On Presence

I recently finished reading Presence – Human Purpose and the Field of the Future by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworkski and Betty Sue Flowers.

The central theme in this book is to present a new theory – the U movement – around how collective change occurs. The theory presents a new way for us to look at current reality and understand how we are contributing to it, but more importantly how we can re-shape it to what we want it to be. One of the fundamental underpinnings of this theory is that, while we usually break down systems into their individual parts to understand them, this decomposition does not work effectively for understanding living systems. As the authors state: “living systems…create themselves”. Therefore a deeper level of learning is required to understand the whole “as it is, and as it is evolving”, this will lead to “actions that increasingly serve the emerging whole”.

The book is divided into four parts, the firsts three discuss the deeper learning theory, while the fourth integrates that theory in “the context of a more integrative science, spirituality, and practice of leadership.” A very original book, that is both thought provoking on the theoretical/philosophical side and also on the practical side as well.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Scenarios can alter people’s awareness…If they’re used artfully, people actually begin to think about a future that they’ve ignored or denied. The key is to see the different future not as inevitable, but as one of several genuine possibilities.”

2- “Suspension…hanging our assumption in front of us…By doing so, we begin to notice our thoughts and mental models as the workings of our own mind. And as we become aware of our thoughts, they begin to have less influence on what we see. Suspension allows us to “see our seeing”.”

3- “Third Possibility: to suspend one’s view and then inquire rather than defend. For example, rather than saying nothing or telling the other person why you think he or she is wrong, you can simply say, “That is not the way I see it. My view is…Here is what has led me to see things this way. What has led you to see things differently?” The form of the question doesn’t matter. But the sincerity does.”

4- “When people who are actually creating a system start to see themselves as the source of their problems, they invariably discover a new capacity to create results they truly desire.”

5- “Using scenarios to think about alternative stories of the future is only one of the ways that organizations can become more aware of the assumptions that lie behind their strategies. But without some discipline or practice like this, we tend to get stuck in a story of who we are on this earth as human beings, and something in us wants to break free of it.”

6- “If the situation is new, slowing down is necessary. Slow down. Observe. Position yourself. Then act fast and with a natural flow that comes from the inner knowing. You have to slow down long enough to really see what’s needed. With a freshness of action, and the overall response on a collective level can be much quicker than trying to implement hasty decisions that aren’t compelling to people.”

7- “U movement: Sensing – Observe, observe, observe / become one with the world – Presencing – Retreat and reflect / allow inner knowing to emerge – Realizing – Act swiftly with a natural flow”

8- “There’s nothing more personal than vision, yet the visions that ultimately prove transformative have nothing to do with us as individuals.”

9- “What matters is engagement in the service of a larger purpose rather than lofty aspirations that paralyze action. Indeed it’s a dangerous trap to believe that we can pursue only “great visions”.”

10- “When you move from crystallizing intent to prototyping, you move from domain of ideas to the domain of action. Not only does this make what is emerging more tangible, it eventually leads to a new level of clarity about the underlying purpose animating the entire undertaking.”

11- “You can influence a natural system but you can’t control it. It’s not surprising that machine thinking has produced institutions that make it virtually impossible for us to live in harmony with nature and with one another.”

12- “Globalization is reshaping societies and culture on a scale that has never happened before. Yet the old ideas that those in positions to influence such organizations’ power must be committed to cultivation or moral development has all but completely disappeared. I doubt that few even thought what such cultivation means – what it takes to develop a capacity for delayed gratification, for seeing longer term effects of action, for achieving quietness in mind.”

13- “If you want to be a great leader…you need to enter seven meditative spaces. These seven spaces – awareness, stopping, calmness, stillness, peace, true thinking, and attainment – can look like one step, but actually, its a long, long, long process.”

14- “What distinctive power does exist at the top of hierarchies is usually skewed toward power to destroy rather than the power to build.”

15- “The entire U movement arises from seven core capacities and the activities they enable. Each capacity is a gateway to the next activity…Suspending, Redirecting, Letting Go, Letting Come, Crystallizing, Prototyping, Institutionalizing.”


Omar Halabieh



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