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In-depth Review: Transforming Business, Society, and Self with U.Lab

Detailed review by Class Central user Katie Stubbly in this groundbreaking leadership skills class that 88% of the students hailed as “life changing.”


Review by Katie Stubley. Katie is the Strategic Design Manager at the Centre for Social Impact (University of Western Australia). She has been an educator, social process designer and community builder for over 10 years. For the last six years she has been immersed in the field of social impact both internationally and locally. She’s an avid learner and will delve into anything that helps her create a stronger social impact.

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Taking part in the Transforming Business, Society, and Self with U.Lab earlier this year was an incredibly powerful experience. It was profound to know that I was part of a global classroom of over 28,000 people from over 190 countries and that all these people were on a learning journey to see the world in new ways. Before this course began I often wondered how we as a global community were ever going to be able to address the complex and disruptive challenges we were facing. Half-way through the course, I not only felt that we could address these complex issues but that we truly have the potential, tools and ability to self-organise to innovate much better futures for every person on this planet.


U.Lab ran for eight weeks. It was evident that the design of the course had been well thought through. Each week focused on a different part of Theory U, an approach to leading profound change that has been developed by action researchers at MIT, which meant that I really felt that I was going through a deep and engaging process. This journey invited us “to see the world in new ways and practice a method that allows leaders, entire organizations, and larger social systems to connect with and actualize their highest future possibility” – it definitely did this.

As well as the online content, there were also four Live Sessions, Coaching Circles and many local Hubs that people could join.

Your Journey Through ULAB


What made me decide to sign up for the course was that the online content was only a small part of what was being offered and was really only a springboard to forming deep connections, initiatives and impact in the world, and with others all over the world.


This was enabled in several ways:

Beyond content; a life-changing process: What this course offered was a process that allowed me to connect more authentically to my deeper sources of knowing, and to support me in understanding how I could take initiative in my own life and work. It helped me to connect with who I am and want to be in the world. It led me to have a clearer understanding of not only what my Work is but also what we as a global community could make possible. It is not surprising that 88% of participants surveyed reported that this course was either ‘eye-opening’ or ‘life-changing’.

Otto Scharmer
Otto Scharmer – Senior Lecturer at MIT and U.Lab Instructor

Practical learning: In other courses I have taken, I’ve found that the exercises or assignments didn’t have any connection to my life. In this course all the activities could be taken into any life situation. One of the key exercises and focus points was to go out into the world, away from our computers, and observe and deepen our practice of listening. The feedback that I heard from others was that each exercise they did had a significant impact on their day-to-day lives.

Self-organised Hubs: The U.Lab team encouraged and support people to gather in Hubs. These Hubs took place in organizations, communities of place, communities of interest and in circles of friends. I decided that I would seize the opportunity and host a Hub in my area. We had over 40 people coming together every week during the course. Together we reflected and shared our learnings, explored the different U.Lab tools and applied them to our context of Western Australia. It was amazing to see people from all sectors and all professional levels coming together to learn about how they could create profound change. I can see the many ripple effects of this community of place coming together, getting to know each other and learning this social technology for change. We also loved to know that we were one of 350 Hubs meeting around the world and doing this work.


Live Sessions: There were four Live Sessions throughout the course. To be honest I didn’t expect Live Sessions to feel so different from a video. However, what I experienced was that this was not the case at all. It was so powerful to know that over 10-15,000 of us had gathered to listen in; that we could all contribute to the live sessions through tweeting our answers to questions posed; and, perhaps most powerfully, that the Live Sessions contained Guided Global Mindfulness Moments. To know that so many people were connecting with heart and intention throughout the world simultaneously was truly moving. In those moments I truly felt part of something much bigger than myself. It was the first time I had felt connected to such a large group of changemakers in such a way that contained the outer impact we wanted to have on the world together with the dedication to the inner work it would take to get there.

Coaching Circles (Case Clinics): Through clever online technology and through face-to-face self-organising, many people came together to participate in Coaching Circles. A Coaching Circle is a group of six U.Lab participants who meet each week to work through a powerful peer-coaching process that creates a space for people to find new ways of thinking about and dealing with their current leadership challenges. I heard one person say that they felt more listened to and supported by the ‘strangers’ in the group than he had at any other point in his life.

Twitter: Collectively gathering data and sensing: Until joining the U.Lab course I had never really used twitter. During this time I learned that it was a tool for global participatory learning. It was great to see other people’s insights, reflections and questions along the journey. I found myself being able to learn from people all around the world. I also felt so empowered because I was able to answer questions during the live sessions via twitter and have them immediately feed into the session and contribute to what was being created and noticed.

Global deep connections: As mentioned above there were so many elements to this course that created deep connections despite geographical distance. It really felt that technology was harnessed in such creative ways that served connections. Another example of this is that after the final Live Session we used a technology called Talkabout. We dialled in through Google hangouts and were randomly allocated four people to reflect and share with. This meant that small group conversations that are so much part of face-to-face learning were made possible. This made a big difference to me and I learned so much by being connected to others around the world. Another offering by the U.Lab team was the Prototype Camp, a 4-day residential program to be held at MIT in Boston in November. This will be an opportunity for a small number of selected participants to work on the Prototype they developed during the U.Lab course.

