Learning for the future: systemic solutions require new ways of learning and collaborating

Aalto offers its staff a chance to experiment with transformative learning methods, which can initiate changes in mindsets and remove invisible barriers to creativity
Social Presencing Theater UN Cambodia
The United Nations is one of the organisations that uses embodied intelligence in developing collaboration. Image: Social Presencing Theater/Presencing Institute

We have been aware of the planetary boundaries for more than 50 years. Why have we failed to address this pressing challenge? This question puzzled Otto Scharmer of MIT, who has studied change management with systems scientist Peter Senge and others.

In 2007, Scharmer's book Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges was published. According to the theory, fundamental changes will only occur if we map leverage points and design new types of collaboration structures and operating models that support them. Awareness of a desired solution will not lead to lasting and innovative changes unless we also make structures that support the desired change.

The complex challenges related to sustainability or wellbeing cannot be solved with existing ways of thinking and efficiency-driven processes that have caused them as byproducts. Our challenge is to find a new direction for business, a role where it serves as a positive force for systemic change.

New thinking comes from adopting different levels of learning and different ways of knowing

To meet complex, systemic challenges, we need new kinds of social skills: life-wide  collaborative learning and unlearning. Otherwise, we will keep using the mindsets and tools of the past era, which are no longer sufficient.

(Siirilä et al. 2018, Sterling 2010, p. 25: based on Bateson 1972)

Level 1: Cognitive learning (thinking, emotions, perception)

Improved efficiency and performance

Doing things better, maintaining the prevailing paradigm

Level 2: Metacognitive learning Reflection on one's own actions and thinking

Doing better things, developing the prevailing paradigm

Level 3: Epistemic, transformative learning (knowledge, beliefs, perceptions of reality, worldview) Paradigm shift

Seeing the surrounding reality differently

Education that is mainly based on established theories and separate disciplines makes it difficult to understand systemic interconnections and changes. Knowledge and intelligence are also still often associated with logical thinking and numeral and verbal expression, which distances us and blurs our perception of the real world and its urgent challenges.

Scharmer and his colleagues have developed methods to utilise diverse intelligences to help implement systemic changes. When cognitive learning is accompanied by different modes of knowledge, such as embodied, emotional and naturalistic intelligence—a sensitive, ethical, and holistic understanding of the world and its complexities—these methods can bring out radical creativity and collaboration in people: the ability to think and act in new ways.

Through diverse modes of intelligence, we become more aware of our place in the world, not as separate individuals but in connection with other people and the planetary ecosystem.

Aalto experiments with new ways of learning

MIT's Otto Scharmer lecture on Theory U kicks off Aalto's Capacity Building of Creative Radicals (CBCR) competence development project. The project continues with two Social Presencing Theater workshops facilitated by Arawana Hayashi and Ricardo Dutra. The methods of the two workshops aim to increase our capacity for change and our collective understanding using embodied intelligence.

'We want to try these novel methods because we believe that they offer Aalto employees the means to advance creativity and find the pain points of sustainable systemic changes,' says learning designer Maria Joutsenvirta from the School of Business, who is leading the project with collaboration designer Kirsi Hakio from the School of Arts, Design and Architecture.

The CBCR workshops are aimed at Aalto employees who are interested in self-development, transformative learning and creative leadership as ways to advance radical creativity. The future of work and work life skills are strongly connected to learning: our ability to learn together.

The workshops will use the methods of meditation, improvisation and theatre to advance collaborative understanding and make things that are difficult to express in words visible.

The aim of the CBCR project is to develop: 

  • Key capacities for radical creativity: deep listening, precise observation and appreciative inquiring and dialogue (are we asking the right questions?)
  • Skills to see things from new perspectives, to understand possibilities that don't yet exist, and to make invisible systemic obstacles to creativity visible
  • Attitudes/mindsets that help us take action to realise an emerging sustainable future
  • Skills that utilise different types of knowledge to bring forth collaborative thinking and new, more creative ways of working together
  • Knowledge of how these methods could be leveraged in Aalto to build new infrastructures for collaboration/engagement and radical creativity
  • New connections between Aalto teams and people

The teams work on their existing projects with new methods in the workshops

The purpose of the two workshops and the reflection during the time between them is to establish a common vision via systems sensing and to make hidden obstacles visible.

