The Eco (Not Ego) Perspective

The person who lives from the conventional mental map is likely to be skeptical about the ability to transcend self-interest, yet research suggests that it does happen. The desire to transcend self-interest and to make a positive difference in the lives of others is called “prosocial motivation.”

Research indicates that people who experience prosocial motivation are more likely to take initiative, assist others, persist in meaningful tasks, and be open to negative feedback.

The research also shows that people who pursue the common good, are more likely to motivate others, stimulate them to new ideas, and inspire their creativity. These facts suggest that prosocial people orient to the positive mental model. They shift from a focus on the “ego-system” to a focus on something called the “eco-system.”

The term “eco-system” in this context comes from the work of Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer. They see the “eco-” perspective as an orientation that people take when they try to move themselves and others from an entrenched way of seeing to the embrace and enactment of the emerging future.

According to Scharmer and Kaufer, “This inner shift, from fighting the old to sensing and presencing an emerging future possibility, is at the core of all deep leadership work today. It’s a shift that requires us to expand our thinking from the head to the heart. It is a shift from an ego-system awareness that cares about the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that cares about the well-being of all, including oneself. . . . When operating with eco-system awareness, we are driven by the concerns and intentions of our emerging or essential self—that is, by a concern that is informed by the well-being of the whole.”

The authors go on to propose that responding to the emerging future requires an internal shift. Judgments must be suspended and attention refocused. One must let go of the past and embrace the future that is trying to emerge through us. This is what they mean by “presencing” the future. We must become a present manifestation of the future that is trying to unfold. They argue that this is, perhaps, the most important of all leadership capacities.

As we shift from the ego-perspective to the eco-perspective, we become “driven by the concerns and intentions of our emerging or essential self—that is, by a concern that is informed by the well-being of the whole.”

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