Theory U, Prototyping: Integrating Past, Present, and Emerging Future

Otto Scharmer. Prototyping Principles.

By integrating my past and my present I can offer a unique service to my stakeholders because I now act, not from what I need from the future, but from what the future needs from me. HB

Six Prototyping Principles

I listened carefully when Otto Scharmer explained the 6 Prototyping Principles in the third live session of “u.lab. Leading From the Emerging Future” 2016, which was about the right side of the U — Crystallizing and Prototyping.

  1. Crystallize Vision and Intention. You have to be aware of your connection to Source and lean into what is beginning to emerge from that connection. “Staying with” means to have patience, because you shouldn’t expect results immediately, allowing yourself to wait and not jumping to premature actions.
  2. Core Teams. Five people can change the world as Margaret Mead said. However, they are not connected only around their heads; they are connected to the energy of the heart. A core team is really the people who are holding the whole. There has to be a certain level of energy and commitment that you can feel together. There has to be competence, the members have to have knowledge of the subject they are going to work on. In u.lab you organize around what is emerging — what wasn’t known before. At some junction some people leave, others try to join.
  3. 0.8 Iterate, Iterate, Iterate. Move into action very quickly, learning by doing, learning from your mistakes. The core team is going to make mistakes and learn from them together. The feedback that you are getting leads you to the next step of your journey.
  4. Hold the space. There has to be a space (physical or virtual) where you meet and get together once in a while to experiment safely on your prototype. There is a core team and there is an extended team around that — a network team.
  5. Listening to the universe. It is not following your intuition. It is paying attention to all the voices that aren’t you, to anyone that you are interacting with. It is not your expectations, although sometimes, there are inner voices that we can notice. Generally, in U work, and especially in prototyping work, you have to go into the particulars over the acquisition of the general.
  6. Integrating the intelligence of Head, Heart, and Hand. Open Mind, Heart, and Will are moving from operating inside your own boundaries and reaching out to that intelligence that is outside of those boundaries.

“The foundation for all prototyping is to connect your intention with the intelligence of the heart. You have to place that feature in your heart first.”

Watching one of those live sessions is quite an experience in itself. Afterward, you go about developing your own prototype while trying to juggle all of those variables.

Caracas u.lab Hub. Watching the Prototyping session 2016.

The Leader’s Need for Integration

One of the interviews that resonated the most with me when I was studying my first u.lab was Isabel Guerrero’s, who was in a life transition at the time, after having been VP of the World Bank for more than twenty years. She portraits in words the leader’s need for integrating the different parts of him/herself, underlying two key aspects: first, integration is a life journey, second, it is not a joyful voyage because to experience the satisfaction associated with change and growth, he/she has to face fear and pain. Here is an excerpt.

I think life is about integrating different parts of yourself. And eventually finding your authentic self. And that authentic self has a lot of dimensions. The spiritual is one. For me, integrating the feminine and the masculine has been another. The masculine gave me the results, and the feminine the strength, the appreciation of beauty and the caring of others. Life is a long journey where you actually integrate different parts. To become a leader and be part of a transformation, you have to go through an integration. That is the leadership voyage for me.

Like Gandhi said, “You have to be the change that you want to see in the world”, even though sometimes it seems difficult and you have to step out of your comfort zone and there is pain — because the first reaction people have when they leave the familiar, is sadness or fear. The first reaction is well, maybe I shouldn’t be here. And no, that’s the door. That’s the door through which you have to walk if you really want that new. Don’t get afraid of the pain. Don’t get afraid of the unknown. Step out of your comfort zone so you can continue growing. And this is a lifelong thing.

Integrating My Past and Present With u.lab

I developed a corporate career mainly in Finance, Change Leader, and Systems implementation, areas that demanded lots of effort from my part because my brain was not wired for that. Late in my life, I discovered that I had to work twice as hard as most of my colleagues because I had chosen a profession that required Analytical, Concrete, Convergent, and Sequential types of thinking. Whereas I am a natural Creative, Abstract, Divergent, and Holistic thinker.

Nevertheless, that was my responsibility and I was successful at my job, doing it to the best of my ability. However, sustaining that effort for 25 years eventually sucked all energy out of me, spiritually and physically because the person who was facing the day to day responsibilities of my job, was not my real Self, who remained hidden in the shadows. At the end of my career, at age 55, I was emotionally depleted and physically sick due to the stress I had to endure for so long. Slowly, but surely I had burned myself out. Contrarily, my family life had been an oasis of love and peace. It was that space of love and understanding which eventually allowed me to recover and to start again in another field, but that is another story.