The methods have been developed to build trust and empathy, identify one’s own blind spots, and help to see the world from another perspective. The aim is to create a psychologically safe space to test one's own boundaries by creating favourable conditions to shake up existing patterns of thinking and behaving so we can experience and create something new as a team.

The project participants will have a unique opportunity to develop their own thinking and doing through embodied intelligence. A stronger connection to experiences, emotions and imagination will enable them to transcend the existing reality and understand different possible realities (learning from the emerging future), as well as build new interpretations and meanings.

'We’re on the verge of a whole new way of doing things, and we will step into the unknown. We don’t know yet what we will learn during this Spring. However, based on past experiences, it is clear that the utilisation of embodied intelligence often triggers fundamental changes in thinking which allow us to understand and recognise thought patterns that act as barriers to creativity', says Kirsi Hakio.

text: Tiina Toivola

More information:

In the spring of 2022, Aalto's staff will have the opportunity to experiment with transformative learning and leadership methods that advance radical creativity and the change capabilities of the community and teams. The introduction lecture is open to all Aalto employees. Log in to this page with your Aalto credentials to see the registration link below.

How to lead and educate for the future?

Aalto's capacity building project experiments with methods, which may help us become more capable of implementing systemic changes

Read about the kick-off
Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management and Tuomas Auvinen, Champion of Radical Creativity at Aalto University.

Theory U - How to lead from the future while it emerges?

Creative people, like artists and scientists, invent and create the new by stepping from the visible world into the invisible world of imagination, and then returning back into the visible. We all can develop our sensitivity, intuition and leadership capabilities to increase creativity.

What is Theory U?
Maria Joutsenvirta
Arawana Hayashi
Arawana Hayashi. Image: Presencing Institute

Workshop facilitators

Arawana Hayashi

Arawana’s pioneering work as a choreographer, performer and educator is deeply sourced in collaborative improvisation. She currently heads the creation of Social Presencing Theater (SPT) for the Presencing Institute. Working with Otto Scharmer and colleagues at the Presencing Institute, she brings her background in the arts, meditation and social justice to creating “social presencing” that makes visible both current reality and emerging future possibilities.

Arawana is a senior teacher in a global network of meditation centers dedicated to applying mindfulness to “creating enlightened society”. She teaches both meditation and art based on bringing out the basic goodness of individuals, of relationships and of society.

https://arawanahayashi.comRead Arawana's story

Ricardo Dutra Presencing Institute
Ricardo Dutra. Image: Presencing Institute

Ricardo Dutra

Ricardo is a social designer, educator and researcher working in diverse global contexts. Ricardo's work focuses around transformative learning, design research, and embodied intelligence.

Currently, Ricardo teaches Art & Design as a part of Avenues The World School's Futures Literacy initiative in São Paulo, Brazil.

Ricardo holds a MFA in Transdisciplinary Design from Parsons School of Design, New York, and is currently a PhD candidate in design for learning at the Emerging Technologies Research Lab, Monash University, Melbourne.

For more information:

Radical creativity illustration: Anna Muchenikova

Radical creativity

We build an outstanding creative community for new thinking.

Our strategy
Maria Joutsenvirta

Theory U - How to lead from the future while it emerges?

Creative people, like artists and scientists, invent and create the new by stepping from the visible world into the invisible world of imagination, and then returning back into the visible. We all can develop our sensitivity, intuition and leadership capabilities to increase creativity.

  • Published:
  • Updated:

Read more news

Piano Top Loungessa
Campus, Cooperation, Studies, University Published:

Students decided: two community pianos arrived on campus

Aalto-yliopiston opiskelijoiden osallistavan budjetoinnin projektin voittajaksi nousi yhteiskäyttöinen piano.
Accounting capstone course winners
Studies Published:

Towards the transition from the academic world to the professional world

Accounting Masters students had the opportunity to tackle real-life business challenges in the CAPSTONE course in accounting
Three female students studying
Research & Art Published:

Seed funding available to boost collaboration between Aalto, KU Leuven and University of Helsinki

Aalto University, KU Leuven and the University of Helsinki launch the 2nd exploratory seed funding call to explore research collaboration possibilities. The funding call is open until 10 September 2024.
Donation to Recycling Centre's Boksi donation point
Campus Published:

Kierrätyskeskus Boksi donation point now in A Bloc

Boksi is located on the 1st floor of shopping center A Bloc, opposite R-kioski, and is available during the center’s opening hours.