How System Work help me to develop dual awareness

From February 16th to 18th, we concluded our first public run for System Work this year. The turnout surpassed our expectations, boasting the highest attendance we've seen for a public run to date. Our participants came from various backgrounds: banking, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurship, content creation, and even executive coaching.

The diverse spectrum of attendees not only enriched the experience but also underscored the depth of our learning environment, for which I am grateful.

Speaking of learning, one participant reached out to me days after the program concluded with a revelation that caught me off guard. He shared that his experience at System Work had provided him with newfound clarity on a recent McKinsey article titled "Developing Dual Awareness."

The participant shared his profound realization that attending System Work provided him with the practical framework to comprehend the concepts outlined in the McKinsey piece. His insight sparked a deeper exploration into how our course aligns with the principles of developing dual awareness, as articulated in the article.

Intrigued by his insights, I prompted him to delve deeper into how System Work complemented his understanding of developing dual awareness. 

Below is his explanation.


Prior to enrolling in the System Work course, I delved into a thought-provoking McKinsey article centered on the cultivation of awareness. Drawing heavily from their own book Deliberate Calm: How to Learn and Lead in a Volatile World (HarperCollins Publishers, November 2022, the authors explored the concept of "dual awareness" — the integrated awareness of our external and internal environments and how they affect each other.

Intrigued, I read the article in one sitting.

Upon reaching its conclusion, I was left with a question: while the insights were undeniably profound, how could they be translated into tangible practice? The article hinted at significant concepts like self-observation, mindfulness, and the personal iceberg model, yet it left me yearning for practical application. 

As someone who prefers learning by doing, I could feel something was missing from the article

Serendipitously, I found the missing link after completing System Work course. Reflecting on the three-day course, I recognized how it gave me the scaffolding necessary to translate theoretical insights from the article into actionable practices, seamlessly bridging the gap between theory and application.

Let me explain it in a more detailed way.


The article mentioned  5 levels of awareness:

Level 1 of awareness: unaware

At this level, the authors highlight a common pitfall known as fundamental attribution error: we attribute other people’s actions more to the person than to their situation, whereas we attribute our actions more to the situation and circumstances.

We judge ourselves on our intention, yet we judge others on their behavior.

This can be changed if we slow down and better observe the situation we’re in, our internal reactions, and our related behavior.

The practice of slowing down is the cornerstone of the System Work course. The entire course was slow, but this is the course’s strength, not weakness. Towards the end, I could see the slow pace was intentionally and expertly done to serve 2 purposes: 

  1. First off, it gave us the chance to lay down the groundwork. On Day 1, we took our time to explore why we were there and how we could all collaborate effectively moving forward. It set the stage for what was to come
  2. But it wasn't just about setting the scene. That slower pace also gave us the opportunity to look inward, to really reflect on ourselves. It was like hitting the pause button on our autopilot mode—the one that usually dictates how we react and behave without us even realizing it

With the facilitator guiding us through, I felt like I was being gently led into a space of introspection I'd never really explored before. It was a whole new way of thinking, and honestly, it was pretty invaluable.

Level 2 of awareness: delayed 

In level 2, we come to realize after the fact (i.e. delayed) that our actions may have been driven by habitual, sometimes ineffective behaviors, leaving us wishing we could have responded differently.

To progress from level 1 to level 2, receiving timely feedback and engaging in reflection are crucial. They shed light on behavioral patterns that might otherwise evade our notice.

However, how frequently do we truly receive feedback in the moment when it's most impactful?

Enter one of the exercises from System Work: "holding the space." In this activity, participants pair up, taking turns as both the speaker and the attentive listener, followed by reciprocal feedback.

Though seemingly simple, this exercise proved profoundly impactful for me. The immediate feedback from my partner—whether it was my body language during discussions about my father or the expressions I wore when discussing anger—brought invaluable insights to light.

Drawing from concepts like the Johari Window, these observations helped me address blind spots and foster a deeper, shared understanding in my relationships. It's these nuances that lay the foundation for meaningful interpersonal connections.

Level 3 of awareness: perceptive

In level 3, we attain the ability to observe ourselves in the present moment, becoming acutely aware of the circumstances that prompt us to enter a defensive state, complete with its ingrained emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It's a process of recognizing the subtle cues that signal this shift.

Central to this awareness is attentiveness to both our bodily sensations and mental processes, as well as observing our outward behavior.

I had a firsthand encounter with this during a particularly memorable exercise in the System Work course—the silent exercises. Designed to strip away verbal communication, these exercises encouraged us to keenly observe how we carried ourselves in the absence of spoken words.

This experience prompted me to tune into somatic patterns that emerged when paired with another person sans verbal exchange. The deliberate setup, including lighting and music, enhanced the overall immersion.

Through this exercise, I gained profound insight into my body's language—the tension in my shoulders, the clenching of my jaw, the trembling of my palms—each a reflection of my underlying emotions. Moreover, I became attuned to the inner dialogue unfolding in my mind, ranging from uncertainty to curiosity.

It was truly an eye-opening experience, both figuratively and literally, as I became attuned to subtle cues that had previously eluded my awareness.

For this newfound perspective, I am profoundly grateful.


System Work also delves into the realms of level 4 (resilient) and level 5 (adaptive) awareness, as discussed in the referenced article. However, I'd prefer not to delve into specifics to preserve the element of surprise and discovery inherent in the course. As one participant aptly remarked, the decision to embark on this journey with an open mind, without prior knowledge of every detail, enhanced the depth and impact of the experience.

In the meantime, if you're interested in our upcoming courses—or if you know anyone who can benefit from it—you can peruse our upcoming schedules here.


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