Presencing: Learning From the Future As It Emerges
On the Tacit Dimension of Leading Revolutionary Change
the Conference On Knowledge and Innovation
May 25-26, 2000, Helsinki School of Economics, Finnland,
and the MIT Sloan School of Management, OSG, October 20th, 2000
Claus Otto Scharmer
MIT Sloan School of Mangement
Society for Organizational Learning
1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1999 Academy of
Management, Chicago. The paper represents work in progress and draws together
the results of three different research projects with my colleagues at the
Society for Organizational Learning, Cambridge, MA, Generon Consulting, and the
McKinsey Leadership and Organization Practice, Europe. My special thanks to
the participants of the Boston Conversation on leadership and knowledge with
Brian Arthur, Jonathan Day, Joseph Jaworski, Michael Jung, Ikujiro Nonaka, and
Peter Senge for inspiration and feedback. Special thanks for their helpful
comments also to Bill O'Brien, Goran Carstedt, Adam Kahane, Ekkehard Kappler,
Katrin Kaufer, Nina Kruschwitz, Reola Phelps, Edgar Schein, Tobias Scheytt,
Bill Torbert, John Van Maanen, and Ursula Versteegen.
Presencing: Learning From the Future As It Emerges
This paper looks at the impact of the emerging new business
environments – often referred to as the “new economy” – on the basic
concepts of organizational learning and change. While organizational
learning related activities during the 1990s were largely focused on the
incremental improvement of already existing processes, most leadership
teams are now facing a new set of business challenges that can rarely be
successfully addressed with the traditional methods and concepts of
organizational learning. Classical methods and concepts of
organizational learning are all variations of the same Kolb (1984) based
learning cycle: learning based on reflecting on the experiences of the
past. However, several currently significant leadership challenges cannot
be successfully approached this way because the experience base of a
team often is not relevant for the issue at hand. In order to do well in the
emerging new business environments, organizations and their leaders
have to develop a new cognitive capability, the capability for sensing and
seizing emerging business opportunities (Arthur 1996, 2000).
Organizations and their leaders can develop this capability by engaging
in a different kind of learning cycle, one that allows them to learn from
the future as it emerges, rather than from reflecting on past experiences.
I suggest calling this evolving new learning capacity “presencing.” The
term refers to the capacity for sensing, embodying, and enacting
Drawing on a number of recent experiences in action
research and studies in neurophenomology, the paper articulates the
concept of presencing and articulates its underlying process, practices,
principles, and inflection points as an important tacit territory in the
leadership of revolutionary change.
Introduction: Facing The New Leadership Challenge
Leaders from around the world are facing a new kind of challenge: coping
with the various waves of disruptive, revolutionary change that redefine
the context of business. One wave has to do with the rise of the Internetbased
“new” economy and its driving force, the process of digitization
(Castells, 1998; Kelly 1998). A second has to do with the rise of new
relational patterns and their underlying driving forces: the processes of
globalization (of markets, institutions, products), individualization (of
products, people, and their careers), and increasingly networked
structures and web shaped relationship patterns (Castells, 1996). For
example, the “war for talent” that most companies deal with is a typical
challenge that arises from the interplay of the above four driving forces.
A third and more subtle dimension of change has to do with the
increasing relevance of experience, awareness and consciousness and
their underlying driving force, the process of spiritualization (Conlin
1999) or, to use a less distracting term, the process of becoming aware of
one’s more subtle experiences (Depraz, Varela and Vermersch, 1999). An
example is the recent growth in interest in topics like "flow"
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) or personal mastery (Senge, 1990) both inside
and outside the world of business.
These three contextual changes present today's leaders with a
fundamentally new world in which they must be innovators and radical
revolutionaries rather than agents of improving the status quo (Hamel
1997, 2000). The more the world of business moves into environments of
increasing returns, the more the primary challenge for business leaders
becomes developing a "precognition" for emerging business opportunities
before they become manifest in the market place (Arthur, 1996).
In order to operate successfully in this new business environment,
business leaders will need to master a new capacity: the capacity to
sense, enact, and embody the future as it emerges (Jaworski and
Scharmer 2000). Inspired though discussions in circle of senior
researchers and consultants in the Society for Organizational Learning –
particularly with Bill Torbert (2000) and Peter Senge -- I have come to
refer to this capacity as the emerging discipline of presencing. The term
presencing means to use your highest Self as a vehicle for sensing,
embodying, and enacting emerging futures.
The purpose of this paper is to introduce the concept of presencing as a
leadership discipline for operating in emerging business environments.
Section One discusses three issues and puzzles that illuminate the
phenomenon of presencing from the perspectives of (a) learning, (b)
change, and (c) cognition. Section Two discusses seven principles of
presencing. Section Three concludes with three tools that may be helpful
to leaders in coping with the challenges outlined above.
I. Three Issues and Puzzles
The following three issues arose in two different contexts: during action
research projects in member companies of the Society for Organizational
Learning (SoL) (between 1995 and 2000) and from a global interview
project with 80 eminent thinkers in the fields of leadership, organization,
strategy, and knowledge creation (sponsored by McKinsey & Company).
Issue # 1: Tapping a Second Source of Learning
An important insight gained from some of the more recent projects in
member companies of the Society for Organizational Learning has led to
the distinction between two different sources or processes of
organizational learning: one that is based on reflecting the experiences of
the past (Type I) and a second source, one that is grounded in sensing
and enacting emerging futures (Type II). Each of these processes is based
on a different temporal source of learning and requires managers to work
with fundamentally different learning cycles.
The temporal source of Type I learning is the past, or, to be more
precise, the coming into presence of the past - learning revolves around
reflecting on experiences of the past. All Kolb-type learning cycles are
variations of this type of learning (Kolb 1984). Their basic sequence is
action, concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract
conceptualization, and action again (see Figure 1).
The Kolb Type Learning Cycle (Learning From the
Experiences of the Past)
The temporal source of Type II learning is the future, or to be more
precise, the coming into presence of the future. Type II learning is based
on sensing and embodying emerging futures rather than re-enacting the
patterns of the past. The sequence of activites in this learning process is
seeing, sensing, presencing, and enacting (see
The Other Learning Cycle (Learning From Emerging Futures)
While OD and organizational learning have been mainly concerned with
how to build, nurture, and sustain Type I learning processes (Argyris,
1992; Schein, 1987; Senge et al, 1994), some more recent experiences
suggest that today’s business environment presents most companies
with challenges that require a new source and process of learning. These
challenges are concerned with how to compete under the conditions of
the new economy—that is, how to learn from a reality that is not yet
embodied in manifest experience.
In dealing with the new economy challenge, Type I learning is no longer
effective as the single source of learning, because the previous
experiences embodied in the leadership team are no longer relevant to
the challenges at hand. And the experiences that would be of relevance
are not yet embodied in the experience base of the leadership team. The
issue for management is how to learn from experience when the
experience that matters most is the not-yet-embodied experience of the
Issue # 2: Managing the Complexity of Large-Scale Change
Large-scale change, particularly transformational change, always
plays out on multiple levels. Figure 3
offers a distinction among five
different levels of change that are mapped along the lines of the
classical Lewinian insight that change is situated in a pre-stage
(“unfreezing”) and a later stage that puts the respective changes into
behaviorally embodied routines and practices ("refreezing").
