Learning from the Emerging Future


Reposted from the Presencing Institute:

In exploring this territory more deeply, we realized that most of the existing learning methodologies relied on learning from the past, while most of the real leadership challenges in organizations seemed to require something quite different: letting go of the past in order to connect with and learn from emerging future possibilities.We realized that this second type of learning—learning from the emerging future—not only had no methodology, but also had no real name. And yet innovators, entrepreneurs, and highly creative people all express an intimate relationship with this deeper source of knowing. Otto started referring to it as Theory U and “presencing.” Presencing is a blended word combining “sensing” (feeling the future possibility) and “presence” (the state of being in the present moment): presencing means “sensing and actualizing one’s highest future possibility—acting from the presence of what is wanting to emerge.”

The proposition of Theory U, that the quality of results in any kind of socio-economic system is a function of the awareness that people in the system are operating from, leads to a differentiation between four levels of awareness. These four levels of awareness affect where actions originate relative to the boundaries of the system.  Consider the example of listening. We call the first level of listening downloading. Downloading describes habitual behavior and thought and results in “same old, same old” behaviors and outcomes: This type of listening originates from the center of our habits, from what we already know from past experience.

In contrast, level 4 listening, called presencing, represents a state of the social field in which the circle of attention widens and a new reality enters the horizon and comes into being. In this state, listening originates outside the world of our preconceived notions. We feel as if we are connected to and operating from a widening surrounding sphere. As the presence of this heightened state of attention deepens, time seems to slow down, space seems to open up, and the experience of the self morphs from a single point (ego) to a heightened presence and stronger connection to the surrounding sphere (eco). What does it take for individuals, teams, institutions, and larger systems to perform the same sort of shift from downloading to presencing?

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