About Otto

Activating Awarness-Based Systems Change

Otto Scharmer, author of Theory U, and co-author of Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-system to Eco-system Economies, is an action researcher who co-creates innovations in learning and leadership that he delivers through classes and programs at MIT, MITx u-lab, the Presencing Institute, the u-school for Transformation, and through interventions with institutions in business, government and civil society around the world.

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 250,000 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, the Club of Rome 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. 


UN Learning Advisory Council
for the 2030 Agenda
World Future Council

Club of Rome


2023: ILA 2023 Listener of the Year Award

Otto Scharmer was awarded The ILA 2023 Listener of the Year Award by the International Listening Association. This award recognizes both Otto's and the Presencing Institute's contribution to the global body of knowledge of listening through Theory U, the concept of presencing and the bestselling books that have brought this understanding to a worldwide audience. The powerful way Theory U has brought awareness of the importance of listening presence to the business world, was particularly noted.

2021: Award for “Elevating Humankind”

Otto Scharmer is the inaugural recipient of the Elevating Humanity Award from the Organization Development (OD) Network. Scharmer is credited with directly inspiring this new annual award by championing the Organization Development “countermovement” against the traditional profit-centric management approach, “bringing humanity back into focus” with his book Theory U and, as co-founder of the Presencing Institute, “elevating humankind on a global scale through the Presencing Institute’s collective effort to help oppressed, marginalized, impoverished, and fractured populations” (Professor Bill Brendel, OD Network Board Trustee). More information on the impact of Scharmer’s work can be found in the award announcement in this OD Network News article.  

2016: Leonardo Award

Otto Scharmer has received the Leonardo Award 2016 in Thought Leadership, a Leonardo European Corporate Learning Award addressing the “future of learning.” The award recognizes the value and contribution of Scharmer’s management method “Theory U.” More information on the impact of Scharmer’s work can be found in the award announcement in this article.

2015: Jamieson Prize

Otto Scharmer and Dimitris Bertsimas were each awarded the 2015 Jamieson Prize for Excellence in Teaching, established to honor educational innovation and excellence. The Jamieson Prize for Excellence in Teaching Award is the most prestigious teaching prize offered by the School. The award was established in 2006 and is awarded each year to two MIT Sloan faculty members, as well as two electrical engineering and computer science faculty members, for their contributions to educational excellence at MIT. You can read the article here.


The Essentials of

Theory U:

Core Principles and Applications

C. Otto Scharmer


Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges

C. Otto Scharmer

2nd Edition, 2016

Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economics

C. Otto Scharmer and

Katrin Kaufer



An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society

Peter M. Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, andBetty Sue Flowers