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Centre for Building Sustainable Value

Learning from the Emerging Future: A Reflection on Otto Scharmer’s Sharing

  • Haitao Yu
  • |
  • Feb 13, 2020
Learning from the Emerging Future: A Reflection on Otto Scharmer’s Sharing

As a 4th Year PhD candidate at the Ivey Business School, I have ten years studying in three leading business schools in China, France, and Canada and will become a business faculty shortly. Despite having experienced different teaching approaches– in remarkably diverse environments – Otto Scharmer challenged the way I think about learning. In a world of disruptions and constant change, does it make sense to only learn from the past to think about the future?

Otto’s point is that today we face new challenges that require us not only to reflect on the past, but to sense emerging future opportunities and risks. Given the urgency of today's complex challenges, learning from the emerging future has never been more important.

Otto’s idea shed light on one thing that has been worrying me recently: the new coronavirus in China. The viral outbreak from a city in central China has quickly become an international emergency within just one month, despite the Chinese authority’s effort to quarantine cities with a combined population of over 57 million people. The epidemic is now also heavily hitting the country in many aspects, particularly with respect to its economy.

How could governments, hospitals, companies, civil societies, and each individual respond to such a complex situation with emerging issues? The coronavirus is new. The speed and scale of the outbreak is unprecedented. The epidemic has caused many consequences beyond public health due to lockdowns in cities.

In business school, we often learn from the past, through best practices or case studies that illustrate previous real-world business scenarios. Yet, we are now living in an era characterized by constant change and interconnectedness, where issues like the coronavirus may become more common. To respond to such complex new situations with only lessons from the past may be the same as sleepwalking on a highway.

The four-hour lab session planted the seed of the idea to learn from the emerging future. It is not possible to only rely on the past to predict the future.  I will keep it in mind while performing my research and teaching activities when I become a business faculty.