Theory U

Theory U

Theory U is an approach that can be used in uncertain and unstable environments or during periods of transition. It supports individuals, teams and organisations to

  • Create the conditions to become aware of the level of deep attention necessary for the emergence of a new vision of the future.
  • Make visible the blind spot on the source of transformation, decision making or joint action.
  • Suspending habit and opening to what comes (open mind), with empathy (open heart) and letting go (open will).
  • Developing a deeper connection within a team.


Theory U was developed in the 70s and 80s by Otto Scharmer of MIT and a group of colleagues such as Joseph Jaworski, Adam Kahane, etc. It is based on research carried out with leaders to design and conduct collective learning processes.

  • It is an inner journey whose key is "Presencing": a state of heightened attention to connect with the deepest source of one's self, and to change one's habitual way of functioning. It is a time of letting go, of listening, of opening one's mind, heart and will.
  • It is an awareness of the level of attention from which one operates, to decide to change it, in order to create a new future (Einstein: "A problem created cannot be solved by thinking in the same way it was created").
  • It is a journey in 5 U-shaped steps.


  • REPRODUCE: Reactivation of your past patterns: seeing the world through your habits of thought.

  • DEPLOYER : Obtenir des résultats par des pratiques, des infrastructures.
    • Incarner le projet nouveau.
    • Déployer le nouveau dans les pratiques et les infrastructures, à grande échelle.
    • 1. Observe: Listening and dialogue phase.

    • Create a space to wipe out the past.
    • Suspend the voice of judgement to access the intelligence of thought (open mind). Viewing reality with fresh eyes.
    • Directing attention to the best potential future.
    • 2. Feeling : Cognitive resources meeting phase

    • Be attentive and open to your environment.
    • Listen to others and learn from their visions.
    • Listen to what might enrich your questioning and sharpen your decision.
    • Connect to your "little inner voices" and meet your analytical, compassionate and intuitive resources.
    • Silencing the voice of cynicism to access emotional intelligence (open heart).
    • Have an open mind, an open heart, an open will.
    • 3. Presencing: Connecting to your deepest self, to who you are

    • Silencing fear to access your true desires, "your gut". Letting go. - Finding the inner place, the place of silence, the state of attention and awareness to connect with the deepest source of your self, the source of inspiration.
    • Allowing your hidden resources, your intuition or deep knowing (image of Russian dolls) to emerge from what you are experiencing, and what you are intuiting.
    • 4. Crystallise : Phase of commitment to goals and outcomes

    • Crystallise vision and intention.
    • Make the emerging future concrete.
    • Define the first steps to make it happen.
    • 5. Prototype: Small-scale testing phase

    • Prototype, act to create and realise what has emerged.
    • Adapt the plan to reality by analysing what worked and what didn't, what needs to be readjusted...
    • To do this, access the intelligence of the head (which reasons), the heart (which decides on action) and the hand (which acts).
  • DEPLOY: Achieving results through practices, infrastructure.

-Embody the new project.

-Deploy the new in practices and infrastructures, on a large scale.

NB : Theory U is not a mechanical, linear process with sequential steps. It functions as a whole, a matrix in which the stages interact with each other. However, for practical reasons of description, it is interesting to break down the steps.


  1. Choose a situation you would like to explore through the U.
  2. Consciously go through the steps of the U :
  • Observe:
  • o Let go of all your habits and ways of thinking. Let go of your past.

    o Suspend your judgement and access your intelligence of thought to look at the situation in a new way. To do this, marvel at all the new ideas that come to you.

    o Direct your attention to the place of the best potential future.

  • Feel :
  • o Listen and observe everything that might enrich your questioning.

    o What does life, circumstances, your friends, your intuition, your analysis tell you? o Silence cynicism and access your emotional intelligence, your empathy to adapt to different contexts.

    o To do this, use your heart as an organ of perception; see with your heart, the place of your ability to appreciate and love.

  • Presencing :
  • o Silence your fears and access your spiritual intelligence, your true desires, your intention. To do this, accept to be vulnerable and to trust, to have confidence in what life wants to happen here and now.

    o Be silent, let go and connect with your source of inspiration.

    o Let your inner knowing emerge and come.

  • Crystallize :
  • o Choose from the ideas that emerge.

    o Commit to these ideas, to goals, to outcomes.

  • Prototype:
  • o Take action and test the idea(s) you have committed to through a prototype.

    o Implement and deploy on a large scale.