Theory U and Sensing Journeys

In the coming days, we will post stories from the Global Wellbeing Lab’s regional sensing journeys. In advance of these posts, I would like to explain what we mean by a “sensing journey”.

In the Lab, we are interested in understanding and addressing the deeper root causes of the intertwined environmental, social, and spiritual-cultural challenges that all societies face today. To do that, we need a method and framework for making sense of our current situation, connecting to our deeper sources of inspiration and creativity, and taking mindful collective action that generates positive outcomes for the planet, each other, and ourselves.

It is a tall order.

And yet, a promising approach does exist.

The Lab is designed on the principles of Theory U – an innovation process that individuals and groups can use to suspend habitual ways of paying attention, access deeper sources of knowing, and explore the future they want to create through rapid-cycle prototyping. Developed by Lab co-facilitator Otto Scharmer along with colleagues at MIT, Theory U has been field-tested in multi-stakeholder innovation processes around the world over the past two decades. Below is a 5-minute video introducing Theory U (part of a free and MITx course on Theory U titled U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self).

One way the U process differs from other innovation processes is in its emphasis on co-sensing. Co-sensing helps us connect with and tune in to the contexts that matter; moving into a state of seeing in which the boundary between observer and observed begins to collapse and in which the system begins to see itself.

Which brings us to one of the key methods we use in co-sensing: sensing journeys (also sometimes called learning journeys). A sensing journey is not a benchmarking tour. It’s a deep-dive immersion into the places of most potential. Participants go into a place (community or organization, for example) with the intention to not only see emerging innovative solutions, but to feel them, to pay attention to information that disconfirms their own expectations or ways of seeing the world, and to interact with the key innovators and stakeholders in that community with an open mind and open heart.

For those interested in learning more about the sensing methodology, the video below outlines the main principles. In the coming days, we’ll post examples that illustrate in concrete ways how this is working in practice, right now, in five different regions around the world.

Categories: Blog


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