Theory U is a helpful visual for understanding three smaller movements or ‘spaces’ – co-sensing, co-presensing and co-creating – representing the journey we must go through to effect systemic change and achieve profound innovation. Typically, in the face of simple or complicated issues (where the problem is knowable, even if difficult socially or technically), our habitual reactions are a linear progression or extrapolation of past standard responses to similar challenges. The journey to addressing complex issues as illustrated by the U can be thought of as these three broad, not necessarily sequential, movements:
- Co-Sensing – observing and listening with your mind and heart wide open through immersing yourself in current reality.
- Co-Presencing – retreating from current reality, to reflect and connect to inner knowing, inspiration and will, for what life calls you to do.
- Co-Creating – acting in an instant from a deep understanding of the whole, to prototype and embody new co-created and co-evolved approaches, solutions and responses.
In this framework, co-creation proceeds from agreement on a common purpose, but not necessarily on a common vision. Consistent with the philosophy of Future Search, parties agree to take action on perceived common ground, despite potential areas of significant disagreement, and learn by doing, that is, through fast-cycle prototyping where the extent of goodwill, commitment, understanding and trust are quickly establish in fact, rather than as possibility.
If we are trying to change reality, says Adam, then until we start to do something together, we haven’t really done anything to truly change reality. The imperative in co-creation is to begin to act together much sooner than we are normally comfortable with, because until we do, what might be possible remains merely a theory.