City evolution inside and outside


‘Think about it. We are like water, aren’t we? We can be fluid, flexible when we have to be. But strong and destructive too.’ And something else, I think to myself. Like water, we mostly follow the path of least resistance.
Wally Lamb, We Are Water


As humanity evolves, so too do the social structures we create to organize ourselves.  In last week’s post, Do it all, all at once, I revealed a series of social structures that illustrate how humanity has organized itself over time. To fully engage the city system, we need to work in all of these structures.

In Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer notice that we first organized communities around place. From this, they articulate four levels of organizing economic structures that correspond with their four structures from last week:

  1. Organizing around centralized power: the state (one sector; centralized state)
  2. Organizing around competition: state plus market (two sectors; decentralized markets)
  3. Organizing around special interest groups: state plus market plus NGOs (three sectors; conflicting relationships)
  4. Organizing around the commons (three sectors; co-creative relationships)

I added two additional structures to Scharmer and Kaufer’s work, and this is how I describe  their modes of organizing, to tease out our evolutionary thread further:

  1. Organizing for flex and flow: the state, the market, NGOs, the field (co-generative relationships for/with the whole)
  2. Organizing for the field: the planet and the field (cosmic, holonic awareness)


This evolutionary movement can be seen in the history of St. John’s, the most eastern point of land in North America. In what appears to be an unplanned city is the story of a settlement’s life conditions over time (Is an unplanned city unplanned Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). The life conditions dictated the purpose of the settlement, what it was organized for and ultimately its shape. The life conditions dictated how they organized: a calm harbour that didn’t freeze; a geographic location in proximity to Europe; fresh water and materials to build shelter; a strategic economic resource in the cod stocks; a strategic military location along shipping routes; the port authority, court house, government house and custom house added order; the prosperity of today’s entrepreneurship pushes the boundaries of moral codes; and today’s social and technology media are changing what we know and how we know it.

Spiral of purposes - 8.005
Spiral of city purposes – what we organize for

The overriding purpose of a city – wherever it is in its development – is to integrate the needs of its people, with its context, to create a habitat in which people survive and thrive. More specific purposes of a city can be varied and be many things at once. We organize to meet all of those those purposes. That is why when engaging with city systems, we must do it all, all at once.

In the midst of all the purposes, at every scale, there are transitions underway. In individuals, in groups, in organizations, in cities, in nations, in our species, Scharmer and Kaufer offer a window into what happens when the transition from one purpose/mode of organizing to another occurs:

“… whenever an economic paradigm is unable to provide useful answers to a period’s biggest challenges, society will enter a transitional period in which, sooner or later, it replaces the existing logic and operating system with an updated and better one. What, then, is the driving force for moving an economy or a society from one operating system to another? We believe that there are two primary ones: exterior challenges (the push factor) and the development of consciousness (the pull factor).” 

As life conditions change around us, we are compelled to respond. As the world becomes more complex, we are compelled to develop our consciousness to be more complex as well. The pattern in St. John’s is a pattern in us all.


What pulls us along in our evolutionary journey is a dance between the world around us and the world within us.

We are like water.

Perhaps the valley in which we flow is the world around us. At times we flow freely and unhindered, smoothly.  At other times we fall. In some instances we run through narrow passages, carving our own path over time. Other times we hit the rapids with great fanfare, noise and confusion. We are influenced by the wind, the earth, the sun and the moon.

We push and are pushed back.

We are pushed by our cities and we push back.

But how does what we think about our world and our cities change when we realize that we have made them? Our city habitats, and all of the organizing we do within and around them, are made by us. By becoming more conscious of this relationship, we can trigger a new operating system for our cities – and make the move to Scharmer and Kaufer’s fourth structure – where we co-create in the commons.

How does the city make us more conscious of ourselves?

What does the city pull out of us? 

_____ _____ _____

Some friends and I started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is a post I created while figuring out why this book didn’t go far enough for me.

Here are some earlier posts:

Need to know a bit more about how all this works? Here are 7 principles that frame the emerging spiral, and 6 conditions for evolutionary expansion. And some other stuff:

  1. Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.
  2. Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)
  3. Scharmer, Otto and Katrin Kaufer, Leading From the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., San Franciso (2013)
  4. Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.


Do it all, all at once


Do it all, all at once, as appropriate.

That is what is necessary to engage a whole system.

Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, in their work Leading from the Emerging Future, describe four levels of social structures that have emerged as humanity grows and develops. The first three are very familiar to us: (1) where power is centralized at the top, (2) where power is decentralized at the top, and (3) where power becomes relational and networked.

