Otto Scharmer

Senior Lecturer at MIT and Founding Chair of the Presencing Institute

Otto Scharmer, a Senior Lecturer at MIT and Founding Chair of the Presencing Institute, has dedicated the past 20 years to helping leaders embrace cross-sector systems transformation. Through his bestselling books Theory U and Presence (the latter co-authored with Peter Senge and others), Otto introduced the groundbreaking concept of “presencing” — learning from the emerging future. He also co-authored Leading from the Emerging Future, which outlines eight acupuncture points for transforming our economy from egocentric to ecocentric. His most recent book The Essentials of Theory U (2018) summarizes the core principles and applications of awareness-based systems change. He co-founded the MITx u-lab, which has activated a vibrant worldwide ecosystem of transformational change involving more than 240,000 users from 186 countries. In collaboration with colleagues, he co-created global Action Learning Labs for UN agencies and SDG Leadership Labs for UN Country Teams in 26 countries, which support cross-sector initiatives for addressing urgent humanitarian crises. Born and raised near Hamburg, Germany, Otto’s early experiences on his family farm profoundly shaped his vision. From his father, a pioneer of regenerative farming, Otto learned the significance of the living quality of the soil in organic agriculture, which inspired his thinking about social fields as the grounding condition from which visible transformations emerge. Like a good farmer who cares for the soil, Otto believes responsible leaders must nurture the social field in which they operate. He emphasizes that shifting our economic operating systems from extractive to regenerative requires innovations in leadership support structures for shifting mindsets from ego to eco. Building that infrastructure is the purpose of the u-school for Transformation. Otto earned his diploma and his PhD in economics from Witten/Herdecke University in Germany. He is a member of the UN Learning Advisory Council for the 2030 Agenda and the World Future Council. He has won the Jamieson Prize for Teaching Excellence at MIT and the European Leonardo Corporate Learning Award. In 2021, he received the Elevating Humanity Award from the Organizational Development Network.