Werner Erhard and James Fadiman

From The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1977, Vol.9, No. J, February 1, 1977, San Francisco, California

This is an edited transcript of a discussion in an informal meeting of a few members of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, several Journal editors, and friends.

Werner Erhard was the founder and primary spokesman for Erhard Seminars Training (est), James Fadiman is a lecturer, author, a past president of the Association, and an associate editor with the Journal. After opening remarks by Frances Vaughan Clark, president of the Association, the following discussion took place with occasional audience participation (Audience Member).

James Fadiman: One thing I’m not sure of is whether you and I agree on the role of the self, or the personality. That may be because I’m so interested in “devaluing” personality. I am more and more using the term “personal drama” rather than personality so that even “getting off one’s position” to use an est term, isn’t getting off enough since one is still attached to getting off one’s position. This seems to be more a transpersonal value than perhaps you would accept.

Werner Erhard: No, I’d be wholly aligned with what you just said. I’ll tell you where I think the difference might lie though, and that is perhaps in the path. What one does with personality is not avoid it, or ignore it, or suppress it, or shove it out of the way, but take responsibility for it, complete one’s relationship with one’s personality, transcend it, and therefore include it as a content in the context which one is when one transcends one’s personality. So, rather than to do away with the personality (and I’m not sure that transpersonal psychology would do away with personality) I want to make it clear that est would not do away with the personality. One would be responsible for it, cause it, instead of be the effect of it. Essentially one would complete one’s personality as a way of being unattached to it.

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From Industry Week,  June 15, 1987

By Perry Pascarella

Werner Erhard has developed an organization to help managers create breakthroughs in performance. Is he establishing just another fad? Or will he help create the magnitude of change that many organizations desperately need? Sample his line of thinking and see what you think.

The net looks only one foot high. The service court seems as large as an airfield – I can’t miss it. My racket swings over and “through” the ball to drive a serve that pulls my opponent wide to his forehand side and I strike again in no time to smash his return out the open back corner. A great feeling!

I try to remember the action—reconstruct, analyze, and explain it. But I know that won’t ensure I’ll repeat it. And then there are times when that opposite court looks tiny, the net looms ten feet high, and the ball is a pea traveling at Mach 1.

The court, the net, and the ball are all real. Yet the way they occur for me changes dramatically from a good day to a bad day. While reality doesn’t change, the way it occurs for me does. Could I control that shift in my experience so I could consistently play well? Could I really make that shift happen?

We try to improve our performance by analyzing and evaluating action, producing a prescription for what should be done, and then training ourselves to do a little better. But if we want a dramatic breakthrough in performance, it seems we need a totally different approach.

In his work to develop an approach to performance that will predictably produce breakthroughs, Werner Erhard says, “If you seriously examine any action, you find there are always two sides of it: the side from which you can explain it and the side from which you can produce it. After a recent two-day rise in the stock market, for example, I read an article that masterfully described that rise, analyzed it, and explained it. However, even though I now fully understand what happened, I am not going to bet my life savings on my ability to predict the next one.

“In individual and organizational performance, most of us attempt to produce action by working in the after-the-fact realm of description, analysis, explanation, and prescription. Rarely do we consider that producing an action requires a whole different way of looking at it. If you want to have a dramatic impact on performance, you need access to the source of action.”

A spectator can describe what I’m doing on the tennis court. He is living in the realm of evaluation and explanation – but I’m playing in the world of action. While there is a relationship between his description and what is occurring on the court, the two are clearly not the same.

We seldom think about this sort of distinction, but “failing to make this simple distinction can lead to being satisfied with an explanation about action and may hide from our view the source of action,” says Werner Erhard.

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Paradigm Thinking and Productivity

From the Fall 1989 issue of Benchmark Magazine, a publication of Xerox Corporation

PARADIGM THINKING, properly applied leads to tangible results. JMW Consultants. A New York based management consulting consulting firm, helps companies boost productivity through paradigm shifts with an approach called “Productivity Breakthrough Technology.”