Structure 1
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 1.0
Structure 2
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 2.0
Structure 3
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 3.0

(For readers familiar with the Spiral of values I have previously explored (here’s a primer), Scharmer and Kaufer’s first structure is RED/BLUE, the second BLUE/ORANGE, and the third ORANGE. The fourth, below, is GREEN, with a hint of YELLOW.)

According Scharmer and Kaufer, the fourth structure we are growing into locates power in the social field. They see this clearly, and they see how to create habitats that will allow us to access new knowledge and intelligence that is not accessible with the previous structures.

Structure 4
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 4.0


As the structures have evolved, our levels of listening evolve, along with transformations in our levels of awareness and how we coordinate ourselves. It is a journey that is facilitated by infrastructures to help us tap into our creativity, infrastructures to co-initiate, co-sense, co-inspire, to prototype and  co-evolve.

The journey they articulate is one where the locus of leadership shifts from ego (me-in-we) to eco (we-in-me). They name the journey we are making from self to Self, from me to we. The most important thing they name are the characteristics of habitats that support and sustain learning. The places we make and shape to nourish and foster the transformation under way matter.

Scharmer and Kaufer stop short of saying something important: all structures have value. 

And this leads me to a fifth structure of my own that reflects a leap past the first four to a structure that expects and accepts all structures that Scharmer and Kaufer have identified. We have evolved from structure to structure as they have described. They note that each earlier structure exists in the structures that follow, they leave the reader with a sense that as we advance, we leave the earlier structures behind; they are somehow lesser, no longer appropriate. Their work is incomplete.

My fifth structure, drawing on Spiral Dynamics, is a big leap past structures 1 to 4, because 1+2+3+4=10.  It looks like this.

Structure 5 or 10
How I imagine Structure 5.0 (or 10?)

This fifth structure is characterized by a flex and flow of all four of Scharmer and Kaufer’s structures (in Spiral-speak, this is YELLOW). As conditions dictate, all the earlier structures are appropriate. When there is an emergency and fire-fighters are called to action, structure 1 is perfect. When there is no emergency, structure 2 may be appropriate. The fire chief and his personnel retain their hierarchical expectations and organize themselves to make sure the resources are in place for the next emergency; their power is decentralized. Even further behind the scenes, fire department personnel (can) work collaboratively in a network of city builders to make sure that the design of new neighbourhoods meets the needs of citizens and various other needs that need to be met in our city habitats. Their “turf” gets mixed in with that of many other stakeholders in structure 3.

Structure 4 is appropriate when the context allows the players to sit back and contemplate what they are doing and why. It might be a strategic planning session at the fire hall that involves a diverse range of expertise and experience to make wise choices. From structure 5, we see that the time and place varies for each approach, that they all happen, naturally. Where Scharmer and Kaufer characterize structure 4 as eco-in-me, I characterize structure 5 as all-in-me.

Drawing again on Spiral Dynamics, I sense a sixth structure (TURQUOISE), yet again more complex, that encompasses the expanse of systems of systems at work in life. This structure again builds upon the previous structures, taking into account the field in which all systems work, at every scale.

 Structure 5 or 15


There is a pattern at work in these social structures and within us. What has our attention is expanding. How we organize ourselves is transforming. Here is a summary of these structures. The first 4 belong to Scharmer and Kaufer, the remaining two mine, drawing on the lineage of Spiral Dynamics:

  1. State-centric – hierarchy and control – traditional awareness
  2. Free market – markets and competition – ego-system awareness (ego-in-me)
  3. Social market – networks and negotiation – stakeholder awareness (we-in-me)
  4. Co-creative – seeing and acting from the whole  – eco-system awareness (eco-in-me)
  5. Co-generative – embodiment of the whole – flexibility/spontaneity  awareness (all-in-me)
  6. Holonic experience of being –  expansive planetary connections – global cosmic awareness (Gaia-in-me)

To engage the systems in which we live and work, it is not sufficient to engage only the most recent structure. They all need attention because they all need to be healthy and they all have valuable contributions to make to the system as a whole. We must do it all, all at once, as  conditions require. They are all necessary, in the right time and place.

What social structure are you growing into?


______ ______ ______

Need to know a bit more about how all this works? Here are 7 principles that frame the emerging spiral, and 6 conditions for evolutionary expansion.

