U@Work: Your ‘You’ at Work – Explorations in the application of U Theory

In recent years the Scottish Government has supported a FireStarter Festival, in part as a follow-up to U Lab Scotland https://ulabscot.com/ involvement in a ‘mooc’ (a massive open online course) delivered through the MIT EdX platform and Otto Scharmer’s Presencing Institute http://www.ottoscharmer.com/programs/ulab . I have now participated in three iterations of this course, and in the latest one my focus was on ‘presencing awareness’, especially awareness by professionals of what they profess – their ‘prof-essence’.

The 2018 FireStarter Festival https://firestarterfestival.com/ provided an opportunity to ‘trial’ an experiential workshop – a ‘prototype’, exploring an application of U Theory in support of professional praxis-making… ‘praxis’ being positioned beyond one’s normal ‘practice’, involving a much deeper presencing of what’s being professed – one’s professing essence. The workshop content and process is presented here U@Work Falkland Feb2018 UPD RED Final

The February 1, 2018 workshop, staged at The Stables on Falkland Estate, was a half-day/afternoon affair, that attracted eight participants, mainly public service professionals – from different sectors. They engaged with the material presented, in a range of activities to connect with their own experience: some role-playing, guided journaling, small group-story telling (all involving an interest in ‘self-authoring’), and some fortune-telling origami – that was more ‘future-telling’, of the kind of professional they wanted to emerge, as elements of their intended professional ‘praxis’.

I was assisted in delivering the workshop by Alastair Wyllie https://www.linkedin.com/in/alastairwyllie/ who facilitated the various activities, and Caren Gilbert – who provided a closing poetic reflection on the workshop: ‘The Journey’ The Journey – FireStarter Falkland [More on Caren at: http://www.transformations2017.org/speaker/caren-gilbert]

Iain Shaw, Media Education http://mediaeducation.co.uk/ was a significant part-sponsor; valuable initial feedback was provided by Joyce Matthews http://www.joycematthewsportfolio.com/; and the Edinburgh College U Lab ‘learning hub’, hosted by Valerie Jackman, afforded a congenial environment for developing elements of the prototype.

It is too early to tell if a ‘fire’ has been ‘started’; the burning desire would be to ‘fire up’ a new approach to professional development – among Scottish public service professionals especially – embodying the presencing at the heart of U Theory. This would feature more concern for ‘professional-self design’ (rather than conventional ‘professional development’), and for engendering a ‘fiery spirit’ within, to bolster the courage required – on the outside – for the constructive disruption of all problematic aspects of the ‘status-quo’.

This is expected to required more than simply individuals with a new personal praxis (the focus of this particular workshop), but dedicated ‘collectivities of individuals’ (co-created integrities; professional communities of practice) with a shared praxis – an ethos – delivering compounded benefits, through an uncommon synergy of co-presencing. A future complementary experiential workshop is envisaged, focusing on such ethos-making: Us@Work: Co-Presencing our Professional-Self.


Contributed by Ian Wight PhD FCIP, Senior Scholar, City Planning, University of Manitoba – in his capacity as the workshop developer. Now retired, but re-firing, in his native land – Scotland, inspired by the likes of U Lab Scotland and the FireStarter Festival. He is also occasionally engaged with the Edinburgh International Centre for Spirituality and Peace, presenting programs such as ‘The Possibility in Conviviality’ http://eicsp.org/events/event-details/540-workshop-series-the-possibility-in-conviviality-telling-we-stories-to-the-future-12-4-10-5-2018 and day conference offerings such as ‘The Marriage of Spirituality and Ecology’  http://eicsp.org/multimedia/downloads/category/539-the-marriage-of-spirituality-and-ecology-21-april-2018 ]