Behind the scenes at U.Lab with Maria Fonseca
14 October 2016 - Gabrielle Bey

Week 2: Co-sensing The Future By Sharing Stories Part 1

Last September the U.Lab adventure began, with a total of 75,000 participants coming from 190 countries. Delivered by MITx free of charge through the online platform edX (co-founded by MIT and Harvard in 2012), U.Lab: Leading from the Emerging Future is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)  about Theory U, a method developed by Otto Scharmer, a Senior Lecturer at MIT.

The purpose of U.Lab is to introduce the variable of consciousness into management and the social sciences. U.Lab’s proposes that the quality of the results that we create in any kind of social system is a function of the quality of awareness, attention or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from.The course thus, provides participants with tools to improve their degree of that same awareness, attention and consciousness.

As I am part of the U.Lab Hub of King’s Cross Impact hub, located in London, I was able to attend the second meeting of my group last Monday. This is a hub devoted to the topic of Reinventing Democracy (facilitated by Andy Paice) but that also approaches other areas according to the interests of the participants.

With happiness and excitement, I arrived at the beautiful Impact Hub venue, located in King’s Cross, joining the other 30 participants all seating in a somewhat irregular round circle that randomly had the shape of a heart. We were to share stories from our week, to ask questions, clarify any doubts, and collectively reflect about our U.Lab week’s experience.

After an exercise of mindful meditation, we wrote our interests and intentions for the course on a piece of paper, and then shared them loud with the group. The diversity of our interests and intentions was truly amazing. Mostly, the participants mentioned how they were interested about connecting with the self, self-improvement, learning about conflict-resolution techniques, reflecting about decision-making processes, co-evolution, looking for inspiration and new tools, looking for collaborative and transformative practices, and/or methods of co-creation and self-management.


The group reviewed the main topics of week 2, which  is dedicated to co-sensing.  According to U.Lab theory we are now initiating the journey down the left-hand side of the U,  and co-sensing is the first of three main stages, where we truly feel the field of change. As Otto Scharmer says, Co-sensing basically means:

Go to the places of most potential and listen with your mind and heart wide open.

During the co-sensing phase, one moves beyond downloading the patterns of the past in order to connect with a future reality that wants to emerge, deeper and better. The process is dynamic: on one hand, we connect with the current reality that we currently face, on the other, with the emerging reality that is wanting to happen around us and within us. In order to do so, we practice an interior condition to open our mind, judgment, old habits of perception, our old habits of thought, in order to really connect with and tune into what it is that’s changing around us,and that’s also beginning to change within us.

The two main processes taught by U.Lab that help us sharpening the process of co-sensing are stakeholder interviews and learning journeys, such as empathy walks.

Stakeholder interviews

With the stakeholder interviews, participants are challenged to make an interview with their bosses, peers, employees and ask core questions, to truly empathize and understand their point of view.  Those interviews supposedly enable us to practice deep listening. With deep listening, one shifts the inner place from where our listening and from where our attention originates. We are “paying attention to paying attention” and like that, drop judgement, criticism and the wish to find solutions and fix the problems we are hearing about.

Some sample questions one can ask, in the stakeholder interviews, could be:

  • What is your most important objective, and how can I help you realize it? What do you need me for?
  • What criteria do you use to assess whether my contribution to your work has been successful?
  • If I were able to change two things in my area of responsibility within the next six months, what two things would create the most value and benefit for you?

Empathy Walks

We also discussed our empathy walks, where one tries to find an unknown person that is radically different from us,  and engage in a conversation with that person, attempting to really listen what the other person is trying to say.  In our group, these walks were considered to be a bit challenging. I haven’t taken mine, for example. One participant shared how he felt that in London it was difficult to just walk to a stranger, as this was a very impersonal and “mind your own business” kind of  city. He was thus afraid people wouldn’t understand his purpose. Someone else mentioned that even if empathy walks are slightly complicated in the beginning, by doing them, it becomes easier. Another participant shared a beautiful example of an empathy talk, where she creatively slightly altered the parameters of the exercise. She went for a walk with her partner to a park, and at turns, they embodied the various beings of the park trying to imagine what they would be saying through role playing. If they were a tree, or a bird, what would they be saying about the world? “So many airplanes in the air, no space for us… we should bomb them!” she said, as if she was a bird flying by. We all laughed! Their creative take on U.Lab’s empathy walk was heartening and funny and as if empathizing with her, a dog decided to take a nap at her feet!


We then split into small groups, to chat and get to know a little bit more about each other.  Our conversations in little groups made me remind what I had learned on the online course about social fields and the four types of conversation: downloading, debate, dialogue, and generative creativity.  With amazement, I could identify the various types of conversations in my group. If it can be shocking to realize how one automatically either tries to be nice or engages in secret judgment of what others say, just to become aware of that, really is the first step to truly dissolve the boundaries that separate us, and to then engage in comments of generative creativity. I guess it takes practice to engage in sustained true connection, and generative dialogue. But the seeds of change are sown and it is fantastic to be part of a group of change-makers,  actively working for a more loving and creative connection with each other.

Finally, we prepared for the coaching circles of the coming week, by randomly dividing ourselves in various groups of five, some dedicated to the topic of reinventing democracy, and others about various projects.

More soon!

This article was originally posted on ‘Intelligent IQ’ on 03 October.

Article by Maria Fonseca.