Theory-U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges
An executive summary of the new book by Otto Scharmer
Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges
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Using his experience working with some of the world’s most accomplished leaders and innovators, Otto Scharmer shows in Theory U how groups and organizations can develop seven leadership capacities in order to create a future that would not otherwise be possible. Tapping Our Collective Capacity
We live in a time of massive institutional failure, collectively creating results that nobody wants. Climate change. AIDS. Hunger. Poverty. Violence. Terrorism. Destruction of communities, nature, life—the foundations of our social, economic, ecological, and spiritual well-being. This time calls for a new consciousness and a new collective leadership capacity to meet challenges in a more conscious, intentional, and strategic way. The development of such a capacity would allow us to create a future of greater possibilities. Illuminating the Blind Spot
Why do our attempts to deal with the challenges of our time so often fail? Why are we stuck in so many quagmires today? The cause of our collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change. This “blind spot” exists not only in our collective leadership but also in our everyday social interactions. We are blind to the source dimension from which effective leadership and social action come into being. We know a great deal about what leaders do and how they do it. But we know very little about the inner place, the source from which they operate. And it is this source that “Theory U” attempts to explore. The U: One Process, Five Movements
When leaders develop the capacity to come near to that source, they experience the future as if it were “wanting to be born”— an experience called “presencing.” That experience often carries with it ideas for meeting challenges and for bringing into being an otherwise impossible future. Theory U shows how that capacity for presencing can be developed. Presencing is a journey with five movements:
As the diagram illustrates, we move down one side of the U (connecting us to the world that is outside of our institutional bubble) to the bottom of the U (connecting us to the world that emerges from within) and up the other side of the U (bringing forth the new into the world).
On that journey, at the bottom of the U, lies an inner gate that requires us to drop everything that isn’t essential. This process of letting-go (of our old ego and self) and letting-come (our highest future possibility: our Self) establishes a subtle connection to a deeper source of knowing. The essence of presencing is that these two selves—our current self and our best future Self—meet at the bottom of the U and begin to listen and resonate with each other. Once a group crosses this threshold, nothing remains the same. Individual members and the group as a whole begin to operate with a heightened level of energy and sense of future possibility. Often they then begin to function as an intentional vehicle for an emerging future. Seven Theory U Leadership Capacities
The journey through the U develops seven essential leadership capacities. 1. Holding the space of listening.
The foundational capacity of the U is listening. Listening to others. Listening to oneself. And listening to what emerges from the collective. Effective listening requires the creation of open space in which others can contribute to the whole. 2. Observing.
The capacity to suspend the “voice of judgment” is key to moving from projection to true observation. 3. Sensing.
The preparation for the experience at the bottom of the U—presencing—requires the tuning of three instruments: the open mind, the open heart, and the open will. This opening process is not passive but an active “sensing” together as a group. While an open heart allows us to see a situation from the whole, the open will enables us to begin to act from the emerging whole. 4. Presencing
The capacity to connect to the deepest source of self and will allows the future to emerge from the whole rather than from a smaller part or special interest group. 5. Crystalizing.
When a small group of key persons commits itself to the purpose and outcomes of a project, the power of their intention creates an energy field that attracts people, opportunities, and resources that make things happen. This core group functions as a vehicle for the whole to manifest. 6. Prototyping
Moving down the left side of the U requires the group to open up and deal with the resistance of thought, emotion, and will; moving up the right side requires the integration of thinking, feeling, and will in the context of practical applications and learning by doing. 7. Performing.
A prominent violinist once said that he couldn’t simply play his violin in Chartres cathedral; he had to “play” the entire space, what he called the “macro violin,” in order to do justice to both the space and the music. Likewise, organizations need to perform at this macro level: they need to convene the right sets of players (frontline people who are connected through the same value chain) and to engage a social technology that allows a multi-stakeholder gathering to shift from debating to co-creating the new.
Review – I
In a world burdened with too much information, we are occasionally blessed with a genuinely new idea about how to perceive, think about, and act on our overly complex world. Scharmer’s Theory U model of how to open our mind, emotions, and will to moments of discovery and mutual understanding is profound and much needed. Readers will be impressed not only by the depth of theory in this volume but also by the very practical approach that Scharmer provides us for enlarging our human capacity for growth. This will be an important book.
– Edgar Schein, Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management
Review – II
This book is a must-read for all who are interested in the emerging future of leadership theory and practice. Otto Scharmer´s Theory U takes you on an exciting deep dive into the true center of leadership as a process of inner knowing and social innovation. With many tested and practical exercises drawn from a rich background of disciplines, this book will help you to discover and follow the path towards mastery on your own leadership journey. It pushes the envelope of current leadership wisdom and invites you to explore the strongest leadership tool there is: yourself.
– Ralf Schneider, Head of Global Talent Management, PricewaterhouseCoopers
Review – III
Though many agree with Einstein’s observation that “problems can not be resolved at the level of consciousness, that created them,” the key question remains how to realize such a shift. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U offers a unique integral perspective combined with a practical approach to addressing the mega-issues facing our world today.
– Jack Jacometti, Vice President, Global GTL Development, Shell International Gas Limited
Review – IV
Scharmer’s work helps us understand how groups of people can access states of “single intelligence” to find sustainable solutions to our most intractable social and economic problems. It adds to the growing evidence that we need the wisdom of the heart and the will as well as the mind to become truly effective in our work—and not a moment too soon.
– Peggy Dulany, Founder and Chair, The Synergos Institute
Review – V
The 24 principles and practices in Theory U provide an accessible yet revolutionary process of generating the practical results we so desperately need to take on the world’s most essential challenges.
– Jeffrey Hollender, President and Chief Inspired Protagonist, Seventh Generation Inc.
Review – VI
Theory U is destined to be one of the defining paradigms of the 21st century.
– Nicanor Perlas, recipient of the 2003 Alternative Nobel Prize and the UN Environmental Program Global 500
Review – VII
We are using the Theory U method with diverse leadership teams in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. The impact on our organization is remarkable, but even more important is the amazing personal growth many leaders have experienced. Scharmer’s work has allowed them to experience a new approach to the world.
– Marcia Marsh, Senior Vice President Operations, World Wildlife Fund
Review – VIII
Otto Scharmer has given us a brilliant, provocative, and important book on the leading-edge of the “next big thing”: integral thought. Highly recommended.
– Ken Wilber, author, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality
Review – IX
This book is an inspiration. It gives definition to the mystery of the creative process. It confirms and clarifies what we have been doing at our company. Thank you Otto for this great work!
– Eileen Fisher, President and Chief Creative Officer, EILEEN FISHER Inc.