Otto Scharmer
Otto Scharmer
Born1961 (age 62–63)
Alma materWitten/Herdecke University
Known forTheory U

Otto Scharmer (born 1961) is a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-founder of the Presencing Institute and its u-school for Transformation.[1][2][3] He focuses on awareness-based action research with leaders across various sectors,[3][4] anchored in the concept of presencing, a method of "learning from the emerging future", which he introduced in his books Theory U (2007) and Presence (2004, co-authored with Peter Senge and others).

Early life and education

Otto Scharmer was born and raised near Hamburg, Germany, where his experiences on his family's farm significantly influenced his future work. The principles of regenerative farming, as practiced by his father, laid the foundation for Scharmer's later concepts of social fields and systems change.[5] Scharmer earned his diploma and PhD in economics from Witten/Herdecke University.[6]


Throughout his career, Scharmer has focused on cross-sector systems transformation, introducing the concept of presencing in his books Theory U (2007, 2nd edition 2016) and Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society (2004, co-authored with Peter Senge and others). In Leading from the Emerging Future (2013, co-authored with Katrin Kaufer), Scharmer explored the transition from egocentric to ecocentric economic systems, identifying key leverage points for systemic change.

Scharmer co-founded the MITx u-lab, a platform that has engaged over 250,000 participants from 186 countries in transformational learning and change initiatives.[6][7] His work extends to designing action learning labs for UN agencies and SDG leadership labs for UN country teams in 26 countries, aiming to foster cross-sector collaboration in addressing global challenges.[6][8][9][10][11][12] He serves as a consulting editor for the Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change, a peer-reviewed platform focusing on the integration of research and practice in awareness-based systems change.[13]

Theory U

The U Process of Co-sensing and Co-creating — Presencing
Theory U is a change management method and the title of a book by Otto Scharmer.[14] Scharmer with colleagues at MIT conducted 150 interviews with entrepreneurs and innovators in science, business, and society and then extended the basic principles into a theory of learning and management, which he calls Theory U.[14] The principles of Theory U are suggested to help political leaders, civil servants, and managers break through past unproductive patterns of behavior that prevent them from empathizing with their clients' perspectives and often lock them into ineffective patterns of decision-making.[15][16]

Awards and honors

He received the Jamieson Prize for Excellence in Teaching at MIT (2015),[17] and the EU Leonardo Corporate Learning Award for the contributions of Theory U to the future of management (2016).[18] In 2017 he was ranked #1 of the world's top 30 education professionals by[19]

Selected publications


  1. ^ "People – Presencing Institute". Archived from the original on 2016-04-12. Retrieved 2017-05-03.
  2. ^ "Otto Scharmer | MIT Sloan". Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  3. ^ a b Scharmer, Otto; Kaufer, Katrin (2015). "Awareness-based action research: catching social reality creation in flight". In Bradbury, Hilary (ed.). The Sage Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice (3rd ed.). London; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. pp. 199–210. doi:10.4135/9781473921290. ISBN 9781446294543. OCLC 915115903.
  4. ^ In his own words: Otto Scharmer – Theory U: Emerging Futures. 2021-12-15. Event occurs at circa 6m00. Retrieved 2023-02-21 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ HLA Fall Webinar Series 2023 - #3 - Otto Scharmer, retrieved 2024-02-23, event occurs around 7:30
  6. ^ a b c "About – Otto Scharmer". Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  7. ^ "u-lab: Leading From the Emerging Future | MITx Online". Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  8. ^ "EPH Conference". 2019. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  9. ^ Hentsch, Rachel. "SDG Leadership Labs: Supporting UN Country Teams to Achieve Agenda 2030" (PDF). Retrieved Feb 23, 2024.
  10. ^ "SDG Leadership Labs: Supporting UN Country Teams to Achieve Agenda 2030 | Presencing Institute". u-school for Transformation by Presencing Institute. Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  11. ^ Presencing Institute (2019-11-09). "SDG Leadership Labs: Leading Transformative Change in the United Nations". Field of the Future Blog. Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  12. ^ "Shifting Mindsets to Shift Development Systems (part 1)". SDG Integration. Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  13. ^ "Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change Editorial Team". Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change. Retrieved Feb 27, 2024.
  14. ^ a b Scharmer, C. Otto (2016) [2007]. Theory U: Leading from the Emerging Future. A BK business book (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler. ISBN 9781626567986. OCLC 944179658.
  15. ^ Frannie Léautier, retrieved 15:53, 27 July 2007 (MEST)
  16. ^ Scharmer, C. Otto (2007), Addressing The Blind Spot of Our Time. An executive summary of the new book by Otto Scharmer Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges. HTML, retrieved 15:53, 27 July 2007 (MEST).
  17. ^ "Photos: Instructors in accounting and operations management recognized at annual teaching awards – MIT Sloan School of Management". Archived from the original on 2017-05-03. Retrieved 2017-02-15.
  18. ^ "Thought Leadership » Leonardo Award 2016 » Leonardo". Archived from the original on 2017-02-15. Retrieved 2017-02-15.
  19. ^ "Education Gurus 30 – Global Gurus". Archived from the original on 2017-05-03. Retrieved 2017-02-15.