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

4.1 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bill Godfrey on February 22, 2005
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 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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