2 Until today, most approaches to managing change have followed that
basic sequence (Lewin 1952, Schein 1989). Although different names and numbers
of steps have been used in various approaches to change management, the
underlying logic has remained the same. These steps are discussed below as
uncovering common will (unfreezing), regenerating (redefinition), and
Five Levels of Behavior in Response to Change
Figure 3 depicts five levels of organizational reality and, accordingly, of
coping with change. The five levels of organizational reality are similar to
an iceberg, in which most reorganization takes places "below the waterline."
The action (at level 0) is "above the waterline" and is embedded in four
underlying or contextual levels of reorganization and change. The four
underlying levels of reorganizing are restructuring (level 1),
redesigning core processes (level 2), reframing mental models
(level 3), and regenerating common will (level 4).
When leaders in an organization face a challenge (figure 3, top left),
they must choose whether (1) to react directly to the issue (level 0) or
(2) to step back, reflect, and reorganize the underlying contextuallevels that gave rise to the challenge in the first place. Accordingly, we
can distinguish among five different responses to change: reaction
(the response on level 0), restructuring (the response on level 1),
redesigning (the response on level 2), reframing (the response on level
3), and regenerating (the response on level 4).
Level 0 Change: Reacting
The first response to a challenge caused by change often occurs on
level 0, where the change has occurred. Once a problem becomes
known, the logical response is to react. Although reaction is
appropriate in some cases, in many circumstances reaction does not
address the underlying issue. The context that gives rise to the issue
has to be taken into account as well. Thus, the focus needs to be on
the underlying levels of organizational structure, processes, mental
models, and identities.
Level 1 Change: Restructuring
Structure consists of a set of variables that drive behavior.
Restructuring occurs when the problems and issues raised by level 0
change are seen as the manifestation of the underlying contextual
reality called structure.
Level 2 Change: Redesigning
Often neither reacting nor restructuring can truly address the real
issues of change, in which case a third level of response may be
appropriate. In this approach, often referred to as redesigning or
business re-engineering, manifest action and structure are conceived
of as part of an underlying reality called core processes. Core
processes are at the center of what drives corporate behavior. Core
processes represent the stream of value creation as perceived from the
point of view of the customer (Hammer and Champy, 1994).
Everything that directly contributes to that is part of the core process;
everything else is not. Focusing on core processes allows companies
to be more flexible with respect to structure and action. Both
structure and action can be adapted to local conditions. Thus, at this
level, dealing with issues or problems involves changing both behavior
and structure (levels 0 and 1) by redesigning core processes (level 2).
Level 3 Change: Reframing
About 70% of all corporate re-engineering attempts fail (Strebel 1996).
Many practitioners argue that these failures are usually connected to
the fact that the underlying mental models used to develop the core
processes did not change. Thus, corporate re-engineering requires yet
another approach and level of corporate change: one that focuses on
the mental models and cultural assumptions that guide managerial
action. In these approaches, which are often referred to as
organizational learning, the problems on levels 0, 1, and 2 (action,
structure, and process) are conceived of as the function of yet another
set of underlying context variables referred to as "mental models"
(Senge 1990; Argyris and Schon 1996) or culture—i.e., taken-for-granted
assumptions (Schein 1992).
Companies that use dialogue to
focus on shared mental models and cultural assumptions are believed
to be more flexible in respect to other key variables like action,
structure, and processes. Hence, level 3 reframing focuses on
changing action, structure, and process (levels 0, 1, and 2) by
focusing on new mental models and deep taken-for-granted
Level 4 Change: Regenerating
Why do change initiatives based on culture and learning sometimes
also fail (Wyer et al. 1997)? One explanation is that the rhetoric of
change was in disconnection to what really matters most to local line
leaders and business managers. Thus a fifth approach to coping with
change is to focus on deep intention, purpose, and will. Now the
responses of levels 0, 1, 2, and 3 (action, structure, process, and
mental models) become part of an even more subtle set of contextual
variables, which are referred to as purpose (Hock 1999), shared vision
(Senge 1990), or common will (Scharmer 1999). Focusing on purpose
and principles allows companies to be more flexible in situating
action, structure, processes, and mental models according to local
conditions. Hence, level 4 regenerating means allowing for flexibility in
action, structure, processes, and mental models (levels O, 1, 2, and 3)
by focusing on redefining purpose and uncovering common will.
An Organizational Breathing Cycle
The horizontal axis in Figure 3
depicts the process of unfreezing-
change-refreezing, or to use a less static terminology, uncovering-
redefining-enacting. If we imagine the organization as a living system,
we can think of "uncovering" or unfreezing as the organization
inhaling: taking the current reality into its consciousness (breathing
in"). Likewise, we can think of enacting as an interior-out process of
converting a changed consciousness into practices and actions
("breathing out"). Accordingly, the Lewin-Schein model of
unfreezing-change-refreezing can be seen as one sequence within an
ongoing process of organizational breathing.
The breathing metaphor can be related to the different levels of
corporate reorganization as outlined above. For example, we can
compare an organization that is acting primarily in the first two levels
of change (reacting and restructuring) to an organism that
predominantly engages in shallow breathing. Likewise, an
organization that engages primarily in level 3 and 4 activities
(redesigning and reframing) can be compared to an organism that
breathes deeply. Carrying the metaphor further, we should expect an
organization that engages only in level 1 and level 2 types of change to
suffer serious respiratory distress from a lack of oxygen. An
organization that engages only in level 3 and level 4 types of change
will probably suffer serious respiratory distress from too much CO2
According to the Lewin-Schein model, the highest leverage point is
located at the stage of unfreezing (Schein 1989). The key challenge to
leaders at this stage of the change cycle is how to enable teams and
organizations to uncover the layers of organizational reality that will
move them from level 3 (new mental models and cultural
assumptions) to level 4 (deep purpose and common will). Shifting from
level 3 to level 4 involves shifting from reflective learning (Type I:
learning from the experiences of the past) to generative learning (Type
II: learning from emerging futures). The primary issue at this stage isthe need for a sound methodology that takes a team from the
reflective space (level 3) to the space of deep intention of will (level 4).
Issue # 3: Accessing the Deep Levels of Knowing
The third issue concerns what it takes to compete in the new
economy. Brian Arthur (1996, 2000) emphasizes that in order to do
well in the new economy managers have to deepen their ways of
knowledge creation and knowing. Says Arthur (1996): "If knowledgebased
companies are competing in winner-takes-most markets, then
managing becomes redefined as series of quests for the next
In a subsequent interview project on the foundations of cognition and
leadership the focus was on understanding the different levels of
cognition and knowing. The essence of this study turns out to be in
some respects isomorphic to the levels of change presented above.
differentiates among four levels of cognition (see also
Jaworski and Scharmer, 2000).
