Learning takes place in a time of disruptions. In this context, VUCA, most leaders, change makers and teachers feel stuck. A feeling of being unable to redirect the learning in any significant and constructive way. We are, in Otto Scharmer’s words: ‘collectively creating results that (almost) nobody wants’.
Part of the problem is the way we approach what we ‘know’ and ‘do’. We need a new way of seeing, learning, and doing. Theory U, by Otto Scharmer can help to provide that new perspective. Theory U describes well-known ideas and combined them in a profound way. The big question to be answered is: ‘How do we learn from the future as it emerges’?
Theory U begins the assumption that: ‘I pay attention this way, therefore it emerges that way’! This is called our blind spot. We see the world the way we are. We create the world we live in. Action comes into the world from what is going on inside of us. We can see what we do (results). We can see how we do it (process). But we usually are not aware of the who: the inner place or source from which we operate. That is our blind spot: the place from which our attention and our intentions originates: our source.
how our source effect us
The question for leaders and teachers is ‘How does our blind spot show up in our work’? What I give attention to, what I notice, what I act on, is a function of my source. This of course, affects how and what we learn and thus what we can apply to any given situation.
In general, we learn from the experiences of the past. But is responding with what we have learned enough to solve the complex problems in the future? Scharmer suggests that we work to learn from the future as it emerges. He calls this presencing.
We can engage in the moment in two ways. One is the present moment that is basically and extension of the past. The present moment is shaped by what has been. The second is a quality of the present moment that functions as a gateway to a field of future possibilities. The present moment is shaped by what is wanting to emerge. That quality of time, if connected to, operates from pre-sensing the highest future potential.
In times like ours, it is this second presencing quality of the present that matters most. Without that connection we tend to end up as victims rather than co-shapers of disruption.
how to presence
Theory U is a way of making a system (or an individual) sense and see itself. The core process can be seen in the diagram below. Looking at the bottom U Scharmer describes each of the seven ways of attending to and co-shaping the world:
⁃ Downloading is business as usual. Repeating the same old patterns of thought. In this state the world is frozen by our old mental habits and past experiences. Nothing new enters our minds;
⁃ Seeing is when we suspend our habitual judgment and wake up with fresh eyes. As we suspend we have to tolerate that nothing is happening. Staying with it is the key;
⁃ Sensing is the moment we redirect our attention from objects to source. Our perceptions widen and deepen. The boundary between observer and observed opens up. We begin to see it from a perspective that includes ourselves. The system begins to see itself;
⁃ Presencing is when we let go of the old and connect to the surrounding sphere of future potential. The boundary between observer and observed collapses into a space for the future to emerge. We are connecting to the deepest source. It is the interior condition from which we operate. Our purpose. Seeing from the whole. We must be willing to drop everything that is not essential. Crossing the threshold means to be willing to let go. To let go of old patterns, assumptions, and even our old ego-self. Only then is it possible to step into our dormant potential, our emerging self;
⁃ Crystallizing is when we begin to envision the future that seeks to emerge from a deep connection to the source. Envisioning happens from the field of the future (rather than from our ego);
⁃ Prototyping is exploring the future by doing. Bringing the new into reality by improvising and linking the intelligence of the head, heart, and hands;
⁃ Performing by embodying the new from the context to the whole (eco-system). Embedding the new through new practices, processes, and infrastructures while maintaining a connection to the source.
The inverted perspective is about destruction rather than creation. It is the result of closed will, heart and mind: fear, hate, and prejudice. Rather than experiencing presencing after downloading, we begin to deny or silence other views out of prejudice, we manipulate, bully and eventually destroy. That has nothing to do with leadership or learning.
Leadership is the capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate. So the primary job of leaders and teachers is to help people discover the power of seeing and seeing together. Theory U is about change. When you begin to see what you didn’t see before and at the same time, see your own part in maintaining and defending to past patterns and thinking, real change can begin to occur. The key leverage point for transformational change starts with attending to how you relate to the system that you want to change and to the system that you want to give birth to.
The quality of results achieved by any system is a function of the quality of awareness that people in these systems operate from. In three words: Form Follows Consciousness. So take the first step and make learning awesome and significant again.