May
29

The Organizational Actor: Presence and Peter Senge

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Peter Senge speak. This was a real privilege, as one of his books has been instrumental in helping me along my path as an (organizational) entrepreneur in the arts.

A few years ago, I had a big “ah-ha” that what I had learned through years of being a professional actor could be very useful to the non-acting (read: “organizational-slash-corporate”) world. The vision sprung up full bodied: take theatre skills into corporations.

Yet I had lived my entire professional life outside their walls.

So, while I possessed a certain amount of certainty that this new calling was useful, there was also a fair amount of uncertainty as to how I would face up to the faceless (as the artiste viewed them at the time) suits.

Upon doing a Google search for the hopeful name of my business (Stages of Presence), I happened upon Senge’s Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, which he co-authored with Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers.senge-presence

 The book is a soulful conversation among wise and canny businsess philosophes, who are working their way toward becoming (if they’re not there already) wisdom sages to the corporate psyche.

Their book has an attention to interiority, open-heartedness, deep dialogue and concern for life that asserts itself from the very beginning. It stood my assumptions of  “the business world” on their heads. I thought, if these sorts of ideas can find expression and purchase in the organizational world, even though they may not yet be commonplace, then I have a path into this work.

When Mr. Senge was in town, I took the opportunity to tell him the role his book has played for me. When I mentioned the basis of Stages of Presence, he reminded me of something I knew but had forgotten: one of the founders of the field of organizational development, Richard Beckhard, began his career as an actor.

Senge told me that Beckhard’s work teaching relational presence had made a big impression on him, and others, when they were in the formative stages of their work, which has become so impactful in its own right.

When I think back to my early days as an actor, remembering all-those-exercises where we were to do nothing more than be present to what was unfolding (and how hard it was!), I feel tremendous gratitude for having been shaped by that experience.

Now, many years later, to hear a leader in the field of organizational change recount the impact this type of work had on him—not in the guise of training to become an actor on the stage, but in learning how to act broadly in the world—was a blessing.

It feels like it comes full circle. The book has become a touchstone for me. A quote over my desk reads:

The entreprenurial ability is an expression of the capacity to sense an emerging reality and to act into it. This inward-bound journey lies at the heart of all creativity.

Here’s to being present to the journey.

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