Theory U is a change management process originally developed by Dr.Friedrich Glasl and Dirk Lemson. They sought to develop a method by which consciousness is used to handle conflict and processes manifested in relationship dynamics and conflicts. The Theory was then picked up by Dr. Otto Scharmer who included the concepts of presencing and capitalism. It is this presencing that releases creative and productive energy.
The original theory analyzed technical/instrumental subsystems, social subsystems and cultural subsystems. It is a process of transforming observations into intuition and then decisions. In general, one would understand the facts of the workplace, forming a picture of how the organization operates, understand the implicit and overt values within the workplace, envision the future, and aligning the pieces to that future. The process is one of developing conscious awareness of the workplace and putting into action effort to achieve future goals.
Dr. Otto Scharmer took the theory to the next level by incorporating the concepts of thinking, conversing, structuring, and global ecosystems. As people work in patterns they are often locked into ways of thinking that limit the organizations potential. By empathizing with customer’s needs and fellow employees they can create new understandings and new patterns that better strengthen the market response. Actions become more purposeful and focused on root truths.
The concept of presencing indicates that at the bottom of the U is the current self and future self that resonate with each other bringing forward a new path to development. As each of our selves interacts with each other we begin to become more effortful in our actions, more creative in our productions, and more clear in our thinking. It is a process of understanding our true selves at a deeper level. It is about moving beyond surface assumptions.
Most managers and employees work from a false sense of self. This self has come from societal expectations, misinterpretations, and lack of understanding. It is that same power that artists and visionaries use to develop a better impression of the world. It is that place where the best of self exerts itself on the environment. Michelangelo described it as the place where the sculptor, “releases the hand from the marble that holds it prisoner” or Picasso’s concept of where the “mind finds its way to the crystallization of its dream.”
Scharmer, O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. ISBN: 978-1-57675-763-5