The Awareness Does the Work

This week I attended an interesting course entitled Coaching from a Systems Perspective. It was developed and facilitated by a group of colleagues affiliated with the Society for Organizational Learning. ( There were many valuable aspects that I’ll be incorporating into my practice over time.

One phrase in particular really stuck in my mind.  Heidi Sparkes Guber was telling us about a tool for capturing learning called an Emergent Learning Map. Developed by Marilyn Darling, an Emergent Learning Map is designed to “learn from your own work—in the course of doing your own work in a disciplined way—with as little extra effort as possible.”  That last part really caught my attention. How often do we see learning as something that takes extra time and effort and stands apart from our real work?  Imagine if you could seamlessly incorporate individual and collective learning into doing the work itself? Heidi asserted that the more you work with Emergent Learning Maps, the less you need to create an Action Plan: The awareness does the work.

Emergent Learning Maps are a great tool to structure conversation and you can learn more about them on Marilyn’s website:  As much as it’s a useful tool, I was more intrigued about possible implications of the notion that “the awareness does the work.” Here are some possibilities:

What if a team commits to maintaining awareness of the times when they are working at their best, what that looks like, and how they feel? Maybe they wouldn’t need more “team building” sessions!What if an individual maintained awareness of those times when he experienced joy, ease, fulfillment…or whatever quality he wanted to cultivate? Maybe he wouldn’t need to set an explicit goal for increasing that quality in his yearly action plan!What if the people in an organization set their intentions and then maintained awareness of those opportunities that already existed to fulfill their intentions, rather than adding more meetings and to dos?

I’m not yet ready to abandon my to do lists and action plans but I’m very interested in the possibility that the awareness does the work. It seems like a pretty freeing way to live. Any comments?