Otto Scharmer’s ‘U’ represents a deep dive below our disruptive surface, where presencing can see the deeper systemic disconnects & lead to more holistic decision-making.
By Robert Simmons
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 we attempt to explorePresencing Institute
Table Of Contents
- The ‘U’ in Theory U
- Learn From The Future
- Addressing The Blind Spot With Otto Scharmer
- Otto Scharmer – Addressing The Future As It Emerges
- The Cognitive Dissonance Disconnect
- Leading From The Future – Tapping Into Your Blind Spot
- The Third Option Solution | Addressing The Future As It Emerges
- Otto Scharmer Theory U
The ‘U’ in Theory U
The ‘U’ in Theory U represents a deep dive down below the ‘disruptive’ surface (where decisions are made using only surface-level thinking), to a place of ‘presencing’ the underlying causes of these surface ‘disruptions’ – seeing them as symptoms of deeper systemic ‘disconnects’. Upon heading back up to the surface, the hope is that this new awareness will lead to decision-making that addresses the ‘disconnects’ between surface perception and deeper reality. Through this deep dive, we seek not only a connection to the source of the problem, but a connection to each other, where groups can co-sense issues and co-create solutions from a more holistic perspective – one that leads toward solutions that satisfy every one involved.
Theory U blends systems thinking, innovation, and leading change—from the viewpoint of an evolving human consciousness.Otto Scharmer
Human Progress is analogous to one of our ancestors, swinging through the jungle, letting go of one vine, while grabbing onto another. When we do not let go of the first vine, we invariably swing backward.
Learn From The Future
It takes courage, but to move along, people must let go of their past and grab onto the future that is directly within their view; all they need to do is reach for it. Otto Scharmer, in his role as mentor, is gently coaxing us, from the ground below, to let go of our past method of operation and grab onto that which will ultimately propel us further forward.
While Theory U (the original manual for leading from the ‘emerging’ future) was quite popular, Otto was coaxed by his publisher to write a more ‘accessible’ summary of his theory, which became his next work, Essentials of Theory U.
Addressing The Blind Spot With Otto Scharmer
Otto regards these two books as a “framework” for identifying the “blind spot” of leaders when it comes to addressing the flaws in our systems; it then provides leaders with a “method for implementing awareness-based change”. He hopes this will lead to an upgrade of all of society’s institutional operating systems. He sees this process as a necessary step in our mental evolution as well.
Theory U wants it all: it wants to change educational, democratic, and economic systems to better serve this emerging consciousness. Otto grew up on a farm, so likes to relate the landscape of our society as a field, and reasons that a good farmer could look out at his field, and be able to ascertain the health of the soil underneath it.
“Currently our economy consumes…1.5 times the regeneration capacity of planet earth…the United States…consumption rate has surpassed five planets…A small group of people that you can fit into a minivan owns more than the “bottom half” of the world’s population: 3.8 billion people…More than 800K people per year commit suicide—a number that is greater than the sum of people who are killed by war, murder, and natural disasters combined.”
Otto is describing the cliff where we are currently perched, looking down into an ecological, socio-economic, and spiritual “abyss”. The numbers should be enough to alarm us, but we are not listening properly to what the data is telling us. Let’s look into the Theory U summary.
Otto Scharmer – Addressing The Future As It Emerges
In U theory, Otto Scharamer sees listening as changing the entire game for us. Many of us only listen for what we already know, so we can chime in with our ‘opinion’. When we open our mind, we can be presented with new facts, and when we open our hearts and engage in “empathic listening”, we can truly step out of ourselves and know that truth is more conditional and experiential than our lone “ego” can fathom. This is where solutions can begin to take every one into account. Otto defines the fourth level of listening as “generative”, where one listens with the anticipation of something new, devoid of all ego.
In order to fully listen, we have to quiet the “voices” of Judgement, Cynicism, and Fear, all which can thwart any chance of getting to the root of the problem; instead we must open our minds, hearts, and will through Curiosity, Compassion, and Courage.
Organizations work the way human beings create them.Peter Senge
Where our attention is focused will determine what emerges; currently our attention is focused on profits, or ‘economic growth’, and what has emerged has many people like Otto scrambling to turn our attention elsewhere.
Our Societies have evolved from hierarchal structures (authoritarian), to competitive ones (markets), and currently has organized itself around special interest groups attempting to sway the world in their particular direction. Somehow we need to “coordinate around the common awareness of the whole”.
The only way to change a system is to stop blaming it, and instead turn our attention onto ourselves – the ones who created these systems. What are the flaws in our thinking that created a system that now oppresses us?
