ULab – Connecting to Source

Reflections and learning
31st December 2015


    “I’ve never been to anything like this in Scotland…where people get up on stage and bear their soul”.

 The words of an intrigued John Swinney, Deputy First Minister of Scotland.

He had joined the ULab Scotland community gathered at Pollock Halls in Edinburgh to watch the final Live session of the ‘Transforming, Business, Society and Self’ programme. People were getting up on stage to share their inspiring ULab stories and they weren’t holding back.

Yes, perhaps it was ‘un-Scottish’. But it’s another indication that it’s a Scotland in transition…..towards a more compassionate, equal and resilient society.

So what is it about ULab that makes you want to share your innermost thoughts?

Based on the Theory U, ULab is an approach to leading profound change developed by action researchers at MIT. Scottish Government had sponsored a separate ULab online platform to enable people to come together in a local context to work on common issues.

ULab holds that to transform business and society you also have to work on yourself. Some degree of soul-searching is necessary.  An important starting point is to acknowledge and celebrate what has already been achieved, whilst striving for the ‘highest future possibility’.

On this point I was reminded of a guided U-journaling exercise during the second ULab ‘live session’ in October. An intense experience involving guided mindfulness, deep reflection and visioning. Otto Scharmer guided the global online community through 17 questions, the answers to which were to be captured in a ‘free writing’ style. “Just write”, he said, “don’t think too much about it. Let it emerge”.

The questions were deep and probing. We were being encouraged to tap into our ‘source’ – the wellspring from which we draw inspiration to do our best work.  

Otto Scharmer says this is about cultivating the soil. Creating the ‘inner condition’ to let go of what no longer serves us and make room for the new. ‘Letting go to let come’.  

It was a demanding process. Keeping up with the questions…. thinking…. writing.  

It’s the type of writing you go back to time and again. Each time finding something new you hadn’t noticed before, setting you off on another strand of reflection….. 

To help us reconnect with our earliest intentions we were invited to reflect on the question:

‘Look at your current situation from the viewpoint of you as a young person, at the beginning of your journey. What does that young person have to say to you?’

Such a simple question but the impact was unexpectedly cathartic. I imagined being an awkward sixteen year old again. Childhood in Shetland, Scotland’s most northerly island was coming to an end. About to take my first tentative steps as a nurse. Uncertain, excited, hardly daring to imagine what kind of an adult I would become.

Back to the present, my mind drifted across the intervening years…to what had unfolded over the decades. What would my 16 year old self say….?

“Really? You’ve done all that?”  

It was a remarkably life-affirming moment. So often we negate our achievements; become overwhelmed by ‘imposter syndrome’. This simple question brought clarity and focus where there can often be distortion. Like the rear view mirror after a vigorous rub with glass cleaner.  

Journaling reminds me of a quote by EM Forster:

  “How do I know what I think until I see what I say”           

Reflective journaling is an underrated leadership activity. Sometimes it’s hard to know what we think till we express it in writing or other creative media. Our minds full of noise; often with negative commentary that can get in the way of reaching our full potential.

Surfacing and exploring our thoughts is an essential part of coming to know ourselves; our motivations and our intentions. Such self-knowledge builds inner resilience and brings balance helping us to weather life’s storms and enjoy our successes.

My first blog post of 2015 ‘Leading with Humility’ was on the subject of reflection and it seems fitting that I should end the year on the same vein.

Check out the ULab page on the Presencing Institute. They’re planning further offerings in 2016. It’s challenging but worth the effort.

What would your 16 year old self say to you….?


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