Four Levels of Cognition and Social Reality Formation
Level 1 Cognition: Downloading Mental Models
On level 1, cognition involves immediately jumping from paying
attention (perception) to projecting one's (habitual) judgment.
Cognition on this level means to re-enact one's old mental models and
habits of thought. All deeper and more profound cognition and
knowledge creation require the suspension of this habitual judgment,
thus opening a space that allows for a more deep and profound
encounter with the phenomenon (Husserl, 1985; Varela 2000, Bortoft,
Level 2 Cognition: Reflection and Reinterpretation
Level 2 cognition is based on a higher quality of paying attention, i.e.,
on seeing, reflecting on the phenomenon and allowing the appropriate
structure (i.e., judgment) to form. On this level, cognition does not
operate by simply downloading mental models but rather by
modifying and adapting existing mental constructs according to the
perceived situation and its reinterpretation at hand (Arthur, 2000).
Level 3 Cognition: Imagination
The first two levels of cognition both merely scratch the surface of the
real phenomenon. Level 3 cognition is based on a deeper quality of
attention that allows one to sense the phenomenon from within. The
switch from “seeing” (level 2) to "sensing" (level 3) is referred to by
Depraz/Varela/Vermersch (1999) as redirecting attention from the
object to the source, as we will discuss in more detail below. Level 3
cognition does not focus on objects, as the prior two modes of
cognition do, but on the coming-into-being of these objects (Varela,
2000; Bortoft, 1999).
This mode of cognition is based on three traditions of methodology:
phenomenology, introspection, and the contemplative methodologies
of the East. One example would be the phenomenological method that
Goethe (1985) referred to as a
delicate empiricism which makes itself utterly identical with the
object, thereby becoming true theory. But this enhancement of
our mental powers belongs to a highly evolved age.
Goethe suggests that The ultimate goal would be to grasp that
everything in the realm of fact is already theory. ... Let us not seek
for something beyond the phenomena -- they themselves are the theory.
Goethe's approach --
let us not seek for something beyond the
phenomena -- they themselves are the theory -- focuses on enhancing
the quality of cognition toward imagination. His view suggests a
science that transcends the duality of subject and object, knower and
known, res extensa (matter) and res cogitans (mind) to a
consciousness in which the knower actively participates in bringing
forth the world of which he is a part (Bortoft, 1998).
Level 4 Cognition: Primary Knowing (Presencing)
At level 4 cognition, the quality of attention is at its highest and most
subtle level, which allows it to become one with the intention of the
emerging whole. This level of cognition is what Rosch (forthcoming)
refers to as primary knowing of wisdom awareness. The discipline
here is to become aware that mind and world are not separate but
arise together as aspects of the same informational field (Rosch,
1999). "Mind and world are not separate" says Rosch (1999), "since
the subjective and objective aspects of experience arise together as
different poles of the same act of cognition -- are part of the same
informational field -- they are already joined at their inception. If the
senses do not actually perceive the world, if they are instead
participating parts of the mind-world whole, a radical reunderstanding
of perception is necessary."
Rosch uses the term of "field" in order to specify the nature of primary
knowing. "That knowing capacity actually is the field knowing itself,
in a sense, or this larger context knowing itself. ...If you follow your
nature far enough, if you integrate and integrate, if you follow your
nature as it moves, if you follow so far that you really let go, then you
find that you're actually the original being, the original way of being.
The original way of being knows things and does things in its own
way. When that happens, or when you get even a glimpse of it, you
realize that we don't actually act as fragmented selves the way we
think we do. Nothing you do can produce this realization, can produce
the original way of being. It's a matter of tuning into it and its way of
acting. It actually has a great intention to be itself (so to speak) and it
will do so if you just let it." When acting on this level of knowing,
continued Rosch, action appears "without conscious control -- even
without the sense of 'me' doing it." (Rosch, 1999)
Knowing on such a level differs from our standard way of cognition,
by knowing through "interconnected wholes (rather than isolated
contingent parts) and by means of timeless, direct, presentation
(rather than through stored re-presentations). Such knowing is
'open,' rather than determinate; and a sense of unconditional value,
rather than conditional usefulness, is an inherent part of the act of
knowing itself. Action from awareness is claimed to be spontaneous,
rather than the result of decision making; it is compassionate, since it
is based on wholes larger than the self; and it can be shockingly
effective." (Rosch, forthcoming)
Awareness and Will: The Process of Social Reality Formation
Most cognition research on methods of introspection and
contemplation end here. However, every leader or management
practitioner knows that even when a group or an individual has gone
through the sequence of the first three stages - seeing, sensing, and
presencing -- the "job" of entrepreneurial leadership is at best only half
completed. The first half of the cycle shown in
Varela calls "the process of becoming aware." The second half of the
cycle -- when viewed from a management and social sciences
perspective -- is about following the flow and enacting that what wants
to emerge (Buber 1970). The "gift" or insights received during the
stages of sensing and presencing are only fully realized when
embodied in action. In Figure 4,
the first half of the cycle involves
accessing experience and becoming aware, and the second half of the
cycle involves forming, inspiring, and enacting will.
The second part of the cycle, which reflects the primacy of will in the
process of generative reality formation, is less obvious and more
difficult to observe for disciplines like phenomenology,
neurophenomenology or cognitive psychology that focus primarily on
individuals. Action researchers in the field of management usually
have much better access to the data needed to describe the latter part
of the cycle of social cognition and social reality formation as
indicated in Figure 4.
Three aspects of will formation are briefly sketched below:
Enhancing the quality of aspiration, vision, and intention has always
been at the heart of entrepreneurial leadership and Senge's (1990)
disciplines of Personal Mastery and Shared Vision. The capacity to
develop a clear vision and a "laser focus" for implementing this vision
involves operating from a cognitive space that is different from the
three spaces mentioned above (seeing, sensing, presencing).
Social reality only exists insofar as it is enacted by people. Seeing,
sensing, presencing, and envisioning will not make a difference unless
they translate into action. Brian Arthur sees the way to operate in the
new economy as a sequence of (1) observe, observe, observe, (2) allow
inner knowing to emerge, and (3) act in an instant. Says Arthur: "In
oriental thinking, you might just sit and observe and observe -- and
then suddenly do what's appropriate. You act from your inner self.
Traditionally, Chinese and Japanese artists sit and look at a landscape.
They'll sit on a ledge with lanterns for a whole week just looking, and
then suddenly say "oooohh" and paint something very quickly" (Arthur
In an age dominated by globally acting organizations and institutions,
social changes become sustainable only as they become institutionally
embodied in organizational routines.
Inflection Points: Shifting the Quality of Attention
The sequence of seeing, sensing, presencing, envisioning, enacting, and
embodying gives a surface description of the process at issue, i.e., the
process of knowledge and (social) reality formation. It tells us what is going
on, but not how. It does not show us the deeper structure of this whole
For that we have to "double-click" on Figure 4
and focus on the underlying
territory of inflection points, or redirections of attention, that allow people
to move across the cognitive spaces outlined above
(see Figure 5).
