I have always thought that it was important to have an open mind- and prided myself on having one.
According to Z. Hereford, people who are open minded are: “willing to change their views when presented with new facts and evidence.” They are more accepting of others, have fewer prejudices, are more open to change, and have better problem solving skills.
Based on this description, an open mind seems to be a desirable characteristic for a lifelong learner and a change agent.
However, information I’ve received from two different sources has given me new perspectives.
In a recent cartoon, Randy Glasbergen shows a man sitting in a psychologist’s office. The man is saying to the therapist: “I used to have an open mind, but people kept leaving their trash in it!”
In this man’s case, having an open mind wasn’t enough. And there is another more compelling reason that supports the title of this article.
According to Dr. C. Otto Scharmer and Theory U, an open mind is merely the second of the four levels of listening or attention necessary for movement from an I-focus to a we-focus.
“Theory U proposes that the quality of the results we create in any social system is a function of the quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from.”
At the first level of listening, we simply “download” information that is consistent with our beliefs. If something is inconsistent with our world view, we simply don’t hear or accept it.
An open mind occurs at the second level, where we “see with fresh eyes.” At this level, we suspend our habitual beliefs and set prejudgment aside so we are able to listen to and accept facts that differ from what we thought we knew.
The understanding of an open mind is at a cognitive or intellectual level. We don’t listen with empathy until we achieve the third level, where we have an open heart. This is where we open ourselves up to experiencing on an emotional level what others are feeling.
It is only when we reach the fourth and deepest level of listening that we are able to listen in a generative (or procreative) manner. At this level, our open will enables us to let go of fear and the baggage of the past, and let the new vision and intention come. Instead of learning from the past, we “connect with and learn from emerging future possibilities.”
If meaningful change is to occur, the fourth and deepest level of listening must be achieved.
Dr. Scharmer calls activity at this level presencing. “Presencing is a blended word combining ‘sensing’ (feeling the future possibility) and ‘presence’ (the state of being in the present moment): presencing means ‘sensing and actualizing one’s highest future possibility… “
The question for trainers and other change agents is “How do we help people get to the fourth level?” The Presencing Institute offers six tools: dialogue interview, prototyping, guided journaling, sensing journeys, shadowing, stakeholder interviews and a case clinic.
Clearly, an open mind is not enough!