Integral For the Masses

Integral for the Masses / October 2004

Senge, P., C. O. Scharmer, J. Jaworski, and B. S. Flowers. Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future. Cambridge, M A: The Society for Organizational Learning, 2004.

Keith BellamyEvery now and then a book comes along that really shakes my tree. This is one of them. Constructed around C. Otto Sharmer’s “U” model of different levels of perception and change, the book builds on many sources, including interviews conducted with leaders in many fields, including business and science.

“observe, observe, observe”– become one with the world
“Act swiftly, with a natural flow”
“Retreat and reflect” – allow inner image to emerge

The model and the book address the challenge that most change processes do not work. Their hypothesis is that this is so because, as Adam Kahane says, “they don’t generate the depth of understanding and commitment that is required for sustaining change in truly demanding circumstances.” While traditional ways of planning and problem solving continue to be useful in reacting to new situations, “when you’re facing very difficult issues or dilemmas, when very different people need to align in very complex settings, and when the future might really be very different from the past, a different process is required.” The “U” is a representation of that process.

Presencing is defined in a variety of ways in the book. In relation to the “U” the authors write:

The state at the bottom of the U is presencing—seeing from the deepest source and becoming a vehicle for that source. When we suspend and redirect or attention, perception starts to arise from within the living process of the whole. When we are presencing, it moves further, to arise from the highest future possibility that connects self and whole.

Nowhere in the book will you find tables or percentages about leader profiles or leader responses to questions. Rather, what is presented here is a dialogue that began shortly before 9/11 and ended in April 2002. The dialogue weaves together the work of these authors and that of others to look at how the human race is going to engage with its emergent future.

In their discussion of leadership there is a clear relationship to the “U.” Otto Scharmer talks about Buddhist Master Nan and his interpretation of the Chinese classic. Great leaders must enter seven meditative spaces: awareness, stopping, calmness, stillness, peace The Great Learning, true thinking, and attainment. These stages correspond to the phases of the “U”.

There is considerable attention to the importance of integrative approaches to science and other aspects of human knowing and doing. What is truly remarkable is that nowhere in the next or in the footnotes or in the index is there any reference to the work of developmental psychologist or Ken Wilber. While subject/object is discussed, Kegan is not mentioned. The notion of integral seems central to their discussion and they quote Master Nan again:

What has been lacking in the twentieth century is a central cultural thought that would unify all these things: economy, technology, ecology, society, matter, mind, and spirituality. There are no great philosophers or great thinkers who’ve been able to develop the thinking that unifies all these questions.

There seems to be no awareness or willingness to acknowledge the growing integral perspective.

Perhaps one of the most gratifying (to me) elements in their discussion of leadership was Betty Sue Flowers comment.

…while leadership cultivation has been the main part of the wisdom traditions of the past, it will be different in the future. The leadership of the future will not be provided simply by individuals but by groups, institutions, communities, and networks.

One of the roadblocks for groups moving forward now is thinking that they have to wait for a leader to emerge– someone who embodies the future path. But I think what we’ve been learning with the U process is that the future can emerge within the group itself, not embodied in a ‘hero’ or traditional ‘leader.’ I think this is the key going forward – that we have to nurture a new form of leadership that doesn’t depend one extraordinary individual.

From Joseph Jaworski’s extraordinary account of a vision quest experience by the ocean in Baja to explorations of Buddhist philosophy the authors are in a dance of change and discovery about the state of the world, its organizations and its leadership.

NOTE: MIT has created a website, OpenCourseware. Otto Scharmer has a course there, Leadership Lab and his readings, lecture notes, and other materials are available at Also, Scharmer has a book on the way if you are interested in more reading about this:

Scharmer, C. O. (Forthcoming).
The Blind Spot of Leadership: Presencing as a Social Technology of Freedom (working title).