The Business Caring Formula Podcast: Michelle N. Moore on Theory U

You are invited to listen to a conversation about Theory U via my interview on The Business Caring Formula podcast hosted by Emma Arakelyan. This is part 1 of the interview where Arakelyan asks me questions about

  • the career path that led to transformation work
  • how I discovered Theory U and what it is
  • the three most important traits a caring leader should have
  • applying a sense of humor or a positive attitude in a difficult situation

The Business Caring Formula podcast is about building a leadership lifestyle. It fosters inclusivity and action-driven leadership while taking others on the journey. In her podcast episodes Emma Arakelyan shares stories of inspirational and caring leaders who are catalysts for positive change in the world.

How I Discovered Theoy U

In part 1 of the podcast, we talk about helping organizations cultivate 21st-century competencies like empathy, collaborative learning, and creativity – all in service of humane innovation and holistic transformation. Central to this work is MIT’s Theory U, a framework for innovation that incorporates presencing practices.

Listen by pressing play above or by clicking on any of the links below:

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

Social Presencing for Inclusion: An Case Study

Creating an Inclusive Workplace For Aging Women to Thrive

For women age 50+ full participation in paid, meaningful and innovative work can be a challenge. The Bureau of Labor Statistics chart below shows data through 2013.

women age 50+, full participation in paid, meaningful and innovative work is a challenge

Recent data shows that women age 55+  represent the single fastest growing age-gender segment and will account for more than a third of all additional workers entering the labor force by 2026. How will they thrive?

In response to this question, Stela Lupushor, an expert in future of work and people analytics, recently founded a New York based NGO called Her mission is to expand the work horizon for women by transforming the mistaken narrative about aging and innovation.  “We will redefine inclusive workplaces and equip women at any age to thrive in them.”

Tapping into Team Wisdom

The team was open to exploring a new method of tapping into their team’s wisdom and in May of 2018, they invested an afternoon in experiential learning.

They practiced a group dynamics modeling approach developed at MIT’s Presencing Institute called Social Presencing. Social Presencing (SP) is a sensing practice whereby members of a group embody a Stuck. A Stuck is a system challenge.

During SP exercises, group members allow shapes or gestures to arise in their bodies that represent a system challenge they are currently part of.

The practice is social and is done as a group. The human shapes form sculptures or models. The principles of presencing are applied. Presencing is a hybrid of presence, the state of being in the present moment, and sensing, feeling the future possibility (Leading from the Emerging Future, Scharmer, Kaeufer, 2013, p.19). The social sculptures that arise as a result reveal something of importance in a system where it was not visible before.

SP may also be referred to as a body-based, experiential learning toolkit, 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 an interview in Strategy & Business magazine, (Kleiner, 2017).

Read on below the video to learn more about the social sculptures experienced…


Social Sculptures Experienced

Two SP exercises, Village and Ecosystem Stuck, were used to model the ecosystem of 50+ women’s participation and relationship to the workforce during the workshop. Each exercise resulted in different social sculptures, insights and ideas for prototypes for creating a desired future.

The Village Exercise

The team first envisioned the qualities of a future workplace ecosystem (a Village). They wrote down words including caring, appreciation, discovery, empathy, visibility, exploration, kindness, consciousness and empathy. Participants then prepared for the exercise with a short body-centering meditation.

In the Village exercise, the team co-created a village (social sculpture) in silence, for ten minutes, using the body as a 360 degree sensor. The village rules allowed walking, running, standing, sitting, lying down, turning and greeting each other in the room.

Participants noted the following reflections on the village:

  • I felt kindness and over time I sensed compassion.
  • There was a shift from autonomous to group thinking.
  • At first it felt simple and stupid in the village, then I appreciated it and had fun
  • I was asking myself, what are we doing here?  Then I had curiosity and the density of the energy grew, lying on the floor with other people, even not knowing them.
  • At the end of the village, I noticed people shifting from center and moving to the periphery again, to the original starting shape of a circle.
  • I observed the village energy and I wondered,  what if there were no rules, and what if I break the rules, and how can I change the rules or create exceptions?
  • First I could not sense the social body but then I felt included.

