Theory U (Book Summary)

What’s it about?

Today, there are major societal shifts underway, each of which creates major challenges for the leaders of today and tomorrow. Theory U (2016) describes how the so-called U-process can collectively tackle those challenges and implement the solutions quickly. This is achieved by tapping into the blind spot, the source of our deepest creative instincts.

About the author:

Otto Scharmer is a senior lecturer and chairman of the IDEAS program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked with several governments and prestigious companies like Google and Fujitsu to create innovative programs.

What’s in it for me? Learn how you can solve problems by tapping into your own deep, unique source of creativity.

Society is currently facing tremendous challenges such as overpopulation and political conflicts. To meet them, leaders must look to the past and learn from the future as it emerges.

Leaders must lead themselves and their organizations through a U-process, first descending to the source of their most profound creativity and then coming back up to turn their ideas and insights into reality.

Society is going through three revolutionary shifts that present it with significant problems.

There are trends in the present time that seem to be heading to impending failure. For instance, although the administration is increasing, the amount of poor people globally is growing. Likewise, although we’re spending slowly on farming, we’re only consuming unsustainable mass-production techniques to provide our meals.

At first, there’s the mechanical and monetary shift of a globalized economy. Since the breakdown of the communist economies, the entire planet has, interestingly, been sticking to comparative economic approaches like scaling back governments and privatizing state-claimed ventures.

This work presents us with the challenge of making the economy more equitable to all, including future generations.

Second, there’s a shift in international relations as powerful global institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank emerge.

At last, there is a cultural and spiritual shift in how we see and connect with the world. Non-administrative associations and everyday gatherings have arisen as worldwide entertainers, having accomplished peaceful cultural changes like the social freedoms advancement of the 1960s and the harmony and fundamental freedoms developments of the 1980s. Additionally, individuals are progressively intrigued by profound points like individual dominance and stream. One examination found that remembering a deep segment for representative preparing altogether raises their profitability.

It gives us the test of how we can begin considering each to be on an excursion – an excursion to turn into their actual, valid self.

Because of these significant shifts, many leaders and key decision-makers now find themselves feeling lost and powerless.

To be influential leaders, we must access our “blind spot” – the source of our creativity.

Today’s challenges place enormous pressure on leaders. To understand how they might overcome them, let’s look at three perspectives on creativity and leadership.

Consider the work of an artist:

  • There’s the thing that results from her creative process – this is the what.
  • There’s the process of painting that happens while work – this is the how.
  • Finally, there’s the moment as she stands in front of a blank canvas. Here, you look at the work before creation begins and focus on the source of her inspiration.

Leadership can see an equal division:

  • You can focus on the outcomes of leaders’ actions are.
  • You can look at how leaders lead, observing the processes and strategies they use.
  • Or, finally, you can ask what the source of their leadership decisions and creativity is. This source is usually overlooked and is therefore known as the blind spot.

To access your blind spot, you must be an effective leader because it will allow you to learn from the future as it arises.

To grasp what this means, you must first understand that everyone has two selves: one connected to the past and the other connected to future aspirations.

The author experienced this divide when, as a young boy, he came home from school one day to find his parents’ farmhouse burned to the ground. 

The author had suddenly taken his home and the things he loved away from him. In effect, his past self had vanished. But then he became aware of another self, one which he could bring to life through his actions: his future self.

You can learn from both of these: learning from the past is what schools teach; for example, you make choices that avoid past mistakes. But you can also learn from the future as it emerges, meaning you make decisions based on what you aspire to be in the future.

The way to profound imagination is U-formed: jump down to the vulnerable side and come up again with novel thoughts.

Consider, for a moment, that your consciousness is a lake. In the humdrum of daily life, you usually stay on the surface of that lake without indulging in deeper introspection or reflection. But the blind spot, your source of profound creativity, is at the bottom of that lake. And to find the truly innovative ideas needed today, leaders must be able to tap into the blind spot.

So how can you dive down to the bottom of the lake?

First, you need to open your mind and heart to new ideas. In everyday life, most of us develop fixed, predictable ways of thinking, like mental ruts. These patterns show that we always tend to reproduce past behavior.

But to reach the blind spot, it’s essential not to let the past color your perceptions of others and refrain from making judgments. If you go even further and fully imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes, you understand their experiences and thus experience the world more richly. It is essentially a deep dive toward your blind spot.

Once there, you’ll find that your two selves – the past self-connected to your experiences and the future self-connected to your hopes and dreams – can converse. This phenomenon is known as “presencing,” and it results in genuinely new and innovative ideas.

Finally, you must swim back up and bring the innovations you found at the bottom to life. First, crystallize your visions and define what exactly it is you want to achieve.

Next, start to realize your ideas in small steps. Don’t start with a grand commitment or a big public speech. Instead, test out your ideas incrementally.

And so, the way to tap into your blind spot for the most creative and innovative ideas is U-shaped: you go down, you “presence,” and you come back up to turn your ideas into reality.

The initial phase in going down the U is to tune in to other people and search out proficient assessments.

The first step in the U journey is to gathering information with an open mind.

Listen to the people around you without judgment. Remember that all great ideas need a trigger.