Inflection Points of Cognition and Social Reality Formation
Figure 5 draws on the neurophenomenological studies of Varela and
Shear (1999) and Depraz, Varela, and Vermersch (1999). Depraz,
Varela, and Vermersch talk about three distinct gestures in "the
process of becoming aware": suspension, redirection, and letting go.
These subtle shifts in the quality of attention can be considered the
gates that allow one to cross the boundary from one cognitive space to
another. For example, in order to see, one first has to suspend
assumptions; in order to move from seeing to sensing, one first has to
redirect one's focus of attention; and so on.
Inflection Point 1: Suspension
The first inflection point concerns the suspension of judgment.
Suspension of judgment is the sine qua non of observing and seeing.
Instead of projecting mental models and judgments onto the world,
one opens up to what is actually happening in the world. By taking off
one's self-created filters, one can see differently (Depraz, Varela, and
Vermersch, 1999; Husserl, 1985).
Inflection Point 2: Redirection (turning inward)
The second inflection point means redirecting one's attention inward
toward the source rather than the outward toward an object.
However, this does not mean reflecting on oneself. Says Varela (2000):
Now when you say you turn inwards, it's not like you're going in. No,
you keep whatever is going on in your mental process, but you follow
the trail of the tendency that will move it out, that it will make you
completely go with the trend of fixating an object.
Bortoft (1999) describes something similar when he talks about
encountering the living, dynamic movement of plants. Without
redirecting one's attention, he says, it will not be possible to truly
sense the essence of another living being. One redirects one's
attention from the current reality ("objects") to an emergent reality
(the "coming-into-being of objects"). Commenting on the relationship
between the first and second inflection point, Varela (2000) says:
By redirection we mean that suspension will lead to very early
emerging events, contents, patterns, gestures, whatever. Then you
can actually redirect your attention to them. That's where the new is.
So the suspension creates a space, the new comes up, and then you
can redirect. Redirection is a specific gesture.
Inflection Point 3: Letting Go
The third inflection point is about letting go. Other descriptions of this
particular threshold are "surrendering" (Arthur 2000), "surrendering
into commitment" (Jaworski et al, 2000), or "emptiness" (Varela,
2000). Says Arthur (2000):
I think that in some strange sense the absolute key to living a very
active life is surrender. As Martin Buber says, "You are not
surrendering to your own will but to a higher, deeper will." In some
sense I think that one has to say, "Look, I'm here. I'm willing to do
whatever is necessary. Give me the chance to do it, and the means,
and I'm willing."
Without surrendering there can be no presencing. One switches from looking
for to letting come, "to receive that which manifests itself there,
or rather that which I am capable of letting manifest itself there" (Depraz,
Varela, and Vermersch, 1999).
Inflection Point 4: Crystallizing (Letting Come)
The fourth turning point is mentioned by Varela above as part of letting go.
Although closely connected with letting go, the gesture of letting come points
in a different direction. The switch here is from emptiness and
surrender to quickening and crystallizing the emerging
new. Without this reversal of attention there can be no envisioning and
broadcasting of intention.
Inflection Point 5: Bringing Forth (Turning Outward)
The fifth and sixth inflection points are not mentioned by Depraz,
Varela, and Vermersch but are well known to organizational change
leaders around the world: having co-created a shared vision, how do
you follow the flow and move into instant enaction? How do you bring
forth what wants to emerge? How do you actually deliver?
Without turning outward there can be no enactment. Just as the
fourth reversal (crystallizing, or letting come) mirrors and inverts the
third (letting go), the fifth reversal (turning outward) mirrors and
inverts the second (turning inward).
Inflection Point 6: Embedding (Institutional Embodiment)
The sixth inflection point (embedding) finally mirrors and inverts the
first inflection point. While the first inflection point, suspension,
focuses on suspending habitual routines, the sixth inflection point
focuses on institutional embodiment, i.e., on creating new
organizational routines. Here, one's focus shifts toward creating the
organizational contexts, and infrastructures that will allow the new to
continually unfold. Nonaka's notion of ba (place) (Nonaka and Konno
1998) and Senge's notion of learning infrastructures (1994) are
examples of this stage.
Let us briefly illustrate these rather esoteric sounding considerations on
cognition with two examples. Hamel (2000) has referred to the "dirty little
secret of the strategy business," which he says is this:
We all know what a strategy is once we see one. However, what we do
not know is how this strategy got created in the first place. We do not
have a theory of strategy creation.
In the terminology introdcued above, the lack of a theory of strategy
creation means that we are not aware of the coming into being of a
particular strategy (level 3); all we can do is to recognize it as a thing
(levels 1, 2), but we cannot see the process or the field that gave rise to
that strategy in the first place (levels 3, 4). Thus the blind spot Gary
Hamel is pointing at is the blind spot of cognition 3 and 4.
Another example comes from analyzing the data of a large interview
project. A team of about a dozen internal managers had interviewed 100
key managers across their organization as part of a transformational
change initiative. The conversation on analyzing the data began with
some level 1 remarks (habitual judgments) such as: "Yeah, I knew that
they would not know much about strategy reinvention." At the next level
the team spent considerable effort to share the data that they had
gathered throughout the organization. During this part of the
conversation, which took many hours, the participants described the
experience and viewpoints of their interviewees in great detail, often by
reading out their key quotes loud. Cognition here was still at level 2
insofar as a number of individual patterns began to take shape, but
there was nothing that seemed to connect these individual and often
contradictory patterns. Several hours later, almost momentarily, a switch
occurred that allowed the whole team to see the relationship among the
individual patterns that were identified before. With this switch it became
clear how the system operated as a whole and why the system continued
to reproduce the events and symptoms that most individuals were
complaining about. At that point, the conversation switched from level 2
cognition (seeing objects) to level 3 cognition (sensing the field out of
which the objects and behaviors are enacted). Later, when we tried to
advance from the level 3 cognition to level 4 (presencing), we did not
quite succeed; but the comment that almost got us into that space was
made by a woman who said, summarizing her experience of working in
the company: "We are living in two worlds. On the one hand, we operate
as part of a big and abusive machine. One the other hand, there is this
world of future possibility, reinvention, and change. We are torn in two
by the split between these two worlds." This woman spoke from her
heart. Ultimately, all level 4 cognition is about using one's heart as an
enhanced source of intelligence and knowing (Childre and Cryer 1999).
Thus, the issue here is the same issue we faced above: What theories,
methods, and tools will help leaders switch from the surface levels of
cognition to the deeper sources of knowing (sensing and presencing)?
II. Principles of an Emerging Discipline: Presencing
The three examples above illuminate the same issue from the perspective
of learning, change, and cognition. The issue is how to access the level 4
dimension of knowing and change that allows new patterns to emerge. I
call this level 4 phenomenon presencing. Presencing is as much a
collective or organizational phenomenon as it is an individual or personal
one. While the above section on organizational change illuminated more
the collective aspect, the section on cognition dealt more with the
individual dimension of what essentially is the same phenomenon.
Presencing signifies the process of coming-into-being of emerging
futures. Presencing in the context of organizations and large systems is
contingent upon and embodied in the following principles:
- Primacy of praxis
- Reversal of container and content
- Inversion (Umstulpung)
- Micro/macro switch (Going through the eye of the needle)
- Systems sensing (the power of mindfulness)
- Common will (the power of intention)
- The fragile self (the power of love)
Principle 1: Primacy of Praxis
Primacy of praxis focuses on creating practice fields or environments
that allow learning to follow the flow of innovation and change, rather
than organizing for learning around a fixed set of workshops,
exercises, and infrastructures. In terms of workshop design, the
principle of primacy of praxis supplements and amends classical
organizational learning workshop designs in two respects: (a) agenda
flow and (b) architecture.
- In many traditional workshop models, participants focus on
"vision" first and "current reality" second. Working with leadership
teams in workshops led by Generon Consulting we have found that
reverse progression is often more productive: begin with "current" and
"emerging realities," and then move to images, inspirations, and
intuitions about the future (Scharmer, Versteegen, and Kaufer
- The agenda architecture of traditional workshops revolves
aroundpracticing and hinges on tool teaching. The practical know-how
of managers is usually elicited through exercises that use these
Again, it is often most effective to begin by focusing on the
participants' real work challenges and relating the teaching of tools to
the managers' current issues and challenges. Primacy of praxis avoids
the traditional activity of experts lecturing novices, and instead
focuses on helping participants perceive the process by which they
continuously recreate and reenact the reality in which they operate.
Primacy of praxis shifts the focus of practicing from the context of
"doing exercises" to the context of "coping with real world" or, as
Schein (2000) has put it recently, as "rising to the occasion."
Principle 2: Reversal of Container and Content
While moving through the cognitive spaces of paying attention, seeing,
sensing, presencing, envisioning, enacting, and embodying, at each
threshold to the next cognitive space the same phenomenon occurs: a
switch or reversal from one container and content of cognition to the
next. During the first switch, which Varela refers to as suspension,
the old mental models are moved from the center to the fringes,
thereby opening up another cognitive space, the space of seeing.
Then, while moving from seeing to sensing, another switch occurs:
this time the content of seeing moves from the center to the periphery
of attention, thereby opening up a space for the sensing of emerging
patterns. Then, the content of sensing moves from the center to the
fringes of attention, opening up a cognitive space for presencing the
not-yet-embodied world of possibilities, and so forth.
3 The Greek term praxis means action. Aristotle distinguished between two types of
action: (1) action that we perform in order to make something (poiesis), such as a
pair of shoes and (2) action we perform for its own sake (praxis), such as playing
music. Thus, primacy of praxis has a double meaning. On the one hand, it simply
means that practitioners (clients) define and own the agenda. On the other hand, it
means the pursuit of activities that are a goal in themselves.
Principle 3: Inversion (Umstulpung)
The next evolutionary principle is called inversion or Umstulpung, to
use the term of twentieth-century avant garde artist Beuys (1992).
Umstulpung literally means turning a whole field upside-down and
inside-out. An example is the U-shaped process of transformation in
which everything happens twice. The upward journey of the second
part of the U-shaped process reverses the themes and gestures of the
downward journey during the first part of the U-shape process. For
example, the gestures of suspending, turning inward, and letting go of
the first part of the process are reversed in the second part by the
gestures of letting come, turning outward, and embedding (more on
this principle below).
Principle 4: Micro/Macro Switch (Going Through the Eye of the
Going through the eye of the needle is a threshold experience that
happens at the bottom of the U at "point zero" between the downward
and the upward path. The eye-of-the-needle experience has been
described as "birth" or "breaking through a membrane." Going
through the eye of the needle is better understood in terms of what it
does to the nature of the individual-collective relationship. The
essence and, to some extent the mystery, of the eye-of-the-needle
experience is a very subtle switch in how individuals relate to the
collective whole of the community (or team or organization) they are
part of. For example, in a recent workshop with 30 managers from
different organizations within the same multinational company, the
managers complained a lot about the structure, strategy, and culture
of their company. The conversation among the group was by and large
characterized by a pattern of victimization: the managers perceived
themselves as victims of the current reality of their company. After the
threshold experience, the whole discourse was completely reversed:
nobody talked like a victim; instead, they spoke from a place where
the individuals and the group as a whole thought of themselves as
creators of the emerging future and a vehicle for bringing it into
reality. For example, one could frequently observe the phenomenon
that individuals create a much higher sense of their true self while at
the same time acting much more "selfless" as a vehicle for bringing
the collective new into reality. These people feel that they operate at
their highest and that they may have been never more closely aligned
with both their true self and the intention of the emerging whole.
Thus, the essence of the U-shaped process is a transformation of
social substance—of the old social body of relationships. The old
social reality was imposed on individuals, constraining them and even
making them feel abused and victimized. Going through the
transformative U-shaped process allows individuals and groups to
operate from a different place, where their Self becomes an open gate
through which new social substance flows into being. The
transformation of the old social substance, —i.e., switching from reenacting
the patterns of the past to sensing and embodying emerging
futures—can only work if the eye of the needle is at the center of this
metamorphosis. It is as if the old social body goes through a deathlike
transformation that allows for a different quality of social
substance to reemerge. The emergence of the new social substance is
a truly collective phenomenon. But it can only occur when
individuals, at the eye of the needle, succeed in turning themselves
into instruments of the emerging new.
The transformational "switch" not only applies to the individual-collective
relationship, as outlined above, but also to the self-world
relationship, as outlined by Goethe:
Man knows himself only to the extent that he knows the world;
h e becomes aware of himself only within the world , and aware of
the world only within himself. Every object, well contemplated,
opens up a new organ within u s. 4
What then, we may ask, is the new organ that contemplating social
reality can open up within us? I believe that there are two types of
cognitive capacities ("organs") that individuals and communities can
open up for themselves. The first one contemplates a reality that is
already enacted, as in Type I learning cycles that focus on reflecting
the enacted reality of the past (reflective mind). The other type of
cognitive capacity is accessing the generative sources of co-creating
something entirely new (intuitive mind). That is what presencing is
about. Presencing is a birth-giving activity. It is about bringing one's
Self into being as one accesses the sources of one's highest creativity.
The experience of presencing is twofold: co-creating and giving birth
to a new reality and, at the same time, being transformed and born
into a new world by the very same process.
Principle 5: Systems Sensing: The Coming-into-Presence of the Whole
At the heart of systems sensing is a shift of place from which
cognition operates. This shift alters the external perspective of
"spectator consciousness" (cognition levels 1 and 2) toward sensing
and dwelling within the phenomenon of a "participatory
consciousness" (cognition levels 3 and 4).
4 Goethe 1823, quoted in Crotell 1998.
How is it possible to sense the emerging whole in a world when our perception
is usually limited to seeing parts? Says Bortoft (1998, p. 285):
know the whole in the way in which we k now things b ecause we cannot recognize
the whole as a thing. ...The whole would b e outside its parts in the same way
that each part is outside all the other parts. But the whole comes into
presence within its parts,and we cannot encounter the whole in the same
way that we encounter the parts. We should not think of the whole as if it
were a thing.
Bortoft claims that we cannot know the whole in the same way
that we know a thing, for the whole is not a thing. Thus, the challenge is to
encounter the whole as it comes into presence in the parts. Says Bortoft
(1998, p. 284):
If the whole presences within its parts, then a part is a
place for the presencing of the whole. ...a part is special and not accidental,
since it must be such as to let the whole come into p resence. This specialty
of the part is particularly important because it shows us the way to the
whole. It clearly indicates that the way to the whole is into and through the
parts. It is not to be encountered by stepping back to take an overview, for
it is not over and above the parts, as if it were some superior
all encompassing entity. The whole is to be encountered by stepping right into
the parts. This is how we enter into the nesting of the whole, and thus move
into the whole as we pass through the parts.
What struck J. Jaworski and me
during a recent study of leadership in the new economy was that many Silicon
Valley entrepreneurs seem to operate on exactly the principles outlined above
(Jaworski and Scharmer 2000). Recall that Brian Arthur says that in order to
compete successfully in the new economy one must first "observe,
observe, observe." One must become fully immersed in and one with
the environment. The next step is to retreat and reflect and to allow
"the inner knowing to emerge." The final step is then "to act in an
instant" (Arthur, 2000).
Principle 6: Common Will (The Power of Intention)
A common will is formed and accessed when a group uncovers the
layers of their present reality and develops a shared image and sense
of future and purpose. The process of uncovering and accessing
common will includes more than what is generally known as
"visioning." Common will evolves only after the process of uncovering
the layers of reality. In agriculture, the success of the sowing season
is not only a function of the seeds used, but also of the quality of the
soil. In the same way, the success of will-formation is not only a
function of vision, but also of sensing emerging futures and passing
through the deep layers of present reality before the activity of
visioning. To paraphrase Clausewitz (1989), who claimed that war was
the continuation of politics by other means, we can say that the
formation of will is the continuation of self-awareness by other means.
Typically, forming a common will follows the U-shaped process as
outlined in Figures 4,
The process starts with the surfacing of
individual questions, stories and experiences (cognition level 2). It
continues with tapping into the emerging new environments, for
example, by visiting the most interesting new economy companies
(cognition level 3: sensing emerging patterns). The next stage is to use
the external experiences as a body of resonance for listening to the
source of the inner music: Where does my, or our, commitment come
from? Who is my Self? What is my Work? This stage is about
connecting the emerging futures with the essence of both the
individual and the collective selves (cognition level 4: presencing the
highest Self and Work). The last step is to turn all of this into tangible
In practice, the process of accessing common will is a deep
transforming journey. At the heart of this journey is the crossing
through the eye of the needle that was described above. But the
principle of intention and will adds another dimension: as intention
and will quicken and crystallize, the result is a transformation of
one's identity from victim to co-creator through whom new worlds are
being brought to the fore.
Principle 7: The Fragile Self (The Power of Love)
William O'Brien, the former CEO of the Hanover Insurance Company,
has summarized his experiences in leading change as follows: "The
success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the
intervenor" (private conversation). In other words, the success of a
tangible move in a particular situation depends on the intangible
"interior condition" of the intervenor. The capacity to create such an
interior condition is becoming one of the most significant topics for
future research and practice. Says Jaworski: "When you open your
soul and when you bring your whole heart into the room, it changes
the structure of the room." The question though remains: What
interior conditions allow us to access this mode of presencing? The
principles of micro-macro switch (shift of relationship), systems
sensing (shift of mind) and common will (shift of intention) outline
three critical conditions of presencing. Bill O'Brien has touched on a
fourth condition--maybe the most important. He says there is only
one source that allows this to happen: love. He does not mean love as
an emotional phenomenon, but love as the source of knowledge and
will (Nishida, 1990). According to O'Brien, the essence of love is "to
help others to complete themselves." Joseph Jaworski (1999) made
almost the same observation. When I asked him what the single most
important insight he had had since publishing his book Synchronicity,
he responded, "The key to all of this is love."
Varela's (2000) notion of the fragile self, or the virtual self, which
operates from a distributed periphery rather than from a center, and
Ohashi's (2000) notion of the alien element in the self, both point at
the same sphere of emergence, where I and Other are not separated,
are not two. In this deep sense, love may not be the single source of
social reality formation today. But it certainly is the only source of
operating in that emerging way that I have seen many people
operating in and that this paper attempts to describe.
To better situate and integrate these principles, let us briefly discuss
three tools as they are used in the process of presencing. These tools
map some different qualities of attention on the individual level (tool
1: listening), the collective level (tool 2: languaging), and the
organizational level (tool 3: leadership laboratories).
Tool 1: Listening
maps four different places from which any system can
In listening 1 the place of attention is within myself (I-in-me). What I
hear is what I already know. Thus, listening 1 is is simply the activity
of downloading and reconfirming my old mental models and
prejudices. I know that I am using my listening 1 skills if a situation
confirms all my mental models and prior assumptions.
In listening 2 the focus of attention moves from myself to the
periphery (I-in-it). I pay attention to every word that is said. I pay
attention to everything that might differ from my expectations and
mental models. This level of listening corresponds to the level 2
cognition referred to earlier as seeing
(see Figure 5)
While listening to
another person, I experience the other person as an "it," a thing, an
entity that is separate from myself. I know that I am operating using
my listening 2 skills when I hear something that surprises me, when I
am discovering something new "out there.".
Shifting the Locus of Listening
In listening 3 the experience of the other person shifts from being an
"it," a thing, to being a "you," a human being (I-in-you). All dialogue
experiences include this subtle switch from seeing the world through
my own eyes to suddenly seeing the world through somebody else's
eyes (Buber, 1970; Isaacs, 1999). In terms of cognition the shift is
from level 2 cognition (seeing) to level 3 (sensing). I know when I am
operating using my listening 3 skills when I have gone outside the
boundaries of my organization and become one with another person,
even if only briefly.
In listening 4 the source of attention moves yet another step upstream
to the ultimate source through which the Self and you (thou) come
into being (I-in-now). At this level, the separation between I and you
fully collapses into the self-transcending experience of flow and
spherical expansion. In terms of cognition the switch is from sensing
to presencing. The difference between the two is that sensing taps into
emerging futures in one's environment while presencing uses one's
highest self to sense and embody what is about to emerge. I know
that I am using my listening 4 skills when the boundaries between
myself and the other person have collapsed and when my locus of
listening has shifted towards listening from the whole-or, to use a
more tangible criteria, when after the conversation I have become a
different person (being more who I truly am).
While most organizations and individuals are pretty good at listening
1 (downloading), and many companies have mastered listening 2, few
organizations and groups are really skilled at listening 3 (inquiry) and
rarely reach listening 4 (presencing).
And yet, the more we move into an innovation-driven economy, the
more the capacity to operate from at levels 3 and 4 will become a
major source of competitive advantage. Great artists know that the
key to their creative performance is deeply connected to their ability to
listening. The violinist Miha Pogacnik told of his first concert in the
cathedral of Chartres:
When I gave my first concert in Chartres I felt that the cathedr al
almost k icked me out. For I was young and I tried to perform as
I always did: just playing my violin. But then I came to realize
that in Chartres you actually cannot play your small violin, but
you h ave to play the macro violin. Th e small violin is the
instrument that is in your hands. The macro violin is the whole
cathedral that surrounds you. Th e cathedral of Chartres is
entirely built according to musical principles. Playing the macro
violin requires you to listen and to play from another place. You
h ave to move your listening and playing from within to b eyond
yourself. (Pogacnik, personal conversation)
This account captures a critical challenge that most leaders of
organizational change l face today: learning to shift from playing the
small instrument (i.e., operating from listening 1 and cognition 1,
which are bounded by what we already know) to playing the macro
violin (i.e., operating from listening and cognition 4, which go beyond
the current boundaries and tap into the sources of emergence). From
this view, the essence of leadership is the capacity to switch the place
from which a system operates (Scharmer, forthcoming).
The challenges that leaders face in improving the quality of their
attention are related to the cognitive inflection points discussed
earlier. Figure 7
shows how the inflection points correspond to the
different modes of listening. Moving from listening 1 to listening 2
involves passing over the threshold of suspension: suspending the
politeness of habitual talk. Moving from listening 2 to listening 3
involves passing over the threshold of redirection: redirecting one's
attention from exterior (things) to interior (the coming-into-being of
things), from listening to exterior statements to listening from the
inner place where speech acts are first articulated, or to put it in a
little more radical way, to listening from inside the self of another.
Finally, moving from listening 3 to listening 4 involves passing over
the threshold of emptiness: letting go and surrendering to what wants
Fig. 7: Inflection Points Between the Four Levels of Listening
Let us now switch the perspective on presencing from the individual
(listening) to the collective (languaging).
Tool 2: Languaging
Many change processes fail because they are unable to sufficiently
uncover the current and emerging realities of a system. Often, the
quality of conversation is unable to capture the system's complexity.
Without adequate dialogue, teams are unable to express their tacit,
taken-for-granted assumptions about how the system really works or
Languaging - Four Fields of Conversation
outlines a process archetype developed through many
consulting, action research, and community-building experiences
(Scharmer, forthcoming; Isaacs, 1999).
The model is based on four generic stages and fields of languaging:
- Field I, talking nice: reproducing or "downloading" an existing
- Field II, talking tough: adapting the language game to what is
really going on in the minds of the participants; addressing and
debating the real issues.
- Field III, reflective dialogue: redirecting one's attention to
the assumptions that underlie our points of view; inquiring into the
underlying assumptions of current reality and sensing emerging
- Field IV, generative dialogue: going through the space of
emptiness and arriving at a timeless sphere and source that reconnects
us with our highest potential, both individually and collectively;
Conversation moves through the four fields. In each quadrant, the
speech acts (Searle, 1969) differ in how they relate to the rules of the
language game in which they operate. Rule-repeating (talking nice),
rule-adapting (talking tough), rule-intuiting (reflective dialogue), and
rule-generating speech acts (generative dialogue) produce different
kinds of conversations, each of which allowing the conversational field
to operate from a different place.
Regarding our discussion of change, we might say that each level of
unfreezing or uncovering reality requires a particular language mode.
For example, uncovering the third level of reorganization (reframing)
requires using reflective dialogue (field III). And uncovering the fourth
level of organizational reality (common will) requires using generative
dialogue (field IV).
Thus, the challenge in leading change is to help teams and
organizations get "unstuck" from the first field (talking nice) and to
develop the capacity to move with ease across all four fields of
conversation as needed in a particular situation. However, the
question remains: What sorts of interventions or speech acts allow a
system to shift the place from where it operates?
Leadership = Shifting the Place from Which a System Operates
Shifting from politeness (field I) to reconnecting what we think with
what we say (field II) requires suspending the old ways of
communicating (see Figure 9).
In other words, say what you think;
confront other actors with obvious contradictions between what they
say and what they do.
Inflection Points For Shifting The Locus of Conversational
Moving from a field II conversation (debate) to a field III conversation
(reflective dialogue) again involves shifting the tacit field structure of
conversation. In a debate, each individual advocates his or her own point of
view. In contrast, in a reflective dialogue participants shift from advocating
their own pinions to inquiring into the assumptions that underlie them. That
shift involves redirecting the collective attention from exterior to
inner sources and assumptions. The works of Argyris and Schon (1996), Schein
(1992, 1999), Isaacs (1993), and Srivastva and Cooperiders (1990) address this
reflective turn by focusing on "double loop learning" (Argyris and Schon),
"taken-for-granted assumptions" (Schein), "suspending assumptions" (Isaacs), or
"appreciative inquiry" (Srivasta and Cooperider). The principal leverage for
the facilitator/intervenor is to reconnect what people think and say with what
they see and do. It does not help to say: "I just noticed that everybody seems
to be engaged in blaming others rather then reflecting on their own
responsibility. Why don't we try to use reflection and inquiry." This
intervention will almost certainly fail because it only talks about reflective
inquiry. Instead of reflecting on his own impulses, the intervenor blames
Moving from reflective to generative dialogue again involves a shift.
This time, the shift involves moving across the threshold of emptiness
and surrendering to the flow of the emerging new (generative dialogue
or presencing). In presencing, the place where I operate is identical to
the place where we operate. It emerges from the presence or the
coming into being of the larger whole. Sometimes, this level of
conversation occurs after many days of common work, as intentional
quietness or sacred silence (Isaacs 1999). When it happens, the
experience of time slows down, and the speech acts change from
speaking based on reflection to speaking from what emerges in the
here and now. Jaworski (1996), referring to Buber (1970), describes
this level of reality experience as synchronicity, in which the
boundaries between I and thou seem to completely disappear. Thus,
like reflective dialogue, generative dialogue is based on reconnecting
what we think and say with what we do and see. The difference is that
in field III one acts first and reflects second, whereas in field IV the
two happen synchronistically (action = reflection).
The drama of dialogue plays out according to these four types of
conversation. They differ in the degree of complexity that they are able
to capture and represent. The more easily teams and companies are
able to move across the four fields of conversational action, the more
they will succeed in unfreezing and accessing the deeper and more
subtle levels of learning and change.
The essence of moving from fields I, II, and III to field IV (I-in-now) is
not only to shift from Type I learning (reflection) to Type II learning
(presencing) but also involves a profound aesthetic experience. At the
heart of this experience is a spheric expansion and enhancement of
one's own experience of self. When Pogacnik speaks of playing the
macro violin, what he means is that the source of his playing is the
surrounding larger whole, rather than his smaller self. Consider
another example, the case of the legendary basketball player Bill
Russell. Says Russell:
Every so often a Celtic game would heat up so that it became
more than a physical or even a mental game, and would be
magical. That feeling is very difficult to describe, and I certainly
never talked about it when I was playing. When it happened, I
could feel my play rise to a new level. It came rarely, and would
last anywhere from five minutes to a whole quarter or more. ...It
would surround not only me and the other Celtics, but also
the players on the other team, even the referees.
A t that special level, all sorts of odd things happened. The game
would be in a white heat of competition, and yet somehow I
wouldn't feel competitive - which is a miracle in itself. I'd be
putting out the maximum effort, straining, coughing up parts of
my lungs as we ran, and yet I never felt the pain. The game
would move so quickly that every fake, cut and pass could be
surprising, and yet nothing could surprise me. It was almost as
if we were playing in slow motion. During those spells, I could
almost sense how the next play would develop and where the
next shot would be taken. ...My premonitions would be
consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew
all of the Celtics by heart, but also all the opposing players, and
that they all knew me. There have been many times in my
career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments
when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine."
Russell and Pogacnik both talk about the same phenomenon—about
operating from an enlarged and enhanced field of self. They do not
talk about first observing themselves from outside (reflection) and
then performing an activity (action). This sequence would be classic
field III behavior (reflection). Field IV actions, in contrast, are based
on instantaneous learning with zero feedback delay—i.e., one operates
from two places or spheres simultaneously: (1) from the peripheral
sphere of one's own organization, sensing what is about to emerge
("playing the macro violin;" "my premonitions would be constantly
correct"); and (2) from within one's organization as Pogacnik played
the violin and Russell made his moves and shots at the very same
moments that they perceived their actions from outside. During these
instances of high performance the self operates both outside and
within one's own organization.
Tool 3: Leadership Laboratories
The third tool, the leadership laboratory, helps to make this way of
operating work in the context of large organizations (Jaworski and
Scharmer, 2000). The key idea of the laboratory is to provide leaders
with an opportunity to explore and nurture three interrelated and
interwoven environments or spaces of thought and action.
The first environment is about seeing and sensing and taking the
paraticipants outside the boundaries of their organization. For
example, one might conduct field visits to new economy companies or
other places where people can sense and experience the emerging
The second environment is about retreat and reflect: an elevated
space for thinking, where the point is to enhance the quality of
thinking together, specifically, to advance from sensing to presencing.
For example, the laboratory might arrange to take managers on a
multi-day retreat in Santa Fe. There, they would begin by crystallizing
the learning from field visits, put the different images of emerging
realities together, and use this as a body of resonance for presencing
the emerging new, both individually and collectively.
The third environment is a kind of business incubator designed to
help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into powerful innovations and
Thus, the Leadership Laboratory is a tool that helps managers to
deeply connect to the emerging futures outside (space I), and within
(space II) and to bring them forth into reality (space III).
Conclusion: Presencing—An Emerging Sixth Discipline?
The challenges of the three revolutions outlined above will require
leaders to develop a new leadership capacity. Throughout this paper I
have described this new capacity from the perspective of learning,
change, and cognition, highlighting both the individual and the
collective aspects of this emerging new capacity. The name I propose
for this capacity is presencing. Presencing is both a
collective/organizational and an individual/personal experience in
which the Self becomes the gate through which the new comes into
reality. It is the discipline of bringing one's full Self into presence and
use one's highest Self as vehicle for sensing and bringing forth new
worlds (see Figure 10).
Organizational Learning Disciplines
During the 1980s and 1990s a number of learning disciplines
emerged that today are used in the learning practices of many
companies (Senge et al. 1994, 1999). They include the methods and
tools of Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Dialogue, Parallel
Structuring, Process Consultation, and others. Each of these methods
and disciplines is grounded in a distinct body of principles and
practices (Argyris and Schön 1996; Schein 1987, 1992, 1999; Senge
1990; Bohm 1990; Isaacs 1999; Senge et al. 1994, 1999; Nonaka and
Konno, 1998; Kim 1992, 1994).
situates the emerging discipline of presencing in the larger
context of organizational learning and change. If we consider the
various learning disciplines as part of a larger whole, then Systems
Thinking is related to conceptualization and other functions of the
"head"; Process Consultation and Parallel Structures are related to
being firmly grounded in business realities, i.e., the functions of the
"feet"; and Dialogue, Personal Mastery, and Presencing are related to
the middle sphere, which touches on what people really care about
and where their commitment comes from (the heart). The power of
presencing may be related to using the Self as the eye of the needle
for transforming social substance.
The managerial implication of this is profound but simple. There is
only one sustainable tool for leading change in the 21st century. This
tool is the leader's Self. Your Self. It is the capacity of the "I" to
transcend the boundaries of its current organization and to operate
from the emerging larger whole (I-in-now) both individually and
collectively. Building on Schein's (2000) definition of leadership as
"the ability to rise to the occasion," we can conclude that the leader's
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Figure 1: The Conventional Learning Cycle (Learning From Experiences
of the Past)
Figure 2: The Other Learning Cycle (Learning From Emerging Futures)
Figure 3: Five Levels of Behavior in Response to Change
Challenge 0 "Reacting" Action
Structure 1 "Restructuring" New Structures
Process 2 "Redesigning" New Processes
Mental Models 3 "Reframing" New Thinking
Purpose Will 4 "Regenerating"
Uncovering Common Will Putting Purpose into Practice
Figure 4: Four Levels of Cognition and Social Reality Formation
Paying attention 1 Downloading Embodying
Seeing 2 Reflection Enacting
Sensing 3 Imagination Envisioning
Presencing 4 Primary Knowing
Becoming Aware Manifestation of Will
Figure 5: Inflection Points of Cognition and Social Reality Formation
Paying attention 1 Downloading Embodying
#1 suspension #6 embedding
Seeing 2 Reflection Enacting
#2 redirection #5 bringing forth
Sensing 3 Imagination Envisioning
#3 letting go #4 crystalizing
Presencing 4 Primary Knowing
Becoming Aware Manifestation of Will
Figure 6: Shifting the Locus of Listening
sensing emerging futures
Listening 4 Listening 3
Self presending sensing Other
Listening 1 Listening 2
re-enacting current reality
Figure 7: Inflection Points Between the Four Levels of Listening
Listening 4 Listening 3
Self enactiment redirection Other
Listening 1 Listening 2
Figure 8: Languaging - Four Fields of Conversation
enacting emerging futures
Talking Nice Talking Tough
re-enacting current reality
Figure 9: Inflection Points For Shifting The Locus of Conversational Fields
enacting emerging futures
Whole enactiment redirection Parts
Talking Nice Talking Tough
re-enacting current reality
Figure 10: Organizational Learning Disciplines
Parallel Learning Process
Structures (Ba) Consutation