Ecosystem Stuck

To prepare for the Ecosystem Stuck exercise, leadership defined the following Stuck in advance of the workshop:

Women age 50+ continue to face pay gaps and low employment prospects due to workplace bias, lack of inclusive workplace design and lack of  investments in education and upskilling. 

This exercise takes a holistic view of the workplace ecosystem women find themselves in with the following stakeholders included:

  • Highest Potential of the System – In 2021, aging women are very successful through meaningful work that is fairly rewarded.
  • Marginalized women such as widows or divorcees with insufficient savings to survive without full-employment
  • Corporate & organizational leadership
  • Hiring Manager
  • Venture Capitalist
  • Adult educational institutions
  • Government
  • Networks
  • New York City
  • Boards/Sponsors/funding/philanthropy

Workshop participants were either stakeholders or mindful observers (safe space-holders).  Observers formed a circle around the space, with the intention to see the sculptures with present awareness, i.e. attention.

Stakeholders embodied their felt sense of the system Stuck in their own physical bodies and allowed a shape to emerge.  At the same time, stakeholders positioned themselves in the system sculpture in terms of proximity to other stakeholders, at a low or high level (sitting, kneeling, standing, lying down, etc.) in relation to their felt sense of power in the system and with attention to the direction faced.

They each made a statement from the “I” voice:

  • Corporate/Organization leadership: I am running at top speed to execute and keep top performance
  • Hiring manager: Anything you say, anything  (bowing)
  • Venture Capitalist: I only want young fresh ideas
  • Board: I know what is best for the company
  • City of New York: Go On!
  • Government:  I am the power 
  • Educational institutions: I am disconnected
  • Networks: I am here to connect you but make sure you are like the rest of us
  • Highest potential: I have been defined by and completely unfree and dependent on all this
  • Marginalized woman: I have immense potential and can help all of you but none of you can see me (sitting down)

Then the stakeholders exaggerated the felt sense of the Stuck until the body moved into a future state.

They then each made a statement from the “I” voice in the future state:

  • Networks: I am here to make sure we’re talking to each other
  • Hiring manager: I am here to support building the company with best people and best potential
  • Board: I know what is best for the company and I can collaborate with others
  • Corporate/Organization Leadership: I know I need to help but need to give a different type of help
  • Government: I am open here to unite the power
  • Education: I am seeing the need to support marginalized women
  • Marginalized Women: If I can be connected into the organization, can help the company be successful
  • Venture Capitalist: I do not recognize the potential
  • City of New York: I will hold you here and connect with other roles
  • Highest potential: I see a recreated dependency. I am about freedom, inner strength and independence. 

Main Insights Arising

The following insights emerged during silent journaling by all participants immediately after the exercise.

  • The city of New York was so distanced throughout
  • Hiring managers bowed
  • There is a difference in support versus empowerment
  • The venture capitalist never changed
  • Networks can be keeping women back as they maintain the status quo
  • The marginalized woman went from Invisible to visible
  • Leadership is more difficult to convince than the boards

The Prototypes

Next, participants engaged in small group generative dialogue and documentation of ideas for four major prototypes.

The prototype is a disposable tool used not only to validate ideas but to generate them.  Many ideas were generated. After the session, leadership shortlisted the most tangible ideas in order to start testing, sharing and questioning the ideas, in order to build upon them.  The team is developing a plan to begin testing the following prototype ideas:

1. Personas:

Build specific and tangible personas is targeting.

  • A design thinking session, Design the Design, was held at IBM NYC (June 25, 2018) to design three personas:
    • woman returning to the workforce after a career break (re-entry);
    • woman who wants to pivot to a different field or career path (pivot);
    • woman who wants to start a new business (entrepreneur)
  • An ongoing research effort was launched whereby a design thinking volunteer  conducts interviews aligned with each of the three personas to enhance them.

