2020 in Perspective. Learning From the Past, Sensing the Present Moment, and Prototyping the Future

Helio Borges
14 min readJan 3, 2021
Photo: unknown

To have a clear perspective of the year 2020, we must turn the camera back to us, because what happened in the year is not what matters, the important thing is what we did, do, and will do with what happened to us.

A world is dying…

When Lord Maynard Keynes expressed the advantages of short-term financial speculation, he said “In the long term, we are all dead”. In past times, when big disruptions hit humanity, they were either located in specific geographical areas of the world or separated by several decades, consequently, the new generations were not aware of their long-term effects. They were only seeing their life span, experiencing their present moment like Keynes, from a “me-first” perspective, with total disregard of the long term effects of their actions.

Today, the consequences of those actions are exploding on our faces in every aspect of our lives. Moreover, the Covid-19 disruption has shattered the transparency of our day to day living like an elephant ramming into a crystal shop, forcing us to look our own mortality in its face, and making the year 2020 the most traumatic in humanity’s recent history. Moreover, I can affirm with certainty that in the future, when history looks back to this moment in time, 2020 will be known as the milestone that signaled the beginning of the end of an era.

Taking off My Shoes With Humility and Awe

Arts, and specifically poetry with its powerful images and metaphores, is one of the ways through which we can sense a path forward under a complex environment.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes —
The rest sit round it and pick blackberries.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The above poem from EBB resonated deeply with me because, for the last fifteen years of my life, I metaphorically took off my shoes while the rest of the people were picking blackberries. They were going about their day-to-day living, while I, as time went by, was dedicating more of my time to matters more abstract than we could perceive on our normal awareness because somehow I sensed that the world was about to enter a new era, and I wanted to be part of it.

Following my heart, I directed my attention towards humanity’s evolution from a long-term perspective, identifying historic cycles, the connection between apparently unrelated events, and the effect that those patterns of the past had on the disruptions of the present time. Based on those insights, I sought to find their potential impact on our future, and as the poet said, I could see through the veil of my own ignorance “heaven on earth and every bush afire with God”.

There is nothing extraordinary about it, I just put my attention on those themes, and obtained valuable insights from my observations to do something about it, instead of simply being a bystander. However, not only I felt a constant tension between taking the path that my intuition was pointing at, and the day to day activities that I had to perform in a country under deep disruption, but I also felt lonely because no one from my circle of friends and business acquaintances with whom I spoke, would understand what I was speaking about.

Fortunately, the universe set forth a different path for me in 2015. In that year, I stumbled upon a Senior Lecturer at MIT, Otto Scharmer, who during more than twenty years of action research, had developed “Theory U”, and was teaching a course, “u.lab: Leading From the Emerging Future”, which is an awareness-based system change methodology. I took the course and joined a global community of change agents with whom I could speak freely about those issues without being seen as crazy. The rest is history.

… another one wants to be born

When the pandemic started, I was in awe because I knew that Covid-19 might be the catalyzer that I was expecting to emerge. I had so much to say about everything that I had learned, and about its relevance for the present time, that I started to write like a crazy man. It was as if something wanted to come out of my inner Self in an impulse that I could not control. I now realize that the time had come to harvest the blackberries that I had sown during the latter years.

When you are in the middle of a storm, the only thing that you want to do is to survive, suffering the least possible harm. When Covid-19 passes, most people will think that this was the big flu that they think it is, and they will hope that everything will return to a kind of “new normal” afterward. Although I understand them, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news when I affirm that the world has changed for good and that from now on there will be no “new normal” to return to.

If we lifted the veil of our own ignorance, which prevents us from seeing the long-term effects of this massive disruption, we will observe that it marks the turning point between two eras.

As reported by Mc Kinsey, “The next normal is going to be different. It will not mean going back to the conditions that prevailed in 2019. Indeed, just as the terms “prewar” and “postwar” are commonly used to describe the 20th century, generations to come will likely discuss the pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 eras”.

Entering a new era is not like turning off the switch of the old one and on the switch of the new one. As an illustration, the “Black Death” put an end to the “Middle Ages”, catalyzing the emergence of new mental models that gave rise to the “Italian Renaissance”, but the transition from one historic period to the other lasted 100 years, from 1,300 to 1,400 AD. In this age and time, events happen faster, but being aware of their long term effects takes much longer if it happens at all.

Accordingly, it is of vital importance to know that awareness of the “now” of the “whole” and of the “Self” is the cornerstone for learning and adopting the new mental models that are required by the world that is dawning before us. Therein lies the challenge of these times.

The Age of Complexity

“I only know that I know nothing”. Socrates

The distinguishing characteristic of the new age is “Complexity”. Sonja Blignaut of Cognitive Edge has this to say about Complexity: “Many of the keys that will help us find new ways of organizing, governing, and thriving lie in the inter-disciplinary field of Complexity. Complexity is messy and often filled with paradox”. Learning to live in a confusing world full of paradoxes is a great challenge for humanity as a species. A good starting point would be to open our minds, hearts, and wills to learn the new competencies required by the emerging future, and let go of the mental models that have sustained education, society, and businesses during the last 50 years.

