Senge is well-known for his book “The Fifth Discipline.” Scharmer has been an activist in Europe. Jaworkski is an entrepreneur and founder of a leadership forum and Flowers is a professor of English literature. The book starts with understanding the nature of wholes, and how parts and wholes are interrelated. The authors believe that normal thinking cheats us. It leads us to think of wholes as made up of many parts, the way a car is made up of wheels, a chassis, and a drive train. In this way of thinking, if a part is broken, it must be repaired or replaced. This is a very logical way of thinking about machines; but living systems are different.
Unlike machines, living systems, such as your body or a tree, grow in time. They are not mere assemblages of their parts but are continually growing and changing, along with their elements. The authors quote from Goethe: The whole is something dynamic and living that continually comes into being in concrete manifestations. A part in turn is a manifestation of the whole, rather than just a component of it. The authors examine the DNA and cell structures to prove that they represent the whole structure. As American systems theorist Buckminster Fuller points out, a living system continually regenerates itself. But how this occurs in social systems such as global institutions depends on both our individual and collective level of awareness. For example, each individual school is both a whole unto itself and a part, a place for the “presencing” of the larger educational system. The authors believe that teachers, students and parents are again a place for the presencing the educational system. Like DNA, adults carry the memory, expectations and emotions of their own experiences as the school children. It is same for the business system. As long as our thinking is governed by habit -- notably by industrial machine-age concepts such as control, predictably, standardization, more and faster is better -- we will continue to rebuild the same type of institutions.
These institutions have disharmony with the larger world, and need to grow. For example, all around the world the school system is the same; it is based on the industrial paradigms. Students sit passively in separate classrooms with bells marking the time and tests. It is a kind of assembly line designed to produce a uniform, standardized product as efficiently as possible. The structures of these systems are seldom questioned; so they don’t change.
The authors claim that the core capacity needed to access the field of the future is presence. They think of presence as being fully conscious and aware in the present moment. Then they began to appreciate presence as deep listening; of being open beyond one’s preconceptions and traditional ways of making sense. Making new choices is only possible if we let go of the past.
There is a new and natural agenda of the world. The world is so separated and we have to unify it. Fifteen percent of the people get 85 percent of the benefits of globalization and wealth. We have to redefine growth. Economic production is in disharmony with nature and human social life. We have to create open spaces for everybody coming from every culture. Variety is richness. We have to attract talented people to commit to serve for a better world, not work only for their own wallet. The corporations should be more responsible in every aspect. We have to keep our eyes on the coherence of all systems.
In Presence, we find questions rather than answers. This makes this book valuable, because our minds become a research center full of questions.