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Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society Hardcover – August 16, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

Presence can be read as a both a guide and a challenge to leaders in business, education, and government to transform their institutions into powerful agents of change in a world increasingly out of balance. Since business is the most powerful institution in the world today, the authors argue, it must play a key role in solving global societal problems. Yet so many institutions seem to run people rather than the other way around. In this illuminating book, the authors seek to understand why people don't change systems and institutions even when they pose a threat to society, and examine why institutional change is so difficult to attain.

The authors view large institutions such as global corporations as a new species that are affecting nearly all other life forms on the planet. Rather than look at these systems as merely the extension of a few hyper-powerful individuals, they see them as a dynamic organisms with the potential to learn, grow, and evolve--but only if people exert control over them and actively eliminate their destructive aspects. "But until that potential is activated," they write, "industrial age institutions will continue to expand blindly, unaware of their part in a larger whole or of the consequences of their growth." For global institutions to be recreated in positive ways, there must be individual and collective levels of awareness, followed by direct action. Raising this awareness is what Presence seeks to achieve. Drawing on the insights gleaned from interviews with over 150 leading scientists, social leaders, and entrepreneurs, the authors emphasize what they call the "courage to see freshly"--the ability to view familiar problems from a new perspective in order to better understand how parts and wholes are interrelated.

This is not a typical business book. Mainly theoretical, it does not offer specific tips that organizational managers or directors can apply immediately; rather, it offers powerful tools and ideas for changing the mindset of leaders and unlocking the latent potential to "develop awareness commensurate with our impact, wisdom in balance with our power." --Shawn Carkonen


Critical Acclaim for Presence

“A remarkable book, Presence is a journey from the present to an unknown future, a journey of exploration rather than dogma, and a journey toward a vision of humanity at its highest. Like a good documentary film, Presence is a book with ‘emotional truth,’ a wonderful combination of intellectual and visceral experience.”
—Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance

“At this turbulent juncture in human history, a whole new set of social innovations promises to shift humanity away from its destructive path towards a brighter planetary civilization. Presencing and its U process is one of the most profound. It provides all who want to change the world not only with profound hope, but with a systematic and effective way to birth a sustainable planetary society.”
—Nicanor Perlas, recipient of the 2003 Alternative Nobel Prize and the U.N. Environmental Program Global 500 Award

“If you believe, as I do, that an organization is ultimately a human community, then nothing is more important than how we sense our future and act to create it together. This is something all creative business leaders know yet have found almost impossible to talk about—until Presence.”
—Rich Teerlink, CEO (retired), Harley-Davidson

“Presence is a timely and altogether important book. Drawing on a leading-edge understanding of human learning and awareness, it offers a simple but effective getaway to our capacity to become change agents of the future—in business, work, play, and relationships. Finding our presence is finding the key to creative change and to our own future.”
—Ken Wilber, author of A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality

“Presence is remarkable in at least three ways. First, the authors’ work has extraordinary emotional, as well as intellectual impact; it continued to affect me long after my initial reading. Second, I found that the insights I gleaned from the work depended on what was happening around me. I suspect I will take away different messages each time I read it. Third, the authors somehow opened me to unexpected messages and opportunities in my own life. My reading of Presence coincided with many seemingly chance encounters that in very real and specific ways have been essential to my own work, helping me find new ways to connect with colleagues, customers, and the larger community.”
—Darcy Winslow, General Manager, Global Women’s Footwear, Apparel, Equipment, Nike, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (August 16, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038551624X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385516242
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Bill Veltrop on January 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
That this book is not for everyone is quite clear from the mix of reviews.

So, why am I giving it five stars?

I can measure of the value (to me) of a non-fiction book by the amount of "damage" I've inflicted in terms of annotations, turned-up page corners, highlighting and underlining. By this measure Presence easily earned all five of my stars.

Where am I coming from?

I've been involved with large corporations for over 50 years and have focused on organizational learning, design and change for over 30 years. Though I deeply respect the miracle of large organizations, I'm also convinced that they're at a very early stage of their evolution. As I see it, our corporations and other major institutions have only reached adolescence, at best. Some might argue that they're at an even earlier stage of development. Considering how our systems are collectively fouling their nest they've got a point.

James Carse, in his wonderful book, Finite and Infinite Games, suggests:

There are at least two kinds of games.

One could be called finite, the other infinite.

The finite game is played for the purpose of winning,

an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play,

...and bringing as many persons as possible into the play.

Finite players play within boundaries;

infinite players play with boundaries.

In the last several decades it's become increasingly clear that our various institutions are collectively engaged in devastatingly finite games. Our western culture tends to most reward players who master finite games, e.g., in business, sports, entertainment, communications and politics.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fairly annoying book if you are at all well-read, and especially so if you read Charles Hampden-Turner's Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Development. in the 1970's and are familiar with a sampling of Eastern "connectedness" thought as well as the range of human and global problems and solutions literature running from the Club of Rome to the econological economics of Herman Daly to the integrative science and humanities of E.O. Wilson and Margaret Wheatley to the World Bank and United Nations global studies.

The book is especially annoying because it is so self-absorbed and undisciplined in its presentation. Essentially, four smart people, each a world-class performer in their narrow domain (and familiar with the standard range of knowledge management and futures forecasting literature), but not at all well-read across either the spiritual or the ecological and game of nations literature, cooked up a plan for tape-recording their conversations and turning it into a book

The book is double-spaced throughout, and its obliviousness to the larger body of literature created in me, as I moved from chapter to chapter looking for gems, a growing sense of impatience and annoyance.

The "U" is a cute idea if you have not heard of self-awareness, collective intelligence, synergy (an over-used word, but one that existed with meaning long before this book or the "U"), or informal "think globally, act locally" that the Co-Evolution Quarterly and Whole Earth Review were pioneering long before these authors decided it would be cool to fund their reflections among themselves.

Don't waste your time or money.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Philippe Vandenbroeck VINE VOICE on August 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"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.
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