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Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges
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Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,356 ratings  ·  72 reviews
In this ground-breaking book, Otto Scharmer invites us to see the world in new ways. Fundamental problems, as Einstein once noted, cannot be solved at the same level of thought that created them. What we pay attention to, and how we pay attention - both individually and collectively - is key to what we create. What often prevents us from attending is what Scharmer calls ou ...more
Hardcover, 560 pages
Published May 2nd 2007 by SoL, the Society for Organizational Learning
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Dec 08, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
After so many people have mentioned this book, I felt obligued to read it too.

Otto Scharmer tries to introduce a "new" way to think about personal development and leadership. He goes through great lenghts to describe his framework and taxonomy of being, perceiving, thinking, ... and here starts my problem with it: He doesn't connect his thoughts other those of others. Instead of joining the discourse on similar topics (Mindfulness as the most obvious one), he stays within his own thought buildi
May 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Yikes! I'm 3/4s through this book, which began changing my view of my work, my world and my sense of agency in all I do in its very first pages, and it hasn't let up yet. I'll be processing this through active learning for years to come! It's incredibly elegant and essentially simple at the same time Scharmer's synthesis of years of organizational leadership research and experience is both complex and profound. ...more
Jan 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow! If you want to learn about change, and the whole idea of listening to your inner voice, then this is the book for you. It's meaty, and not a quick read....not for the faint of heart. But, it's good stuff if you're looking to make the world a better place. ...more
Kálmán Kéménczy
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
What can say? It was hard to read and I have to confess I skipped few parts for that reason. I wanted to love it so bad but I failed. I feel we can easily transform the entire book into a 3-apges hbr article.

I do understand the journey and the train-of-thought are important, but still 500+ pages is much more than it should be. Probably you ask what is the message of the book and I can spoiler it in one sentence: your past experiences are not enough anymore to make decisions so understand your b
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Scharmer puts together years of research, interviews and collective dialogue regarding how to bring about profound and lasting change in organizations and society. Book presents what could be the paradigm for leadership in the next 25 years. Detailed in theory and practical insights.
Eugene Pustoshkin
Otto Scharmer’s Theory U is an excellent book. It is a thorough exploration of the U process, which is a phenomenological practice that can be used by both individuals and collectives. This methodology pays attention to intentionality and states of awareness. These states of awareness and presence states are shared communally, and basically this work legitimizes an understanding of phenomenologically felt collective fields, bringing this paradigm into the organizational discourse.

The U process i
Tõnu Vahtra
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Something felt off with this book, the theory was very abstract and high level and difficult to grasp while the practical examples seemed very basic and plain. I feel that the Theory U framework is "good to know" on principal level but not so applicable in everyday situations. Clearly Peter Senge (the 5th Discipline and foundations of systems thinking) seems to be a big fan of the book and theory. Scharmer is aiming to integrate mindfulness with systems thinking. I also felt similarities with St ...more
Jens Rinnelt
Theory U builds upon already existing theories and approaches that have been described elsewhere more explicitly, like Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Mindfulness or existential psychology. What makes this book a game changer though is the new frame through which Scharmer looks at these, and thereby accurately depicts the paradigm shift humanity is going trough. But he does not stop there but rather provides the tool to make an intentional decision about where humanity will be going from here. He ...more
Rick te Molder
This book could have been so much shorter. Even if I listened to the 7 hour ‘abridged version’. God only knows how long an unabridged version would take, as it doesn’t exist, at least not on Audible.

The man’s got a few good points, so what’s my problem? He fell in love with his own model - the ‘U’, in which you let go of a lot of stuff before you go up embracing the future. Whenever he tells a story, he keeps pulling you out of the juicy details to refer to it.

He goes: we take a U and then we s
Oct 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Like others said, this is an ambitious book. It attempts to reconcile the disparate parts of our identity in a unified field theory of the self. To do that, it takes a modern approach, partly informed by the process of rapid prototyping, in order to guide us towards self-creation -- which is called "presencing." The motivation of this labor is to help us reconnect to the source of our actions, both at an individual, organizational and societal level, and that is a very noble goal.

Having said tha
Jun 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
What I liked about this book was the comprehensive approach the author takes to provide a context for how to meet emerging opportunity. Lots to chew on. Unfortunately I agree with the author...reading this book is not a substitute for the experiential learning that comes with practice. You can't satisfactorily think your way through the learning.

