I am a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and co-founder of the Presencing Institute. You can read my full bio here.

I'm currently teaching my MIT course, Transforming Business, Society and Self with U.Lab, free on edX, which puts learners in the driver's seat of profound innovation and change. The course community of 35,000+ participants includes national government leaders from Scotland and business leaders in the U.S, Brazil, and China, and many other inspired change makers from over 190 countries worldwide who are interested in creating more aware, inclusive, sustainable societies. 88% of course previous course participants called the course eye-opening or life-changing. This video explains more.

I'd love to hear your questions about what this all means, about the course or your experiences with it so far if you're a participant, and about some of the transformations we've seen thus far. Adam will also be online throughout the day to help with questions about the course.

Proof: https://twitter.com/MITxULab/status/643058971817979904

Ask Me Anything! I'll begin answering at 10am ET throughout the day.

Edit: (11:13am) got to run - adam and I will be back later on today! - otto Edit: (10:40pm EDT) hi everyone - we got pretty busy preparing for tomorrow's live session, and didn't have quite as much time as we'd hoped for here today. thanks so much for the great questions - and we look forward to continuing the conversation again soon. - otto and adam

Comments: 348 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

w0b57 karma

From the introduction to this course:

In the U.Lab you will learn Theory U, an approach to leading profound change that has been developed by action researchers at MIT, and practiced by leaders around the world, for over 20 years.

Who are these leaders, which business and society have they transformed?

OttoScharmer31 karma

examples include eileen fisher (USA), natura (brazil), public health system namibia, leadership teams from daimler, alibaba, icbc and various civil society and cross-sector groups from indonesia, china, brazil and other places. see for more detail the book Leading From the Emerging Future: From Ego-system to Eco-system Economies or www.presencing.com

MarthaYang44 karma

This course seems to be given to leaders. I felt that I am a loser in my work system. What suggestions do you give losers or the weak in systems?

OttoScharmer47 karma

great point. we all are loosers when it comes to the big challenges of our time. the old concept of leadership sees leaders as individuals at the top of the pyramid. the new concept of leadership sees leadership not as a personal trait, but as the CAPACITY OF A SYSTEM TO SENSE AND SHAPE THE FUTURE THAT IS WANTING TO EMERGE. if you take THAT definition of leadership--of distributed leadership--then we ALL are leaders--or should be. so probably today both of these realities are true. thats our challenge. but EVERYTHING we do in the u.lab is about this deeper (distributed) concept of leadership. makes sense?

Mtelli20 karma

From the head, to the heart, to the hands...

OttoScharmer9 karma

beautiful trail of conversation -- YES!!!!!!

bogdanim2 karma

Agreed, provisionally. I do embrace the idea of collective thinking, collective participation, alltogether contribution etc. In this concept is clear that everyone who contributes with quality is a leader. We still have to consider the fact that we might not be evolved enough to live in a civilisation without leaders (people who need to decide some things). And this opens the whole good and bad corollaries which we all can thing of. Nevertheless, I do constantly support the ideea, but I too live in the present: and now - in some cases some leaders (general leaders - like the managers in some corporations are needed). I am only refering to the model leaders like (for a small example) Ghandi, Jobs, or even George Carlin!

OttoScharmer7 karma

i think its interesting that in the 21st century we havent seen the gandhis and nelson mandela's and martin luther king's as of yet. maybe in our time its more about circle's (of friends) who have to play that role. its more a collective property of a community without just following the single enlightened leader. i dont know. i sort of feel that the age of the individual hero leader is sort of over (and even in the past it was in part a construct, a narrative, more than a reality which always featured the power of the collective as the generative holding space). interesting questions! what do others think?

Stefan__K10 karma

Otto, I would be interested in your opinion on this critical issue: U.Lab/Theory.U aims to transform our current thinking and acting (from ego2eco). It integrates concepts of mindfulness and awareness which are rooted in spirituality (e.g. Buddhist philosophy). How can these (novel) approaches be ‘secured’ of not being misused by the current system to maintain itself ? How do you/the U.Lab relate to that? [e.g. many large companies now introduce mindfulness/meditation etc; the question is, is this used for better profit making (ego) or for a real transformative change (towards eco-system economies)?]

