Theory U

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The U Process of Co-sensing and Co-creating — Presencing

Theory U is a change management method and the title of a book by Otto Scharmer.[1] During his doctoral studies at Witten/Herdecke University, Scharmer studied a similar method in classes taught by Friedrich (Fritz) Glasl, whom he also interviewed.[2] Scharmer then took the basic principles of this method and extended it into a theory of learning and management, which he calls Theory U.[1] The principles of Theory U are suggested to help political leaders, civil servants, and managers break through past unproductive patterns of behavior that prevent them from empathizing with their clients' perspectives and often lock them into ineffective patterns of decision making.[3][4]

Some notes about theory U[edit]

Fields of attention[edit]

  • Thinking (individual)
  • Conversing (group)
  • Structuring (institutions)
  • Ecosystem coordination (global systems)


The author of the theory U concept expresses it[5] as a process or journey, which is also described as Presencing, as indicated in the diagram (for which there are numerous variants).

At the core of the "U" theory is presencing: sensing + presence. According to The Learning Exchange,[6] Presencing is a journey with five movements:

We move down one side of the U (connecting us to the world that is outside of our institutional bubble) to the bottom of the U (connecting us to the world that emerges from within) and up the other side of the U (bringing forth the new into the world).

On that journey, at the bottom of the U, lies an inner gate that requires us to drop everything that isn't essential. This process of letting-go (of our old ego and self) and letting-come (our highest future possibility: our Self) establishes a subtle connection to a deeper source of knowing. The essence of presencing is that these two selves - our current self and our best future Self - meet at the bottom of the U and begin to listen and resonate with each other.
Once a group crosses this threshold, nothing remains the same. Individual members and the group as a whole begin to operate with a heightened level of energy and sense of future possibility. Often they then begin to function as an intentional vehicle for an emerging future.

The core elements are shown below.

1. Co-initiating common intent: Stop and listen to others and to what life calls you to do. 5. Co-evolving through innovations: ecosystems that facilitate seeing and acting from the whole.
2. Co-sensing the field of change: Go to the places of most potential and listen with your mind and heart wide open. 4. Co-creating strategic microcosms: Prototype the new to explore the future by doing.
3. Presencing inspiration and common will: Go to the threshold and allow the inner knowing to emerge.

"Moving down the left side of the U is about opening up and dealing with the resistance of thought, emotion, and will; moving up the right side is about intentionally reintegrating the intelligence of the head, the heart, and the hand in the context of practical applications".[1]

Leadership capacities[edit]

According to Scharmer,[7] a value created by journeying through the "U" is to develop seven essential leadership capacities:

  1. Holding the space: listen to what life calls you to do (listen to oneself, to others and make sure that there is space where people can talk ...)
  2. Observing: Attend with your mind wide open (observe without your voice of judgment, basically means to get rid of past cognitive schema)
  3. Sensing: Connect with your heart (facilitate the opening process, i.e. look interconnected wholes)
  4. Presencing: Connect to the deepest source of your self and will (act from the emerging whole)
  5. Crystallizing: Access the power of intention (e.g. make sure to find a very small group of key persons commits itself to the purpose and outcomes of the project.)
  6. Prototyping: Integrating head, heart, and hand (basically, it means that one should act and not let various sources of paralysis like reactive action, too much analysis, etc. interfere)
  7. Performing: Playing the macro violin. (e.g. find the right leaders, find good social technology to get a multi-stakeholder project going)

U-procedure and theory U are related change management methods to improve unproductive patterns of behaviour. The U-procedure (or process) was developed by Friedrich (Fritz) Glasl and Dirk Lemson of the NPI (Netherlands Pedagogical Institute) in 1968[8][9] and presented systematically since the 1980s. It has been used in organisation development and social development since that time.[10][11][12] Following Glasl's special interest in conflict issues,[13][14] the method has also been explicitly developed to handle the consciousness and process issues associated with relational dynamics and conflict resolution.[15]

Since the early 2000s, the U-procedure method has been elaborated as Theory U (also called "U" methodology) by C. Otto Scharmer, incorporating also his theories of presencing[16] and capitalism 3.0.[17] This work itself draws on collaboration between Scharmer and his colleagues Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers.[2]

U-procedure or U-process[edit]