His more current "Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economics" is a more approachable format with good questions geared f
Jo McAlpine
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book that I think will only stand the test of underpins a lot of the work I deliver as it makes so much sense. I loved Otto Scharmer's synchronicity as it was so simply written but this is more evidence based and informs my work. ...more
James Davis
Oct 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: leadership
This book takes us to the ""bleeding edge" of change theory. It is a powerful model for creating the future versus solving the problems of the past. The writing can be a bit tough to follow at times but it is well worth the effort. ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Can't decide if it's brilliant or a naive and rosy convert's take on Buddhism. It's definitely longer and more overwrought than it should be. Look at the illustrations, skim a lot and forget the last few chapters. ...more
Dimitri Papadopoulos
Sep 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
This is an overly intellectualized rebranding of buddhist/taoist thought, sloppily applied to leadership theory, that lacks any semblance of true academic rigor.
Fred Cheyunski
Jul 10, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Learning Organizations Extended - Looking into Kolb’s book “Experiential Learning” (see my review) and also familiar with Peter Senge’s approaches related to learning organizations (incorporated in my socio-tech activities as mentioned in my review of Mohr and van Amelsvoort’s “Co-creation of Humane and Innovative Workplaces”), I sought something along these lines. Seeing this title in related searches, I decided to give it a try as a way of updating on progress regarding these topics. Gladly, I ...more
Chandana Watagodakumbura
In "Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges", the author Dr Otto Scharmer put together his decades of personal and professional experiences to create a highly pragmatic positive social transformation framework. It is fundamentally based on mindfulness or presencing techniques. Put differently, it highlights how the inner presensing (as Dr Scharmer uses) capabilities of open minds, open hearts and open wills of individuals become indispensable contributors to positive outer social transfo ...more
Yvo Hunink
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
It’s been quit a challenge to finish this book, but I am happy I did.

Theory U is one of the few books that can help individuals, organisation, institutions and complete societies to make a change towards a better world. A world where we are aware of our place in the system and our own actions that help to form the system.

In my work, I am going to apply many of the notes I made during reading the book, especially the design of workshops with multistakeholder groups.

The reason why I did not give 5
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
If you have to read a textbook about leadership, this book isn't bad. It's actually a pretty easy read. The ideas really aren't revolutionary; they make very good sense and align with other texts I've read involving leadership through a systems thinking lens, but the idea of the "U" felt gimmicky and unnecessary. Eventually the ideas became repetitive, but this also helped reinforce the concepts within different types of systems. It's easy to see how the idea of connected-ness applies similarly ...more
Yaroslav Doroshchuk
May 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nikolay Theosom
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
fascinating. i mean he sort of mixed mindfulness and systems thinking into one, and i can see how that can make some people cringe, but i think his concept of leading from the future makes perfect sense to me. a yet another way to keep focused on what really matters.

i'll need to re-read it at some point to understand him more fully
Kofi Anane
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If your looking for ideas to creating a habit of identifying blind spots in your life, this book is for you. This book provides clear actionable advice that you can you immediately use in becoming more creative when faced with challenges. This book shows you how to prioritize daily goals that will allow you to accomplish your huge overarching goals. Baby steps to success.
Lourdes Zamanillo
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Life-changer. Scharmer's narrative really resonates and inspires into action. It is a handbook with a practical approach to different ways of leadership. I found it didn't say anything new after the first few chapters, but went deeper into the statements disclosed. So depending on the depth you want to engage with the content, it can provide different levels of enquiry. ...more
Nov 25, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
1.5 stars. There is wisdom between these covers, but it is buried in a meandering fever dream of coined terms, field structures, and graphical visualizations.
Really, the ideas are sound, but not new; perhaps they are newer to traditional business leaders, but if the idea is sound, it should not take this much effort to share it.
Firas Abdulhasain
Aug 03, 2022 rated it liked it
Good theoretical frameworks to better understand, deal with, and lead change. Guided by clear stories about going from ego-system to eco-system. The book could have been a lot shorter and is vague, lengthy and boring at parts. Recommended to those who are absolutely new to dealing dealing change, and those looking for helpful theoretical frameworks for change.
Kate Arms
Aug 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Theory U is a tough read. Lots of really interesting ideas that are hard to imagine putting into practice without guidance.

A great companion piece to participation in one of U.Lab's courses.
Bart Du Bois
Nov 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: methods
An audiobook is not the most useful format to comprehend this material. Will need to iterate on this bone 😉
Christina Reddick
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book on the Theory U process and how it can help develop solutions.
May 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Many interesting ideas. A lot of fluff, should have been condensed.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school-food
Excellent book. The only thing I wanted more of was the research on which the process and theory are based.
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Dr. C. Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and founding chair of the Presencing Institute. Otto introduced the concept of “presencing”—learning from the emerging future—in his bestselling books Theory U and Presence (the latter co-authored with Peter Senge et al.). In 2015 he co-founded the online MITx u.lab, which has since activated a global eco- ...more

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“Leadership in its essence is the capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate. Once they understand how, leaders can build the capacity of their systems to operate differently and to release themselves from the exterior determination of the outer circle. As long as we are mired in the viewpoint of the outer two circles, we are trapped in a victim mind-set (“the system is doing something to me”). As soon as we shift to the viewpoint of the inner two circles, we see how we can make a difference and how we can shape the future differently. Facilitating the movement from one (victim) mind-set to another (we can shape our future) is what leaders get paid for.” 6 likes
“The crisis of our time isn’t just a crisis of a single leader, organization, country, or conflict. The crisis of our time reveals the dying of an old social structure and way of thinking, an old way of institutionalizing and enacting collective social forms.” 2 likes
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