top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlexandra

Facilitation of agile transformation with Theory U

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

The limits of our experience to make decisions

Scientists measure that about 95% of our thoughts happen at an unconscious level. If we break this number down to a day, we actually control what we think for about 1.5 hours per 24 hours.

Furthermore, scientists have shown that 7 seconds before we are aware of a decision, signals can be measured in the brain that already predict the outcome of our decision. In other words, our decisions probably happen unconsciously in the brain first and then we become aware of our "decisions" in a second step.

So how much of what we do every day do we actually control? And how much of it is based on connections in the brain that come from experiences we have made in the past?

How can we adapt decisions over and over again to the new reality in which we are living?

Measured 40% of our decisions are in fact based on habits.

Our experience is based on what we have experienced in the past and classified as successful or not. We base our values, principles, habits and decisions on this.

So most of the day we run on autopilot, "driven" by what we have experienced in the past. So by reacting in the present with the patterns we learned in the past, we usually shape our future strongly according to our past (and thus become an ongoing self-fulfilling prophecy).

How can we navigate today's highly volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous aka VUCA world, when what we mostly think about and decide is built on a past experience?

What does it take in the VUCA world to make better decisions and unlock innovation power?

When we live in a time like today's, where what worked in the past will no longer be what works in the future, we need to find new ways of thinking, acting and learning.

Otto Scharmer, MIT professor, posed the question of whether it is possible to learn from the emerging future, and in doing so embarked on a long journey, creating the Theory U framework.

Theory U is a framework for change management and innovation that describes tools and competencies we need to navigate through this VUCA world and successfully execute projects and transformations.

When we do something (for example project work), there is a "WHAT" we do: the concrete tasks, methods and techniques we do or use. There is also a "HOW" we do it: the quality with which we do it and a "WHY" we do it: the reason for doing it or our real intention.

Why do we have to deal with the "HOW" and "WHY" we do something?

The agile manifesto talks about people and interactions over processes and tools. But how is agile mostly lived in companies?

We learn the "WHAT we do" - what processes and meetings need to be held, how long are sprints and what are the deliverables. The "HOW we do it" is disregarded or given little attention.

In order to be able to perceive the "HOW we do", we have to deal with our own consciousness and our own presence. "? How am I? What is going on inside me? How am I listening? How am I speaking?"

And then the same with the person in front of me. "How am I speaking? How is my counterpart speaking? How is he doing? What emerges between us? What is emerging at the level of conversation, of ideas, of feelings? What does it take right now?" And beyond that into ever larger human systems "What emerges at the level of a meeting? Of a strategy? Of a company?"

Furthermore, the "HOW do we do" builds on the "WHY do we do". "Why am I doing this? What do I want to accomplish? What is my intention?"

Otto Scharmer focuses our attention precisely on this blind spot of most individuals, leaders, and companies: "From what place are we operating?" "What is our intention?" It is the inner condition, the "WHY" I do something, or the source from which I operate, in other words, the quality of my attention, intention and presence that matters.

The "WHAT" I do influences the output (classic deliverables, milestones and results) and the "HOW" and "WHY" I do and the quality of my presence influence the outcome (measure of value achieved). We are moving more and more away from Output and towards Outcome, as it is intended in agile ways of working.

Back to the VUCA world... We live in a moment and an age of discontinuity, which means that the future will be different from the past and the present moment. It is a moment where what has worked in the past will not work in the future, and what will be in the future is not yet here.

How do we find the way to close the gap between today and tomorrow?

Crossing the Threshold. Image, Presencing Institute - Otto Scharmer

Can we learn from the emerging future?

Otto Scharmer suggests learning from the emerging future rather than the past. What does that mean exactly?