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Vishwadeep Khatri

Message added by Mayank Gupta,

Theory U conceptualized by Otto Scharmer is a change management tool. As the name suggests it is a U shape and it moves from the left side of the U to the right side of the U. It helps individuals and organizations to break away from unproductive patterns, thoughts and emotions and open their mind to new ideas.


An application-oriented question on the topic along with responses can be seen below. The best answer was provided by Rajesh Chakrabarty on 16th Apr 2021.


Q 356. Theory U is a change management tool that can help organizations break past unproductive patterns of decision making. Explain Theory U and its applications.


Note for website visitors - Two questions are asked every week on this platform. One on Tuesday and the other on Friday.

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We are living in very challenging times for businesses; lots of uncertainty, ambiguity and risk at every step. The leadership qualities of a leader are of prime significance now, more than ever before. The competition and the scope for generation of new and better ideas is very high due to the amazing technology and ability to transfer data at speed that was unimaginable a few years ago. A modern leader comprehends that athis is a time of massive disruption and creation. Hence, there needs to be a new approach to “see – learn –do” and redirect the course of events in a significant and constructive way. To address this, Otto Scharmer and his colleagues at MIT conducted interviews with many entrepreneurs and innovators in the fields of business and science to take some well – known ideas from them and combined the same in a profound way. He then extended the basic principles into a theory of learning and Management, which he called Theory U in his book with the same name.

Theory U is a change management method which can be used by Leaders as a “Personal Leadership” Tool. The concept that Scharmer puts forth, tries to provide reference points so that leaders or entrepreneurs are able to dissociate themselves from age old instituted ways of thinking and solutions. The idea is to enable leaders and entrepreneurs to make their own contribution to solutions which are in sync to what the organizations actually need in the current and future business environment.


<Diagram1 UTheory>

The Theory U Model

The model is represented as a flow of stages in a U Shape that moves from left hand side to the right side of the U. The user, to begin the route at the left side of the U with will have to have open mind and acceptance to new ideas and be rational and not allow any emotions to obstruct actions to bring about any required change. Here onwards, the route /theory on the right hand of the U , starts to move in upward direction towards reintegration and acceptance of new and innovative ideas…. Then is the execution!!

Steps/ Path defined in the Theory U Model that can be used in an Organization.

 The leader/Entrepreneur is advised to inculcate a culture of Cooperation and involvement in the organization, at all levels. The employees need to be encouraged to keep aside or abandon established ideas and practices which are non-productive and/or  add no value to any process or product, or to the organization as a whole. Only then will new ideas and methods start budding and make productive and valued contribution to the business for present and future.

Most of the employees at all levels have gained experience and learnt from the past. The management must encourage the employees to also “learn from the future” by focusing on future possibilities in the business environment by “Presencing” – a merger of two words,” Presence” (Past & Future) and “Sensing” (Feeling). Thus, to “Presence” is to realize the future potential of any situation/condition.

There needs to be an effort to develop a system from the prevalent conditions / status, following steps in U Shape path to attend to and co-shaping the organization for the future.

1)    Downloading is continuing or repeating the existing pattern of thoughts and practices

2)    Seeing/ Observing is when the people are ready to suspend the existing pattern of thoughts and practices and be prepared with “fresh eyes” to see.

3)    Sensing is the phase when everyone redirects attention from objects to source. And try to understand various perspectives of the same situation, which all may have overlooked earlier. Allowing new concepts to overrule the old concepts which did not show results , through factual listening, empathetic listening and generative listening.

4)    Presencing is the turning point!! As mentioned above, it is about letting go of everything that is not essential and productive and explore the dormant potential of the future.- Point of realization of untried possibilities 

5)    Crystallizing is the phase when the organization /employees begin to enact or envision the future., without any fear of adversary in the organization due to non-adherence to old methods

6)    Prototyping is bringing the new into reality by improvising and embodying  the new ideas and concepts into samples or models of product built to test the idea / concept or process . This helps to evaluate a new design to enhance precision and provide specifications for a real working system , rather than limiting to a theoretical concept.

7)    Performing is to implement the concept /idea/ process for better results.

Thus Theory U is about bringing change. When there is  liberty and method to change , the organization begins to see and do  what they did not see and do earlier.

In Practice, Entrepreneurs use the Theory U as a tool to encourage employees to think differently – “Out of the Box” and have an open mind with respect to the new ideas and concepts and applications available of thinkable. The requisites and characteristics for proper following of this model are;

-      Managers and employees at all levels should be able to focus on successes already achieved.

-      Brainstorming and innovation should become an intrinsic part of the organizational culture and policy

-      Focus needs to be theer for the development of bot organization and the employees as individuals

-      Adept technologies are deployed

-      Awareness and research of the business environment is taken very seriously by the leadership team


This approach helps to define better processes in the organization. I have experienced this whole shift of culture in an organization that I used to work for. Executives were trained through work shops with many exercises and routines , to be able to communicate and influence the idea of thinking differently for any given situation and bring about a fresh way or method that is better than the existing methods and most importantly was relevant for the future.. I realize now that this was  the initial set up for the Kaizen methodology culture that the organization wanted to instill!!


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