Tapping Into GrantBook’s Field of the Future

GrantBook, a Toronto based Benefit Corporation, helps philanthropic foundations embrace technology to improve grantmaking.  In 2018, one of the Directors was facing the challenge of envisioning GrantBook’s future revenue streams.

The Director and team practiced the Field of the Future exercise to bring new insights on future possibilities and priorities for revenue generation.

What is the Field of the Future Exercise?

The Field of the Future is a mindful group embodiment and sensing exercise (in Theory U’s Social Presencing toolkit), using the social body to bring a future vision into practice through creative expression, resulting in concrete next steps.  The group size is four to five people. Timing is one and a half to three hours.

Why Try It?

Often ideas of what we want to create in the world are muddled by hidden agendas, notions of success, etc., disabling our ability to envision the future.  This exercise allows participants to get out of the mind and into the body to source new questions, ideas and insights.

How GrantBook Applied It:

  1. In the Field of the Future, the GrantBook director defined four elements that impact revenues (money, team, clients, partners.)  He embodied the future state of revenue generation and invited people to embody one of the defined elements, instructing them where in the space, at what level, in what shape and in what direction to face.  The group held the future state shape and then sat back down.
  2. Then the groups formed a current reality sculpture together.  The director embodied the current state and placed the others as elements into the current state sculpture.  The current state shape was held in silence and the group continued to hold the shape, sensing the social body and allowing movement to arise until a new Field of the Future group sculpture arrived. This time, each person made a statement from the “I” voice.
  3. Participants engaged in generative dialogue via the following questions (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018):
  • “What were differences in relationship of the elements in Field of the Future vs. current reality?”
  • “Where did movement begin?”
  • “What surprised you?”
  • “What did you learn?”
  • “What seed(s) of your future did you see in the sculpture?”
  • “How is your future intention clarified going forward?”
  • “What next steps related to any or all of the elements will you take?”

To protect the confidentiality of GrantBook, details on the resulting content is not revealed here.

Why Social Presencing?

This is a continuation of the June 11, 2019 post, Social Presencing – A Practice for Tapping into Collective Wisdom.

Why might organizations utilize Social Presencing?

Social Presencing offers teams access to a another type of knowing, accessible by tapping into the physical, embodied world of an organization, comprised of human beings in their bodies.  This is also known as the social field.

“The social field is the quality of relationships that give rise to patterns of thinking, conversing, and organizing, which in turn produce practical results.” ~ Otto Scharmer (Scharmer, 2018, p. 14)

Basketball and other athletic teams are adept at sensing the social field. In organizations, teams typically emphasize intelligence. Social Presencing provides access to wisdom, augmenting intelligence or analytic knowing.

Analytic and Primary Knowing

Too much thinking, talking, and messaging is the norm. In the Western world, linear, analytical thinking dominates. Bill George, Harvard Senior Fellow, emphasized this during an interview in the documentary film Innsaei, The Power of Intuition,

“In the last 20-25 years of my life we have seen the dominance of rational thought. It’s dominated a lot of our academic institutions, the media, and it’s taken away from the capacity to advance intuitive skills. Now for the first time we are starting to realize that problems are not getting any better. We have to step back and take a whole new approach to these problems. One of the challenges we have recently had in business is by going to the fully rational side and by focusing everything on near term measurement, analytical tools, we have ground out or expunged creativity from our companies and 100 billions dollars are being wasted.” (George, 2016).

Social Presencing offers access to creativity via primary knowing as defined by cognitive psychologist Eleanor Rosch who introduced the articulation of two types of knowledge or knowing, one analytic, the other primary.

“The problem is that most of us have spent our lives immersed in analytic knowing, with its dualistic separation of subject and object. There’s nothing wrong with analytic knowing. It’s useful and appropriate for many activities…..but if it’s our only way of knowing, we’ll tend to apply it in all situations.” ~Peter Senge (Senge, 2004, p. 99)

“Primary knowing characterizes a sensing and presencing type of cognition in which one is said to know by means of interconnected wholes (rather than isolated contingent parts) and timeless, direct presentation (rather than through stored re-presentations). Such knowing is open rather than determinate.” (Scharmer, 2009, p.167)

Through Social Presencing, organizations are enabled to tap into the collective wisdom of their teams. Wisdom here refers to “primary knowing” discussed above.

Unearthing Highest Potential

Further, Social Presencing offers an approach opposite to the typical surface level approach to change.  Often, a problem is recognized in the mind and a voice of judgement, fear or cynicism arises, criticizing another team member or dismissing the issue as impossible.

The highest potential in a situation is not able to reveal itself in this case. Social Presencing goes below the surface to unearth highest potential resulting in new information used to guide teams in decisions and actions. (Hayashi, 2017)


Photo Credit: Joel Muniz, Unsplash

Future Possibility of a Challenge Revealed

The Group Stuck is a mindful group embodiment and sensing exercise which makes visible the current reality and emerging future of an individual challenge. It is part of a series of Social Presencing practices.  The benefit of the exercise is to gain insight on the future possibility of this challenge.

In this article, I share a video that showcases a group stuck exercise I led. Find the explanation of how the group stuck exercise unfolds below the video.

Sensing Into The Emerging Future

Before the start of this video, Michelle Moore has embodied the felt sense of a personal challenge she is facing.  Note that the challenge is not articulated verbally to the rest of the group. She embodied the challenge by allowing a sculpture to arise in her body, representing the current reality of her challenge.

