Oasis of Radical Wellbeing

Oasis blog: Empowering Futures: Reflections on Dr. Otto Scharmer's Lecture

What should we students strive for in life? Read the Wellbeing Ambassador Arttu Pahta's blog post on Dr. Otto Scharmer's lecture.
The Wellbeing Ambassador Arttu Pahta

Honestly, I didn’t know who Dr. Otto Scharmer was before the event was announced, and honestly, I wasn’t super keen on listening to an hour and a half lecture after a long workday, but after the first 30 minutes I found myself sitting in the audience super focused and taking notes. This is probably also the reason I’m writing this blog now. 

 Discovering Otto Scharmer 

Otto Scharmer is a senior university lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a prominent figure in the field of leadership and innovation. He is best known for developing Theory U, a transformative framework that seeks to address complex challenges and foster collective creativity in co-development projects. 

The primary focus of Scharmer's work revolves around promoting participatory leadership and facilitating a deeper level of listening, sensing, and reflection to connect individuals and communities with their highest potential and sustainable future selves. I don’t want to go into too much detail in Scharmer’s theory but rather focus on the fact, why I, as a technology student, found the lecture so thought-provoking. Nevertheless, if you want to find out more about Scharmer’s U Theory, there is plenty of information online, and I have listed a couple of sources at the end of this blog.  

Theory U and Presencing  

One of the key points of Scharmer’s theory is the term “presencing” —learning from the emerging future, derived from the words “sensing” and “presence” (Scharmer, 2023). At least, I found that the term can be applied in many areas of life. Nowadays, it is especially easy to be physically present but mentally remote. By “presencing” I believe that both I and other participants in the action will get more from the situations themselves. On top of that, “presencing” plays an especially important role when we are talking about problem-solving, conflict resolution, and facing disruption.  In addition, as we live in an increasingly hectic and catastrophic world, it is important to be able to sense the future in the moment in order to achieve the best possible future for ourselves and future generations. 

On the other hand, the future isn’t something only just out there. It’s a personal thing that depends on all of us in order to manifest. I think nowadays we easily discuss the future’s dependence on individuals only in a negative sense, and we are painting these threat scenarios. What if we took another perspective? What if we thought of the future as a personal thing and actually focused on the fact that the future depends on me and us to manifest? We all have an impact on the future in our own way, and most of the future innovations are either being developed now or maybe in the minds of someone reading this. Scharmer believes that the future requires all of in order to manifest and I think that it is really important to keep this in mind. However, it is essential to focus on the positive side rather than dwelling on the negative effects one can cause.  

Striving for success or something more?  

Scharmer concluded his lecture with a journaling exercise which was really thought-provoking, but I would like to focus especially on one question. This question could be phrased something like: “Think about your younger self just out of high school, with your whole future ahead of you. What would that person say to you now if you had a conversation?” The words that I wrote down aren’t pretty to say to anyone. So, I won’t list them here, but the overall theme was disappointment. The younger version of myself (keeping in mind that I still consider myself quite young) was eagerly anticipating the future, aiming to excel and surpass expectations, particularly in terms of career, academic success, and other aspects. These aspects don’t play as important role in my current view or way of living life, and I think that’s one of the reasons why my initial reaction was that my younger self would be disappointed with me.  

Stepping out of our bubble  

So, what can I take away from this experience and why should you be interested in the lecture Scharmer gave? As a young person in the modern world your thoughts, opinions, and things you care about change a lot. I was striving for success, building a career, and so on. Now I’m not so sure. It is easy to stay in our comfort zone and stay in the areas that we know, but to shape the future, we need to stepout of our bubble. On top of that, we need not only technological or economic knowledge but also the skills to communicate effectively with the people around us. This lecture provided multiple tools which can be used for that. According to Scharmer to achieve these goals, we need to start developing our listening skills and go even deeper, not just listening to the conversation but also “further” ourselves from the conversation to sense what is trying to emerge. This can help ideas and innovations manifest that might not emerge otherwise.  

Sources: 

Joutsenvirta, M. 2022. Theory U - How to lead from the future while it emerges? https://www.aalto.fi/en/news/theory-u-how-to-lead-from-the-future-while-it-emerges  

Scharmer, O. 2023. Leading from the Emerging Future. Lecture at The Green Minds, Healthy Hearts Social Sustainability Symposium, Aalto University, 30.5.2023. 

Otto Scharmer’s website: https://ottoscharmer.com

Otto Scharmers lecture on "Leading from the Emerging Future"

Available through Aalto login. English with subtitles.

Watch the recoding!
Otto Scharmer
Audience in Aalto Learning Center, Espoo watching two persons on stage at the Green Minds, Healthy Hearts Social Sustainability Symposium, May 30th 2023.

Green Minds, Healthy Hearts Social Sustainability Symposium recordings

Here you will find the symposium speeches. Please note, some of the material is available for a limited time and/or Aalto Community members only.

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Oasis of Radical Wellbeing

On these page you will find information and interesting references to improve wellbeing at Aalto University!

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