2. Needs Map and Lexicon:

Understand what personas want (resources, services, purpose, connections, skills etc.) and how they prefer to find out about these resources and be engaged in the conversation.

  • At Design the Design, the team articulated the initial set of persona needs and the types of questions the women might ask when researching their next step;
  • The team is developing a “facilitator kit” for a training session called “Understanding Artificial Intelligence in a Non-Artificial Way” that is used to train participants about design thinking and AI development in comfortable and welcoming environment. Participants will then apply both of these skills to co-create a chatbot ( that is responsive to the needs of women 50+. The chatbot algorithm can be continuously expanded and refined with new questions and curated recommendations.

3. Conversation Tree:

Where do I start? Identify the key areas of support for women 50+ at a career crossroads and help them find a starting point for their journey.

  • At Design the Design the team identified areas that women 50+ might want to explore when starting their re-entry, pivot, or start-up phases. These will become the conversation nodes that will be built into the lexicon of the

4. Corporate Action Initiative:

Raise awareness about challenges and bias women 50+ encounter in the workplace. Launch the movement, “The Shades Of Amazing Challenge” to raise awareness about recognizing the wealth of experience and maturity women 50+ bring to their jobs and enroll men as allies. Men will demonstrate their support by wearing red glasses (the color of’s logo), taking a selfie and sharing it with our challenge hashtag #shadesofamazing.

Highlights from True North 2019

Collaboration, a Declaration & a Problem

True North is an annual tech conference held in Kitchener – Waterloo. This is a Canadian technology corridor that is among the top 20 in the world. Communitech curated the June 2019 conference.

I attended the conference with ET Group (ETG) to explore the state of tech and expand on the following three highlights of interest below.

  1. Barriers to Organizational Collaboration
  2. The Tech for Good Declaration
  3. The Technology Business Model Problem

Barriers to Collaboration – Legacy Systems & Culture 

The conference kicked off with Manulife’s CEO, Roy Gori. He stated that transformation is possible when purpose, capability and passion exist. Unfortunately, barriers to change exist as well.

True North ConferenceWe agree with Roy that major barriers to change are due to legacy systems and culture. Legacy systems are often not customer centric.  Further, they are rarely designed to keep pace with the digital revolution. Culture can be a larger barrier because it is human nature to resist change.  People believe that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, thus losing out on successful collaboration.

At ETG, we have an up close look of legacy technological systems and culture in the organizations we serve.  Both systems and culture limit organizational collaboration. Often, organizations invest in technology, thinking that new tech will solve all problems.  Then comes the surprise. Tech adoption is minimal, rendering a low return on the tech investment.

User adoption of technology is dependent on culture, human mindsets and behaviours.   Organizations lose opportunities when they fail to focus on these human aspects. Investing in people and culture  yields better collaboration, higher productivity, innovation and engagement. Thus, purpose, capability and passion are key on any technology project intended to improve organizational collaboration as well.

The Tech for Good Declaration

I participated in the working session on Canada’s Tech for Good Declaration when it launched at True North in May 2018. As of today, 58 Canadian companies & 56 individuals signed it. It includes six major commitments about:

  • trust & respect,
  • transparency & choice,
  • re-skilling,
  • leaving no one behind,
  • inclusion and
  • collaborative governance.

Tech For Good DeclarationThis popular phrase, Tech for Good, means different things to different stakeholders.  The Declaration has its own version as articulated in the six commitments above. Others say that it is “a community of people, making tech that addresses social, economic and environmental challenges. Further,  building that tech in a collaborative, user-led way with an end result that’s ethically right-on.” (Joe Roberson, Tech for Good, Medium, May 17, 2018)

ETG is a signatory to the Tech for Good Declaration. Further, we have contributed perspectives on Tech for Good for the University of Waterloo study, “Cultivating Ethos in the Tech Sector”.  The results will foster dialogue between business, government and users. The goal of this study is to overcome ethical challenges posed by technological innovation. The study will also inform knowledge exchange on ethics, inclusion and equity in the tech sector.

