We are vision addicts.

That is what organizational researcher Tjip de Jong says.

And it is only human to be busy with the future.

Because it feels good to be working on a nice picture of how things could be. Much better than having to deal with the messy here and now.

If it were only that simplevisions don't work

But visions and action plans do not work when you want to create deep change, says Hans Vermaak.

Vermaak and De Jong inspired me to make this cartoon

visions do not become reality

Theory U is a method to look beyond your frame

Otto Scharmer developed it to fundamentally change big systems – think climate change. But you can also use it on a smaller scale: For any question to which you don’t have a ready-made answer.

The U-process comes down to this:

It is a creative process

And that makes it difficult to grasp: Scharmer needed over 500 pages for Theory U  in 2009. In 2018 he summarized it in The Essentials of Theory U.

I clarify the method in three visuals

Click on the icons to open them:

The essentials of theory U

The Essentials of Theory U





You can use the visuals as an anchor during the process. And as a reminder to let go.

Because it is tempting to try to control the process. And when you stay on top of it, new ideas have no room to emerge.

That is the pitfall in the U-process

Letting go invokes feelings of uncertainty. And your brain wants control. That makes it more difficult to just see what happens. And to listen to each other.

Visual thinking with theory U

That is why I made a fourth visual: Visual thinking with Theory U.

Because you see the whole picture when you put your thinking on paper in symbols, lines and keywords. And it gives you a sense of control when you have the overview – even when you are looking at jumble of lines.

Your brain can relax and you are more open to other insights. And that helps to have a good conversation.

You can also use the visuals for yourself

In this cartoon you can read how I applied the U to the way I work on my blogs. Then you know why they look different from now on. 

To summarize

Visions don’t become reality by themselves. If you really want to change your approach you have to look outside of your frame. Theory U helps you do that. And visual thinking makes it easier.

And now?

Download the visuals in this blog as a mini-ebook, print them and get to work.

visual thinking theory u