Presence is an intimate look at the development of a new theory about change and learning. In wide-ranging conversations held over a year and a half, organizational learning pioneers Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers explored the nature of transformational change—how it arises, and the fresh possibilities it offers a world dangerously out of balance. The book introduces the idea of “presence”—a concept borrowed from the natural world that the whole is entirely present in any of its parts—to the worlds of business, education, government, and leadership. Too often, the authors found, we remain stuck in old patterns of seeing and acting. By encouraging deeper levels of learning, we create an awareness of the larger whole, leading to actions that can help to shape its evolution and our future.
Drawing on the wisdom and experience of 150 scientists, social leaders, and entrepreneurs, including Brian Arthur, Rupert Sheldrake, Buckminster Fuller, Lao Tzu, and Carl Jung, Presence is both revolutionary in its exploration and hopeful in its message. This astonishing and completely original work goes on to define the capabilities that underlie our ability to see, sense, and realize new possibilities—in ourselves, in our institutions and organizations, and in society itself.
Peter M. Senge is a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL), a global community of corporations, researchers, and consultants dedicated to the "interdependent development of people and their institutions." --from the author's website
In seminary, I took a class called "Mysticism and Human Presence." Later, I stumbled onto Ralph Harper's book, "On Presence." Then I discovered Bernard McGinn's magnum-opus-in-progress, a history of Western Christian mysticism called "The Presence of God." All of these were significant to the formation of my theology. So when I saw this book - co-written by Peter Senge, whose work on "learning organizations" I have found so helpful - it was irresistible. When I began reading it, I was reminded of Jane Jacobs's "The Nature of Economies." While Jacobs invented a fictional dialogue to get her ideas across, rather like Plato's dialogues, here was an account of a real dialogue among the authors. There is something inherently inviting about a written dialogue. I feel welcomed to the table. There is something about the form that forces the language to be more accessible. I feel involved in the thought process. And I'm led to compare the ideas expressed to my own experience. That's how this book engaged me.
How it felt to read this book enhanced my grasp of its message. Many of us struggle with change in our lives, wanted and unwanted. Communities, even whole societies, struggle collectively with change. When the collective struggle is upon us, how do we struggle well, productively, and collaboratively? The authors describe seven capacities to cultivate: suspending (becoming aware of our habitual thoughts and actions), redirecting (from the habits to their sources), letting go (of feeling like you need to control it all), letting come ("surrendering into commitment" to a larger whole; envisioning new habits), crystallizing (making our intent and work explicit), prototyping (enacting a new way of working, adjusting as you go - the plan doesn't have to be perfect before you act, if you are doing something genuinely new), and institutionalizing (holding onto what's valuable in our intent and our work). These, in this order, are also steps toward change. The authors offer a diagram to show the steps, and they are easily gleaned from the table of contents. What persuades - at least, it persuaded me - is the authors' descriptions of the inner work needed to effect significant change (drawn in part from the wisdom of religious or spiritual ideas and practices) and the examples they cite from their own and their colleagues' work helping to facilitate large-scale collective change. We all resist inner work, we all struggle to collaborate, and we are all inspired by real results. The authors connect the struggles with the results, offering hope and motivation both for doing the inner work and for collaborating.
Concepts from mysticism abound in this book. Mystical sources cited range from Plato to Masaru Emoto - a great range both in epoch and in methods. What anchors and ties them together is how they are related throughout the book to experience, place and presence. If we wish to be the change we want to see, both the seeing and the being must go deep. That is the authors' challenge and invitation.
The central theme in this book is to present a new theory - the U movement - around how collective change occurs. The theory presents a new way for us to look at current reality and understand how we are contributing to it, but more importantly how we can re-shape it to what we want it to be. One of the fundamental underpinnings of this theory is that, while we usually break down systems into their individual parts to understand them, this decomposition does not work effectively for understanding living systems. As the authors state: "living systems...create themselves". Therefore a deeper level of learning is required to understand the whole "as it is, and as it is evolving", this will lead to "actions that increasingly serve the emerging whole".
The book is divided into four parts, the firsts three discuss the deeper learning theory, while the fourth integrates that theory in "the context of a more integrative science, spirituality, and practice of leadership." A very original book, that is both thought provoking on the theoretical/philosophical side and also on the practical side as well.
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:
1- "Scenarios can alter people's awareness...If they're used artfully, people actually begin to think about a future that they've ignored or denied. The key is to see the different future not as inevitable, but as one of several genuine possibilities."
2- "Suspension...hanging our assumption in front of us...By doing so, we begin to notice our thoughts and mental models as the workings of our own mind. And as we become aware of our thoughts, they begin to have less influence on what we see. Suspension allows us to "see our seeing"."