Powerful Co-Design Process: What excited me the most was the fact that the U.Lab course gave me everything that I would need to create an engaging and empowering co-design process. The question that we placed into the centre of our Hub was “How do we create a healthy and vibrant Western Australia?” We wanted to gather around something that many people would feel connected to. I think it would also be interesting to utilise the U.Lab journey to co-design around a more specific, tangible or urgent question or theme – whether it be in an organisation, around a place or around a core issue in your community.  There have been many design processes developed in recent decades. The U process is powerful for many reasons but especially because it focuses on two areas that many design processes forget. First, it looks at who is doing the designing; it provides ways to consider one’s inner condition and how to develop one’s Self in order to design in the most meaningful way. Secondly, it facilitates moments of Presence – of true creativity – where we listen in to what wants to emerge, which enables us to co-design and co-create the highest possible future.

Global Thought Leaders as Guest Faculty:
As the course unfolded there was an astounding array of faculty who shared their knowledge in the guest lectures. A lot of these guest faculty would be on my keynote speaker wish list. From Peter Senge (systems scientist and named as one of the world’s top management gurus by The Financial Times [2000]), to Eileen Fisher (founder of one of the world’s leading ethical fashion labels), to Isabel Guerrero (formerly Vice President for the World Bank and currently at MIT & Harvard), to Ed Schein (former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and key shaper of the field of organizational development), to Dayna Cunningham (Executive Director of the MIT Community Innovators Lab [CoLab] to Arthur Zajonc (President of the Mind & Life Institute, physicist and host of many dialogues with the Dalai Lama). And the list goes on and on. It is invaluable to have some of the insights and wisdom imparted from these individuals on what is needed in the world today.


Course hours: The course suggests that you spend three to seven hours a week on the content. The amount of hours it takes depends on how you choose to participate in the course.
You can:
Engage with online content and activities
Engage with online content and activities + Coaching Circles
Engage with online content and activities + Hub +/-Coaching Circles

If you are able to dedicate three hours you should be able to engage with a large part of the content and join a weekly Coaching Circle. Seven hours would enable you to engage with course content, join a coaching circle and attend a Hub meeting. The feedback from many people I spoke to was that allocating a larger portion of time to the course to be able to participate in Coaching Circles and Hubs greatly enriched the experience and also made it easier to stay motivated through the eight weeks.

Each week there were clear guidelines over what course material to cover, along with extra materials that you could explore. I found that the most useful way of approaching the content was to go through in the order suggested. I had a few hours allocated every week where I knew that I was going to watch the videos and read the materials. The videos themselves are in nice bite-sized chunks, which makes it easy to revisit particular ideas or thoughts that are presented.

Level: This is listed as an Introductory Course. You don’t need any specific prior knowledge to be able to feel comfortable with the content of this course. At the same time, if you are familiar with the content being presented it could still be a very valuable experience to connect with others and to apply previous learnings. U.Lab is a powerful tool to create change and to connect with a global movement of people who are striving to do exactly that.

Number of weeks: The course is eight weeks long. It is important to note that it starts in Week 0. There are also other opportunities to engage after the course. For example, there was a Live Session a few weeks after the course had officially ended. There is also a Prototype Camp at MIT that people could apply to attend.


Getting Orientated

After you have registered for the course on the edX site, I highly recommend visiting the ‘Start Here’ page on the Presencing Institute U.Lab website.

Joining a Coaching Circle

I highly recommend joining a Coaching Circle, whether it’s online or in person. So many people I spoke to said it was their favourite element of the course. If it’s in person you might be able to find others through a local Hub. I have also noticed people using social media, especially Facebook groups, to find others. In the current U.Lab you will learn the Case Clinic method in Week 1, and then be invited to join a group after September 17. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anyone else; you can either start a new group or browse groups that are still in need of members. You’ll be able to search by preferred meeting time, preferred language, other group members’ interests, and more.

Creating or joining a Hub

The U.Lab invites you to create a place to learn together with other people. Creating a Hub is actually quite simple. A Hub is any space where some U.Lab participants gather together (in person) to watch the live sessions and/or, if you choose, engage in dialogue and reflective exercises in small groups. Hubs complement the online/digital part of the U.Lab with a place-based, in-person component. For more information visit http://uschool.presencing.com/ulab/hubs
You can also download the Hub Host Guide, and on the Presencing Institue website you can search, join, and create online spaces for your Hub members to interact.

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Comments 2

  1. Ian Wight

    Katie. Very appreciative of this overview, especially as I struggle to get caught up and synchronised. I particularly appreciated your observations about:

    “The U process is powerful for many reasons but especially because it focuses on two areas that many design processes forget. First, it looks at who is doing the designing; it provides ways to consider one’s inner condition and how to develop one’s Self in order to design in the most meaningful way. Secondly, it facilitates moments of Presence – of true creativity – where we listen in to what wants to emerge, which enables us to co-design and co-create the highest possible future”.

    I am interested in weaving these elements into professional education programming, and have been working with a triad of notions around praxis (personal), ethos (inter-personal) and poiesis (tarns-personal/trans-professional), as key to the ‘making’ of professionals, as well as representing the key ‘makings’ of professionals. They are also key – it seems to me – to how professionals can ‘make a difference’ in the world, a good difference, with enhanced wellbeing (having desired social impact). The key ‘design’ focus for myself becomes ‘professional-self design’, and would love to connect with others who are playing in this field.

    Thanks again for the stimulation and inspiration.

  2. Jan Manimoi

    Katie, thank you for your review. The process of Theory U being used by world changers is very exciting and the process stimulates much more hope and innovation in opportunities in the rapidly emerging future.


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