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“We live in a time of disruptive change. How to activate our capacity to lean into the emerging future may well be the most important leadership challenge of our time. How do you cultivate curiosity, compassion and courage in the face of prejudice, anger and fear?”

             Starting September 8th, 2016 MIT and Ed X will partner once again to bring their exciting MOOC class – U.Lab: Leading from the Emerging Future.   In 2015, over 45,000 people across the world participated in U.Lab. In a unique opportunity – Impact Hubs around the globe will be teaming together for the second year in a row to catalyze the magic of purpose driven community with this class with live in-person meetings and discussions.
The best part – is that the cost of this life changing experience is completely free! As a person who is studying Organizational Psychology, this is a special treat in experiencing and getting to share a new framework for change management and personal development within organizations that is accessible to people of all backgrounds and experience.

My journey to look into U.Lab  began when I saw a bright blue book on the Impact Hub bookshelf called “Theory U”. I had vaguely heard mentions of the book in my coursework where I’ve been exposed to the leadership models of organizational thought leaders like Peter Senge and Edgar Schein. As a grad student at William James College, new community host at Impact Hub Boston, and developing OD practitioner committed to social impact and diversity,  one of the fundamental questions that drives my work is, “How do organizations and the people involved with them learn?”. I came to the book curious to see if i could help me answer the question of “What kind of leader can I be and what is my purpose?” It was a welcome surprise to find out that Impact Hub was going to be hosting a U.Lab “Hub”.  So, complete, with some new inspiration and the book – I set to work finding out what I could about this opportunity!

Inspiration from the Impact Hub Boston library and favorite artistic role models - Henry David Thoreau and Frida Kahlo!

Inspiration from the Impact Hub Boston library and my favorite artistic role models – Henry David Thoreau and Frida Kahlo!

What is U.Lab and why is it special? 

From the earliest beginnings of society, our resilience and success relied on our capacity to engage the social bonds of our communities to respond to the only given constant in our world – change. The EdX platform, much like Coursera or Udacity is a newer model of making classes from world-class universities available to the public known as – Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).  This model enables thousands of students to participate in a course in real-time. Typically, such classes are self-paced and have similar formats to other online classes with the use forums and structured assignments. Some classes may even offer certificates.  While this model has done much for improving accessibility to information,  the reality is that less than 1 – 5% of enrolled students actually complete such classes.

      In 2015, U.Lab embarked on a new experiment prototyping a 21st-century university model. This experiment would offer a hybrid online and real-world learning environment. The goal was to spark a web of interconnected hubs across the world by creating coaching circles and live lectures that combined the power of the theory with the energy of real conversations. U.Lab takes the online class experience into the real world by encouraging circles of generative learning within local groups. By inspiring initiatives and grounding learning where societal challenges are taking place, U.Lab helps individuals parse out their ideas within a dynamic peer-engaged environment.

What is Theory U? 

To get a better idea of the amazing journey this could be, I had a chance to preview the initial 90 minute pre-requisite course U.Lab 0x: Leading Awareness-Based Systems Change – How to Sense and Actualize the Future. The initial lesson features a quote from Bill O’Brian of Hanover Insurance, who says:

“The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener”.

Reflecting on this quote during the introductory lesson for U.Lab, Otto Scharmer, one of the developers and instructors of Theory U, adds:

“It’s not what I am doing or not only what I’m doing, it’s not only how – the process I’m applying to the situation – but it’s the source that I am operating from. It’s the quality of attention, intention, and presence that I bring into a situation”.

Scharmer’s Theory U drives the question “What is the source that we are operating from as individuals, teams, organizations, large systems, etc.” In the simplest terms, U.Theory cultivates and requires from its participants:

An open mind

An open heart

An open will

This is a model of the basic tenets of the Theory U journey moving from one mindset to another.

This model overviews the basic tenets of the Theory U journey where society and people move from a mindset of pathology to one of emergence.


 This introductory video can explain a little bit more of the fundamentals of the Theory U process of change:

How is Impact Hub involved with U.Lab? 

One of the best things about the Impact Hub community is our focus on purpose, collaboration, and building community – drivers that are fundamental to looking at the U.Lab model. Thanks to an innovative partnership between Impact Hub and the Presencing Insititute, both organizations set out to see what amazing things would happen.  Last year, Impact Hub Boston joined over 40 different Impact Hubs around the world to engage in this 21st century experiment. According the Geoff Mamlet, President and Founder of Impact Hub Boston, less than 1% of MOOC participants complete a course of study. Amongst the 45,000 participants in last year’s U.Lab, Impact Hub’s participants represented about 22% of the total number of graduates from the course.

What happened to last year’s participants? 

I had a chance to speak with two individuals who participated in Impact Hub’s ULab last year, Critt Jarvis and Julianne Zimmerman. They are both seasoned technology professionals and Impact Hub Boston members.  I was curious about their experience and wondered if this would be something that would be a good opportunity.

    I asked Critt Jarvis, a business development professional, to share his experience of completing the U.Lab class.

What was one of the biggest take aways from your U.Lab experience? 

“The concept of ‘downloading’ – where you are used to being ‘lectured to’. Instead of letting the past drive you, it’s like taking a pause to envision where you want to be in the future, and letting that pull and drive you. For me the downloading part was revolutionary – especially understanding the part of how people talk together and listen and interact.

[Author’s note: Theory U calls the first level of listening downloading. Downloading describes habitual behavior and thought and results in “same old, same old” behaviors and outcomes: This type of listening originates from the center of our habits, from what we already know from past experience.]

