A Breakthrough in Individual and Social Transformation

Presentation By Werner Erhard At The Eranos Conference 2006
Ascona, Switzerland
18 June 2006

While I was asked to speak about individual and social transformation, I will start by talking about knowing.

Think of the circle I have drawn here as containing all knowledge. The circle is divided into three sections. The first section of all knowledge is called, “What I know that I know.” We all know what to do with what we know that we know – we put it to use. The next section of all knowledge is called, “What I know that I don’t know.” Again, we all know what to do with what we know that we don’t know – we learn. Finally, there is this vast remaining section of all knowledge called, “What I don’t know that I don’t know.” What to do about what we don’t know that we don’t know is something of a dilemma. And, what we don’t know that we don’t know about human beings is an important question when it comes to individual and social transformation.

I am reminded of a physics paper entitled “Chaos” that I read some years ago about the discovery of the chaotic nature of certain physical phenomena, where a small input could result in a very large scale output, while a large scale input could result in a very small output. As I read the article it occurred to me that chaos theory certainly applied to human beings. For example, with very little said, a person might get massively upset, while years of training have very little impact on some people. Chaos theory was followed by complexity theory where, to oversimplify somewhat, the whole was not merely the sum of the parts, but the sum of the parts plus the interaction between the parts. Again, complexity certainly applies to human beings.

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Paradigm Thinking and Productivity

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.  They were called in by a major computer manufacturer 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.”

 

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

A Shot Heard Round The World

The Context for Creating a Transformed World: A World that Works for Everyone

“Sometime around now – it may have happened five years ago or fifty years ago – but sometime around now, the rules for living successfully on this planet shifted.  We can no longer hope to live meaningful, purposeful lives using the rules of a you or me world.  It’s becoming clearer and clearer to those who will look that in order to live successfully on this planet, we must discover and live by the rules of you and me.” – Werner Erhard

Thousands of people came together to participate with Werner Erhard in the birth of a context, to discover for themselves ways to take advantage of what was previously unthinkable: that we as individuals have the unique opportunity to make a difference in creating a world that works for everyone…

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Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard, a documentary by Robyn Symon.

The Heart of The Matter

The subject of this is transformation – a deep, profound and committed choice about the way we live our lives. Transformation is the possibility for a breakthrough in our living, a clearing for aliveness to show up in our everyday activities, self-expression and commitments.

Talking about transformation is no more than a representation, an image of the real thing. It’s like eating the menu instead of the steak – neither nurturing nor profound. It is in being transformed – in being authentically true to oneself – that one lives passionately free, unencumbered, fearless, committed. It is in living life in a transformed way that the steak and its sizzle show up.

We invite you to be here this evening for the actual benefits of transformation, for the meal – not the menu. Thank you for being here. Thank you for participating.

THREE KINDS OF TALKING

Our language, the way we speak, shows up in three different ways.

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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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