OttoScharmer3 karma

very important question. its a real issue. so using mindfulness for ego (rather than eco) purposes is a contradiction in itself. how do i go about it? two ways: 1. i never try to sell mindfulness/presencing/awareness as the solution to make you more efficient in doing the same old thing. as you can trace above, i am not even making the claim that mindfulness is boosting your performance. i think its nonsense (even though in some cases it may be true). i try to say that eventually its a choice that each of us has to make: WHAT STORY OF THE FUTURE DO YOU WANT TO BE A PART OF? WHAT FUTURE DO YOU WANT TO EMBODY AND CREATE? 2. then, in practical applications, say in companies or innovation processes, or capacity building environments, i always try to a) give people choice (to do or not to engage with it) and b) to safeguard that sacred space from economizing or instrumentalizing it (I do THIS IN ORDER to GET THAT). thats my take. and in my experience it just works fine. the human spirit is awake and can discern fake from the real thing usually.... whats your take?

loveandprofit4 karma

I am not so sure we need to make a dichotomy out of this - like mindfulness/meditations in corps is for ego versus real transformative change. Even if an "evil" corporation used mindfulness only for profit, what happens when the leaders start to become more mindful? We don't know, maybe something amazing. Even if a corporation increases profits through mindfulness, transformational change might also be increased. Profits and transformational change are not diametrically opposed. I think this is a mental trap that holds back our creativity from finding the most abundant and transformational solutions.

OttoScharmer6 karma

yes, the power of real mindfulness is always transformative. true! i guess what is important is to use mindfulness not only to the cultivation of the individual but also to the transformation of the collective

lrmorley9 karma

Is this approach the same as Design Thinking that is offered at Stanford D.School?

OttoScharmer6 karma

its related but not the same: u process is based on three main movements and bodies of methodology. main difference is basically that presencing is bringing in the dimension of systems thinking and mindfulness/awareness/consciousness -- you could also say the source dimension of innovation and change. tbc :)

curiousandlearning9 karma

What are you using to evaluate your approach and its cost-effectiveness? It absorbs significant time - do you have a sense of where the impact balances with time sunk costs?

OttoScharmer11 karma

NOT REALLY. Our assessment tools are just in the very beginning. we do have some experiences an assessments though. so generally people are blown away by how significant the impact is if you start to change some of the variables in the more invisible domain (e.g., the quality of your listening and conversation). We just finished a research conference that focused on how to make the invisible dimension of large systems change (consciousness and relationships) more visible through research and action science. its just a beginning. but its much less developed at this point as it should be...

ohbsmith8 karma

Aren't entrenched powers just going to ignore change processes like this, which challenge their orthodoxies?

OttoScharmer8 karma

Yes, thats a factor, true. but then, there are also surprises. think about what just happened in germany: a society moving from ignoring refugees to actively welcoming them -- WITHIN WEEKS!! social media had a big part in that story (picture of the dead boy). here is a piece on which i elaborate on it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/otto-scharmer/shifting-the-logic-of-col_b_8100068.html overall i think there are 3 old and one new sources of power: 1.sticks (force), 2. carrots (incentives), 3. norms/public opinion. the three sectors in society, govt, biz, and civil society, use these sources in different ways. but what the refugee story is an example of is the emergence of a fourth source of power: the presence of the (emerging) social whole. its VERY interesting.... thats what with the u.lab we really try to get at: how to activate that fourth source of power....

PermTrouble7 karma

Does an inclusive sustainable society include the ability for varied political ideologies to debate (or argue)?

Also, is inclusive the goto buzzword for discussions in academia, much like "cloud" was for technology a couple years ago?

OttoScharmer6 karma

well yes, all these buzzwords. true. not sure we use inclusive sustainable society a lot -- but of course we do talk about how to cross the ecological, social, and spiritual divides. debate, yes, there is a need for debate but it will not be our main focus. our main focus is to become conversationally more literate by using ALL FOUR forms of conversation in a more fluid way (1. downloadling, 2. debate 3. dialogue, 4. collective creativity). so debate is not our main focus, but its part of the process.

bardagim6 karma

Disruption and creative destruction are concepts that are keen to understand today's approach of the most innovative companies. Which are the concepts that will drive the most innovative companies of the future?

OttoScharmer4 karma

not sure whether is concepts that will drive / differentiate the most innovative companies. i think its more capacities -- for example the capacity to sense and actualize emerging opportunities -- and a shift in awareness from ego to eco. that would be my hunch. but then, you could object that in the short term we have examples of both ego and eco companies being successful (or failing). and i agree on that. thats true for the short term. so at the end of the day its our choice: WHAT STORY OF THE FUTURE DO U WANT TO BE PART OF?

vicmarib6 karma

Hello Otto and Adam. I am very interested and motivated for starting with this course. Here is my question: as I see, the proposed change needs a new philosophy of thinking and acting. How could be this change successful since actually there are lots of people on leadership positions that might not share (or even have notice of) this kind of principles? Thank you in advance!

OttoScharmer6 karma

hi -- yes, THAT is the starting point. thats the challenge. the u.lab journey is basically how you deal with this kind of challenge by CHANGING THE INNER PLACE FROM THAT YOU OPERATE -- and hence approach this challenges in a different way: CHANGE INNER PLACE-->CHANGE RELATIONSHIP-->CHANGE RESULTS kind of thing...

gabrielvoto3 karma

Hi Otto and Adam! Firstly thanks for creating this unique environment for society growth! The U.Lab is an absolutely amazing tool for the shift we need in our planet. We are currently attending to the Master in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability in BTH, Karlskrona, Sweden. And we found that it would be the perfect environment for having the ULab 2.0 on course. So we created the Karlskrona Hub https://www.facebook.com/groups/993533250667136/?fref=ts

After the initial lectures given by PhD Dr. Karl Henrik Robert about the Framework for Sustainable Development we have some questions about the importance to bring the individual scale to the equation of sustainability in business, in order to have long term response. Could you comment how the U theory could help to create and keep this safe space for the emerging best self in each individual?