Considering where you were then and where you are now a year later, what has changed for you as a result of your participation in U.Lab at Impact Hub?

I’m a much better listener, what has really changed is, again, that concept of ‘downloading’ – you can ‘feel it right away’ – people unloading their ideas on you – as opposed to opening up to a topic – a feeling of conversation and whether people are being receptive and respectful to your input and even listening skills. What is different for me is that I can see see patterns of emergence now – in people’s actions and begin to see new things . To be in the course and interact with it – is to start to feel and to see patterns emergence in conversation and people’s actions. “

What have you done differently in your business or your life in this past year as a result of your participation in the course?  

My work is very different. I’m now doing exactly what I want to be doing, one of the key questions [of U. Lab] is about ‘who you are’ – it’s a connection and a process of connecting to who and what your real self is.  ‘What are you really here for, what is your purpose?’  That is something that I have now that I didn’t have before taking the course”


He noted that the changes were subtle because one “doesn’t really actively seek those deep personal changes”.  Critt continued by adding:

“You go through the process and then at some point I realized – ‘whoa, I’m doing my real purpose  – this is my real work’. The authenticity of finding that is a big deal, it helps me stay focused and not be distracted by things outside of what my real work is.”

Do you have any advice for people considering participating?

“Commit to the schedule and the time – it will make a difference. The other thing is suspending what you believe  –  try not to come in with an agenda. Be ready to write what you are experiencing because journaling is a part of it and it is going to be very rich.


Try to bring a friend or people you want to experience that with –  because it is really a profound experience. It is a time commitment – if you don’t have that commitment in your head going in – I think you may miss out.”

What would you say to those who may be on the fence or feel they have too much going on?

“I think that’s exactly why you take this course – if you say you have too much going on. I can understand being on the the fence about it – not knowing what it is, have a lot going on, and if you think you have enough skills and tools.  I guess if you are happy with the results of what you are doing and you really feel deep in your guts and that you are doing what your real work  is – maybe that’s why you’re on the fence.


But – if you don’t really have that gut commitment to what you are doing or you don’t feel the realness of it- this will be beneficial. Don’t be on fence, do this. The too much time thing can be a problem – I think the other hand – that’s what you are learning from this – maybe that’s a real problem – that you don’t have too much time. I now know how much I can take on and what is effective for me.


I would be willing to bet for those on the fence that don’t do this – see if there is any dramatic change in their life in the next 6 months or the next time this course comes around- I’m gonna say it’s not.


  I don’t know any other way and I’ve seen a lot of ways, to make the kind of change you want to make in yourself and impact what is going on around you – that’s what we learn – social change.

      From a slightly different perspective, I spoke with Julianne Zimmerman, a technology professional and managing director at Reinventure Capital who had the experience of many busy professionals. Intrigued after a colleague shared that this could be a wonderful professional development opportunity, she wanted to participate fully – but found that her schedule and commitments could not accommodate every session. She decided to do her best and try it.  By her estimate, she participated a little over half-time and was unable to join the independent coaching circles. She enjoyed the experience enough that she was intrigued to continue her journey.

What did you enjoy most about U.Lab from the parts that you did experience? 

“It was never the same conversation and each week was different. Unlike other places and trainings I’ve experienced, it felt very dynamic and surprisingly was not totally focused on the coursework. It was always engaging.”

It should say a lot that she is coming back to commit to fully participating in this year’s U.Lab cohort based on the positivity of her experience from last year.

How can this help you and what do you do next?  

Based on my research and experience from the pre-requisite course, the best way to look at U.Lab is both as a framework for change management and a new way of reconnecting to your purpose.  The simple genius of the U.Lab model is that it is a structured communal process that allows for the testing out of ideas. Often times, such ideas and feelings live on paper or in our heads while we have a dogged focus on making sure it is “doable” – rather than letting an idea breathe and morph into a life of its own.

By changing the conversation, one can change the world and themselves in the process.

From my point of view, U.Lab helps to create a motivated change village – with each hub prototyping the generative results of their conversations.

See this as an opportunity and investment in yourself and the communities you hope to change.


How do you get involved! 


1. Go to EdX and sign-up for the course Here

***The online U.Lab course is free and may be taken on your own without any additional cost by registering directly on the edX site. If you are inspired to participate in the course at an Impact Hub, sign up to the first U.Lab gathering at your local Impact Hub for free.


2. Still Unsure? Do some more research on Otto Scharmer and The Presencing Institute Here 

3. Get ready to gear-up with Impact Hub and join our in-person group! 
***This is open to members of CIC, Impact Hub Boston, and anybody who is ready to become a leader of the emerging future!  

If you are unable to come to every in-person meeting –  it is still completely possible to participate and at least follow the course from home.

4.  Register for the course sessions at Impact Hub Boston Here 

The initial session will meet on Thursday,  September 15th, from 9:30 AM – Noon for a live broadcast of the official start of the course.
Thereafter, participants will meet on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 – 8:30 PM.

***Coaching circles will be coordinated amongst individuals participating in the group throughout the course.

I hope that you have a chance to join me and other purpose-driven professionals on an interesting path of discovery! In the meanwhile, I’ll be seeing what is to come from the emerging future!

This blog post was written by Monique Alvarado, an Impact Hub Boston Community Host.
If you have any questions about Organizational Psychology, this post, or what it’s like to be a grad student Impact Hub Boston feel free to contact her at: or on Twitter @MoneekyA !