Theory U: two views on the work of Otto Scharmer

An introduction to Theory U and Presencing from the book Partnerships of Hope by Chris Schaefer

Because of its strong future orientation, similar to that of Appreciative Inquiry, I would next mention Klaus Otto Scharmer’s Theory U .  Scharmer encourages us to “learn from a future that has not yet happened and from continually discovering our part in bringing that future to pass .” He describes a sevenfold process from looking at patterns of the past to seeing the present with new eyes, to sensing the school’s environment and needs and then to connecting to the source, to the being of the organization as well as to our own higher intentions .  From here it becomes a question of crystallizing, prototyping and creating the needed future .  These steps are described briefly in the diagram below and can be worked on over a number of meetings and retreats by all or some of the institution’s members .

TheU-Process involves a deepening of commitment and intention on the part of all participants to serve the school and the future

through developing an open mind and an open heart and listening and attending to what is wanted .  It is both a social process and a spiritual practice to suspend all preconceptions and personal interests to serve the whole .13


Theory U: Presencing the future, co-creating a new reality

An introduction to the work of Otto Scharmer by Luigi Morelli

“…all of us around the world participate in two different social types of connection, two different bodies of the social field. One of them is governed by the mechanics of anti emergence and destruction. The other is governed by the dynamics of emergence and collective creativity; it’s the emerging new social body that is about to be born.”                                           Otto Scharmer

In September of 2008 I took the global Presencing Classroom, three-month weekly online class with Otto Scharmer. Since then I have taken with great interest to his books and practices. Here is a concise guide into Theory U for the layman.

Going down the U

Theory U is an unusual and highly unique approach to organizational development, offering equal doses of theory and practice. Theory U’s procedures for shifting the social field are basically the same whether at the individual (micro), the group (meso), the organizational (macro), or the social and global systems (mundo). The shift can be observed forming in small groups and networks of people, through new ways of thinking, conversing, and moving into action.

At the four levels mentioned above, we find four corresponding universal metaprocesses:

-        thinking

-        languaging (conversation/communication)

-        structuring (organizing)

-        coordinating (forming collective global action)

In the new kind of learning that Theory U explores, we are challenged to learn from a future that is emerging and to continually discover our part in bringing that future to pass. This is especially important in an organizational environment going through constant and highly unpredictable change, as is often the case in the new millennium.

Going down the U is a progressive descent involving more and more individual and group capacities, going from the Open Mind (recognizing more of reality) Open Heart (realizing the part we all play in collective dynamics) and open will (ability to let go of pre-established ideas, outcomes and ‘solutions’ in order to accept the emerging will of the whole organization/community/corporation)

THeory U graphic

For a concise view of the whole see Otto Scharmer’s PDF.

The nature of presencing

The key element that carries organizational change beyond problem-solving or re-engineering is the key element at the bottom of the U. Presencing implies a complete shift in the orientation to our personal and collective will. The future has intentionality, and presencing can also be said to be pre-sensing and bringing into presence the highest future potential. Presencing is the moment of stillness between letting go and “letting come” (allowing room for a future that cannot be foretold).

Presencing can be done individually. Theory U does it collectively, at the level of the organization. Still, every individual has his/her own very unique experience of it. Below are some examples from the book Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society.

“When I am part of a social field that crosses the threshold at the bottom of the U, it feels as if I am participating in the birth of a new world. It’s a profound, quieting experience in that I feel as if I’ve been touched by eternal beauty. There is a deep opening of my higher Self.” Betty Sue Flowers.

“Moving through the bottom of the U is becoming aware of the incredible beauty of life itself, of becoming re-enchanted with the world… When the sort of commitment you are talking about happens, you feel as if you’re fulfilling your destiny, but you also feel as if you’re freer than you’ve ever been in your life. It’s a huge paradox.” Joseph Jaworski

“For me, the core of presencing is waking up together—waking up to who we really are by linking with and acting from our highest future Self—and by using the Self as a vehicle for bringing forth new worlds.” Otto Scharmer.

See more In Otto Scharmer’s blog article Heart and head (future and past) : presencing and absencing.