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78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Developing the Deep and Lasting Group Epiphany, August 21, 2004
This review is from: Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future (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. The group seemed to instantly coalesce about making the common desire real.

I felt like I could relate to the process and the supporting examples having seen a similar response in groups over my career. There's an unspoken consensus in every organization that is often invisible to the participants because their relationships exist on only a superficial basis. If you ask them individually about their deepest desires and hopes for the organization and themselves, another reality emerges. If you then expose that reality in a group meeting to each other, they immediately begin to act on that new reality. I've been running sessions like this for more than 25 years and find it to be a profoundly moving experience. I was glad to see the work that The Society for Organizational Learning is doing to expand upon this form of change management.

If you are interested in learning another way to apply this process, you might want to look at a book I co-authored, The 2,000 Percent Solution and the 8 step process in part two. The first four steps relate to observing. The second two steps relate to presencing. The final two steps are about realizing. This process can be applied by either an individual or a group.

Presence is filled with many other wonderful stories and questions. I particularly enjoyed the part about the future of science and how that discipline needs to expand to encompass the spiritual . . . and how many scientists are privately doing this.

As I read the book, I was reminded also of a novel I just read and reviewed, Diving the Seamount, that develops many of the same themes as in this book: We are increasingly living our lives separate from one another and from nature. We can only heal our society, ourselves and our world when we reconnect with one another and nature. Interestingly, both books talk about Baja California as a physical source for this learning.

The book also describes some wonderful places to visit and I quickly added them to my list. I'm sure you will, too.

Presence ends up with a consideration of how the gorilla will do after man is gone. I took that question differently than the authors did. They seemed to miss the full impact of the question. First, man may replace himself with something new through biotechnology and evolution related to space exploration. How will the gorilla do with the replacement? Second, if man is gone, will the gorilla evolve to have all of our bad habits . . . and doom themselves?

If you like powerful books about being, what learning is and important questions about existence, you will love Presence. The authors take a nonsectarian view toward spiritual questions, drawing on many different traditions. I felt like I was reading The Golden Bough in places.

If you like your perspectives neatly tied into a bow with specific action prescriptions, this book will annoy you. But perhaps the annoyance will help you learn. The authors don't feel they know the answers, so they have just revealed the journey that took them to where they are. I recommend the journey to you.
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