Guest Post from Otto Scharmer's new book The Essentials of Theory U

Here is a guest post from Otto Scharmer's new book The Essentials of Theory U. This book should be at the top of your reading list and this post will give you a taste of the great nuggest in his book.

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By Otto Scharmer

The method of the U is summarized in 24 principles that are presented in five groups along the moments of the U from co-initiating to co-shaping. I will number them throughout the movements to indicate that the 24 principles work as a whole. Here are the first five:

1.    Listen to What Life Calls You to Do

The essence of the U process is to strengthen our ability to be present and consciously co-create. Just as Ed Schein’s approach to process consultation (PC) starts with the principles “Always try to be helpful” and “Always deal with reality,” the U process of presencing starts with the primacy of attention and intention: “Listen to what life calls you to do.” Or, in the words of Martin Buber: “[She] listens to what is emerging from [herself], to the course of being in the world; not in order to be supported by it, but in order to bring it to reality as it desires.” The U method is firmly grounded in process consultation as one of its principal parent disciplines.

2.    Listen and Dialogue with Interesting Players on the Edges

The second domain of listening takes you out of your familiar world and to the edges and corners of the system. Connect and talk to interesting players in the larger eco-system of your relationships. Talk to both the visible core players and the less visible ones— including people from marginalized and underserved communities that do not have a voice in the current system. As you proceed on your mini-journey, let yourself be guided by the field. Focus on emerging opportunities. The most important helpers, partners, and guides often turn out to be different from what you expect; therefore your inner work is to stay open to suggestions.

3.    Clarify Intention and Core Questions

Do not rush the first step of clarifying the intention and core questions that guide the inquiry. When working with designers from the consulting company IDEO, I have been impressed by how much time they spend up front, before beginning a project. “The quality of the creative design process,” one IDEO leader explained, “is a function of the quality of the problem statement that defines your starting point.”

4.    Convene a Diverse Core Group around a Shared Intention

Convene a constellation of players that need one another to take action and to move forward. The opposite of co-initiation is marketing—getting people to “buy in” to your idea. That almost never works because it is just your idea. So part of the art of convening these players is to loosen your own grip on the idea— without necessarily giving it up. You lead by painting a picture that is intentionally incomplete; you make a few strokes and you leave lots of blank space so that others can make a contribution. In this way you shift the power dynamics from individual to shared ownership, and from ownership to belonging, to seeing your part in a larger social field. The quality of the impact of your initiative depends on the quality of the shared intention by the core team.

5.    Build the Container

And the quality of that shared intention largely depends on the quality of the container, the holding space that shapes and cultivates the web of relationships. The most important leverage point for building a high-impact container is right at the beginning, when you set the tone, when you evoke and activate the field. Container building includes outer and inner conditions, the most important of which is collective listening to the different voices and to the whole

 More about Otto Scharmer
Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute. He chairs the MIT IDEAS program for cross-sector innovation that helps leaders from business, government, and civil society to innovate at the level of the whole system. He is the author of Theory U (translated into 20 languages) and co-author of Leading from the Emerging Future, which outlines eight acupuncture points of transforming capitalism. His latest book, The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applicationsilluminates the blind spot in leadership today and offers hands-on methods to help change makers overcome it through the process, principles, and practices of Theory U.

In 2015, he co-founded the MITx u.lab, a massive open online course for leading profound change that has since activated a global eco-system of societal and personal renewal involving more than 100,000 users from 185 countries. With his colleagues, he has delivered award-winning leadership development programs for corporate clients and co-facilitated innovation labs on reinventing education, health, business, government, and well-being.