Werner Erhard is known as one of the pioneers and foremost leaders of the personal training industry. Having introduced the breakthrough notion of transformation to the general public over 40 years ago, Werner Erhard’s ideas about transformation subsequently came to be seen as a powerful, practical, and relevant resource in contemporary society, particularly in business and academia.

In the early days starting in 1971, Werner Erhard’s ideas of transformation manifested into the overwhelmingly popular est Training. The est Training was delivered to over a million people in a 10 year period.

The programs and work of Werner Erhard focused on personal responsibility, integrity and leadership.

Werner Erhard was influenced by a collection of the times and circumstances, including the 60’s, the turn of a decade, and an immersion in such great philosophers as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger.

Quest Into The Nature of Being For Human Beings

Werner Erhard’s ideas and his ability to share these ideas were and remain uniquely his own. As with many new ideas, paradigms or thinkers, we try to answer the question: where did the ideas come from?

Mostly the answers can only be attributed to an individual with an original thought and an effective way of conveying it to people and organizations such that those people and organizations have access to a new paradigm.

This is certainly the case with Werner Erhard.

In the 1960’s an entire generation was looking for answers. Erhard stated, “It was in the late 60’s and early 70’s that I began a quest into the nature and function of being for human beings.”

It is ironic that Erhard did not encounter the writings of the philosophers Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Husserl until after he had developed the est Training and had already begun his own research into the methodology of phenomenology without having a name for it.

In pursuit of that quest Erhard developed as a researcher and an original thinker. Erhard, while remaining rooted in his Episcopalian upbringing, tried on every discipline, practice and theory available to him.

He said later:

Of all the disciplines that I studied, practiced, learned, Zen was the essential one. It was not so much an influence on me, rather it created space. It allowed those things that were there to be there. It gave some form to my experience. And it built up in me the critical mass from which was kindled the experience that produced est.

It is ironic that Erhard did not encounter the writings of the philosophers Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Husserl until after he had developed the est training and had already begun his own research into the methodology of phenomenology without having a name for it.

Erhard’s ideas are ontological in nature; he does not promote any kind of belief system incuding religious belief.

After more than 40 years many of Werner Erhard’s ideas, as well as the many people who have built something from Werner Erhard’s notion of transformation, have become a part of society’s thinking and culture across the globe.


Illustration I: The Influence of Werner Erhard. Based on the doctoral dissertation by Vikki Brock entitled Grounded Theory of the Roots and Emergence of Coaching.

What Other Philosophers Say

In their paper, “Connecting Philosophy and Communication: A Heideggerian Analysis of the Ontological Rhetoric of Werner Erhard”, Bruce Hyde and Andrew Kopp state: “We are not suggesting here that Heidegger’s philosophical writings were the source of Erhard’s ideas. We see both men as being at work in the same field, sharing a view toward language and its relationship to Being.”
Hubert Dreyfus
Hubert Dreyfus University of California, Berkeley
In the course of the training it became progressively clear to me that the experience underlying the training and the conceptualization of this experience have deep affinities with the phenomena presented and analyzed in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time … It is directly manifest in the training that est embodies a powerful and coherent truth which transforms the quality of the lives of those who experience it. Moreover, this truth contains radically new insights into the nature of human beings. Read more Hubert Dreyfus: Assessment of the Philosophical Significance of The est Training.
Michael Zimmerman
Michael Zimmerman University of Colorado, Boulder
I took the est training in December of 1980. And it was an amazing experience. I had a powerful breakthrough and insight. I got it, as they say in the jargon. And what I got was that I was this openness, this clearing. And this is so powerful in part because I was a student of Heidegger, in the sense that I read his books and had written a book about him and so on. I saw that this was so consistent with Heidegger’s idea of what it means to be human, that I was totally amazed and in addition to find this transformational workshop able to generate a first person experience of my being this nothingness, this openness. It was astounding to me. See also Michael Zimmerman: Est ― A Philosophical Appraisal.
Humberto Maturana
Humberto Maturana Instituto de Formación Matriztica
The training is a set of interpersonal interactions that lead to emotional and intellectual experiences that provide a circumstance and an intrument for self awareness, self observation and reflection on the circumstances of the subject trainee, both in his individual life and as a social being. Read more Humberto Maturana: Report on the Est Training.

Scholar Warren Bennis Examines Erhard’s Work

Warren Bennis (1925–2014), Founding Chairman, University of Southern California Leadership Institute and Distinguished Professor, Marshall School of Business examines the ideas that underlie Werner Erhard’s methodology.

The est Training

The est Training was presented around the world between 1971 and 1984. In this film clip Werner Erhard and The est Training are featured in media segments with Joel Daly, Dinah Shore, Cloris Leachman, Amanda Arnold and Ellie Dylan, from the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Werner Erhard & Associates, A Brief Look, 1982

Hear from leadership and organization scholar Warren Bennis (1925–2014), business leader Dr. Fernando Flores, filmmaker Dan Alpert, est trainers Roger Dillan, Stewart Esposito and Vic Gioscia. Werner Erhard & Associates was formed in 1981 by Werner Erhard and the employees of est, an educational corporation, including founding employees of est, Gonneke Spits and Laurel Scheaf.