Tarot Cards of Tech at True North 2019

Tarot Cards of TechAt True North 2019, conference participants shared feedback on the latest Declaration. We utilized the  Tarot Cards of Tech.   The cards are a set of provocations designed to help reflect on important questions:

  • Are we considering the full impact of technology?
  • Do we see the unintended consequences of the tech we recommend, design or implement?
  • What opportunities for positive change does this technology create?
  • Are we applying human centred design to build technology solutions?

At ETG, cross-functional, inclusive, human centred design is front and centre.  It is exciting to introduce the Tarot Cards of Tech on the next project. The cards will enable holistic dialogue about collaboration technology in the workplace.

A Problematic Technology Business Model

Signatories to the Declaration make six commitments (noted above).  This is all well and good. Yet, there is a glaring omission in this Declaration around company business models.  I agree with the findings of the Center for Humane Technology. Many technology companies make money on the extraction of our attention.  Our attention provides data to fuel their profits.

Shoshana Zuboff also exposes the problematic tech business model in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capital also reveals this problem. Companies want to automate humans for profit.

Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”

Thus, the Canadian Declaration must include a seventh commitment on the business model.  Signatories should promise value creation for consumers and society as a whole. Attention extraction, which serves only investors, must be left behind.

True North ConferenceThe problematic technology business model was also mentioned by Kara Swisher, renowned journalist and editor of Recode. She stated that all problems link to the race to capture human attention by tech giants.  Kara detailed these problems during her summary the state of technology in the context of the following topics:

  • AI: Anything that can be digitized will be digitized
  • The robots are not killers (they don’t have to kill us to win)
  • There is still no privacy
  • The never-ending revolution (populism, lack of unity, social issues, etc.)
  • No one is responsible (for breaking rules)

The day ended at the Shopify happy hour in the original barrel storage area for Seagram’s Whiskey.

The Principles Applied in Social Presencing Theater

This is a continuation of the June 11, 2019 post, Social Presencing – A Practice for Tapping into Collective Wisdom and June 18, 2019 post Why Social Presencing?

Based on experiences and training in Social Presencing Theater (SPT), combined with the wider body of Theory U practices, below are some of the main principles applied during SPT exercises.

Holding A Safe Space

First, the organizational leader recognizes the vulnerability inherent in the practice and can create and hold a safe space for the team to engage through the body.  No one embodies their own role during group social sculptures which removes existing organizational hierarchy during the practice.

Participants are encouraged to keep an open mind, open heart and open will during all exercises. At the same time, participants welcome uncertainty and curiosity and bring intention and attention to the practice.  Thus, they can let go of reaction while welcoming an attending to source, i.e. sensing the self and others. The result is that more time is spent on letting the future emerge than downloading past patterns.

Seeing The Highest Potential Of The Challenge

Theory U refers to three voices which can inhibit participants’ ability to see the highest potential of the challenge they are working with.  Therefore, the Voice of Judgement (VoJ) is suspended, Voice of Cynicism (VoC) is redirected and the Voice of Fear (VoF) is let go.

Participants bring mindful attention to the three bodies, maintaining a focus on physical sensation in the body to enable agenda-less, unplanned movement to arise from the body, i.e. a “true move”.  A “true move” emerges from the thinking body rather than from the thinking mind.

Including The Three Divides

Finally, the social sculptures include not only system stakeholder roles such as government, customer, employee, etc. but also the Earth, highest potential and most vulnerable stakeholder.  These three stakeholders represent Otto Scharmer’s three divides which are ecological, social and spiritual, and refer to the disconnect between self and nature, the disconnect between self and other and the disconnect between self and self (Scharmer, 2018, p. 4-5).

Including such a holistic set of stakeholders helps organizations be inclusive and empathic while allowing the highest potential of the challenge they are working with to emerge.

Photo credit: Ahmad Odeh, Unsplash