I think that I am not exaggerating when I say that we all need to go to “Complexity school” to learn how to let go of our “rightness” to welcome “uncertainty”, and embrace our “ambiguity” with the curiosity” that arises when we act with “humility” from a place of “not knowing”, with the confidence that being aware of the “Self”, the “now” and the “whole”, we are going to sense what is “emerging”, to “act” upon it wisely and consciously.

Even if you don’t believe me, I ask you to please reflect on those four lines that Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in the 19th century, which are more relevant today than ever.

She suggests in her poem that we stop picking the blackberries of our day to day transparency, and take off our shoes as a sign of humility and respect for our mother Earth, for the others and for ourselves. Additionally, she asks that we focus our attention, and expand our awareness to perceive what is beyond the obvious, to see that “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God”.

Making Sense of Chaos with Perspective

I used the word Perspective in its original meaning, which comes from the Latin perspect “clearly perceived”, past participle of perspicere “inspect, look through, look closely at”.

To have a clear perspective of the year 2020, we must turn the camera back to us, because what happened in the year is not what matters, the important thing is what we did, do, and will do with what happened to us.

This Is My Perspective

I live in a failed country, and I am close to being financially broke, but my spirit is not broken. Far from it, in times like these, I turn to poetry for inspiration, but you probably know that already. This time is Oscar Wilde when he said “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

These are the stars I am looking at right now. I am starting 2021 collaborating with two important projects framed within the u.lab2X program. One in the Spanish language, with a team of the government of a major capital city of Latin America, and the other in the English language with a multinational team exploring the integration of Theory U and the Agile frameworks. I am confident in obtaining funds to continue our Proyecto Hikola societal transformation work in Venezuela. I am excited about continuing with my practice of coaching-mentoring executives and high-performing teams and giving workshops in English and Spanish locally and internationally. I will continue writing about innovation, disruption, complexity, consciousness, competencies for the new era, awareness-based systems change, systems thinking, and any other stuff that emerges in this new era of Complexity. I will also continue to be an active collaborator with the Presencing Institute’s annual cycle of u,lab2X, Gaia Journey, Gaia en Español, and u.lab en Español.

I feel that I am not just witnessing the birth of an era, I am also collaborating on shaping it.

What Will Be Your Perspective?

The liminal space between 2020 and 2021 is ideal to reflect and to clearly perceive, inspect, look through, and look closely at what happened to you and to the world in the year that is ending, to expand your awareness and to focus on the actions that you are going to take, not only in the new year but also in the new era that is dawning before us.

To that end, please receive a gift from my heart. I gift you with 21 articles that I wrote this year that might help you to make sense of what happened, to perceive what lies ahead of us, and to act accordingly.

The number of articles contained in this summary coincides with the year that is dawning before us. Looking back on 2020, I identified some patterns developing in the matters about which I wrote. I turned those matters into titles under which I grouped the corresponding articles so that it will be easier for you to select and to read an article by the subject that it is written about.

These are the subjects: Leading in Complex Times, Tuning-in to our Perspective to Make Sense of Chaos, Storytelling, Saving Gaia with Actions, Systems Thinking, Awareness Based Systems Change, Collective Trauma Healing, Love, and a Deep Knowledge of Violence and Racism. Additionally, you can peek into my personal story reading how I Transformed Myself into the Person I Am Today with Theory U.

I hope that some of them shed light on the questions that most of us have at this moment in time when everyone on earth is trying to make sense of what is going on and thinking about what to do about it.

If you want to co-shape the new era or are curious about anything that emerged for you in this article, or in any of the articles in the summary, please write to me at helio.borges.consulting@gmail.com to have a generative conversation.

Here´s to a new era of health, happiness, prosperity, and consciousness for all!

Leading in Complex Times

Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes. . . . Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes. Russell Ackoff.

Leading In Complex Times. From VUCA To Complexity

…when we dive into the “C” word (Complexity), instead of VUCA, we realize that the challenges that we face, as human beings and organizations, are not just variable, uncertain, and ambiguous, they are much more profound and complex than that.

Leading in Complex Times. The Blind Spot of Leadership

Those leaders failed to see, failed to care, and failed to act on a deadly systemic crisis that disregards national borders, human races, and economic status, that not only infects and kills the most vulnerable people but also disrupts every type of human endeavor on the planet.

Tuning-in to our Perspective to Make Sense of Chaos

Tuning-in to our Perspective of the Past

COVID-19, The Launching Pad to a New Renaissance

COVID-19 challenges us to make a choice as a species. Are we going to repeat the patterns of the past in the XXI century? Or, are we going to embrace the unknown, connecting with the emerging future? In the first case, we will be inviting an elephant to dance into a crystal shop. In the second, we will be building the launching pad to a new Renaissance.

Tuning-in to our Perspective of the Present

Setting in Motion a New Renaissance

“COVID 19, like any disruption, essentially confronts each of us with a choice:

1) to freeze, turn away from others, only care for ourselves, or

2) to turn toward others to support and comfort those who need help.”

