How Being a Parent Helps the Shift from Ego to Eco

Last weekend I found myself in a situation where within earshot my husband was explaining what I did for work to one of his colleagues. At the end of his explanation, his colleague said: “Right so she is a parent?” I think he may have been on the money.

My work focuses on supporting people across many sectors to collaborate effectively and it is remarkably similar to parts of my role as a parent. Both fields require a shift from focusing mainly on ego activities where it is all about my self-esteem and importance to a focus on the ‘eco’ where the whole system is considered.

From the moment of birth through the many milestones that happen in the life of a child, a parent is repeatedly taught and gets to practice humility. How can you be full of ego as you experience the joy of the first smile, word, step, goal, or girl friend? How can that ego be front and centre as you change a nappy, pick out head lice and clear up mess? It can’t. Instead your ego takes its place amongst the ecosystem that is your family. Contributing, sometimes leading, sometimes following and always keeping focused on the whole.

Achieving such a shift to an eco-system way of operating will of course take a lot of practice of our collaborative muscle. This blog suggests that we are already doing useful practice in our families.

As a parent I believe in my children and appreciate their expertise and growing knowledge. I value their different way of doing things and notice how the diversity within our family makes us a much stronger whole. It is certainly more fun and effective than if we did everything my way!

I have a ready tolerance for seeing how things pan out in our family. As one of my clients recently said about his team, we “pitch in and see where it goes.” This is a lovely plain language description of prototyping. Prototyping means translating an idea or concept into experimental action and is a vital part of building enduring solutions through collaboration.

Otto Scharmer of Theory U encourages us all to take this journey from an ego-system focus to an eco-system focus. Theory U suggests that the 3 major fault lines in our society are:
1) our relationship with nature and our planet;
2) our relationship with one another; and
3) our relationship with ourselves.

When these relationships rupture, they create three divides: ecological, social and spiritual-cultural. Attending to these cracks comes about as we place less emphasis on the ego and more on the whole eco-system.

I am sure that all you parents are doing collaborative activities within your families, perhaps without being aware of just how powerful they are. Imagine taking those eco-system behaviours beyond your family; to your friends, to your colleagues, to your managers, to your political leaders and to strangers. Before you know it we will be operating collaboratively as a norm and beginning to heal humanity’s fault lines.

Let’s give it a go.

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