Some friends and I started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is another piece, on Chapter 8. Here’s what came from my exploration of earlier chapters:

_____ _____ _____

Meeting vs. learning


What is a meeting for, but to know and understand things differently? What if the objective of every meeting you entered, at work, with your kid’s teacher, with a client or your doctor, was for you, and the other(s) to learn something new?

In Leading from the Emerging Future, authors Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer offer 4 levels of structure/awareness to describe how our social relationships are evolving. The power of what they offer is in the articulation of these levels, allowing us to see them more clearly so we notice more easily what we are growing out of, and what we are growing into. (For a recap of how I have made meaning of the book, see the links below.) The real power of what they offer is the difference between meeting and learning with others.

A meeting is information exchange. It may or may not mean things change as a result. It does not compel those involved to feel connected to the work, or themselves. Reading between the lines, here is what Scharmer and Kaufer offer as characteristics of habitat that support and sustain learning:

  1. You are in charge of what you learn. You are in the driver’s seat. 
  2. You dive into what inspires you. You immerse yourself in learning journeys that allow you to feel, empathize and connect with multiple perspectives.
  3. You spend time with peers, deeply listening to each other. This allows deep learning to occur.
  4. You learn at many scales. You are connected to self, as well as others at many scales, from your family, work unit or neighbourhood, to your city and the planet.
  5. You work to be aware. As an individual, and as the groups you are a part of, you seek to notice and be aware of your context, and what it is asking of you.
  6. You experiment and prototype. You collaborate with your self, your context and others to try out solutions to the challenges you face. This is part of your learning relationship with the world around you, and it needs energy and attention.
  7. You are on a lifelong journey. You recognize that you are on a journey to awaken, activate and strengthen your capacity to be you.
  8. You need a place to practice. To do the above, you need safe places to try things out, try things on for size, or simply be YOU for a time.

Imagine meetings where you are able to offer who you really are. Where you learn about yourself and your relationship to the work at hand. Where you are able to be honest to others, and true to yourself. Where as groups we undertake the learning that needs to be undertaken to improve our collective work.

This only works when we each take on the responsibility of seeking to know and understand things differently.

What steps do you take to know and understand your world differently?


______ ______ ______

Some friends and I started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is another piece, on Chapter 8. Here’s what came from my exploration of earlier chapters:

_____ _____ _____

This post is a wee bit  of the book I am working on, while I am working on it. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City – The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities:

Infrastructure for precious communication


To transform the quality of communication throughout our social and economic systems, we must learn to see ourselves through the eyes of others and the whole. This is the next revolution, according to Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, in Leading from the Emerging Future.

To pull this off, we need an open mind, rather than denial. We need an open heart, rather than cynicism. And an open will, rather than depression. With these, we will have what we need to create conversations that will recreate the world.

Throughout the book, Scharmer and Kaufer articulate 4 stages of our economic evolution, through which we have, and are, evolving, and our corresponding levels of awareness and modes of coordinating. They are (p. 74, 177-178):

  1. State-Centric (mercantalism, state capitalism) – traditional awareness; hierarchy and control. Communication is one-way “downloading”, manipulating.
  2. Free Market (Laissez-faire) – ego-centric awareness; markets and competition. Communication is two-way discussions and an exchange of viewpoints.
  3. Social Market (regulated) – stakeholder-centric awareness; networks and negotiation. Communication is multilateral stakeholder dialogue, allowing to see oneself through the eyes of another.
  4. Co-Creative (distributed, direct, dialogic) – eco-centric awareness; awareness based collective action (ABC); Communication is co-creative eco-system innovation: blurring the boundary of ego and eco.

The most common forms of communication, according to Scharmer and Kaufer, are linear, unilateral. They involve little inclusion of others, or transparency. The most precious forms of communication, for the transition to Stage 4, are multilateral and cyclical forms of communication that are high on inclusion and transparency. Notably, Stage 4 communication holds the intention to serve the well-being of all, rather than a few.

To make the move to these precious forms of communication, they articulate 5 innovative infrastructures that will allow us to reach our untapped reserves of creativity  (p. 187-188):

  1. Infrastructures to co-initiate – success means unconditional commitment of credible leaders. 
  2. Infrastructure for co-sensing – success means experiences where people learn to see the system from multiple perspectives.
  3. Infrastructures to co-inspire – success means the use of mindfulness and presencing practices that help people connect to deep sources of knowing, individually and collectively.
  4. Infrastructures for prototyping, or exploring the future by doing – success means simply acting on what we know, integrating feedback, notice what is learned, take out what isn’t working, strengthen what is working.
  5. Infrastructures for co-evolving – success means the larger system grows, sustains, scales and evolves the prototypes (cross-functional, cross-level, cross-institutional leadership), as well as support to the leaders’ learning journeys

While exploring this chapter, my colleagues and I were playing with the metaphor of “the bus”, and how easy, or difficult, it can be to get off a bus when the mode of communication is not your style. Or in Stage 4, who drives the bus?

