Monday, October 11, 2010

Views on Otto Scharmer's Theory U

Theory U calls upon the business world with almost evangelical fervour to save the world from poverty, illiteracy, decaying social sructures, environmental catastophe and ill-health - via a sometimes mystical process. The theory invokes the forces of mindful creation to overcome the forces of destruction embedded in current systems. times of austerity, when personal and organisational survival and self-interest are under pressure, perhaps even become all-consuming, do morals take a back seat? Is Theory U going to be adopted by enough businesses to make a real and lasting difference?

What do you think?


  1. Stumbled across your site looking for info on leadership skills training... what's this Theory U all about????

    First time i'm hearing about this... can you elaborate.

    Marcus Elder

  2. Hi Marcus,

    In 2004, Peter Senge (Remember The 5th Discipline and Learning Organisations), Joseph Jaworski (Synchronicity: the inner path to leadership), Betty Sue Flowers (previously editor of global scenarios for Shell International) and Otto Scharmer (of the MIT Sloan School of Management) collaborated to write Presence. Their book introduced a new theory of change and what it takes for us to see, sense, realise new possibilities for the future. It introduces Theory U. I would highly recommend this paperback, published by Currency Doubleday, as background to Theory U. If you google Theory U, there is loads of info.

    Scharmer's book Theory U: leading from the future as it emerges (500 pages!) was published by Berrett-Koehler in 2009 and a lot of higher level institutions, including UCT, have latched on to it. It explains the theory in great detail. In the simplest of terms it is about how individuals and groups can become aware in new ways, let go and let come, and cocreate the emerging future by prototyping.

    In a sense, the two key ingredients of Theory U, mindfulness and imagination, parallel the two key ingredients of story telling. I've written an article on this, which is in the HaloandNoose website archives.

    If you'd like to meet sometime we can explore this together in more detail. I'm also based in Cape Town.

    With best regards,