In my previous article I introduced Otto Scharmer's Theory U and how it can help both individuals and groups develop the ability to sense and shape the future. Now I'd like to take you on a journey through the U to help you develop seven essential leadership capacities as well as share some practices from my own experience with this process.
To begin, it helps to imagine the U as a map, starting from the top left as you begin your journey of transformation. Moving down the left side of the U requires individuals and groups to open up and handle the resistance of habitual thought, emotion, and will, that keeps us stuck in the past; moving up the right side requires the integration of thinking, feeling, and will in the context of learning by doing and turning vision into reality.
1. Holding the space of listening
The foundational capacity of the U is listening. It involves suspending your voice of judgment and keeping an open mind as you listen to others, to your own inklings, and to what is emerging from the collective."Transform the fields of conversation from downloading and debate to dialogue and collective creativity."
"Observe, observe, observe," as Brian Arthur advised. Journey into unfamiliar territory - a new city, a contemporary art gallery, and into nature, to open up your senses.
As you listen and observe, be mindful of your senses. Opening up to future possibilities requires the tuning of an open mind, an open heart, and an open will to break from past conditioning. Scharmer says, "With an open mind we can suspend old habits of thought. With an open heart we can empathize, see a situation through the eyes of someone else. With an open will we can let go and let [the new] come."
Presencing --the capacity to connect to the deepest source of self and will --takes us to the bottom of the U. Here we "retreat and reflect, allowing inner knowing to emerge." What wants to emerge here? and how does that relate to the journey forward?" What new story for the future is emerging, and how can we let go of a past that no longer serve us?
As we move up the right side of the U we begin crystallizing vision and intent At this stage we are open to letting in aha moments of insight that lead us to an emerging reality.
The prototyping phase integrates head, heart and hand to help us translate insight to concrete form. Scharmer tells a story in his book Theory U from the film "The Legend of Bagger Vance;" When helping a golfer who has lost his swing, the master coach in the novel and film advises, "Seek it with your hands-- don't think about it, feel it. The wisdom in your hands is greater than the wisdom of your head will ever be." Sketch your ideas, role play, or build models out of clay and other low-tech media to make thoughts visible, and get feedback from others.
Violinist Miha Pogacnik 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. Scharmer says organizations also 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."
Theory U is an invitation to step into the future.
"The future shows up first in our feelings and through our hands, not in our abstract analysis,"says Scharmer. I find it helpful to follow his advice to attend to the crack--the openings, the challenges, and the disruptions where you feel the past ending, and the future wanting to begin. To take a deeper dive into Theory U, explore the free resources at the Presencing Institute.