The Iceberg Model, Listening and the News

The past six weeks, in and around the U.S., our news cycles have careened from one disaster to the next. Toward the end of August, Houston experienced catastrophic flooding. Hurricane Harvey was a “1,000 year flood event” and Houston’s third “1-in-500 year” flood in three years. Soon after, Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean and Florida. Then came Maria: a natural disaster that, due to the callous response of the U.S. Government, is transforming into a man-made disaster. Mexico City was rocked by a major earthquake. Unprecedented fires have recently ripped through Northern California. The list goes on. In Las Vegas, the latest mass shooting left nearly 60 people dead. Meanwhile, Trump escalated the risk of nuclear war with North Korea, threatened to dismantle the Iran Agreement, pushed to strip healthcare from millions of Americans, threatened the free speech of news networks and attacked black athletes who are protesting systemic oppression.

If you’re working directly in one of these places, or with an organization that’s helping, there may be direct ways of applying the principles and practices of Theory U. But what about those of us who aren’t directly impacted and don’t have direct leverage to create change? What can we do?

Here is a simple practice you can do daily. It applies the Iceberg Model (Leading From the Emerging Future) and the Four Levels of Listening (Theory U).

Bring to mind the Iceberg Model, a framework for looking beneath the day-to-day crisis symptoms we often hear about in the news, to the deeper structures and paradigms of thought that give rise to them. As you read, watch or listen to the news, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What information in this story is about the symptoms of a deeper problem? Write down your observations that point to a symptoms-level story or analysis.
  • What information points to deeper structural causes that give rise to those symptoms? A structure is a pattern of relationships that have to do with ways of coordinating and organizing, within organizations and across organizations. Write these down as well.
  • What paradigms of thought can I identify? Consider the various stakeholders in this story (subjects, commentators, the reporter). Inquire into their deeper beliefs. What is the worldview underlying what they say and do?
  • Whose voice(s) am I not hearing? What other voices would need to be heard in order to have all key viewpoints represented?

Now, take a moment and turn your awareness and attention back on yourself. How have you been attending to this story? Consider the following possibilities:

  • Am I just looking to confirm what I already believe? This is what we call Level 1 listening (downloading).
  • Am I looking or listening for information that might challenge my beliefs? This is Level 2 listening (factual).
  • Am I attempting to understand the situation from someone else’s point of view? This means going beyond just an intellectual understanding and allowing myself to sense into what it feels like to be that person. This is Level 3 listening (empathic).
  • Could I tune into what’s next? Could I sense what’s wanting to emerge? What patterns am I starting to become aware of? What am I feeling moved to do? This is Level 4 listening (generative).

Practice reading the news in this way, looking deeply at the information, and looking reflectively at your own quality of attention.This is one small way of bringing the iceberg model and levels of listening into your daily routine. What happens as a result?