To be Present [appreciative inquiry#015]


In my modest opinion, Appreciative Inquiry can be regarded as the practical application of Theory U.

Excuse me?

Rethinking my enthusiasm for Appreciative Inquiry, I lean to the conclusion that this all resonates on ideas that struck me when I read the book Presence. I regard this book as a plea to organizations, and especially their leaders, to set an example for good citizenship; to be Present.  The Marblehead Letter, mentioned in Presence, describes quite conclusively the desired corporate social responsibility of organizations.


The Marblehead Letter

A natural agenda of issues is shaping the future, especially for corporations with global scope

  • The social divide: the ever-widening gap between those participating in the increasingly interdependent global economy and those not. How long can 15% of the people get 85% of the benefits of globalization?
  • Redefining growth: economic growth based on ever increasing material use and discard is inconsistent with a finite world. How long can we keep piling up more junk in the same box?
  • Variety and inclusiveness: developing inclusion as a core competence in increasingly multi-cultural organizations. Who is the “we”?
  • Attracting talented people and realizing their potential: developing commitment in a world of “free agents” and “volunteer” talent. What are we committed to, really?
  • The role of the corporation: extending the traditional role of the corporation, especially the global corporation, to be more commensurate with its impact. Just how accountable will society expect us to be?
  • The system seeing itself: the challenges of coordination and coherence in social systems. How can we stop going faster while our ability to see further ahead is decreasing?

June 2001


The journey towards such a state of ‘connected being’ follows the path of Theory U as presented by Claus Otto Scharmer: “Learning to See is the preparation for a deep dive into the Silence – being present, connecting to the whole context – out of which we arise to become a Force of Nature.”

The intentions behind Theory U (‘transforming the system’) and Appreciative Inquiry (‘strength based generative transition’) are – in my opinion – very parallel, and both methods include ‘the whole system’. In some interpretations of Theory U, there’s a  ‘discovery’ stage at the bottom of the U, a state of co-presencing, out of which co-creating and co-evolving can take place. Put this alongside the Discover- Dream-Design stages of Appreciative Inquiry and you might discover resemblance. What appeals to me in Appreciative Inquiry is the practical instructions for people in the room to follow the necessary steps. That’s why I dare to suggest that you can try Appreciative Inquiry at home.

Practical, you might ask? Do you consider this a practical text? Excuse me! In this chapter, I’m identifying my AI sources, and the authors of Presence are definitely valuable sources to me. To spend just one page on their valuable insights could be considered not very appreciative. So I’ve decided to add my essay Has Presencing a Future? – a critical book review of Presence – as an appendix.

Let me ‘present’ another source. In the Netherlands, professor Andries Baart is famous for his ‘Presentietheorie’, based on years of pastoral work with people in the shadows of our society: homeless, addicted, depressed. To be ‘present’ in the view of Baart is nothing more and nothing less than just being there, with the other. Refrain from the urge to help, or to train, or to force to change; just be there. Be present. This might be the ultimate form of suspending your own believes and be open to the other’s actual situation. Isn’t that appreciation in it’s purest form, or isn’t it?


Can you recall a situation in which you were really Present?
What would you consider ‘the right thing to do’?

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