In my sketchbook I connected back to Spiral Dynamics (click here for a primer on the emerging Spiral), another way to look at evolving levels of organization. Here’s how a fleet of buses would relate to each other, depending on the value system:

bus shapes of conversation

We organize in hierarchical structures of different degrees, as well as circular structures. In the top right, there’s another form, more fluid, that reflects all modes of communicating simultaneously. Conceptually, this fluid form, with various values flowing together, could look like this:

bus shapes of conversation all together

What Scharmer and Kaufer do not say clearly, is that while evolution to Stage 4 is necessary, it does not mean throwing out the use of the earlier Stages – they each have their time and place. In certain contexts, they will be the most appropriate ways to communicate. All together, they add up. What Stage 4 adds, that again they do not say, is a bridge to a place where we see the ongoing values of the preceding modes of communication, in the right context.

Which state of communication are you most comfortable with?

Which is the next natural step in your personal development?

_____ _____ _____

Some friends and I have started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is another piece on Chapter 6. Here’s what came from earlier chapters:

_____ _____ _____

This post begins a series of posts on Chapter 10 – The Emerging City, offering bits of the book I am working on. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities:

Offer your Self to your city


There is a battle underway between individuals and our institutions, but it isn’t us vs them. It is a battle embodied within each of us, between my self and my larger, highest potential Self. Our collective efforts are only as deep and good as we are, as instruments of the future.

Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, in their book Leading from the Emerging Future, remark that the “world has enormous unexploited potential in the form of inspired, intentional, and collective entrepreneurship.” Its time for how we show up as collectives to evolve into something other than insensitive entities, but this will only happen if we choose to offer our Selves to make them better, rather than fight and scrap our way.

Here are Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer’s principles and practices to help advance your individual journey from self to Self, from me to We:

  1. Practice, don’t preach
  2. Observe, observe, observe – become a blackbelt observer and listener
  3. Connect with your intention as an instrument
  4. When the crack opens up, stay with it – connect and act from the now
  5. Follow your heart – do what you love, love what you do
  6. Always be in dialogue with the universe
  7. Create a holding space of deep listening that supports your journey
  8. Iterate, iterate, iterate
  9. Notice the crack to the field of the future
  10. Use different language with different stakeholders
  11. If you want to change others (other stakeholders), you need to be open to changing yourself first
  12. Never give up. Never give up. You are not alone

Offering your Self to your city is an essential contribution. It allows your City to serve citizens.

_____ _____ _____

Some friends and I have started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is another piece on Chapter 5. Here’s what came from earlier chapters:

_____ _____ _____

This post begins a series of posts on Chapter 10 – The Emerging City, offering bits of the book I am working on. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities:


Be a vehicle for the future


Humanity is the living embodiment of crossing over, say Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kauffer in their book, Leading from the Emerging Future, as they reflect on Neitzsche’s reflection of man as a rope, as a bridge, not an end. “At the beginning of the 21st century,, probably for the first time in human history, the living presence of the abyss – that is, the simultaneous existence of one world that is dying and another that is being born – is a widely shared experience for millions of people across cultures, sectors and generations (p. 153).”

The value of Scharmer and Kaufer’s work is in what they name. Here’s a snapshot.

Levels of listening 

These four levels of listening allow us to access increasingly deeper sources of Self by connecting the exterior world outside to our interior world within:

  1. Habitual listening – projecting old judgments
  2. Factual listening – direct the beam of observation onto the world around us
  3. Empathic listening – adopting the other person’s perspective and therefore seeing ourselves through the eyes of the other
  4. Generative listening – listening from the whole and the emerging new, which further turns the beam of observation onto the deep sources of Self

Conditions of possibility

Three conditions allow profound shifts to happen in ourselves as individuals and as collectives:

  1. Bend the beam of observation back onto its source – you and your Source. Listen to Self.
  2. Hold space for embracing the shadow – bending the beam of observation “happens in a social holding space formed by true listening from the heart.”
  3. Going to the edge of letting go – a “willingness to go to the edge of the abyss, to let go, to lean into the unknown – and take the leap.”

