A new space for learning: the Systemic Insight Circle

In March I started a Circle – a space for people who are curious to explore new ways of learning about Gaining Systemic Insight in the world and in themselves. The Circle consists of weekly calls that are revolving around a prompt, and one-to-one meetings among the members.

Starting the Systemic Insight Circle was motivated by my own search for a place where I can spend time with other like-minded people pondering over the questions that keep us awake at night – and the realisation that there are not that many spaces like that.

Over the pandemic year of 2020, I have met many people who also seem to be looking for a place where they can share their thoughts and maybe, through interaction with others, make some advancements in their thinking.

Personally, I have been lucky that I have found and joined Thirdness, a circle created by Nitzan Hermon, which I am still enjoying. Inspired by Thirdness and motivated by the conversations I had over the year, I decided to start a new Circle inspired by the theme of Gaining Systemic Insight. 

The Circle is not meant to be a place where we are confronted with more material, more content. All of us have piles of unread books, reading lists, bookmark collections, folders with PDFs and lists with videos to watch that would fill our entire lives if we devoted it to get through them. In the age of abundance of information, collecting more does not help. We need a place to ponder the wonders of life and what they mean to us. This is not to say that reading new things is not important – it certainly is. Yet at the same time, knowledge isn’t just what we can read or store in our brains. Knowledge is most easily retrieved when needed, when confronted by the right problem – when we are asked to share knowledge devoid of contextual stimulation, for example in the form of lessons learned, we often struggle. 

Living knowledge is intersubjective, it becomes alive when shared with others that build upon it. The Systemic Insight Circle is a place where this generative way of interacting and exchanging knowledge can happen. It is a place where knowledge moved from being atomised in the individual to becoming generative in the group. The Circle is an ecosystem of living knowledge, a moiré of dynamic patterns.

In large groups or when talking to people we perceive as experts, voicing one’s own knowledge is often intimidating. Am I getting it right? Did I just misunderstand? To step into this vulnerability requires a safe space. The Systemic Insight Circle is an intimate place where at times the members can make themselves vulnerable by expressing not-knowing, by asking seemingly stupid questions (yet there are no stupid questions) or by tentatively expressing certain points of view to see how it feels to put a thought into words, and how it lands with the others. In this place, we can try out ideas on each other and refine them together.

In this way, the Circle also becomes a place of learning together, by hearing other members’ ideas and building on them, developing something new together. It is a training course that continuously builds its own curriculum. There are no teachers or experts, only humans who figure things out together. Each member can take these ideas out into the ‘real world’ and try them, bringing the experience back into the circle and sharing it with the others. With that, the living knowledge ecosystem created in the Circle reaches out and grows by bringing in experiences.

While we are learning together, we might not be learning the same thing. Traditional training courses are designed with defined training objectives and outcomes in mind. What are we supposed to know once we have gone through the training? This only works in a world that functions on canned knowledge, knowledge that can be written up and regurgitated when prompted. The knowledge in the circle, on the other hand, is living knowledge, knowledge that is continuously created and recreated in the moment. What each member takes away from that is personal and individual – the aha moments and insights that are created during the discussions are coherences that are formed by the thoughts shared into the room at that moment and one’s personal inner world and history. They are necessarily different for each person. The discussions in the Circle are meandering on purpose, to serendipitously create these moments of coherence in individuals – these is the learning that each member can take away.

The coherence of insights is temporary, however. There is no final understanding that we can aim for. The whole complexity of the universe cannot be understood by the human mind. New insights form and they help us to explain a situation. Collected insights provide the map that we sometimes call the world view or mental models. But these are mere maps, models. We need to be vigilant and not take the map for the territory. Rigour lies in the continuous updating of our maps by engaging with the territory, but also in challenging each other’s maps. Are we perceiving what is really out there or are we perceiving what we expect to be out there following our maps? It’s always the latter. The way we perceive is based on what we already think we know. Rigour happens when we observe the observer. 

The Circle is a place where we have permission not to know – where we can consciously put ourselves in a place of not knowing, of being at a loss, an aporetic state. It becomes a place of wonder and of new possibilities, where modules are combined and recombined into new ways of seeing the world.

The Circle is a space for people to show up as their full selves, not just in their professional personas and roles. Only when we recognise our inner complexity can we embrace the outer complexity. Our state of mind depends on more than just our professional profile or our professional thoughts, it depends on how our days go, how we show up, what situations we just left before joining, whether we had a fight with our kids, what we ate for breakfast, and so on. We need to recognise that. It can enrich our discussions if we do. In the Circle, we should not just talk about markets or health systems, but also about families and relationships.

The Circle has no defined output, outcome or impact. I simply do not know what is going to happen. I do not know how long it will last or how it will evolve. I have some ideas on how it could evolve, but I do not want to impose these too strongly now – I don’t want to limit the space in which it can evolve by what I can imagine.

Learn more about the Systemic Insight Circle or get in touch if you are interested to join! Also, subscribe to my new weekly newsletter if you haven’t done so yet.

Featured image by Marco Savastano on Unsplash

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