Three years ago, a major computer manufacturer called in JMW to help deal with a crisis.

The manufacturer was trying to get an important product out in order to take advantage of a rapidly closing marketing window. If the team of software developers responsible for the project continued the development process at their current rate – a rate that was in line with industry standards – the product would not be ready on time. If the company hired more programmers to speed up the process, they would exceed their budget. Clearly, a breakthrough was needed.

After working with JMW, the software team began to double their previous productivity. The breakthrough enabled the company to get the product out in time – and save more than $100 million over the next three years.

JMW did not teach the team new techniques for developing software. Instead they helped them shift their paradigm. In their old paradigm, the rule was “X (the predictable) amount of work in X amount of time.” The new paradigm was stated as a possibility – “Y (the required) amount of work in X amount of time.”

“The shift was to create a future – the one they needed – as a possibility, not as a prediction,” says Werner Erhard, who founded a national affiliation of management consultants with which JMW is associated. “At that point, no one knew how to do it, but they could still create the possibility.

Because there was now a new paradigm in which to see the work, the team began seeing the job of developing software differently. They then were able to generate a commitment to that possibility.”

Erhard points out that when a breakthrough is needed, what is often called for is the development of a new paradigm.

“Changing the paradigm does not negate the need for realistic, hard-headed thinking, ” he says. “In ‘business as usual’ we get clear about the situation to determine what we can do and what we can’t.

But to produce a breakthrough, you have to stand the usual approach on its head.”

The process begins with inventing a new possibility, without regard to whether you know what to do to realize it. You then look back at the situation from the standpoint of that new possibility.

“That is what gives you the new perspective and what allows you to see the situation in a way you haven’t seen it before,” says Erhard. “That is the beginnings of generating a new paradigm.” At some point in the process, he says, it will be evident that you have come up with the best paradigm for a breakthrough in that situation.

“Productivity breakthroughs are a product of seeing something in a new way, which enables you to see new opportunities and new openings for action that you couldn’t see before,” he adds. “Breakthroughs come as a result of shifting your commitment from the predictable future to a possible future.”

est: Communication in a Context of Compassion

by Werner Erhard and Victor Gioscia, Ph.D.

Format of the est Standard Training

The est Standard Training is approximately 60 hours long and is usually presented on two successive weekends: two Saturdays and two Sundays, beginning at 9 a.m and ending after midnight, when the trainer observes that the results for that day have been reached.  “Breaks” are usually taken every four hours and there is usually one meal break during the day.  People eat breakfast before and some have a snack after the training day.  Included in the #300 tuition are pre-, mid-, and post-training seminars.  These are each about 3 1/2 hours in duration, and take place on three weekday evenings, one before, one between, and one after the training weekends.

Approximately 250 people take the training together at one time, seated in a hotel ballroom.  Chairs are arranged theater style, facing a low platform on which a chair, a lectern, and two chalkboards are placed.  Everyone wears a nametag printed in letters large enough to be read from the platform.

In est there are four principle topics addressed in the training – belief, experience, reality, and self.  Trainees have the opportunity to examine their experience of each of these topics in three ways: (1) lectures by the trainer, (2) “processes” (guided experiences, usually with eyes closed, and (3) sharing – communications from individual trainees to the trainer and/or to the class.

Trainees realize early in the training that the trainer is not actually “lecturing” i.e, presenting conceptual information – but presenting the trainees with a chance to “look and see what is so for you in your own experience” about the topics discussed.  Similarly, trainees seen realize that ” processes” are opportunities to examine the records of previous experiences in the privacy and safety of their own experience (or “space”) and that, as they wish, they may or may not share what is so for them.

The following chart presents these schematically:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

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Werner Erhard on Transformation and Productivity

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.


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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A Crash Course in Paradigm Thinking

Can you cross all nine dots in the above drawing with only four straight line, without lifting your pencil from the paper?  Give yourself a few minutes to try to solve this puzzle before going on to read the answer.


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