She then invited three people to physically exaggerate the felt sense of this challenge.  The challenge is referred to as a “Stuck”. Michelle invited them to physically exaggerate the sticking forces of the “Stuck”.  Sticking forces are physical parts of the Stuck (such as a lowered head) which are physically holding the body in its current state.  In the first video frame you can see the three people pushing down on a shoulder, the low back, stepping on one foot, etc.

The Collective Body Has Wisdom

The video begins with the three people sensing into the emerging future of Michelle’s stuck.  As a group, all four people collectively lean into the Stuck, allowing a felt sense of the emerging future state to arise in the collective body.  This happens when all participants are cultivating a mindful awareness of the Earth body, their own individual body and the social body (all four people together).  They allow movement to arise in the body, into the future state, without thinking or deciding what that future state should be. Here it is the collective body that has wisdom and reveals the future possibility of the Stuck.

Up until this point, the exercise is done in silence.  Once all participants have landed in the emerging future state, each person makes a statement from the “I” voice such as, “I can see the sky now” or “I am looking upwards and my feet feel strongly rooted to the Earth.”

The participants can further debrief on insights arising by journaling answers to questions such as, “What did you notice, what surprised you?”

Social Presencing – A Practice for Tapping into Collective Wisdom

Social Presencing (SP) is a sensing and embodiment practice whereby members of a group embody (i.e. give a concrete form to; represent or exemplify within the physical human body) something they are trying to create, change or innovate.  A group does this by allowing shapes or gestures to arise in their bodies that represent or model a system or challenge they are currently in (Scharmer, Kaeufer, 2013).

“SP is a method that blends mindfulness, social science theater, and constellation work.  The focus of SP is on making visible the deep structures of the social field – and how they can evolve.” ~ Otto Scharmer (Scharmer, 2018, p. 92)

Social Presencing Theater

The formal, full name of the practice is Social Presencing Theater, as established by its co-creators, Otto Scharmer and Arawana Hayashi, at the Presencing Institute, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Each of the three terms in the name are crucial to the practice and are delineated as follows:  Social means that the practice is done as a group activity. Participants allow movement to arise in the body, together, to form social sculptures.

Presencing is a hybrid of presence, the state of being in the present moment, and sensing, feeling the future possibility (Scharmer, Kaeufer, 2013). Theater in this context means making something of importance in a system visible or seen, where it was not seen before. It does not in any way refer to acting, performance nor improvisation because practitioners allow the body’s wisdom to form the shape rather than the mind telling the body what to do. For the sake of brevity, and to avoid confusion with acting, the practice in this article is shortened to Social Presencing (SP).

“A Framework For Profound Systemic Renewal”

SP may also be referred to as a body-based, experiential learning toolkit, currently consisting of eight exercises, which contributes to organizational learning.  “It is a method for helping organizations and larger social systems get in touch with the knowledge they already have about the deep interpersonal structures that inhibit real changes from happening,” stated Otto Scharmer in a recent interview in Strategy & Business magazine (Kleiner 2017). SP is also a type of social technology which is part of Theory U, “a framework for learning, leading, innovating and profound systemic renewal”. (Scharmer, Kaeufer, 2013, p.18)

The building blocks of SP include embodiment (defined above), an awareness of what are called the “three bodies,” and mindfulness.  The three bodies are the Earth body (the planet we stand on), our own physical body, and the social body (the group, team, organization, system). The social body is also referred to as the social field.  Scharmer most recently wrote, “I define social field as the quality of relationships that give rise to patterns of thinking, conversing, and organizing, which in turn produce practical results.” (Scharmer, 2018, p. 14) Further, an awareness of the body as a 360-degree sensor combined with an awareness of the surrounding space is key.

Mindfulness As a Tool Used In Companies

Mindfulness, “the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. xxxv), was made famous by Jon Kabat-Zinn for stress and pain management.  Mindfulness is evolving in the organizational realm as well.  As detailed in David Gelles’ 2015 book, Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out, mindfulness is also used as a tool in companies for improved focus, compassion, social responsibility and leadership.

Mindfulness practice involves getting out of the head and into the body by anchoring attention in the breath or sensations in the physical body.  This may also be referred to as mindfulness of body. It is an individual practice though people often practice together. In contrast, SP is a collective practice.  Teams practice inquiry into the wisdom of the social body (i.e. the group, team, organization or system).  As Otto and Arawana describe in some of their instructional videos in the u.lab (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018), it “is a tool to notice, recognize, feel, see the true potential goodness in the situation or challenge in a team, organization, or system. SP functions on a deeper level of awareness.  It does for the collective what mindfulness does for an individual.” (Hayashi, 2017)

In the next article in this series, reasons why organizations apply the practice of SP will be explored.


  • Hayashi, A. (2017). U Lab course, Leading From the Emerging Future, SPT video, Part 2, edX.
  • Hayashi, A. (2017). U Lab course, Leading From the Emerging Future, SPT intro video, edX.
  • Hayashi, A. (2018). Resources page.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living, New York, Bantam Books.
  • Kleiner, A. (2017). What the Body Tells us about Leadership. strategy + business magazine, Issue 88.
  • Scharmer, O., Kaeufer, K. (2013). Leading from the Emerging Future, Oakland, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
  • Scharmer, O. (2018). The Essentials of Theory U. Core Principles and Applications, Oakland, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Photo credit: Mario Purisic, Unsplash