Social Presencing Practice and Research

Strengthening Human Connection – With the Body, Through a Screen

Virtual Meeting Overwhelm

We are all experiencing more virtual meetings than ever before. If we weren’t aware of too much screen time before COVID, we are aware of it now. How can we reduce the overwhelm, inability to focus, and feeling of disconnect? In a world of virtual verbosity, how can we strengthen human connection, with colleagues, friends and family, through a screen?

Digital overwhelm and distraction were with us before the pandemic. Screens had already become an extension of our brains. The body is often just a vehicle of transport for the head. This means we may be weakening the body-mind connection, losing out on our ability to meaningfully connect with others.

white red and yellow ceramic owl figurine

5 Relationships: Three Bodies, a Field and Space

One way to strengthen human connection is by paying attention differently, holistically. We can begin to notice the fact that we are always in relationship with three bodies, a field and space.

Noticing these relationships helps us cultivate empathy and vulnerability, even in the virtual world. These skills strengthen human connection as well as our connection to this fragile Earth. When we can sense ourselves and others, we gain new information, new questions, new insights which are not accessible to us through habitual dialogue or data analysis. When we pay attention in this way, creativity and innovation are enhanced. We may come one step closer to solving a big challenge.

Three Bodies

Every human being is always in relationship with three bodies. Some people may be completely unaware of these bodies or often notice one but not the others. Everyone is different. For most of us, this is a learning opportunity. to strengthen self awareness, awareness of others and awareness of planet Earth.

The first body is the Earth body. Without the Earth body, we would not exist. Our feet are always touching the ground somewhere on this planet. In Canada, we are working to increase the awareness of the Earth body through the practice of land acknowledgements. Land acknowledgements are a way to recognize the indigenous people who first inhabited a place such as First Nations, Métis or Inuit. Also, we can notice our connection to the Earth body through the physical felt sensation of our feet touching the ground. We can feel our body’s weight when we stand, sit or lie down. We can feel the gravitational pull holding us in place.

The second body is our own individual body. Again, everyone’s habitual noticing of their own body is very different. Some may regularly notice hunger, thirst or physical pain. Others may notice breath movement, the physical sensations of clothing, temperature or air. In today’s busy, action oriented and technology focused society, many are experiencing a body disconnect or the sensation of being “more in my head than in my body.”

The third body is the social body, the collection of people who are together in a shared space for a common purpose. Social bodies include people in a meeting, a family in a house, citizens inhabiting a city or country, shoppers in a mall, riders in a subway car, etc. The largest social body we are all part of is humanity.

The three bodies, Earth, individual and social, are all visible and have individual and collective shapes. We know the Earth body is round and we can see the piece of Earth or floor that we are standing on. In addition, we can see sitting or standing body shapes, the circular shape of people seated at a round table or the constantly moving shape of a crowd protesting.

A Field

The fourth relationship is with the social field. In contrast to the visible three bodies, we are also in relationship with the invisible social field, a web of relationships that exists between the people forming a social body in the present moment. The field is also the quality of the energy between people which can be sensed.


The fifth relationship is with the space we are occupying in a given moment. This space is the physical container we inhabit like a room, an office or a backyard. These days, we are often in a physical and a virtual space at the same time. Our relationship with the physical space is tangible. We can feel the furniture and quite easily sense our proximity to walls and a ceiling. Sensing the relationship to the virtual space is a bit nebulous. We are just getting to know what it feels like to inhabit the space of a Zoom room.

Practices to Strengthen Human Connection

Embodiment and mindfulness practices are useful approaches for cultivating awareness of the five relationships. To learn more, join the experiential workshop, “Social Presencing in the Era of Social Distancing” at the online festival, Global Change Days, on June 26, 2020, 10am Eastern Standard Time. Register here. Session Code: WN-S1.

An Intro to Social Presencing Exercises: Applied

This is part of a series on Social Presencing. Find other posts here:

June 11, 2019 post, Social Presencing – A Practice for Tapping into Collective Wisdom
June 18, 2019 post Why Social Presencing?
July 3, 2019 post The Principles Applied in SPT
August 28, 2019 post Intro Into Social Presencing: Preparatory

I described the four preparatory exercises that are part of the main Social Presencing or SPT toolkit in this article.  The next four exercises that are comprised in the full eight exercises of the SPT toolkit are called APPLIED exercises. Variations of these exercises exist and a core SPT team at the Presencing Institute is prototyping new exercises and tools.

Applied Social Presencing Exercises

The following four exercises are useful for practical application in an organizational context for insight and innovation. For the group exercises described below, a facilitator guides the group through the exercises and facilitates the spoken reflections.