3- "Third Possibility: to suspend one's view and then inquire rather than defend. For example, rather than saying nothing or telling the other person why you think he or she is wrong, you can simply say, "That is not the way I see it. My view is...Here is what has led me to see things this way. What has led you to see things differently?" The form of the question doesn't matter. But the sincerity does."
4- "When people who are actually creating a system start to see themselves as the source of their problems, they invariably discover a new capacity to create results they truly desire."
5- "Using scenarios to think about alternative stories of the future is only one of the ways that organizations can become more aware of the assumptions that lie behind their strategies. But without some discipline or practice like this, we tend to get stuck in a story of who we are on this earth as human beings, and something in us wants to break free of it."
6- "If the situation is new, slowing down is necessary. Slow down. Observe. Position yourself. Then act fast and with a natural flow that comes from the inner knowing. You have to slow down long enough to really see what's needed. With a freshness of action, and the overall response on a collective level can be much quicker than trying to implement hasty decisions that aren't compelling to people."
7- "U movement: Sensing - Observe, observe, observe / become one with the world - Presencing - Retreat and reflect / allow inner knowing to emerge - Realizing - Act swiftly with a natural flow"
8- "There's nothing more personal than vision, yet the visions that ultimately prove transformative have nothing to do with us as individuals."
9- "What matters is engagement in the service of a larger purpose rather than lofty aspirations that paralyze action. Indeed it's a dangerous trap to believe that we can pursue only "great visions"."
10- "When you move from crystallizing intent to prototyping, you move from domain of ideas to the domain of action. Not only does this make what is emerging more tangible, it eventually leads to a new level of clarity about the underlying purpose animating the entire undertaking."
11- "You can influence a natural system but you can't control it. It's not surprising that machine thinking has produced institutions that make it virtually impossible for us to live in harmony with nature and with one another."
12- "Globalization is reshaping societies and culture on a scale that has never happened before. Yet the old ideas that those in positions to influence such organizations' power must be committed to cultivation or moral development has all but completely disappeared. I doubt that few even thought what such cultivation means - what it takes to develop a capacity for delayed gratification, for seeing longer term effects of action, for achieving quietness in mind."
13- "If you want to be a great leader...you need to enter seven meditative spaces. These seven spaces - awareness, stopping, calmness, stillness, peace, true thinking, and attainment - can look like one step, but actually, its a long, long, long process."
14- "What distinctive power does exist at the top of hierarchies is usually skewed toward power to destroy rather than the power to build."
15- "The entire U movement arises from seven core capacities and the activities they enable. Each capacity is a gateway to the next activity...Suspending, Redirecting, Letting Go, Letting Come, Crystallizing, Prototyping, Institutionalizing."
I wrote on the inside cover: A really excellent book! And if you were to open my copy you'd find it's filled with my annotations. I went on to write an article inspired by the book: Leadership, information gathering and the future - What if we’ve got it wrong? http://www.connected.org/learn/have-w...
Here's a quote from that article: (...) My hypothesis is that we will find a growing discrepancy between what we plan for the future and what comes about because of the actions we undertake to make it happen, until it becomes impossible not to see that we are doing something wrong. The only hope is that we reach that point and that we do so before the inherent errors become catastrophic. The other question has to do with how we approach the future, what values underlie the way we seek to make the future happen and how learning, i.e. knowledge building, can help us assist the best future to unfold. Currently we walk into the future backwards (our attention fixed on the past or present) with our eyes closed (blinded by habit and our self imposed limits).
The dedicated efforts of this group of writers will probably accomplish good things, but I struggled to finish this book. A sincere, naive group of "servant leaders" collaborated to share their worldview. Sadly, too much of what is presented as fact is actually belief; group-think that was so carefully dissected and examined within the group that it clearly has substance for those involved.
The approach that the writers advocate - basically for leaders to be present and connected to team members during work sessions - has value. But, I hoped for more substantial information on the subject.
"Presence" emerged from the fear that our world is going to hell in a handbasket. If we are not careful, its authors tell us, we are headed for a "requiem scenario" that spells doom over our planetary society. We all in affluent industrialised societies have a responsibility to stop this slide towards a final armageddon, to renew ourselves and our institutions, particularly those engaged in making money. "Presence" proposes a 7-step plan to help us doing just that. It starts with a downward movement along a U-diagram, leading us (as individuals) away from our trusted mental maps towards a higher sense of purpose. The bottom of the U-diagram is a state of "presence" (hence the book's title) from which we can perceive our highest future possibility as a particular human being. This awareness leads us up on the other side of the U, into a co-creative field of building new partnerships and institutions.
