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Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future Paperback – January 15, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In a Cambridge, Massachusetts living room, four organizational learning leaders met for a year to talk about how transformational change is all in your mind. With Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline as ringleader, the authors ask us to examine organizations and self by asking, "What question lies at the heart of my work?" and "How can I set aside my narrow view point and understand the whole?"

For them, organizational learning requires a shift from "downloading" (operating with habitual ways of knowing and doing) to "presencing" (awareness of the present moment). The specifics of the shift are found in success stories--like the creation of Visa in the 1960s--and in the moving stories of the authors. For example, Senge's story about an Afrikaans businessman who wept as he rejected apartheid or Scharmer's memory of his childhood home destroyed by fire. In addition, Scharmer and Jaworski's innovative research with 150 thought leaders, such as Francisco Varela, a Chilean born Buddhist biologist, add rigor to "The U Process": a seven capacity model for deep individual and collective change.

The authors also draw on a diverse supporting cast including Martin Buber, Goethe, Lao Tzu and Carl Jung to illustrate their core concepts of intention, self-reflection, and awareness of the whole. On occasion, too many voices and examples can blur the clarity of these bold, juicy ideas about self and system. That said, readers who follow the conversations will be richly rewarded with the understanding of what it means to be an authentic agent of change. --Barbara Mackoff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; Reprint edition (January 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385516304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385516303
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joseph Jaworski is a founder and the chairman of both Generon International and the Global Leadership Initiative and is the founder of the American Leadership Forum, an NGO responsible for developing the practice of collaborative leadership. He has led the Royal Dutch/Shell Group's renowned team of scenario planners, served as senior fellow and board member for the MIT Center for Organizational Learning, and cofounded the Society for Organizational Learning. He is also author of Synchronicity and co-author of Presence. To contact Generon, please go to www.generoninternational.com

Photo © Sigrid Estrada

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Presence is reflective and discursive, with a lot of forays into philosophical thinking and developments in scientific theory. It is probably well pitched to its primary audience of members of the Society for Organizational Learning and the organizational learning community generally. Others, who are more used to a diet of "how to's", sidebars, summaries and highlighted key points are likely to find it hard going.

However, these are probably precisely the people who most need to absorb the ideas in the book. I have a feeling that, just as the ideas in The Fifth Discipline did not really gain wide acceptance until after the companion The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook appeared, we may need some sort of Presence Fieldbook to support Presence. That would also allow inclusion of material by other authors that seems to be highly relevant, for example Howard Gardner's concept of stories and counter-stories (set out in Leading Minds) and some of the ideas in Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point on what it is that makes new ideas catch on and his more recent Blink on intuition.

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?" If, as the authors believe, globalization, the exponentially growing impact of humans on the environment, and the overwhelming power and influence of a small number of global corporations have produced a situation in which accepted ways of thinking and acting are no longer appropriate, what are the appropriate ways of thinking and acting and how do we learn them, get them accepted and promote their widespread adoption? Is this an issue only for those in 'positions of power', or can all of us make a difference?
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Format: Hardcover
Presence is a most unusual book. If you have read Synchronicity by Joseph Jaworski (one of the co-authors of Presence), that will give you a hint of what's to come. The book is much different than Peter Senge's usual fare so fasten your seat belt and get ready for a soulful ride to places and thoughts that you have probably never considered before.

The book is built around a series of conversations that the four co-authors had in the home of co-author C. Otto Scharmer in Cambridge, Massachusetts over a little more than a year that covered their mutual concern that humanity is headed for a bad end. They first explored whether focusing people on a lose-lose scenario in which everything goes kaput would help solve the problem. Gradually, they came to realize that there seems to be a better method for redirecting humanity through a form of collective deep learning that groups can do to grasp a more meaningful and pertinent direction for their organizations and themselves.

Much of the book then develops a theory of a process for group learning called the theory of the U. The process has three basic steps: 1. observing, observing, and observing until you begin to see your situation from being deeply connected to it so that you sense its true nature 2. presencing, which is being with the situation until a deeper form of knowing evolves (think of this as creating the epiphany) and 3. realizing, which is moving to make your epiphany real.

The book has several powerful stories of how this process has worked with groups. I especially liked the story about how the medical personnel and the patients described medical care as being "quick fix" oriented while both sets of people really wanted to provide and experience deeper counseling and coaching care with one another.
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Format: Hardcover
In these times of negative job creation, CEOs in handcuffs, morally bankrupt managers, and administration-sanctioned environmental debacles, it is refreshing to read something as hopeful as this book. The four co-authors bring their own unique viewpoints to this exploration of human potential, and I don't think there's been anything like it since Margaret Wheatley's "Leadership and the New Science," which was easily the most important business book of the 1990s.
I have long admired Peter Senge and his various books. Not one word ever seems excessive, not one book offers anything less than thought-provoking, rigorous argument.
This is not a book to skim; one has to read it straight through to get the most out of this thoughtful, immediately engaging book. I would love to see corporations buy it in quantity and INSIST that their managers read it, discuss it, and post reviews on their intranets -- just as they do in Japan.
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Format: Hardcover
This is about the publishing. Presence: Human Purpose... and Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change... are the same books. Human Purpose, has thicker paper, a little color and a few different pages but that is all. Perhaps it is my ignorancy and enthusiasm - to get as much of Senge's present perspective as possible. I assumed that they were different books because they are both hard cover, have different subtitles and there was no mention of there sameness by Amazon.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of those books where you can have 100 readers, and each one will come away with something different.

You might view it as a definitive guide for co-creating solutions to hard problems in complex environments. Or, you can use it as a collection of vignettes, each having its own bit of wisdom. In fact, there are quite a few gold nuggets here. You'll have to find those which appeal to you, stitch them together, and, as the authors suggest, prototype a solution.

But be forewarned. Whatever your purpose, you'd better have a completely open mind. These guys definitely stretch beyond the usual scientific boundaries. However, if you stay with it, you'll begin to see how you can truly be part of something greater, working toward a greater good. In fact, that's probably the only assurance we have that the authors' doomsday scenario won't come to fruition.

You'll need to be patient in plowing through the long conversations. But if you are a believer in emergence, you'll see why those conversations need to be preserved. And what emerges is a better way. Rather than driving change, we see the greater possibilities that can result from discovering, then co-creating, the change that wants to come out. And yes, there are some case histories based on real situations.

The authors attack scientific reductionism and fragmentation head-on. Thankfully, they also give us an alternative approach - if you have the guts to try it. They make this point very strongly: the only way we can deal with today's complex problems is to view them from the perspective of what the authors call unbroken wholeness, and interrelatedness of nature. By Chapter 14, we get to see how integrating science can help us do just that.
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