The Stuck Exercise

Stuck is a silent mindful embodiment and sensing exercise, practiced individually and in groups, which takes participants from a current reality to an emerging future in the physical individual or social body. The entire Theory U process is experienced.  Length of time varies greatly. Stuck is the core SPT exercise. 4D Mapping, Case Clinic and Seed Dance are variations of Stuck.

Hands are stuck

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

A Stuck is something a group or individual is trying to create, change or innovate which is not moving forward.   Stuck is not a problem and “you are not your stuck”. Stuck is not sustainable in any system. It will eventually emerge to a future state.  It is part of the creative process and can be a gold mine of information. Every individual and every group has many stucks.

In this exercise, participants can generate new insights fast which inform decisions and actions.  The Stuck reveals the creative process. Participants can release the same mind-sets or frames of reference which created the Stuck in the first place.  They are able to unearth blind spots, suspend the problem-solving habit and gain access to primary knowing. The group is able to build trust in the body’s knowing and tap into collective wisdom, gaining broader perspectives.

The key practice in Stuck is that participants suspend habitual problem-solving. Instead, they sense deeply into current reality using the body’s intelligence. They focus on physical, felt sensations rather than emotions or analysis.

There are two ways to practice Stuck, applying an individual or personal stuck or engaging group members amplify and inform the individual Stuck by forming a group Stuck.

Individual Stuck

In the Individual Stuck, groups of 3-5 people form seated circles.  Each participant writes down a Stuck from their own work or career. This is not shared with anyone in spoken or written form.

Man sitting in nature

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Participants reflect on the current state felt sense of the Stuck in their body.  The stuck feeling comes into the body as a physical shape or gesture, forming sculpture 1, the current state (SC1).  One by one, each person in the group makes their Stuck shape concrete and visible in the space of the group.

After each group member has shown their SC1 shape to the group, each person shares an experience about another person’s Stuck with the group, without analysis, focusing on a) what they physically saw (for example, “I saw your head go down” or b) what they physically felt in their own body (for example, “When I saw your Stuck, I felt a cramp in my stomach.”)  No one speaks about their own Stuck.

Next, each person repeats their SC1, without the spoken reflection afterwards.  Then they exaggerate the shape or lean into it. After pausing, the participant waits for their body to decide when and how the shape moves.  The shape keeps moving until it decides to stop, arriving in sculpture 2, the emerging future state of the Stuck (SC2). There are three parts to every Stuck, i.e. SC1, the transition from SC1 to SC2 and SC2. After everyone has completed their SC2, the spoken reflection from above is repeated.  The three experiences of SC1, the transition, and/or SC2 are shared.

Group Stuck

Now the group practices in the social body. Six to eight people form seated circles and sit for two minutes to sense the social body of the group.  There are two options for a Group Stuck. In option A, one person volunteers to embody their individual SC1 again. Option B applies if the group is a real team, working together on common goals. The group writes down a shared Group Stuck on a flip chart and hangs it on the wall nearby.  One person volunteers to embody their felt sense of the shared Group Stuck.

Group of people

Photo by Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash

Next, applicable to A or B above, the volunteer instructs half of the other group members to be the sticking forces of their Stuck, to emphasize, exaggerate that Stuck.  For example, they may say, “Judy, please stand in front of me, close enough to block my vision. Bob, please push down on my head.” Once all the sticking forces are in place, SC1 has formed.  The other half of the group observe, mindfully holding the space.

The social body in SC1 exaggerates the Group Stuck, together, allowing the social body to decide when the shape moves.  When the shape stops moving, the group sculpture has arrived in SC2. This is the emerging future state of the Stuck. The volunteer does not move first to avoid giving directions to the social body.

Both participants and observers repeat the reflection described in Individual Stuck above.  They speak distinctly about experiences of SC1, the Transition, and/or SC2. In addition, they discuss differences between SC1 and SC2, the shape and the movement.  The group also generates dialogue around the following questions. “Where did movement being in the social body? What literally, physically happened? What insights or new questions arose? What ideas for prototypes emerged?  (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018)

4D Mapping

This a mindful group embodiment and sensing exercise, using the social body to “map” or “make visible” the current reality and highest aspiration (potential future state) of a social system such as school system, health care system, government, cell phone market, fashion industry, etc.  Group size is ideally 16 or more. Time is 1-2 hours. 4D refers to the three dimensions of the human body plus the emerging future as the fourth dimension.

Participants can generate new insights fast. They may see something significant which was not visible in the system before, including leadership blind spots.  These insights inform decisions and actions. Participants see their own creative process and practice releasing old patterns, mind-sets or frames of reference.  Practitioners suspend the problem-solving habit to gain access to primary knowing and tap into collective wisdom. Teams gain the benefits of broader perspectives and the ability to build trust in the social body’s knowing.

