Innovation Prize of the Foundation for Industry Research for this work.

From 1995 to 2000, as part of his postdoctoral research at MIT, Scharmer conducted 150 dialogue interviews with eminent thinkers and CEOs around the world on such topics as leadership, strategy, and knowledge creation.

A synthesis of this research has resulted in a theoretical framework and practice called presencing, to be elaborated in a forthcoming book (The Blind Spot of Leadership: Presencing As a Social Technology of Freedom), along with a collaborative offering with Senge, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers (Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future).

With his colleagues, Otto has used presencing to facilitate profound innovation and change processes both within companies and across societal systems.

Says Otto:

Presencing is based on an inner change of location. Presencing means: liberating one‘s perception from the ‘prison‘ of the past and then letting it operate from the field of the future. This means that you literally shift the place from which your perception operates to another vantage point. In practical terms, presencing means that you link yourself in a very real way with your ‘highest future possibility‘ and that you let it come into the present.
Managing People Is Like Herding Cats: Warren Bennis on Leadership
Executive Excellence (1997)

Why Leaders Can't Lead: The Unconscious Conspiracy Continues
Jossey-Bass (1997)

Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration (with Patricia Ward Biederman)
Perseus Publishing (1998)

The Temporary Society (with Philip E. Slater)
HarperCollins (1998)

Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values, and Deciding Moments Shape Leaders
Harvard Business School Press (2002)

Otto has appeared on Integral Naked:

The View from 50,000 Feet: An Integral Approach to Presencing3/8/2004

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