The following is an interview with Werner Erhard done by Norman Bodek and published in ReVision: The Journal of Consciousness and Change, Vol 7, No. 2, Winter 1984/Spring 1985.
DO OUR CURRENT PARADIGMS STRANGLE OUR PRODUCTIVE CAPACITY?
In 1971, Werner Erhard developed The est Training, an approach to individual and social transformation. He is the founder of Werner Erhard and Associates, which sponsors, in addition to the Training, workshops and seminars on communication, language, and productivity in the United States, Canada, South America, Western Europe, Australia, Israel, and India. He has formed a number of partnerships to apply his method of inquiry to business, education, government, and the health profession, including The Center for Contextual Study (psychotherapy), Transformational Technologies (management and leadership), and Hermenet Inc. (language and computers).
Because much of Werner Erhard’s recent work has focused on transformation in corporations and because his influence has been so broad, we asked our guest editor, Norman Bodek, to interview him in his San Francisco office. What follows is a discussion not only of transformation in the workplace, but of the art and discipline of transformation itself.
Norman Bodek: What do you mean by your use of the word “transformation”?
Werner Erhard: We use the word “transformation” to name a distinct discipline. Just as psychology, sociology, and philosophy are disciplines, so too we see transformation as a distinct discipline, a body of knowledge, and a field of exploration. I should add that because the discipline of transformation is brand new, it’s likely to be misunderstood—something that happens to a lot of new disciplines. At the beginning of the study of cybernetics, for example, people didn’t know what cybernetics was. They assumed it was a branch of engineering or mathematics. People tried to grasp it in terms already familiar to them. Eventually, however, it became clear that interpreting cybernetics as a branch of anything actually missed the whole point of cybernetics.
From our perspective, the same situation is now true of transformation. Most people attempt to understand our work in terms of psychology, philosophy, sociology, or theology. While it is true that almost anything can be analyzed from those perspectives, none of those disciplines is our work. Each can provide a certain perspective on our work, but none of them is the work. Fundamentally, transformation is a discipline which explores the nature of Being. Less fundamentally, but still pretty accurately, we would say it is a discipline devoted to possibility and to accomplishment, in the sense of the source of accomplishment.
Norman Bodek: Does a “discipline of Being” focus on working in the moment?
Werner Erhard: Not exactly. To grasp this usefully, we have to put aside a lot of notions we’ve come to take for granted—particularly the jargon of the ’70s—terms like “the now,” “the moment,” “enlightenment,” and the like. Once you’ve come to grips with the abstractions which those terms represent, of course, they are useful; but without grasping the abstraction, the terms can be misleading. The same can be said, by the way, about any of the terms I’m using.
I’d put it something like this: a “discipline of Being” begins with a commitment to distinguishing what is actually present.
Let me give you an example. One of our clients asked us to work with their executives on the issue of leadership. In their own work, they had become promoters of leadership, and even sponsored courses on it. The first question we asked was, “O.K., we know that it’s possible to talk about ‘leadership’ and to work on ‘leadership,’ but have you noticed that when you are dealing with leadership, you are dealing with a phenomenon that is never present? That is, when one says, ‘Mr. X is leading,’ have you noticed that at the moment that one says it, there is no leadership actually present? You can look in every corner of the room, even inside Mr. X’s head, everywhere, and nowhere will you find leadership. You attribute leadership to him, yes, but nowhere can you find it.”
If you follow this line of questioning and keep asking the question without hastening too quickly to get an answer, you find out some very interesting things about the phenomenon of leadership and about a lot of other phenomena as well. In fact, you will eventually have to come to grips with the notion of Being.
I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege to count some great men and women among my friends. They all have the same problem: they cannot get their students to be masters as they are—even students with all the intellectual equipment you can imagine. I tell them that the reason why they can’t turn their students into masters is that they are fibbing to themselves about the source of their own mastery. They attribute their own mastery to everything other than its actual source: creation. Creating and Being exist in the same domain. And there is a discipline to Being, to creation. The domain of Being has its own rigor; Being is approachable, it is masterable; it’s not nebulous.
Imagine someone who wants to be a great manager. In the normal course of events, such a man or woman would start off by, let’s say, studying management—perhaps in school, in books, or as an apprentice. Eventually, he or she would collect all the things that great managers have—degrees, credentials, diplomas, great track records, and great biographies. Then, at that point, we say, “Well, Mr. or Ms. X is a great manager!” Later, we send our children to the same schools so that they can become great managers too.
Except, most of the children who go to those schools never do become great managers. And we explain that failure on the basis of genes, environment, intelligence, opportunity, and the like. It never occurs to us that our template for becoming a great manager, or, more accurately, for becoming a great anything, is backwards. Never do we consider that what makes a great manager is NOT the school, books, or education, but simply BEING a great manager.
Now, I know that statement looks absurd at first, but it’s a very interesting possibility. If you discipline yourself to look for what’s present, for what is occurring in the moment, then you can ask yourself, “When someone is being a great manager, what is present?” What’s present (and all that is present, really) is being a great manager. What produces greatness, at the moment when greatness shows up, is being great, period. All the credentials follow from that, not the reverse.
Most people to whom I talk think, “Hey, great! That means I don’t have to go to college!” That’s not what it means. All the learning, apprenticing, practicing, and thinking are still necessary. My point is not that those practices aren’t necessary; my point is that when greatness does show up, none of those practices is the source of it. They do provide the conditions for it, but none are the source of the greatness itself. The source is, very simply, Being great. The question we are concerned with in our work is, how does one master this domain of Being?
So, I apologize for a very long answer to a very short question, but it hit right at the heart of our work—that of exploring, investigating, and making available what it means to be anything.
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