The initial method developed by Glasl and Lemson involved a sociotechnical, Goethean and anthroposophical process involving a few or many co-workers, managers and/or policymakers. It proceeded from phenomenological diagnosis of the present state of the organisation to plans for the future. They described a process in a U formation consisting of three levels (technical and instrumental subsystem, social subsystem and cultural subsystem) and seven stages beginning with the observation of organisational phenomena, workflows, resources etc., and concluding with specific decisions about desired future processes and phenomena. The method draws on the Goethean techniques described by Rudolf Steiner,[18] transforming observations into intuitions and judgements about the present state of the organisation and decisions about the future. The three stages represent explicitly recursive reappraisals at progressively advanced levels of reflective, creative and intuitive insight and (epistemologies), thereby enabling more radically systemic intervention and redesign. The stages are: phenomena – picture (a qualitative metaphoric visual representation) – idea (the organising idea or formative principle) – and judgement (does this fit?). The first three then are reflexively replaced by better alternatives (new idea --> new image --> new phenomena) to form the design design. This is achieved through 7 questions[19]

The U-procedure was used extensively in projects in at least USA, Brazil, Europe (including the UK), South Africa and New Zealand by members and associates of the NPI and other consultants,[20][21] and subsequently by members of the Association for Social Development[22] (see for example Büchele, 1997), where it was discussed in the 1997 Conference in Spring Valley, USA.[23] Glasl published the method in Dutch (1975), German (1975, 1994) and English (1997).[24]

Schematic depiction of U procedure by Glasl, F.

The seven stages are shown below.

Factual/phenomenal level, technical and instrumental subsystem Observation of phenomena 1. How do processes and workflows function? Instruments, resources. 7. How can processes be developed in future? What phenomena and facts will characterise the organisation of the future?
Imaginative level, social subsystem Forming a picture of how the organisation works 2. Understanding the social subsystem and how functions, roles and management are distributed. 6. What does that mean for new functions and roles? How should the organisation of the future be visioned?
Inspirational level, cultural subsystem Ideas 3. Understanding the implicit/actual values, rules and policies that shape the organisation. How and why things happen. 5. What values and guidelines do we want for the future?
4. Is this what we want?


Theory U now constitutes a body of leadership and management praxis drawing from the original work of Glasl and Lemson, the contribution of organization development consultants over several decades, and more than 10 years of elaboration by Scharmer and colleagues. Key attributes of this praxis include:

  1. Specific linkage of the consciousness of the leader/leadership team with the results of their work.
  2. Individuals and teams move through a whole system integrated planning process involving observation, knowing and visualized decision-making.
  3. Innovation is integral.
  4. Policy making (as the elaboration of conscious design principles for the organization) is connected and integrated with the vision of what is to be brought about.
  5. Relevant to both individual development and practice and organization development and practice, and indeed explicitly connecting these.
  6. A social technology that contributes to either or both of conflict resolution and social engineering.