I think this book is a brave attempt to bring spirituality to the heart of doing business. It's true there have been quite a few others who have gone this path before. But given the resistance of our institutions to these kinds of ideas, it's definitely worthwhile to keep on trying. Furthermore, the concept of "presence" is really powerful. Again, it's something that many authors writing from a spiritual tradition have highlighted. But I find that Senge and Co offer a nuanced and persuasive argument about what it means - for our sense of purpose and our level of commitment to realise it - if we can develop the capability to visualise our own, full "opportunity space".
That being said, the book shows a few manifest weaknesses. Its conversational tone sounds contrived and I have difficulties in seeing real-world people behind the four voices. Also, the argument is developed in a fairly rambling, undisciplined way - veering off too often into distracting storytelling and showering the reader with a sprawling, new agey jargon.
On the more substantive side, I have a real issue with the naiveté, particularly related to institutional matters, that is reflected by this book. First, although it criticises many aspects of the business world, structurally limiting governance issues such as the stranglehold of anonymous shareholders and their quest for the highest return are hardly mentioned.
Second, I think it is willfully naïve to assume that a personal transformation process will "effortlessly, almost automatically" lead to more "integrative solutions" at an institutional level. (This reminded me of a cartoon showing two scientists debating a long and complicated equation on either side of a blackboard, linked in the middle by an amorphous blob mentioning simply "... and here happens a miracle".) Even when we are completely aware and fully committed, the business of building new institutions remains a very long, messy affair.
Finally, despite all the nice words of these authors about their higher purpose in life, we shouldn't forget that behind this "presencing" sits a handsome business model. The "Global Leadership Initiative" that emerged from the story told in this book is actually about codifying, packaging and selling the U-process to mixed consortia of global corporations, NGOs and foundations. To my mind, putting a U-process in a commercial, project-driven straightjacket is tantamount to trivialising it. It makes me wonder whether a world governed by this kind of "presence" will be so different after all.
This is a book about how white corporate dudes dip a toe into some of the most basic spiritual premises known to humanity, regurgitate it amongst themselves with huge doses of self-congratulatory back-slapping and stick a bunch of ridiculous language around it to make it sound new. "Presencing!" What horseshit.
It's the worst, most unconscious white male privilege ever committed to paper. The authors cite dozens and dozens of other male "experts" and speak into an echo chamber of their enthusiastic cultural appropriation (everything from shamanism, Taosim, "indigenous wisdom" go into the pile -- never with any cultural context, as they're all apparently pretty much the same and exist only as resources for white men to be more effective in their business lives). There is story after story of a teary-eyed white guy coming to the revelation that WOW, there is a reality beyond their corporate mindset!
And these guys have the temerity to act like they discovered or invented something new. The "U-theory!"
Welcome to Spirituality 101, guys. By the way, you don't have to go outside of Western religion to find any of that, but who am I to enlighten you? Just a woman with a theological education and 22 years of religious leadership. Congratulations for discovering the basic reality that, if you were paying attention to the Black and women's liberation movements at any point, you might have begun to figure out without traveling to distant lands to apprentice yourself to exotic swami types. Heck, you could have gone to church or synagogue and paid attention and learned the EXACT SAME THINGS you seem to think you invented.
What is entirely missing from these revelations is any awareness or mention whatsoever of race, class and gender. The arrogance and ignorance are comical.
For a rational lover of non-fiction by Dawkins, Diamond and the like, reading this book caused a lot of aggravation. The basic message is maybe okay, though it does feel like a course for MBTI "S"s on how to become more of an intuitive "N". The tone is intolerably smug, and factoids that are supposed to underpin certain outlandish theories are often given without reference to any reliable source. The American-centric point of view provides ludicrous distortions, such as in the passage where the authors discuss how on Sep 11, RNGs (random number generators) across the world started spouting non-random, correlated numbers because they sensed that humanity was suffering. As if that admittedly awful event was the greatest suffering that humanity ever knew. I'll admit "natural mystique" experiences can feel very real, but here they are presented as attempts of a volitional universe to communicate with humans. The weather also communicates with us, eg when thunder strikes, it is the universe communicating with us and blessing our meeting, etc etc. If the author of all this communication were described as a monotheistic deity, this book would be immediately dismissed. Since in this book the prime agent is described in new-agey fashion as the 'universe', some gullible people will find this inspirational (indeed, one of them recommended this book to me - I'll know what to do what any future recommendations by this person). In short, I hated it. I filed this under "drivel" and "comfort for small minds"
I really like the concept of the U-theory and I found the way it was written to be very comfortable and interesting (it was written as if in a constant group dialogue). However while I found it comfortable to read it was at the same time hard to grasp at point on what they were arguing about. You get about 3/4 of the book hearing about the U-theory until you actually see the model itself.
Another major grip is the religious/spiritual aspects that shines through the entire book. And the constant reference to the "decline of the western world for the last 200 years" - yet they show no factual evidence that life was so freaking great 200 years ago. Similar in their reliance on Buddhism and Chinese philosophy, they rely solely on the spiritual/philosophical scripture to pain a magical picture of how it used to be and completely seem to ignore the historical facts about how life actually was back in the day. There were still wars, politics, poverty and bad things happening in Confucius time, yet it was just happening at a slower pace due to slower logistics and communication channels.
It might be a bit ranting, I am just very fed up with the line of arguments that glorifies the past without showing any body of evidence to back it up.
This book is for the leader who is tired of pretending the system works well and wants a purpose beyond self-promotion and profit. This work will connect you to a better part of yourself and show you a way to honour humanity and our environment.
Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flower's book Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society is a subtle, mature, and daring book. It dares to confront everything what is not working in our world. The book draws inspiration from a number of sources but has a distinctly eastern view.
I loved the term they used for mindfulness, having "the capacity to suspend" our judgements, habitual ways of thinking and perceiving. This allows us to have our thoughts, instead of them having us.
They propose that we must surrender control, begin to see the whole and the heart, and allow things to "come to us." In doing so, we can let go of "old identities" and begin to see larger systems to which we were previously blind. Living systems continually renew and re-create themselves and if we can do the same, we can meet the challenges that face us.
I give this one a 4.3 out of 5. Their U model didn't grab me because of the choice of terms but I liked the basis for it.
One of Cambridge Sustainability's Top 50 Books for Sustainability, as voted for by our alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. To find out more, click here.
Presence presents a new model of personal and organisational change. Much of the book comprises transcripts of conversations between the authors, on subjects including science, business, leadership and spirituality. The authors' central question is: how do we individually and collectively bring about useful change in circumstances where the past, and established ways of thinking, are not good guides to the future? Their answer is presented as a new 'Theory U' of change, comprising a 'U-Process', which is informed by an intuitive and holistic view of the world, rather than a rational and mechanistic one.
-My idealism isn't immature. Smart people with profound experiences think like I do. Phew. -Open up to the unpredictable dynamics of team work. Your value is in what you contribute, not in how fast you come up with 'the solution' (which you can't and really shouldn't do on your own anyway). -Raise your awareness and think in systems. -Be authentically you because what you bring to every situation influences it profoundly. False professional personas don't just protect you from others, they also inhibit the people you are trying to work with -and thus the potential of whatever you are working on. To do this, you have to be OK with yourself.
First of all, the basic themes of this book are fundamentally sound. Having seen how the workplace has become ever more disconnected from many basic human values over the last 10 years, pretty much everybody realizes that something is wrong about the hows and whys we work. The book is concentrated around conversations among a group of people (CEOs and consultants) who want to change how many (if not most) companies and organizations work today. I don't work primarily to increase shareholder value, although that is a necessary but not sufficient effect. I work because i fundamentally enjoy solving problems that may or may not benefit society as a whole, and to experince the joy of being connected. The basic tenet that the economy must always grow and be based on constant fierce competition, have come to an end, for ecological and social reasons. So far so good and I agree that we must change organizations to empower people, and get away from our obsessive belief that measurements and numbers will create a more efficient, and usually unhappy, workplace.
However, I always get disturbed when authors use arguments from science like Quantum Mechanics and Bell's theorem, which, however well-meant, don't really bring about any clarity to the arguments why we need more connectedness to appreciate life and work. Coherence and actions at a distance in QM have very little to do with the culture of organizations, even if David Bohm and other scientists have embraced more holistic versions of physics.
Having said that, i enjoyed the many examples from companies and public organizations that clearly show that we have developed a nightmarish mechanistic system where people are seen as cogs in a machine, that are weighed and measured and usually found wanton. This goes right back to Taylorism and it's new forms in e.g. new public management which focuses on transactions rather that common sense and knowledge.
So, read this book, enjoy the clearly highly relevant wisdom in its messages, but take the physics metaphores cum granulo salis. You might also want to read Frederic Laloux book Reinventing Organizations, and other similar books.
I picked up this book because one of the authors, Betty Sue Flowers, was a speaker for the Mind Science Foundation in San Antonio. I found that even though it is almost a decade old, it dovetailed nicely into her talk.
