Presence (the book)

presence-coverThere is a happy synchronicity between my ideas on Presence and the book Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organisations and Society by four joint authors including Peter Senge. I first came across Senge’s earlier book The Fifth Discipline, which I reviewed in the 1990’s for the journal Long Range Planning. This inspirational book brought a spiritual perspective to the emerging field of organisational learning, and was widely read. Senge has published a number of books since then, which I have not seen, being somewhat out of touch in this area.

I was intrigued to discover Presence, first published in 2005, so it is already over ten years old. Senge’s  co-authors were all active in the field of fundamental organisational change, with impressive credentials – Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers.

What do they mean by Presence?

We start from the perspective that an organisation is a living system that is continually recreating itself.

There is always a dynamic tension between the learning within the organisation that reinforces existing habits and systems, and deeper learning that senses and begins to create the future possibility. What makes the difference is depth of awareness, or level of presence.

Presence is deep listening, being open to one’s own preconceptions and ideas and willing to let them go, serving the sensed evolutionary need of the situation. In this sense it is literally about ‘presencing’ the future.

Of course, in an organisational context this is a collective process, as well as an individual process.

The theme appears vitally important today , given the imperative for our corporate-dominated Western societies to change and usher in a new settlement that is not only fair between human beings, but also sustaining of mother nature.

The authors explore this theme in an involving way that shows the evolution of their own thinking and process.

The details are too much for this short review, but this book is very readable and full of good ideas.There is a notable ‘Theory of U’ which presents a simple model of deep change, from sensing what is happening in the world, through presencing and allowing an ‘inner knowing’ of this to emerge, to realising and acting ‘in the flow’ of what is needed.

Do read this book if the subject appeals.

As with all similar books which present an advanced and evolved view of humanity, the key question remains, what is the critical mass when these ideas begin to become mainstream. The ferment that has led to the Brexit and Trump phenomena certainly shows that change is well and truly in the air, but those in particular seem to be trying to go back to older certainties rather than ushering in the new.

Let’s hope it’s a case of reculer pour mieux sauter.

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