What Is Presencing?

An Introduction to Presencing and Seeing from Our Deepest Source

Woman sitting in front of chalkboard with drawn graphs

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A word you will hear and read more about in the future is presencing. What is presencing and why is it important? 

Dr. C. Otto Scharmer, founding chair of the Cambridge based Presencing Institute, defines presencing:

To sense, tune in, and act from one’s highest future potential — the future that depends on us to bring it into being. Presencing blends the words “presence” and “sensing” and works through “seeing from our deepest source.”

The work of the Presencing Institute grew out of the MIT Center for Organizational Learning. The goals of the Presencing Institute are based on the framework presented in several books written by Scharmer, including Theory U, and Scharmer with coauthors Peter Senge, Jopseph Jaworksi, and Betty Sue Flowers in the published work titled, Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society. Theory U is a framework to see the world in new ways, a method for leading profound change, and a way of being to connect to higher aspects of self.

It is important to understand presencing involves seeing differently through our own capacity as well as the work we do with others. (Read also the Penguins' Lessons of Survival.) 

How Does Presencing Affect Working with Others?

My interest in Theory U and Presencing is to explore where we are learning as we connect with others. The Presencing Institute has an online community where anyone can learn more about the principles of Presencing. 

The Presencing Institute offers a set of tools and programs to enable us to explore these possibilities of becoming part of the future instead of holding onto to the past.

The authors of Presence suggest that to see the different future we have to be open to the present. Why then do change initiatives fail? Because people can’t see the reality they face. 

There is an example that can help aid understanding this dilemma as presented in Presence. In the 1980s, U.S. automaker executives went to Japan to find out why Japanese automakers were outperforming similar U.S. companies. The Detroit executives studied the Japanese plants and said they didn’t see inventories and therefore concluded these plants were not real, but only staged for their visit. 

To their dismay, several years later, the U.S. automakers became exposed to the just-in-time production system, which is a system the Japanese had adopted that delivers materials immediately to minimize inventory costs. So the moral of the story is that these executives were bounded by what they already knew and did not have the capacity for seeing with fresh eyes, as the authors suggested.

Who Can Use Presencing?

When we can approach the possibility of becoming part of a future seeking to emerge, we can imagine ourselves, the people around us in an organization or in society, much work is still to be done. The authors show us there are new ways of thinking about learning and encourage us to join in this work of the Presencing Institute. I gather the many people most interested in Presencing would be:

  • Innovators
  • Leaders of change

To embark on this journey of awareness, I would recommend reading Presence and visiting the website. To encourage individual and organizational learning, you can bring together a group of people studying some subject or problem and that have needs to collaborate, better defined as a community of practice. 

It is participating in the larger field for change that you can share experiences and understand different ways of seeing and what you may do differently.