I have a product! I thought to myself when I was leaving the house of my coach and friend Santiago José Porras. He had been a key factor in my concreting a 48 hours part-time course with virtual support that integrated “Theory U” and the “Well-Being Theory” of Positive Psychology. I had visualized the prototype during u.lab 2015. However, I didn’t complete it in the duration of the course. As a matter of fact, that prototype took me a whole year to develop from the time I came up with the idea to the moment the final product came about.

I could hardly believe my journey up to that moment. After ten years in search of meaning in my life, I studied a Diplomate in Positive Psychology in 2013. Afterward, I obtained a Certificate of Ontological Coach after finishing a 7-month program in August of 2015. Nevertheless, I sensed that my formation had not finished yet, and due to a serendipitous course of events, I stumbled upon u.lab: Leading from the Emerging Future, a course of MIT’s Sloan School of Management that his creator, Otto Scharmer, had turned into a MOOC in January of that year. It was love at first sight. At 65 years of age, this had been my longest study streak since I got my MBA in 1980. What kind of force pushed me to do that? For the first time in my life, I loved what I was doing and I was feeling passionate about it, and that feeling kept me riding the wave. That effort was my maneuver to shift my life focus to the areas about which I felt more passionate.

u.lab is a highly experiential course that capacitates change agents with Awareness Based Systems Change methods and tools to bring change, first, in the leader within you, and second, in the organization or the institution of which you are part. At u.lab, I felt for the first time in my life that I was doing what I had been wired for. I flowed so effortlessly through the U process that I could not believe it. I was being myself for the first time in my professional life, so much that now I smile when I picture an imaginary conversation between my past colleagues and me:

— Helio, what do you do for a living?

Awareness Based Systems Change!, and after a silence,

— Awareness what?

I wanted to develop these new capacities at their full potential, but I did not realize that I was relegating my corporate past as a bad dream — leaving out 25 years of professional experience. My intention for the program that I created later, was to facilitate it to individuals, workgroups in corporations, and social organizations. New ideas came to me all the time and I had them juggling in my mind, motivating me to continue advancing in that direction. I thought in my mind that I had all the pieces together and that all I had to do was to order them coherently. However, I had the feeling that something was missing, but I could not figure out what was it.

La Estancia Coaching Circle

I continued working on my project after the course ended; constantly facing my Voices of Judgement, Cynicism, and Fear, but fortunately, I had a space of trust and understanding in which I met with people facing challenges like my own. That space was the Coaching Circle, which continued to meet up to six months after the course had ended. In one of those meetings, I had my AHA! Moment. We were doing a Canvas analysis for one of the participants and without me realizing it, my corporate past resurfaced in the form of a business strategy for that startup that revealed itself clearly to me, it just emerged before my eyes. At that moment, I realized that the element missing from my project was my 25 years of business experience. I had been so impressed with these new capacities that somehow I had neglected to integrate my experience leading change in organizations into it. At that moment I realized that during 25 years I had unknowingly been developing my Analytical, Concrete, Convergent, and Sequential thinking capacities. The time to integrate had finally arrived.

The “safe space” held by the Coaching Circle allowed mySelf to slowly emerge, letting go of the old trauma associated with my past burnout, keeping the essence of my experience, blending it with my new competencies, and letting that blend mature until its time had come.

When I realized that I was integrating my passion and knowledge with my past experience, a whole new world of possibilities opened up before me. I felt energetic and optimistic about what I was doing because independently of my country’s ongoing crisis, I somehow believe that my future is in my hands.

By integrating my past and my present I can offer a unique service to my stakeholders because I now act, not from what I need from the future, but from what the future needs from me.

The Road Less Traveled

U School for Transformation Annual Cycle. Image: Presencing Institute

After 5 years of immersing myself in the year-round Theory U cycle, first as a curious learner, and later as a facilitator, change-maker, and passionate activist, I can testify that developing prototypes might be a long and winding road. Nonetheless, every minute that you invest in that process is worth it because it is going to direct you to a path of meaning and achievement, as Robert Frost said,

“…I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference”.

You are invited to register in the life-changing program, “u.lab. Leading from the Emerging Future”, it is free and self-paced. In addition, if you are interested in deepening and enriching the u.lab learning and growth experience for yourself or your team, please contact me at to have a generative conversation.

This is a two articles series, the second one, “Theory U, Co-Evolving: The Prototype is U” will soon be published.



How can we build our collective capacities for transformation in the face of accelerating social and environmental breakdowns?

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Helio Borges

Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges