Otto Scharmer and the Field of the Future: Integrating Science, Spirituality, and Profound Social Change

  • Patricia A. WilsonEmail author
Living reference work entry


Claus Otto Scharmer has dedicated his life work to helping individuals and institutions collaboratively shape the emerging future for the healing of the whole – a process that unfolds through collective inquiry, holistic knowing, and co-creativity. Beginning with the question “why do our systems produce results that no one is happy with?,” Scharmer has integrated systems thinking, action research, phenomenology, and inner awareness into a multidimensional matrix of processes and practices called Theory U. As a social technology, Theory U facilitates a shift in individual and collective awareness of the systems and social fields in which we are embedded. The resulting collective shift in awareness fosters collaborative action for systems change motivated by a shared sense of higher purpose.

Otto Scharmer has applied Theory U not only to systems change in teams, organizations, and institutions but also to addressing the major economic, ecological, and cultural schisms threatening the future of our planet today. Scharmer’s work will likely be remembered for its guidance in the transition to a new epoch of spiritual openness, organizational fluidity, and social transformation. Theory U is more than an intervention tool – it is a way of being and doing in organizational life. Today this way of being and doing is an imperative, not only to address intensifying fundamentalism but to build the foundation of the next epoch that is already emerging.

Dr. Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT, a Thousand Talents Program Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and a cofounder of the Presencing Institute.


Otto Scharmer Theory U Presencing Systems change Co-sensing Action research Phenomenology Spiritual development Inner awareness Leadership Organizational change Social transformation Consciousness 


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Further Reading

  1. Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue and the art of thinking together. New York: Currency Doubleday.Google Scholar
  2. Jaworski, J., & Scharmer, C. O. (2000). “Leadership in the new economy: Sensing and actualizing emerging futures” (The Red Book). Generon International and Society for Organizational Learning, pdf, 53 pp.
  3. Kaplan, A. (1996). The development practitioners’ handbook. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  4. Scharmer, C. O. (2000). Presencing: Learning from the future as it emerges. On the tacit dimension of leading revolutionary change. Paper presented at the conference on knowledge and innovation, 25–26 May 2000, Helsinki School of Economics, Finland.
  5. Scharmer, C. O. (2001). Self-transcending knowledge: Sensing and organizing around emerging opportunities. Journal of Knowledge Management, 5(2), 137–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Senge, P., & Scharmer, C. O. (2001). Community action research. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of action research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Senge, P., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. S. (2004). Presence: Human purpose and the field of the future. Cambridge: Society for Organizational Learning.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Program in Community and Regional PlanningUniversity of TexasAustinUSA

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