U-Theory – find your path

Photo by Melissa Askew
Photo by Melissa Askew

Sometimes the stomach grumbles and the mind is helpless. We feel that something is not right and want to listen to our heart. But how should we do that? The German professor Otto Scharmer has developed a method that he teaches at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Rational scientists, in particular, need a clear process model if they want to go beyond the path of technology.

Otto Scharmer called his model U-theory. This name is derived from the shape of the process. After all, it is about diving down from the mind and then integrating the discovered treasure on the other side.

In a short overview it looks like this:

In a nutshell, it represents the way between the two states: In the beginning, we act according to fixed patterns, which partially cause us pain. We have to fathom them and transform into a state in which we are at peace with ourselves on all levels.

Let’s briefly go through the individual steps:

On the starting point, we are of course on the level of the mind. Here it is necessary to suspend and observe. What information do my senses provide me? What are the facts? When observing, there is a trap that we tend to fall into: The Voice of Judgment.

We have acquired a great deal of experience on the way growing up. In everyday life, it is useful to relate what is new to what has already been learned (see this article). However, this is not just about categorizing and inventorizing. Our inner librarian has to take a break here and we are allowed to see everything through the eyes of a child. We are here on the level of action.

The second step is certainly the most difficult, especially for rational people: Opening the Heart. The mind will first ask itself how to accomplish this. How should we get access to our feelings?

Here it helps to face the inner adversary. He plagues us here with the Voice of Cynicism. This is the natural defense when the collected facts contradict our beliefs and question our previous patterns. On this level, it is about understanding behavior.

In the third step, it is about what has been done. Where do these resistances come from? The layer that has to be broken is the Voice of Fear. Just as the doctor asks about the pain points, we should make ourselves aware of what we are afraid of. These fears point the way to our inner tensions. Every fear is an indication of where our innermost values are touched. We encounter strong emotions here. These emotions are important because they show us the way to what we should change. The point is to face these emotions and let them go consciously. They have fulfilled their purpose because they have shown us the path.

Ultimately, this leads in the end to the essential questions that Otto Scharmer calls somewhat

colorfully the connection to “the Source”. Who am I? What is important to me? What are my true values? What is the actual purpose? Towards: How do I want to be?

From this fundamental finding, you can then let the vision of the future unfold step by step in reverse order. Once you have sorted your innermost, the path crystallizes based on your values.

On the level of the heart, you openly listen to others and connect with them. How can one create something in common beyond oneself and create new emotional bonds? This is where visions and prospects emerge.

These visions can then be put back into practice by the mind. It is then a matter of testing them in prototyping. If you follow this path, values, visions, and actions are in harmony with each other.

This may sound a bit difficult to grasp in such a summary, but with a little help, it works very well. This process model is also used very practically in design thinking as a framework to break through old thought patterns. Psychologists also talk about re-framing here.

This way you save the energy wasted by the diffuse tensions and can direct all your power towards the development of your future.

What about you?

  • Have you ever applied the U-theory?
  • Do you sometimes feel disturbed?
  • Have you ever got to the bottom of these feelings?
  • Have you ever done Design Thinking?

Translation into English supported by DeepL and Grammarly

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