Theory U

Hello! Today we will start with a citation from Peter Senge:

“Strategic planning towards sustainability requires engaging in profound change, an inner shift in peoples values, aspirations and behaviors guided by their mental models, as well as an outer shift in processes, strategies and practices.”

But, how to make this profound change? Hum, let´s see what Theory U can do about…

Theory U was developed by Otto Scharmer. Its essence is “learning from the future as it emerges”, which he calls “Presencing” (combination of words “presence” and “sensing”).

Scharmer also say that presencing is the “vision of our deepest source”. It is the state that we experience when we open not only our minds but our hearts and our wills – our urge to act – in order to deal with what is emerging around us as new realities.


Open Mind: Ability to see something with new eyes. Suspending our voice of judgment, shutting down (or embracing and changing) the habit of judgment based on past experience, it means opening up a new space of inquiry and wonder. Access our sources of intelligence quotient.

Open Heart: The ability to redirect attention and use the heart as an organ of perception
(“seeing with the heart”).  Access our sources of emotional quotient. The mind works like a parachute, as the old saying goes – it only functions when open. The same applies to the intelligence of the heart. It only becomes available to us when we cultivate our capacity to
appreciate and love. In the words of biologist Humberto Maturana, “Love is the only emotion that enhances our intelligence.”

Open Will: 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. Is the ability to let go, letting go our old identities and intentions and tune into the future that is seeking to emerge through me or us. Access our sources of spiritual quotient.

Following is the figure with the movements of theory U:

In the next post we will see more about these movements.

See bellow an interesting video with Otto Scharmer :

For more about Theory U:

Kind Regards.

About Ana Marques

Woman, scientist, consultant. But above all, a common human being, willing to help, share, transform!
This entry was posted in Sustainability in practice. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Theory U

  1. Jordi Morrós says:

    Thanks Ana for this post.

  2. Ana, this is really great material. I will try to engage with it more substantively subsequently and post a response. I just finished reading The Necessary Revolution, by Peter Senge, et. al., and as “fuzzy” as some aspects of organizational learning and systems/sustainability thinking can be, it reflects essential reframings for accurate understanding and an effective response. Thanks for your work on this blog.

  3. Good review! This is exactly the type of article that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this article higher!

  4. Muito obrigado, Ana, for sharing your thoughts. I feel I am in the same quest.
    How to combine the Theory U + the Art of Hosting + The Natural Step + The Business Model Canvas to host, and facilitate individual engagement, collective insight and organizational mental models & business models towards sustainability

  5. Pascal says:

    Who has also this experience and how to handle it:
    many times I meet managers and decisionmakers and talk about theory U and explain how it works. Many times I got negative reactions in a way that it is Fuzzy, not logic or realistic and I could not convince them even to give it a try in a small pilot. I have a feeling that many managers are not ready to open up for systemchanging concepts like Theory U. Does any-one recognise this? Or is it my badd communication skills… How do you deal with it?

    • Ling says:

      Hi Pascal
      I have experienced your comment. These decision makers are taught to look at issues in a concrete / tangible way. They engaged the Neo Cortex part of the brain that rationalises and provides consistency. Very rarely are students (potential managers and leaders) in MBA schools taught to use the Limbic part of the brain that deals with feelings and gives us the drive in individuals. When that part of the brain is not tapped…..we end up with managers that do not open up (instead they tighten up, shut off to new ideas and not provide space for creative thinking or dialogue), use their gut FEEL nor look around them, especially the natural and social environments, and see how we are destroying these environments (which are crucial in supporting the economic environment to thrive and prosper). So I overcome your mentioned issue by first providing a business case in order to show that I can speak their language (facts and figures / profits gained from changing from traditional thinking). Once I gained their confidence and attention………I then show them the foundation of how and where I built those figures from to explain the logic behind. Wrapped up in the logic is actually the execution that requires people to be opened to the new thinking, mindset and perspectives.

      • Ana Marques says:

        Dear Ling,
        Thank you for your inspiring comments!
        I also saw your website, very interesting! I´m happy to know that people for the entire world are working with these new ways in business!
        I´m just starting a PhD in Netherlands to research about conscious leadership for sustainability in business.
        I´m confident that all these work in new ways will contribute to the transition towards sustainable companies and society!
        Kind regars and good work!

    • Ana Marques says:

      Dear Pascal,
      Thank you for your comments and sorry by the delay in my answer (I was in a PhD intake process and I was approved!).
      About your question, I agree with the Ling comments (Ling thanks to share!). For most of businessmen this is an unknown world, then it´s important for them to know the logic behind these new ways.
      Kind regards an good luck!

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