My journey in this U Lab – Michael Butler-Burns

“As soon as I saw you
I knew a grand adventure
was about to happen.”
                                                                           A.A. Milne   Winnie the Pooh

One late summers day in 1997 in Boston I climbed a hill to the college where I would study Leadership and Pastoral Supervision. I spotted an acorn on the road, picked it up and treasured it as a kind of symbol of my three year journey. On leaving Boston in 2000 I reflected on that first summer’s day, thought about the visits to seminars and courses in various Boston universities, recalled exciting conversations with many people who deeply influenced my thinking. I captured my new sense of self by allowing my left hand to scribble a drawing. What appeared was like an oak tree!


As I participated in the preparatory meetings held in Edinburgh for the Global ULab I had a great sense of something dear to my heart happening among Scottish people: a movement of minds and hearts that people were themselves in charge of. I was witnessing another acorn being discovered and uplifted by colleagues my own country. Kenneth Hogg had opened up the initiative of a small hub of people in Edinburgh to invite many others into Theory U awareness. People were finding their way to one another from all parts of Scotland and beyond. An Edinburgh church became the forum for a curious, excited, confused, cynical, tentative, eager, enthusiastic people to meet one another, to meet the MIT team and to make choices. U Lab Scotland was born!



At one of those September preparatory meetings, my wife Catherine and I responded to a request from a colleague to host a small U Lab hub in our own home in Haddington. Within two weeks we had sufficient positive responses to make it happen.



Nine busy people agreed to watch the on-line sessions ourselves. We would meet on eight occasions as a learning Hub to reflect on the U Lab sessions. Every Thursday 7-9 our home became the forum to discuss / make meaning of each on-line session from the previous week .We have since decided to attend the 17th Dec session as a group then meet afterwards for a social.


Our first exploratory meeting took place before the Global U Lab started. We all had a sense that this was a great group of self starters eager to learn more about Theory U from the resources and from dialogues with one another. Readiness to listen and engage was evident from the start.

Days later I had an insight- without knowing it, in that beginning Hub, I had realised a dream that was born when I was drawing myself as an oak tree in 2000.


In Boston I had studied supervision and leadership to encourage people in church systems to engage in reflection on their ministry. My vision was that the future would be in peer consultancy across disciplines and cultures. Ministers, priests, social workers, educators, youth workers, scientists, economists, executives, would co-create safe gatherings for reflection and profound learning.

“More than a ‘community of learners’, a ‘community of practice’ is also ‘a community that learns’. Not merely peers, exchanging ideas around a water cooler, sharing and benefiting from each other’s expertise, but colleagues, committed to jointly develop better practices.”            Thomas A Stewart

I quoted that statement in my 2000 Doctoral Project which was entitled:

An exploration of How Action Science, Action Inquiry and Communities of Practice contribute to Christian Ministry”

I experienced the reality of peer consultancy in the first ULab hub in my own home in Haddington!

“A leader is best when people barely know she/he exists, when his/her work is done,
his/her aim fulfilled, they will say:
we did it ourselves.” Lao Tse

My part in the Haddington hub has been as host and member. I sat very lightly with the group, striving to be an enabler, a listener and a meaning- maker.


It has been wonderful to watch people in the hub enthuse about the stimulation received from watching ULab videos, the support from the interpersonal relations in the hub and their sense of personal growth and development. Soon we will venture out to a food bank. We have also invited Fiona Mac Neil to the hub to share with us her recent experience in the Boston prototype camp.


Simultaneously, I have been in touch on line in the U Lab with people in USA, Spain, Australia and Kenya whom I encouraged to register for the Global Lab. I have found it really exciting to listen to their comments.

Much of the ULab reading and many of the videos are not new to me but I have taken the time to immerse myself in them again. Otto’s development of presentations on “abscencing” really caught my attention. It is sometimes easy to perceive Theory U as all that is in the bottom U shape diagram, forgetting the reality that at any time we can be thrown into the opposite of “presencing”.


During this GlobalULab several people have found their way to my work/life coaching practice for support and guidance during their journey. This gives me a sense of doing what is best for me, being there as a mentor, practicing humble inquiry, being a witness to people who are keen to learn about Theory U and eager to find their best self in life and in work. I look forward with eagerness to the open ScotULab session in Edinburgh on 17th Dec. It will be a unique opportunity for people in Scotland to present the fruit of their endeavours to one another and to the world in a spirited, purposeful way. I believe we have in our culture a gift needed in our world, a quiet, gentle experience of being a beloved community with deep roots; it is like a Scottish air that captures centuries of communal lived responses to the disruptions that affect families.



Michael Butler-Burns Nov 2015

No, that is not me in the photo!






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