For example, the author got closer to a student to teach a class on corporate social responsibility. At first, he refused due to a full schedule, but after some consideration, he realized the course was what he wanted to do, and he changed his plans to accommodate the class. If he had not been open to the student’s idea, he would have missed this great opportunity.

To ensure you don’t miss any great ideas, you should practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Take four minutes each evening to review your day, but imagine you’re looking at yourself from someone else’s perspective. Focus on how you cooperated with others and what people wanted from you or suggested you do. Don’t judge what you see; observe.

But to descend the U, it’s not enough to listen passively: you also need to approach people and talk to them actively. It is valuable information gathering.

Whatever the problem or topic requires, you tap into your blind spot, find and talk to the people who have a lot of knowledge and experience in that field. But remember to also speak to the less – ignored visible individuals – they can be crucial.

For example, suppose you wanted to find ideas to reform the education system. In that case, you should talk to knowledgeable and essential people like principals and the students, who may not usually have a say.

Here too, it’s essential to stay open to suggestions and listen to what the people tell you without judging them.

You need to hear your blind spot at the bottom of the U and find out what’s important to you.

While the advice you get from others is valuable, listening to your blind spot is even more critical.

Life is a journey where you must follow the feeling you get from your blind spot, that deep source of creativity unique to you and the life you’ve lived. 

Trust that feeling more than the advice you get from others.

To help you listen to your blind spot, adopt a practice of intentional silence. Many great thinkers and leaders do this in their daily lives.

For example, you could adopt a morning practice where you rise early and spend some time in a quiet space. You can meditate, pray or practice internal silence, but also try to think about what brought you to your current place in life. Then, commit to what you want to accomplish on this particular day. You will find it easier to listen to your blind spot in this silence and what it tells you.

The blind spot will help you understand what’s important to you and evaluate whether it’s worth the cost of pursuing it. Ask yourself: What situations in your life are the ones when you feel most connected to your source of energy and inspiration?

Now think of those situations and activities as seeds. What would a future look like where those tiny seeds have grown into an inspiring forest? What would nurture those seeds into a forest demand, and what would you need to give up for it? And what if, despite all your work, you were to fail in bringing about the forest? Would you think it had been worth the risk?

By asking these questions and listening to your blind spot for the answers, you’ll find out which projects and goals are significant to you and worth pursuing.

Come back up the U: produce your vision crystal straightforward and bring it to life by testing it.

Once you’ve found creative ideas for your projects in your blind spot, you must swim back up and turn your ideas into reality.

The first step is to crystallize your ideas and vision, meaning that you must define them clearly and unambiguously for the implementation phase. To concentrate your vision for the future, you can use this exercise:

First, focus on where in life you wish to be in the future.

Second, think about where you are at this very moment.

Finally, find the seeds for the future you wish to achieve and develop those seeds in the present. For example, perhaps the future you envision demands you develop some capabilities or acquire some resources?

Next, to get the ball rolling, you must set priorities and manage your time. You should start each morning by asking yourself, “What are the one or two most important tasks for today?” It allows you to prioritize those things and ignore unimportant distractions, resulting in meaningful headway each day.

As soon as it’s possible, you should test your idea. Make a prototype and present it to others before your statement is even fully developed. It Lets you gather feedback from others and refine your assumptions about what direction the project should take.

If you have multiple ideas for projects to pursue, you need to decide which one you’ll prototype first. To make this choice, you must ask yourself three questions:

  • Does it matter to the people involved?
  • Is it a new idea?
  • Can it be done quickly and on a small scale?

If the answer to all three is “yes,” then that project is a rigid candidate to be prototyped. Such projects will likely attract lots of supporters, making them more likely to be successful.

Next, you’ll find out how exactly the U-process can be used to lead a group to solve a real-world problem.

Doctors and patients used the U-process to make emergency care in Germany better.

In a rural area near Frankfurt, emergency care services had been in the wrong way. Both doctors and patients felt unhappy with how cold and mechanical the approach to care was.

To help reform this system, the author moderated a meeting between physicians and patients, structured around the U-process.

First, he led the group down the U by asking them to talk to each other and pay attention to what everyone had to say. He managed to draw people into first-person stories told by others to understand the big picture better. Quickly all groups realized that they shared the same problem.

Once at the bottom of the U, the group began coming up with ideas together. They moved away from polite conversation and into a genuine dialog and collaborative problem-solving. This intense dialog allowed them to access their blind spot. They realized that they all shared a similar vision of the solution to their problems: physicians acting more like lifestyle coaches than healthcare-dispensing machines.

Finally, the author led the group back up the U to make a concrete implementation plan and put it into action. Based on the ideas they had generated, the group prototyped and then institutionalized a new, cheaper, more effective emergency care process. 

Today, emergency calls are transferred to a central call center instead of individual doctors, increasing efficiency and reducing some doctors’ workload. Rather than treating every emergency call as an emergency, physicians can also provide counseling, comfort, or a home visit as needed. It has resulted in more satisfied patients and more satisfied physicians, as the process has a human touch to it.

It illustrates how influential leaders can use the U process on an organizational level to develop new, innovative solutions to problems and then implement them rapidly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *