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Presencing: Learning From the Future As It Emerges

On the Tacit Dimension of Leading Revolutionary Change

Presented at
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 Scharmer1

Section: Strategy
Author(s): Dr. Claus Otto Scharmer, Dialog on Leadership
Source: Dialog on Leadership
Posted: January 21, 2004
Hits: 28902
Responses: 5

"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 ... 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 ... (They) 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." Figures, tools and an extensive bibliography are included.
  • I. Three Issues and Puzzles
  • II. Principles of an Emerging Discipline: Presencing
  • III. Tools
  • Presencing: Learning From the Future As It Emerges Abstract

    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 emerging futures. 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 Internet-based "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)

    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 Figure 2).

    The Other Learning Cycle (Learning From Emerging Futures)

    Figure 2: 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 future.

    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").

    Five Levels of Behavior in Response to Change

    Figure 3: 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 contextual levels 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 Schön 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 assumptions.

    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 (hyperventilation).

    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 is the 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 knowledge-based companies are competing in winner-takes-most markets, then managing becomes redefined as series of quests for the next technological winner."

    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. Figure 4 differentiates among four levels of cognition (see also Jaworski and Scharmer, 2000).

    Four Levels of Cognition and Social Reality Formation

    Figure 4: 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, 1996).

    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 re-understanding 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 Figure 4 concerns what 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:

    • Envisioning: 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).
    • Enacting: 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 2000).
    • Embodying: 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 territory.

    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: 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)?

    1 Dr. Claus Otto Scharmer is a lecturer and co-founder of the MIT Leadership Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a visiting professor at the Helsinki School of Economics. He studies leadership, organizational learning, and the dynamics of multi-stakeholder dialogue, collaboration, and change. He is also a co-founder of the Global Institute for Responsible Leadership.

    From 1995 to 2003 Dr. Scharmer conducted 150 dialogue interviews with eminent thinkers around the world focusing on the following themes: Mental Models (1995), Strategy, Organization and Leadership (1996), Personal Mastery (1997), Leadership in the New Economy (1999-2000) and Knowledge and Leadership (1999-2003). Part of the interviews are available at New interviews will be posted in April, 2004.

    This paper was presented at the Conference on Knowledge and Innovation, May 25-26, 2000, at the Helsinki School of Economics, Finland.

    Part II. Principles of an Emerging Discipline: Presencing

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    Karl Rogers,
    This paper was amazing! I am a college student at St Cloud State and I have used concepts such as these in my leadership team with a Student Organization called the Medical Professions Association. (

    Over the past year, we have used 3 main models and applied them to our organization: Peter Senge's Three Reinforcing Loops from 'The Dance of Change' (Personal Results, Network of Committed Individuals, and Organizational Results), Robert Fritz's Structural Tension charting, and Daniel Kim's Vision Deployment Matrix.

    Because of our application of these concepts and theories of growth and development over the past year, as President of the Organization, I have won the St Cloud State Student Leader of the Year Award for the 2003-2004 school year.

    The former Vice President and I are planning a Leadership workshop that we will be presenting in November. As of now, we are planning on discussing the 3 reinformcing loops. However, after reading this paper, along with the Presence book (Human purpose and the field of the future), we may change our presentation so that we can discuss 'theory U' and how to sense and actualize emerging futures.

    Thank you for sharing this knowledge, and I look forward to futher contact in our emerging future.
    14 22:26:12.06.2004

    Ludmila Matiash,
    Dear Karl,

    First of all, I'd like to congratulate you on your award and would like to thank you for your insightful comments about this article. We are delighted that you found our materials useful and are very pleased that our Website is receiving attention in different professional circles.

    Because the area of business management is just being developed in Ukraine, our publication tries to address what we think are critical issues from different perspectives. You may also be interested in some of the more recent materials which have been posted by Dr. Scharmer. If you haven't already seen his new series of interviews you may want to look at this one which also deals with "theory U,"

    Finally, MCUa readers may be interested to know that Professor Scharmer and contributing authors of Dialog on Leadership have kindly agreed to Ukrainian translations of their materials. We look forward to posting a small selection of these on MCUa later this year.

    All the best,
    Ludmila Matiash
    Editor, MCUa
    15 13:03:21.06.2004

    Daan van Zanten,
    i think the article is entertaining. i m looking forward to read more about this and especially about Eleanor Rosch

    16 01:02:50.10.2004

    Dr Eddy Kloprogge,
    I like the word presencing.

    How compares this way of thinking with:
    1.The three legacies of living:
    Mental intelligence
    Emotional intelligence
    Spiritual intelligence
    2.Higher power, life force or Physis.
    3.The urge for any organism (organisation) to create homeostasis in some sort or form.

    Or: are we trying to take things apart and analyse them so we can use them to our benefit Or are we just forming obstacles by trying to create a language that it nont "languageable" , in this case Transpersonal?

    Where I come from:
    02 21:03:29.06.2005

    Kathryn Thomson,
    I really love this article and I thank you so much for making it available to us. It raises so many important questions--how do become present with ourselves? how do become aware of where we choose to put our attention? and what sorts of stories arise in our organizations, depending on where our attention resides? and what oh what do we do to invite leaders of organizations to consider that there is another, more life giving way of being in organization? how to find out way through those fields of conversation, and ultimately into the field beyond all those mythical notions of "right" and "wrong"-- many questions raised...thank you
    22 23:21:00.02.2006

    Your Name:

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