Otto Scharmer

Tuning-in to our Perspective of the Future

The Shaping of a Post-COVID Golden Age

“We have to get together and push with social pressure, knowing that change can happen. I think that it is very important that we know that we are not dreaming, that we are constructing, that we are making a better world and we are going to succeed.” Carlota Pérez

Saving GAIA…

In Greek mythology, Gaia is the personification of the Earth and one of the Greek primordial deities. It is also an acronym for Global Activation of Intention and Action, an initiative of the Presencing Institute created to catalyze change at a global level regarding the bridging of the Environmental Divide, the separation between self and the Environment, the Social Divide, the separation between self and the others, and the Spiritual Divide, the separation between self and Self.

…with Actions

Five Actions to Save GAIA. Otto Scharmer

“The GAIA journey really is about deepening our connection to ourselves, to each other, and to the place we are living in — our mother Earth.” Otto Scharmer.

…with Systems Thinking

State of the Art Systems Thinking. GAIA Journey

“State of the art systems thinking is blending systems thinking with systems sensing and is focusing on making systems and communities see and sense themselves…” Otto Scharmer

…with Awareness Based Systems Change

Awareness Based Systems Change: Deep Resonance

Awareness Based Systems Change can be described by the following three sentences. “You cannot understand a system unless you change it. You cannot change a system unless you transform consciousness. You cannot transform consciousness unless you can make a system see and sense itself.” Otto Scharmer

…with Collective Trauma Healing

Systems Sensing: Attending to Collective Trauma

“One of the most pandemic trauma symptoms in the world, besides de numbness and hyperactivity, is the fragmentation of my mind, my emotions, and my body. The three elements are not communicating the same thing.” Thomas Huebl

…with Love

A New World of Love. Maturana, Davila, Scharmer, Senge.

To love is letting the other appear from his/her legitimacy. Starting from that affirmation we are going to state this systemic law that says “When you distinguish what you want to preserve, everything else changes around what you preserve.” Ximena Davila

…with a Deep Knowledge of Violence, and Racism

The Deeper Dynamics of Violence and Racism. Otto Scharmer

So, when you look at all these three forms of violence and these three blind spots together, they lead to a cycle of trauma, and self-destruction, which is exactly what we see going on right now, not only here (USA), but also in other parts of the world. Otto Scharmer

Transforming Myself into the Person I Am Today with Theory U

“I decided to stay and confront my shadows head-on. It was the scariest — yet the best — decision that I have made in my life, because letting go of the person I used to be has transformed me into the person I am today.”

“This is the Moment I Was Born For.” ULAB 2X

“This is the moment I was born for”. This sentence is the hope of our collective journey to help each other to rise to the occasion and to operate from that place of possibility.” Otto Scharmer

All on Board the U Train! The Theory U Journey Begins Now

“You don’t learn Theory U studying and watching videos. You learn it by practicing, specifically by participating in group practices.” Otto Scharmer

The Deeper Territory of Leadership

“Like astronauts, we shoot for the stars in our careers and our lives. In the middle of the way we pause and look back. And think not only on planet EARTH, but also on planet SELF, and we ask ourselves:

-What is it that really matters to me?

-Who am I, and what is my real work to do?

-What’s the story that I want to be part of?

-That I want to be a contributor to?

It is these profound questions that mark the headway into the deeper territory of leadership”

u.lab, a Course and a Multicultural Social Movement

“There is a shared sentiment today on this planet:

1. We are heading in the wrong direction. Our civilization is hitting the wall.

2. I want to be part of a different story.

3. I don’t know how.

u.lab is about the how.

Theory U: Presencing, Crossing the Threshold into the Field of the Future

“When leaders function by getting into the gap and are confronted with disruption, they stand a good chance of picking something that the future needs in order to create future possibilities”. John Carlin

Theory U, Prototyping: Integrating Past, Present, and Emerging Future

By integrating my past and my present I can offer a unique service to my stakeholders because I now act, not from what I need from the future, but from what the future needs from me. HB

Theory U: Co-Evolving, The Prototype is You

I’d rather focus on leaning into my discomfort and on reaching into my own spiritual divide to let a different future emerge, and then, on acting with confidence to overcome those disruptions because, it is not about the disruptions themselves, it is about how I react to them.


When you deep dive into the gap and co-habitate a space of Presence with a group of people, the whole group gets a different perspective on life.

Storytelling Around a Circle of Light

“After a Circle experience, nothing around you has really changed, but the person who walks out of that space is a different one altogether, and that my friends, makes all the difference because, at that moment, that person is the personification of Presence.”


She was primarily a storyteller. When she came to my house, our kitchen was her auditorium, my children, her audience because they were happy eating the delicacies that she had prepared and listening to her stories. Now, I am a storyteller thanks to her, and every time that I write, it is a homage to her.

The Threshold, the Elixir, and the Rainbow Serpent

“I am the Rainbow Serpent, the mother of all life, tell your people that as my skin reflects the colors of the rainbow, so does the skin of the totem of man. No man is different from the other by the color of their skin, all of them are part of the rainbow of life.”



Helio Borges

Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges