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Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future

Peter M. Senge; C. Otto Scharmer; Joseph Jaworski; Betty Sue Flowers

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How would the world change if we learned to access, individually and collectively, our deepest capacity to sense and shape the future? This is just one of the questions posed by the authors of a book that combines unusual personal honesty with rigorous critical thinking.

Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future gives the reader an intimate look at the development of a new theory about change and learning. In wide-ranging conversations held over a year and a half, Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, and Flowers explore their own experiences and those of one hundred and fifty scientists and social and business entrepreneurs in an effort to explain how profound collective change occurs. Their journey of discovery articulates a new way of seeing the world, and of understanding our part in creating it-as it is and as it might be.

Radical and hopeful, Presence synthesizes leading-edge thinking, first-hand knowledge, and ancient wisdom to explore the living fields that connect us to one another, to life more broadly, and, potentially, to what is "seeking to emerge." Seven capacities underlie our ability to see, sense, and realize new possibilities. Developing these capacities accesses a deeper level of learning that is the key to creating change that serves the whole-ourselves, our organizations, and the communities of which we are a part.

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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

About the Author:

Peter Senge is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Founding Chair of SoL, the Society for Organizational Learning. He is the author of the widely acclaimed book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990), which has sold a million copies worldwide and was identified as one of the seminal management books of the last seventy-five years by Harvard Business Review in 1997. He is coauthor of The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (1994), with colleagues Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross, Bryan Smith, and Art Kleiner; a second fieldbook on sustaining change, The Dance of Change (1999), with George Roth as an additional coauthor; and the award-winning Schools That Learn (2000), coauthored with Nelda Cambron-McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Bryan Smith, Janis Dutton, and Art Kleiner.

Peter is widely known as one of the most innovative thinkers about management and leadership in the world, translating the abstract ideas of systems theory into tools for better understanding economic and organizational change. His work today focuses on fostering collaboration among diverse business, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations in order to address long-term systemic change that is beyond the reach of individual organizations.

He received a B.S. in engineering from Stanford University, a M.S. in social systems modeling, and a Ph.D. in management from MIT. He lives with his wife and children in central Massachusetts.

C. Otto Scharmer is a Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Visiting Professor at the Helsinki School of Economics, co-founder of SoL and the Global Leadership Initiative, and author of the forthcoming book Theory U: Leading From the Emerging Future.

Joseph Jaworski is the chairman of Generon Consulting and cofounder of the Global Leadership Initiative, founder of The American Leadership Forum, and author of the critically acclaimed Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership (Berret Koehler, 1996).

Prior to her current role as the director of the Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Betty Sue Flowers was a professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin and an international business consultant.

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