What is this ULab you’re tweeting about?

If you follow me on Twitter, or happened to have noticed the Twitter widget down there,  you may be wondering what all this #ULab business is all about.

ULab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self is a MOOC offered by MITx through the edX platform. It is a course based on the work of Otto Scharmer, a senior lecturer at MIT.

Scharmer’s books Theory U and Leading from the Emerging Future provide theory and examples of a “social technology” designed to address the gap between the results we say we want and what we collectively create. Too often, we fall short of the vision and Theory U aims to help. You can read more about the books here.

I read both books last year and was immediately captivated. There’s solid, academic content in both with plenty of social science and economic theory to chew on. Fan’s of Peter Senge may appreciate that Senge is involved in Scharmer’s Presencing Instutite and Scharmer incorporates some of Senge’s ideas into Theory U.

What makes Scharmer’s approach especially attractive to me is that he puts the Heart, Mind, and Will at the center of his model.  Have you ever seen  “Heart” represented in a logic model or evaluation theory?  I haven’t.  Mind and Will don’t show up much either. These concepts are often disguised in mission statements, vision statements, and strategic plans.  Yet,  heart, mind, and will are unspoken actors in everything we do.  Who ever decided that it was unprofessional to talk about how passionate people are about the work they do anyway?  It’s possible to be passionate AND clear, inspired AND effective.

Creating change is as much about internal change as external action.  Scharmer provides a new language to talk about what matters in all sectors of society and offers tools and practices to create change in a deeply meaningful way.    Honest, deep conversations about what’s really going on would solve many problems in our homes, neighborhoods, programs, and organizations.   Scharmer is an action researcher.  He and his team didn’t offer the ULab course for free to as an ego boost or to create a broader fan base.  They’re offering the experience to create action and build a community.

I’m taking part in ULab because I think Scharmer’s work matters. It speaks to me and I wanted to explore these ideas and practices in a more powerful way than I can do alone.  There’s much that applies to evaluation practice and being an intentional, mindful human being- topics I care about. I’ll share more about Weeks 0, 1 and 2 in my next post.

Here is an amazing image by graphic facilitator extraordinaire, Kelvy Bird from the first live session of ULab 2 weeks ago.  It gives a nice overview of the course journey and what we’re up to.  It’s not too late to join if you’re curious.

ULab Live Session 1 Image by Kelvy Bird

ULab Live Session 1 Image by Kelvy Bird

To be clear, I have no connection to Otto Scharmer or the Presencing Institute other than being one of 20,000+ students taking the ULab course.


New Year’s Collage

Do you do anything special to start a new year?  I usually spend the first week of every year engrossed in post-conference survey data analysis and adding my tasks to our team’s work plan.  This year I only worked half time over the holidays and got to do other things.

One of the things I did was unexpected and full blame credit goes to my sister.

You see, my sister shared a Facebook post from Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things describing Gilbert’s love of collage as a tool for reflection and planning.  (I  recommend Eat, Pray, LoveThe Signature of All Things is on my “to read” list.)

Have you ever created a vision board for personal or professional purposes?

It’s been years since I have.  Part of the reason I stay away from vision boards is I dislike the term “vision board”.  It’s too hokey, even for me. (If you want to call it a “vision board”, that’s OK.  You make a “vision board” and I will put quotes around it.)

My sister and her friends were enthusiastic about this and Elizabeth Gilbert is sassysmart.  It sounded like fun and I was surprised by that. I had time, supplies, and old magazines.  Why not? There was no plan or theme. I knew I didn’t want words- only images and patterns.

One of the first images I cut out was a butterfly with a pencil body.  I had to have it! It connected to my desire to come out of my cocoon and write more…and more elegantly.  I found a Keebler ad with three elves in a tent called to mind the joy our family experiences on our backpacking adventures.  The picture of one girl with her arm around another reminds how much I cherish my sister and friends and the importance of compassion, gentleness and taking care of each other. Some of images I liked and didn’t know why (A lace clock?!).  It didn’t matter. I collected them anyway.   The dining room was littered with magazine confetti and I was having a blast long after the official child in our house lost interest.

The next morning it felt incomplete.  I promptly added asparagus, eggplant, ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and running shoes. Also, more trees.

There was not a single obvious image related to my job. I felt terrible.

Chart scrap glued on and guilt averted, I appreciated the result.  (My scanner wasn’t big enough for the whole collage and the chart scrap got cut off. You’ll have to trust me that it’s there on the real thing.) I still felt bad for leaving my job off the collage in the first pass.


After a week pondering this image I see the reasons WHY I do what I do on the page. The collage expresses what I value most.  Connection…of people and ideas. Recognition… of  what matters most deeply and how hard it can be to know if and when we’re moving in the direction we intend.  Sparkle…from colleagues and committee members who liven up my working world with their insights and personalities.  Space… for growth and learning, reflection and action.  Balance… between multiple forces (the epic battle of asparagus and eggplant vs. ice cream and chocolate cookies).  Fun, silliness, a bit of design.

I like this possible vision of the year- or whatever it is.  What I see will evolve over time as visions tend to do.

What’s images and patterns would you like to see in YOUR new year?

I know you have scissors, glue, and old magazines…

P.S.  Sharing the collage was NOT part of  my plan.  One of the reasons I created this blog was as a place to explore new ideas and things that matter to me. This qualified and I plan to do it more.