Woman spreading arms

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In advance of the exercise, the facilitator guides the client in the definition of eight to ten stakeholder roles in the system. The roles of Earth, Highest Potential (of the system) and representation from the most vulnerable, marginalized group in the system (for example, children) are always included.  The facilitator writes name of each role on a large sticker or card (string attached or taped) so that it is easily affixed to the body of the stakeholder. The cards with the roles are organized starting with most powerful role on top. The facilitator also helps the client define the system Stuck in advance along with a brief narrative (case) about the Stuck in the system and the stakeholder roles.  The client or designated team member describes the situation at the beginning of the exercise. A volunteer scribe is identified to help during the exercise. The scribe documents statements and insights.

At the start of the exercise, 8-10 stakeholders (players) volunteer to embody a stakeholder role.  The remaining participants are mindful observers (space-holders). Observers sit in a circle, leaving enough space for the stakeholders to move around easily inside the circle.  The case giver briefly describes the situation and the stakeholder roles (10 minutes maximum.)

The first activity in the exercise is co-initiation.  The facilitator guides the entire group through a mindfulness of body practice, seated, for about 2 minutes.  The following principles are reinforced: Avoid acting out preconceived ideas, beliefs, concepts about the system.  Allow system shifts to surface and notice their qualities. Allow movement to emerge in the social body. Avoid manipulation or moving the way you think it should be.

Woman in sunflower flied

Photo by Rowan Chestnut on Unsplash

The second activity is co-sensing.  The facilitator displays the card with the most powerful stakeholder role on it and invites a volunteer to embody that role in the 4D map. (Volunteers cannot embody roles they play in real life.)  The player affixes the card to their body so it is visible to everyone. The player embodies the current state of their role as a shape in the space. Roles can sit, stand, lie down, choose the direction and proximity of the body to others.  The role speaks a sentence from the “I” voice. This is repeated until all stakeholders are on the map. All are invited to make final adjustments to their position. SC1 has arrived.

The third activity is co-presencing. Players rest in stillness, letting go of outcomes, and allow the next movements to arise.  These movements represent the emerging future state.

Finally, the group starts crystallizing. Players continue to allow movement to arise in their bodies until SC2 has formed which can take several minutes.  In SC2, each player states an emerging future sentence in the “I” voice. Observers are also invited to make a statement.

As a reflection, players and observers engage in generative dialogue around the seen and felt sense of experience of the movements in SC1, the Transition, SC2.  They share their experiences related to sense of space, time, self and other. Participants answer the questions, “What top 3 features of the map changed?”, “What next steps will you take as a result of this experience?” “What ideas for prototypes emerged?”  (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018)

Case Clinic

This is a mindful group embodiment and sensing exercise, using the social body to generate insight on a leadership challenge or a question.  Peers or team members are coaches to assist a case giver in a non-hierarchical manner. Three to six people can participate. Time is typically 1-1.5 hours.  In this exercise, participants develop new approaches to responding to the leadership challenge or question, accessing the wisdom of the group to help respond to an immediate challenge.

Rope around a tree

Photo by Markus Spiskel on Unsplash

First, the case giver takes 15 minutes to describe the situation and his/her intention about the future they are trying to create.  Then the group sits in stillness for two to three minutes. Each coach shares a shape which embodies the current situation based on what they heard.  Then a group sculpture is formed starting with SC1, then transitioning to SC2. The case giver observes. After SC2, coaches describe their experiences in the movement.  The key is that coaches do not give advice or try to “fix” the challenge. Rather, they listen deeply with the body and reflect.

Generative dialogue begins with the case giver’s reflection about the shapes and movements and states, “Seeing myself from outside, what touched me, resonated with me was….The new questions arising are…..”  Coaches reflect on the case giver’s remarks and offer observations, new perspectives on the situation. (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018)

Seed Dance

This is a mindful group embodiment and sensing exercise, using the social body to bring a person’s 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.

Seed Dance

Photo by Ricardo Gomez on Unsplash

Often ideas of what we want to create in world are muddled by hidden agendas, notions of success, etc., disabling our ability to answer to the question, “What is my real work?”  Seed Dance enables a practical answer.

In preparation, participants complete the Theory U, Field of the Future, forty-five-minute journaling exercise (not described in this chapter).  This journaling results in an articulation of a future vision. Participants take a silent walk for thirty to sixty minutes. Then, the following activities happen.

