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Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges By C. Otto Scharmer

Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges By C. Otto Scharmer

Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges

By C. Otto Scharmer
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009

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3 stars: Valuable information and a good read

In the beginning (1960) there was Theory X and Y.[1] Then came Theory Z in 1981,[2] a book on Theory R in 1994,[3] and I even postulated Theory Pi in 2005.[4] So, I was thrilled to review Scharmer’s Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges.

This new book does not lend itself to being easily described except that it introduces the concept of presencing (presence + sensing), that is, operating from the future as it emerges. Part I shows us that we have a blind spot, that invisible dimension from which all our actions originate. In Part II, Scharmer develops his U process, forming the left part of the U with co-initiating, descending to co-sensing, and bottoming out with co-presencing. The U is completed by rising to co-creating and rising again to co-evolving. Many examples of how the U process can be used are presented in subsequent chapters. Part III introduces us to presencing.

It was not an easy read. I had to keep putting this book down and thinking about it. My engineering background originally found the tenets a bit too qualitative and I was confused by the spirituality aspect. But I kept reading and found chapters (such as, “The Grammar of the Social Field”) that helped me with my journey through this book. It does seem to be very well grounded; Scharmer has spent 10 years researching and interviewing 150 practitioners. While there are some elements of Theories Z and R, it is a new approach and worthy of investigation.

You won’t want to be lugging this massive 533-page, 2.1-pound book everywhere with you, but I suspect most readers will take away a new view of themselves and how to deal with the world. I would recommend this book for business people who have an interest in understanding themselves and sometimes find themselves asking, “Why?”

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[1] Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960).

[2] William G. Ouchi, Theory Z: How American Business can Meet the Japanese Challenge, (Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1981).

[3] Wayne T. Alderson and Nancy Alderson McDonnell, Theory R Management, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994).

[4] Leo Mallette, “Theory Pi – Engineering Leadership, Not Your Theory X, Y or Z Leaders” in IEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings, no. 13.0309, March 9, 2005.

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