Theory U: Learning from the Emerging Future

We live in a time of disruptive change with rapidly evolving challenges. In such times, learning from the past no longer suffices because the past leaves us blind to profound shifts when whole new forces shaping change arise. Instead, we need to learn from the future as it emerges. Theory U, developed at MIT and practiced by change-makers around the world for over 20 years, is a method of learning from the emerging future that allow individuals, organizations, and communities to turn ideas into real world change. Theory U is based on insights from a reflexive science of living systems that include the latest scientific development such as complexity theory, quantum mechanics, and generative biology.

Theory U (see figure below) outlines seven steps for the transformational process: suspending, observing, sensing, presencing, crystalizing, prototyping, and realizing. The first three steps along the left side downward stroke could be summarized as examining assumptions. The last three steps along the right-side upward stroke could be summarized as building capacity to bring the vision into reality.

Theory U Figure