As we learn to listen to our Selves, and others Selves, and create the conditions for profound shifts in our learning about the world around and within us, “we are learning how to become a vehicle for what is emerging on the other side of the abyss.”  Our inner and outer work matters because we are the bridge connecting the present we have to the future we want.


 _____ _____ _____

Some friends and I have started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is the meaning I made of our circle on Chapter 5. Here’s what came from earlier chapters: Chapter 1 – Life guard; Chapter 2 – The antennae of possibility; Chapter 3 – Prototype social habitats; and Chapter 4 – I’m not a salesperson.

_____ _____ _____

This post begins a series of posts on Chapter 10 – The Emerging City, offering bits of the book I am working on. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities:


I’m not a salesperson


What’s moving in me

is a convergence connecting

the inside and outside of me

a pattern of knowing and feeling

how to open, to let go


my dreams are not mine

I’m not a salesperson anymore

life isn’t about me

I’m about life




 _____ _____ _____

Some friends and I have started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is the meaning I made of our circle on Chapter 4. Here’s what came from other chapters:

Chapter 1 – Life guard

Chapter 2 – The antennae of possibility

Chapter 3 – Prototype social habitats


My city waved at me


One morning last week, as I stood at the edge of the river valley, I watched a group of young people walk down the path, well below me. At 9am it was odd to see a group of  20 people walking that were not small children, yet somehow they seemed young, maybe late teens, hiking down the path, full of energy.

Just as I thought to wave, and resisted the urge, someone in the pack waved up at me. I waved back.

“Someone waved back at me,” she shouted.

Then a series of waves, as I waved and paused, as parts of the pack realized what was happening and they joined in. It went back and forth until they moved out of site.

And I cried.

I sobbed as I tried to figure out why this moved me, what cracked open. And then it hit me – my city waved at me.


This group of young people moved my soul. I found myself wanting to thank them, but they were long gone. And then I heard them. They had circled up onto the road behind. I could see their faces, their smiles, their exuberance, and, of course, we started to wave at each other. And I shouted over to them that they made my day, thank you.

“Thank you river valley friend,” is what they called back, as they continued their hike.


It didn’t matter who I was, it mattered that I waved.

It didn’t matter who started waving, it matters that someone starts.

It doesn’t even matter if we know each other.










United Airlines’ Plan G

I am on a mission to explore the evolutionary purpose of cities for human life.  This week I am checking out one of our big cities, New York.  This is a big nest we have built for ourselves.

On my way, I am struck by United Airlines’ annual green issue: that it is mainstream enough to be in an airplane’s seat pocket, and the wicked ideas. Thanks to United Airlines for sharing the ideas and technologies that people pursue in their work.  Here are some highlights (I have flagged links to other sites if interested to follow up further on each of these):

  1. Turn sidewalks into power plants.  Britain’s PaveGen has created sidewalk tiles that convert kinetic energy of pedestrian footfalls into power.  Check them out in high-traffic areas of London at the 2012 Olympics.
  2. How about SolaRoad?  Dutch company TNO is using bike paths in the town of Krommenie in northern Holland to test glass-covered, solar cell-embedded concrete panels to generate 50 kilowatt hours of electricity per square metre.  They are aiming for 85,000 miles of road!
  3. Mass market solar shingles.  Dow Solar has expanded its Michigan plant to produce Powerhouse shingles, making them more accessible to home owners.  Solar panels are not on the roof, they are the roof.
  4. City co-farmingThe Plant, in Chicago, produces food year round in an abandoned meat-processing factory.  Aiming to solve economic environmental and nutritional problems simultaneously, the vertical hydroponic farm (greens and fish), bakery, breweries exchange ‘waste’.  I call this co-farming.
  5. Buildings that clean the air.    Aluminum producer Alcoa has a line of panels with titaniaum dioxide.  10,000 square feet will clean as much air as 80 trees.  Next one is even better….
  6. Plant upward.  The world’s first vertical forest is under construction in Milan – Bosco Verticale.  The balconies will be full of trees, shrubs and flowers.

Cities have no end of ingenuity to offer.

I dream of a city…

A poem from the WE space at the United Way’s gathering with John Ott yesterday:
I dream of a city
truly great
for everyone
and I wonder where
we will put the line
between possible and
or will there be no line
and just an invitation to
my story led me
with allies
supporting aspirations
to evoke new stories
collective knowing and
no formula
will suspend certainty
or see the whole
no checklist
will seek diverse perspectives
or welcome all that arises
for formulas and checklists do not trust
the transcendent story
larger than me
the transcendent story
serving me
serving us
aligning with what is
a lifelong commitment
to what we long for