Theory U Leadership: Cultivate the Social Field of the Organization or Society that you want to transform

Adapted from the book ‘The Essentials of Theory U’ by MIT Prof. Dr. Otto Scharmer.

Theory U makes a distinction between the different ways that action and attention come into the world. I pay attention this way, therefore it emerges that way. Or as the late CEO of Hanover Insurance, Bill O’Brien puts it: The Success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.

In case of a farm, the field has two dimensions; one that is visible, what’s growing above the surface; and one that is invisible, what’s beneath the surface – that is, the quality of soil.

The same distinction applies to social fields. We can see what people do, the practical outcomes that they accomplish in the visible realm. But we rarely pay attention to the deeper root condition: the source and interior condition from which we operate.

Theory U draws our attention to that blind spot – to the invisible source dimension of the social field, to the quality of relationships that we have to each other, to the system, and to ourselves.

There are 4 different ways(or sources from) that action and attention come into the world. They arise from a quality of awareness that is

  1. Habitual
  2. Ego-Systemic
  3. Empathic-relational
  4. Generative Eco-Systemic

The essence of leadership is to become aware of our blind spots (these interior conditions or sources) and then to shift the inner place from which we operate as required by the situations we face.

That means that our job as leaders and change makers is to Cultivate the Soil of the Social Field. The social field consists of the relationships among individuals,groups and systems that give rise to patterns of thinking, conversing, and organizing, which in turn produce practice results.

Social fields are like social systems-but they are seen from within, form their interior condition.

To shift form a social system perspective to a social field perspective, we have to become aware of our blind spot, the source level from which our attention and our actions originate. That source level fundamentally affects the quality of leading, learning and listening.

The problem with leadership today is that most people think of it as being made up of individuals, with one person at the top. But if we see leadership as the capacity of a system to co-sense and co-shape the future, then we realize that all leadership is distributed – it needs to include everyone.

To develop collective capacity, everyone must act as a steward for the larger eco-system.

To do that in a more reliable, distributed, and intentional way, we need:

  1. A social grammar: a language
  2. A social technology: methods and tools
  3. And a new narrative of social change

Theory U resolves around a core process of co-sensing and co-shaping emerging future possibilities. But is much more than that.

Some of the leadership capacities that are at the hear of the U method include:

  • Suspension and Wonder: Only in the suspension of judgment we can open ourselves up to wonder. Wonder is about noticing that there is a world beyond our patterns of downloading.
  • Co-Sensing: You must go to places of most potential yourself because it is in these connections that the seeds of the future come into the world. Connect with these places with your mind and heart wide open.
  • The Power of Intention: The power of ‘intention’ is key. In all presencing work, the deeper intention is the opposite of corporate indoctrination. It is about increasing, not decreasing, your range of possibilities. It is about strengthening your sources of self in a world that otherwise tends to tear us apart. It is about making you aware of your own sources of curiosity, compassion and courage.
  • Co-creating: Explore the future by doing, by building small landing strips for the future that wants to emerge.
  • Container building: Creating new holding spaces that activate the generative social field.

The problem with our current societal eco-systems is the broken feedback loop between the parts and the whole.

Theory U offers a method for relinking the parts and the whole by making it possible for the system to sense and see itself. When that happens, the collective consciousness begins to shift from ego-system awareness to eco-system awareness – from a silo view to a systems view.

ENERGY follows ATTENTION

Wherever we put our attention as leader, educator, parent etc., that is where the energy of the team will go. The moment we see the quality of attention shifting from ego to eco, from me to we, that is when the deeper conditions of the field open up, when the generative social field is being activated.

Background of Theory U – Transformation of Business, Society and Self

Inputs from the book: The Essentials of Theory U by MIT Prof. Dr. Scharmer

Theory U blends systems thinking, innovation, and leading – change from the view point of an evolving human consciousness.

Drawing on the MIT tradition of action research and learning by doing, Theory U has evolved over 2 decades of experimentation and refinement.

Theory U comprises 3 key elements:

  1. A framework for seeing the blindspot of leadership and systems change.
  2. A method for implementing awareness-based change:process, principles, practices.
  3. A new narrative for evolutionary societal change:updating our mental and institutional operating systems (OS) in all of society’s sectors.

Theory U integrates these methods and lineages for effecting change:

  • Actions research and organizational learning in the tradition of Peter Senge, Ed Schein, Donald Schon, Chris Argyris and Kurt Lewin.
  • Design thinking in the tradition of Tim Brown and Dave Kelly
  • Mindfulnes, cognition science, and phenomenology in the tradition of Francisco Varela, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Tanja Singer, Arthur Zajonc and David Bohm
  • Civil Society movements in he tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and millions of others who are mobilizing change in their local contexts.