The book is not organized typically, there are lots of sections that are transcripts of the authors' conversations. The lessons are organically grown from these anecdotes. Lots of Buddhist and Confucianism references. This is not a "how to guide" to healthier organizations or a single solution to the evolving problems that the technology dichotomy creates. Rather, it describes tools to analyze problems (collect information, see the whole instead of parts, and act decisively), bring disparate groups together, and self-motivate on seemingly impossible situations.
There were a few case studies mentioned where the process was not successful- I wish there would have been more of these. Yet, I love the book's quirkiness- a nature walk was linked to Deming in the same chapter.
There are many references to authors and philosophers whose work I am unfamiliar. Instead of looking up each, I let the narrative flow and took away the general message. If you had weeks to read this book, I know you would get loads out of side research.
An important book for anyone who wants to make deep changes to avoid the requiem scenario.
Combines a Buddhist & Tao understanding of the Self as part of the change process both as participant and co-creator of both our stuckness in the present toxic world and as the enabler of unfolding new integral action with natural flow. It describes entering into a sacred place of dancing with inner/outer manifestations. Leadership & becoming human.
Some amazing stories of self-discovery and revelation. It is written as a series of conversations and is very readable.
How it works on immediate levels to that of forming the next level of consciousness adapted to a sustainable emergence of the power of technology informed by wisdom.
It acknowledges the deep pain we feel knowing we (not they) are killing the planet and what level of thinking we will need to adopt to move past that with intentionality.
It is a hopeful and energizing book with broad applicability for anyone who cares.
Reading this book was like being part of the amazing, organic, "think tank" of some the great minds of our times. It is a brilliant exploration to the collective, global overhaul we need to begin in order to effect significant change in our world. These thinkers postulate the we CAN shape our future in a profound way by tapping into our collective consciousness and reshaping traditional organizational learning. I LOVED how this book tied together wisdom gained from mainstream corporate America and ancient spiritual wisdom. A brilliant, optimistic tome for those ready to help begin the shift...
"We consider the living universe around us as nothing more than 'natural resources' that exist solely for us to take and use...The environment movement is mostly focused on how we can be 'less bad', how we can take or destroy less. But what if humans, as a species, actually have a purpose? What if we have something distinctive to contribute - something to give rather than just take?"
i tried to read this book, i really did. one of my professors recommended it, and theoretically I'm sure it has a lot of offer. but i just cannot get beyond the new agey mumbo jumbo. maybe if i start from the middle i can skip all of that...
Een geweldig boek. Bijzonder stijl doordat het een verslag is van meerdere gesprekken. Daar moet je van houden, maar ik vond het bij dit boek een kracht. Verwacht niet een snelle uitleg wat Theorie U is, maar tijdens de hoofdstukken wordt het model bijna onbewust ingevuld en praktisch toegelicht, waarna aan het eind van het boek het model compleet is. Het boek schuwt niet om ons weer boven het technologisch wetenschappelijke en Cartesiaans monopolie uit te stijgen, wat ik gedurfd, bewonderenswaardig en bevrijdend vind.
Theorie U is een prachtige manier om te duiden hoe je door bestaande kaders los te laten en echt te leren luisteren naar innerlijke boodschappen, daadwerkelijk tot fundamentele verandering kunt komen, persoonlijk, in organisaties en in de maatschappij.
The book started off promisingly, with a respectable, academic tone. By the 144th page, (forty more than I would have liked to struggle through), I threw in the towel because it had clearly turned totally new-agey. Even IF I didn't mind new-agey content, the word-for-word conversation and background-building style of the writing added a lot of unnecessary details to process. I found the lack of a point more and more glaring with every passing chapter; all sorts of stuff was mentioned and quoted, all over the place, seemingly just to pad the chapters with 'substance'. I agree with a fellow reviewer who also rated this book 1-star: this is drivel.
I always look for a nugget of wisdom in every book I read. This book certainly had a few but it was not an easy read. It set up as if you’re listening in on a conversation of 4 people who are evolving their thoughts on how we, people and all living things, and maybe just all things, are interconnected. It introduces the U Theory which taps into the collective. I’m not sure I totally understand the theory but I’m also not sure that we’re meant to.
There were some really good quotes and ideas in this book, however much (perhaps all) of what is in here as evidence is really just one off examples without any science behind them. We humans are really good at finding meaning in randomness that lines up with our biases.
Still worth a read just to open your mind to different ideas, but worth retaining a high degree of scepticism.
Inspiring work that tells stories of great upheavals in society and the good that came out of them. Makes you think great change like addressing climate change or reversing mass species extinction is possible if we lean into it with abundant resources.