All on Board the U Train! The Theory U Journey Begins Now

By Helio Borges and originally published on

“I decided to stay and confront my shadows head-on. It was the scariest — yet the best — decision that I have made in my life, because letting go of the person I used to be has transformed me into the person I am today.”

This time of the year [August 31] many of us prepare our baggage to board the U train. When we get on it, we’ll encounter many familiar faces, repeaters, and new ones. Passengers come in all ages, genders, and races. They hold all sorts of jobs, professions, and occupations.

The train is full of young and experienced entrepreneurs, social and environmental activists, college lecturers, students, experienced bankers, consultants, and C-suite executives. We are a very diverse crowd.

What makes thousands of participants from more than 180 countries around the globe immerse themselves in a learning journey of 14 weeks? I have seen some who want to change their piece of the world for the better. Others want to acquire more knowledge. Many look to find a sense of purpose, of meaning in their lives and structure an occupation around it.

Some had life-changing experiences, like Otto Scharmer’s story “facing the fire”, that set them on a new life path. Almost all want to implement profound change in their lives and work because they feel that ‘ business as usual’ is not a choice anymore. I got in for all the said reasons and found much more than what I was looking for.

Today I find myself, with many others, on a journey to discover and actualize our highest possible future possibility, personally, professionally, and from a societal standpoint. One can rightfully ask how it is possible to do that, especially in light of the COVID-19 global disruption. The answer is simple and complex at the same time.

We are learning to Observe the disruption, to Reflect on it, and to Act in an instant, with an Open Mind, an Open Heart, and an Open Will. How? By learning the processes and tools of Theory U, which is an Awareness-based System Change methodology facilitated by Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT, through the program “u.lab. Leading from the Emerging Future”.

The U process has five movements: Co-Initiating, Co-Sensing, Presencing, Crystallizing, and Prototyping. The process Initiates when a person develops an Open Mind, turning the camera around to attend to their reaction to what’s happening to them — to their own blind spot.

Suspending our voice of judgment permits us to observe reality as it is, and gives us the opportunity to Sense the Social Field, listening to it. So that we re-direct our attention to “the other”, not to criticize them, but to put ourselves in their shoes, developing our empathy, and opening our hearts to let go of our old habits of behavior.

Accordingly, an Open Heart, and the practice of Presencing, give us access to a deeper source of knowing, letting our best possible future emerge. An Open Will is the engine that motorizes our actions to Crystallize our emerging future. Finally, using a Design Thinking tool, we Prototype our crystallized future, which allows us to explore the future by doing, iterating it, and learning from negative feedback.

u.Lab. Leading from the Emerging Future is a 14-week program, which Otto Scharmer and the rest of the faculty at the Presencing Institute teach through the edX platform. It is free and self-paced. Is it doable? Yes, by all means. Nevertheless, it is important to know that this is not a merely cognitive study — do the work — pass type of course. As Otto Scharmer says,

“You don’t learn u.Lab studying and watching videos. You learn it by practicing, specifically by participating in group practices.”

You won’t master the methodology and tools of Theory U flying solo, you need to do it in the company of others, and there is a reason for that. The most important, yet not explicit, requirement of the course is that the person taking it has to change — the process explained in the preceding paragraphs is a process of inner, not outer, change.

This requirement explains two particular facts about this course. The first is that the number of people finishing it is much lower than the people who were in at the beginning. The second, and more curious reason, is that many people repeat it, not once, but several times. I am one of them.

Why do so many people repeat it? Do they fail at it? No, they don’t. I am a habitual repeater myself, and I can speak by my own experience. The first time that I took the course in 2015, I was on the brink of dropping out several times, especially when confronted with my own shadows and blind spots that I had to look in the eye.

It has been one of the scariest experiences in my life. Nevertheless, I decided to stay and confront my shadows head-on, but I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. For this reason, you need a support community; without the invaluable and kind help of my Coaching Circle, I wouldn’t have made it.

It was the scariest — yet the best — decision that I have made in my life, because letting go of the person I used to be has transformed me into the person I am today. I have grown as a man, as a father, as a husband, as a citizen, as a consultant, as a change-maker, and as a human being.

Personal growth is a continuous journey, it begins the day that you are born, and ends with your last breath. U.Lab is a great pathway not only to find meaning, purpose, and the agency to achieve them, but it is also a place where you are part of a very diverse community of practitioners who are willing to speak to you, to listen to you, to learn about your projects, and even to lend you a hand.

Every time I go through the U process I can feel that growth process taking place again. Furthermore, I feel the need to help others as well.

When I run out of words, I always turn to poetry to express it better.

The Journey

“There comes a time when it is necessary to abandon the worn clothes that already have the shape of our body.

To forget the roads that always take us to the same places. It is time for the journey.

If we don’t dare to undertake it, we will have stayed forever apart from our own selves.”

Fernando Pessoa. Portuguese poet.

If you want to change the world, first you have to change yourself. So, what are you waiting for?

To enroll in the free self-pacing course u.Lab. Leading from the Emerging Future, click here.

If you are interested in deepening and accelerating the u.lab learning and growth experience for yourself or for your team, please contact me at [email protected] to have a conversation about possibilities.

Good luck on your journey

Kindly, Helio

Republished with permission.

Featured Image and some paragraph spacing added by Enlivening Edge Magazine. Image by Amanja Hemal from Pixabay