Thanks in advance.

OttoScharmer2 karma

great to connect to karl henrik roberst work. maybe share it on u.lab platform for others to also utilize?

re safe space: you can see the u.lab design as an scalable solution to that question or problem. its one response...

vicmarib2 karma

So, I feel that this inner change might be strong enough for changing our society, depending on how tuned our society and leaders are with U theory principles. Will be our personal inner change, as flat citizens, enough for making high influence in such non-tuned societies? Thank you!

OttoScharmer2 karma

flat citizens --- hahaha --- what is that---arent we all flat citizens more often than not? funny term! well, yes, the answer is we dont know. thats why we experiment with this qustion in very practical ways. i am sure we can find ways. but not without trying it...

Movebyheart6 karma

Dear Otto, how do we get leader to skip constant controlling in order to reach the bottom of the U? And what do we do with professionals who reject using Theory U because it is too spiritual or religious to them?

How do I join a coaching group? I have a case that I would love to share.

Best wishes for the proces, Eva

OttoScharmer4 karma

you find the coaching stuff going live on our site tomorrow. how do you convince people who dont want to do it. DONT! just do it yourself. focus on where your sphere of influence is. dont try to convince people (push) create a pull by changing the place from where u operate...

bardagim2 karma

What counts most today seems to be the "flow", as described by Csikszentmihalyi. Everybody wants to be in the state of flow, in which you are more productive and focused. Nothing else matters. Companies search for a workforce that "flows" all the time. Innovation for me, however, requires the mind to "wander", to "connect" with the outside, as Theory U says. I think that this is the biggest paradox in innovation today, do you agree?

OttoScharmer2 karma


Ragnar_Behncke2 karma

Hello Otto, I work in Chile with Humberto Maturana (my father was de editor of The Tree of Knowledge with Francisco Varela), and the perspective natural drift like an alternative mecanism of evolution in complex systems it so interesant to related with your work. My first question is: Do you are interest to see the biological grounds of you work? In wich dimension do you thing that we share this U process with the principal process of living beings?

I am such a principant with your work, appologize me if I make Childish questions. Big hug.

OttoScharmer2 karma

hey ragnar -- what a great question and YES it completely agree: the u process is basically an evolutionary process -- it spells out the evolutionary process from the viewpoint of the entity that is coming into being -- that is emerging, that is being born, you might say. i have had several contacts with humberto in the past (short ones) but so far we never managed to really get together for a longer time. i would LOVE to deepen the inquiry into these questions you raise, the biological foundations--particularly as i do not know very much about it....

ZanoniM2 karma

Good Morning dear Otto!!! How can I apply the Theory U in my HIV Lab researches?

OttoScharmer3 karma

i dont know. you will know better. i remember doing a HIV/AIDS project in zambia in the early years. we had a national group of activists and folks like soccer stars that could influence public opinion. the first activity was this: share your story incl how you first became aware of HIV and AIDS and when that awareness turned into a real commitment for doing sth about it. it was fascinating. each shared the same story:it turned into commitment the moment it hit someone in your family friends/circle.... not sure how it applies to your situaiton thogh

OttoScharmer2 karma

i thought i already responded to this earlier. maybe i didnt safe?

in short: i dont know. but i am sure you do! i did a HIV and AIDS project in zambia a while ago and shared that in my other post...

bardagim2 karma

Mr. Sukhdev's "Corporation 2020" pretty much describes the path to a new capitalism. Do you see an alignment of his points to what is needed for the World to evolve to 4.0?

OttoScharmer2 karma

yes compatible he describes it from corporate view. but without the consciousness dimension more expliciit, yes? maybe you can enlighten me on that...

rascheiffer2 karma

Hello, Otto! What is the importance of spirituality in your life and in the lives of the leaders you learnt about?

How is spirituality being seen in the business and innovation fields?

How could our "illusion of separation" be converted in the view we are a superorganism and make it acceptable to people (mainly business leaders)?

How do you think that science could profit from U Theory?

Greetings from U.Lab Curitiba!

OttoScharmer2 karma

hello u.lab curitiba!!!! love you guys! big questions. HOW SHOULD I KNOW? honestly, spirituality of course is the underlying pattern and opening here. u.lab bascially combines sciences, spirituality, and social change (S3). its key. many people feel it. but cant make it quite explicit. thats our function. not sure i agree with the super-organism---although i think i know what you mean. i call it the social field... lv o