Meditation teacher Arawana Hayashi has explained how she considers Theory U relevant to "the feminine principle".[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Scharmer, C. Otto (2007) Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. The Society for Organizational Learning, Cambridge, USA.
  2. ^ a b Senge, Peter M.; Jaworski, Joseph; Scharmer, C. Otto; Flowers, Betty Sue (2 June 2005). Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. ISBN 9781857883558. See also artists Andrew James Campbell's collaboration with Scharmer August 2001 - 2010 constributed to the work of Joseph Jaworski while writing the follow up book Source
  3. ^ Frannie Léautier, retrieved 15:53, 27 July 2007 (MEST)
  4. ^ Scharmer, C. Otto (2007), Addressing The Blind Spot of Our Time. An executive summary of the new book by Otto Scharmer Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges. HTML, retrieved 15:53, 27 July 2007 (MEST).
  5. ^ Scharmer, C. Otto (2006), Theory U: Learning from the Future as it Emerges, Fieldnotes: An online Newsletter of the Sahmbhala Institute for Authentic Leadership. PDF. Can be found at
  6. ^ retrieved 15:53, 27 July 2007 (MEST) The quote can also be found at [1]
  7. ^ Scharmer, C. Otto (2007). "Addressing the blind spot of our time: an executive summary of the new book by Otto Scharmer: Theory U: leading from the future as it emerges" (PDF). Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  8. ^ Bos, Alexander Hector (15 May 1974). Oordeelsvorming in groepen, willens en wetens wikken en wegen: polariteit en ritme als sleutel tot ontwikkeling van sociale organismen [Judgments in groups, willingly and knowingly deliberation: polarity and rhythm as a key to development of social organisms] (in Dutch). Wageningen: H. VEENMAN & ZONEN B.V. pp. 184–190. OCLC 905288611. Een voorbeeld van een met ons model verwante methode van organisatieontwikkeling is de door het NPI ontwikkelde U-procedure.
  9. ^ Glasl, Friedrich; de la Houssaye, L. (1975). Organisatie-ontwikkeling in de praktijk (in Dutch). Amsterdam/Brussel: Agon Elsevier. p. 135. ISBN 90-10-10547-4. This was subsequently translate into German as Glasl, Friedrich; La Houssaye, Leopold (1 January 1975). Organisationsentwicklung: das Modell des Niederländischen Instituts für Organisationsentwicklung und seine praktische Bewährung. Bern [u.a.]: Haupt. pp. 114 ff. ISBN 3258023875.
  10. ^ Allison, John (1 January 2008). A Teacher's Book: Digging Deeper. I B Publications Pty, Limited. ISBN 9780975055366. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  11. ^ Co-developed by the Partnership Development Team at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Relay Consultants. "Developing a Managed Health Partnership – Organisational Development Toolkit, Management Process, Tools and Tips" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 November 2009. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  12. ^ Büchele, Ute (1997). "Modellversuche: Erkenntnisgewinn für Forschung und Praxis?". In Euler, Dieter (ed.). Berufliches Lernen im Wandel - Konsequenzen für die Lernorte?: Dokumentation des 3. Forums Berufsbildungsforschung 1997 an der Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (in German). Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung der Bundesanstalt für Arbeit.
  13. ^ Yasmi, Yurdi (2007). Institutionalization of conflict capability in the management of natural resources (PhD Thesis). Center for International Forestry Research.
  14. ^ Glasl, Friedrich (1 January 1999). Confronting Conflict: A First Aid Kit for Handling Conflict. Hawthorn Press. ISBN 9781869890711.
  15. ^ Ballreich, Rudi; Glasl, Friedrich (2004). "Team Development and Organisation Development as a Means for Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution" (PDF). In Austin, Beatrix (ed.). Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation. Berghof Foundation. ISSN 1616-2544.
  16. ^ Scharmer, C. Otto (1 January 2009). "Introduction" (PDF). Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges (1 ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 9781576757635.
  17. ^ Scharmer, Otto. "Capitalism 3.0: An Institutional Revolution In the Making". MITVideo. Archived from the original on 25 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  18. ^ Steiner, Rudolf (1 June 1988). Goethean Science. Translated by Lindeman, William. New York: Mercury Press. ISBN 9780936132921.
  19. ^ Glasl, Friedrich (1992). Procedure voor het nemen van beleidsbeslissingen met betrekking tot de ontwikkeling van een organisatie [U-Procedure - Procedure to take a policy decision regarding the development of a organisation] (PDF) (in Dutch). NPI - Instituut voor Organisatie Ontwikkeling.
  20. ^ Crum, D. (1977) Interdingen door DC Erjdens het derde blok. Leergang Organisatie Ontwikkeling, 8–11 February 1977. Archives of the NPI, Zeist
  21. ^ Glasl, Friedrich (2004). "Enriching Conflict Diagnosis and Strategies for Social Change. A Closer Look at Conflict Dynamics" (PDF). In Austin, Beatrix (ed.). Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation. Berghof Foundation. ISSN 1616-2544.
  22. ^ (accessed 19 November 2009), now
  23. ^ Report of the Facilitating Group, ASD, 1997. Private text distributed to members.
  24. ^ Glasl, Friedrich (1 January 1994). Das Unternehmen der Zukunft: moralische Intuition in der Gestaltung von Organisationen (in German). Verlag Freies Geistesleben. p. 67. ISBN 9783772512346. Published in English as Glasl, F. (1 January 1997). The Enterprise of the Future. Hawthorn Press. ISBN 9781869890797.
  25. ^ Hayashi, Arawana (2010). "Feminine principle and theory U" (PDF). Oxford Leadership Journal. 1.2: 1–4.

External links[edit]