The Cognitive Dissonance Disconnect
On the Death and Rebirth of Human Civilization: “What’s dying is an old civilization and a mindset of maximum “me”—maximum material consumption, bigger is better, and special-interest-group-driven decision-making that has led us into a state of organized irresponsibility, collectively creating results that nobody wants…[Rebirth] is a shift from an ego-system awareness that cares about the well-being of oneself, to an eco-system awareness that cares about the well-being of all.” – Otto Scharmer, Leading From the Emerging Future
The cognitive dissonance we feel as a society stems from what Theory U Otto Scharmer calls ‘disconnects’ between our systems and the people they are allegedly supposed to serve. Decisions are made by those at the top, therefore the positive results (positive externalities) naturally accumulate at the top, because that is where the attention has been placed. Meanwhile, the negative side effects (negative externalities) of these self-serving policies are the only real thing that ever ‘trickles down’; this is what top-down decision-making does for the larger group on the bottom. To be fair, however, no one ever gets what they want in the decision-making process, when one is not present at any of the meetings. Leaders are supposed to represent constituents, but in reality, only the people who physically show up are ever really heard. It may be true that our human consciousness is evolving, but it still does not seem capable of putting into our mind that which is out of our sight.
In the twentieth century we created ministries and UN agencies to deal with each of these divides. In addition, we created dedicated nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to address single issues; in academia we created dedicated university departments, scholarly journals, and professional career paths to combat each symptom. Today we realize that this silo-type approach—dealing with one symptom cluster at a time—isn’t working. On the contrary, it seems to be part of the problem. We seem to have a blind spot that prevents us from seeing the rest of the iceberg, the deep systemic structures below the waterline.Otto Scharmer
Leading From The Future – Tapping Into Your Blind Spot
While the money all flows toward those at the top, who create these ‘bigger is better’ modern monopolies, smaller innovators, often with hopes of actually benefitting society beyond pure monetary gain, do not get funding because of the ‘risk’ to financial lending institutions. Profit keeps us locked into whatever profit dictates, and while it certainly leads to more profit, it does not actually lead to many new ideas. [The current definition of innovation is to make changes in something ‘already established’,and economics is now focused on the ‘transfer of wealth’ and ‘material prosperity’. Even the denotations of common definitions are being changed to fit this economic box we have created for ourselves.]
We cannot solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created themAlbert Einstein
The unfortunate realization Otto comes to is that “the quality of results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which people in the system operate”.
Much of the fundamentalism that currently drives human action begins with the underlying flaw that there is only one truth, which implies the existence of an authoritarian figure capable of asserting their will over others. Once established, the followers of this lone truth are afforded the luxury of not listening to anyone else, shunting all other truths over to the singular heading of “Them”.
The Third Option Solution | Addressing The Future As It Emerges
Otto identifies seven variables or pressure points, where dysfunction tends to occur within our socio- economic systems: nature (resources), labor, capital (money), technology, management, consumption, and governance (which he believes should “coordinate the whole thing”). The Third Option feels Otto would like our attention to proactive Healthcare (with an emphasis on mental health), and Education that develops listening and empathy, as well as ‘co-sensing’ and ‘co-creating’ solutions with global peers.
He would like our more bottom-up ‘grassroots’ governance, where some federal authority is extended to Communities; a new Communication Grid would help Communities co-sense and co-create local solutions together, then share all successful innovations with other Communities in real time. Although the Third Option is not big on handing out money up front (UBI), it is big on handing out shareholder dividends on the back end, meaning that through a National Public Bank being placed in charge of all capital, it would create a circular flow of money that comes back into every one’s hands equally, through dividends that represent our overall success / achievement as a group. To guide this ‘success’, the Bank would only fund essential needs (larger infrastructure) and local entrepreneurship (smaller local business), in an attempt to achieve what Theory U Scharmer and others refer to as Gross National Happiness (GNH) or a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).
Otto would like our regenerative farming plan, and appreciate our attempt to merge it with vertical farming, bringing two competitive businesses together over the proper care of people and the planet. Through education, our technology would now be used to help those in the bottom billion, and not just to entertain those at the top of the current hierarchy. The Third Option joins Otto in hoping to break the cycle of ‘consumerism’ as any measure of happiness, and has plans for sustainability in water and waste systems, and to make ‘green’ all energy, transportation, construction, and agriculture.
Otto Scharmer Theory U
To learn more about Otto’s leadership design, edX offers his MITx class on ‘Leading From the Emerging Future’, which this semester has nearly 87,000 students currently enrolled. More information can also be found by going to the Presencing Institute, which Otto co-founded with his friend and colleague Peter Senge.