In Seed Dance, the group begins in the future state (SC2) and then embodies the current state (SC1).  This is the reversed approach of the Stuck and 4D Mapping exercises. First, participants practice mirroring.  Each person embodies their field of the future sculpture (SC2) in silence. Others mirror back the sculpture. The group allows a gap of non-movement between each sculpture.  The group has a short dialogue on the experience.

Next, the group forms a Field of the Future sculpture together (SC2-A).  One volunteer defines three to four elements that support their seed of the future (core team, location, funding, partners, other.)  The volunteer embodies their SC2 and invites people to embody one of the defined elements, instructing them where in the space, at what level, in what shape and in what direction they face.  The group holds SC2 and then sits back down.

Then the groups forms a current reality sculpture together (SC1).  The volunteer embodies SC1 and places the others as elements into the current state sculpture.  SC1 is held in silence and the group continues to hold the shape, sensing the social body and allowing movement to arise until a Field of the Future group sculpture arrives (SC2-B).  This future state may be the same as before (in SC2-A) but is likely more articulate the second time. Each person speaks a statement from the “I” voice.

Participants engage in generative dialogue via the following questions: “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?” (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018)


An Intro Into Social Presencing Exercises: Preparatory

This is part of a series on Social Presencing. Find other posts here:

June 11, 2019 post, Social Presencing – A Practice for Tapping into Collective Wisdom
June 18, 2019 post Why Social Presencing?
July 3, 2019 post The Principles Applied in SPT

The following eight exercises comprise the main Social Presencing or SPT toolkit as of May 2018.  Variations of these exercises exist and a core SPT team at the Presencing Institute is prototyping new exercises and tools.

While each exercise is useful for gaining new insights, they do not all serve the same purpose. The first four exercises are primarily preparatory and serve to prepare a team. They are generally practiced without specific organizational input. These are then used to guide decisions and actions. In this post, I outline only the first four.

The last four are applied, as they are framed with organizational inputs and can be used to guide decisions and actions.

The table below gives an overview of all eight exercises.

Preparatory Exercises Applied Exercises
1. 20 Minute Dance 5. Stuck
2. Duet 6. 4D Mapping
3. Village 7. Case Clinic
4. Field Dance 8. Seed Dance

The four preparatory exercises enable the practice of more complex exercises, emphasize major SPT principles, and allow a group to arrive in their bodies.

Social Presencing

Photo credit Etienne Boulanger on

SPT exercises are practiced in rooms with floors clean enough to lie down on and large enough to accommodate all participants lying down. Any chairs in the room should have no wheels and remain at the outside edge of the space. A participant may use a chair if there is discomfort in sitting on the floor or lying down. Participants wear comfortable clothes enabling ease of movement. Each person has a journal.

Preparatory Social Presencing Exercises

An experienced SPT facilitator can guide groups through these exercises.  Experienced groups can also facilitate themselves.

20 Minute Dance

This is a silent mindful movement and sensing exercise, practiced together, for ten, fifteen or twenty minutes. Participants pay attention to physical sensations in the body and avoid language and goals.  Eyes can be closed or open, gaze down. Participants alternate between stillness and movement in three positions – lying down, sitting, and finally standing. Time is divided about equally between the three positions.

Participants attend to sensations in the body, allowing thoughts of past or future to float by without judgement. At the end, participants hold the ending shape of the social body. Participants can journal in silence and/or reflect in pairs/trios using first person voice to share 1) “I noticed……” 2) “I learned about myself………” (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018)

Duet in Social Presencing

Photo credit Thomas Le on


The Duet is a silent mindful movement and sensing exercise, practiced in pairs, for five to seven minutes. Participants feel and sense the social field and trust the process of allowing something to emerge.  Duet teaches empathic listening with the whole body, whereby participants engage in a co-created conversation in a new way, without words or goals. Participants cultivate authentic openness through their own vulnerability of “not knowing” what movement is coming next.

In the Duet, pairs alternate between still gestures and movement, using a “MA” (time-space interval between gestures) to emphasize the shared space. Person 1 starts by allowing a gesture to arise in the body (without thinking) and holds the shape. MA is collectively held, and Person 2, who has seen and felt Person 1’s offer, allows his/her movement to arise from the MA (without planning), and holds the shape.  The body’s shapes form phrases and may begin to overlap. This is repeated until the time bell rings.

After both the 20 minute dance and the Duet, participants reflect by journaling in silence and/or speaking in pairs using the first person voice to complete the following verbal statements 1) “I noticed about myself……” 2) “I learned about myself………” 3) “I saw patterns of……” 4) I noticed about the MA that….” 5) “The essence of the duet is….”  (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018)

The Village exercise

Photo credit Laurent Perren on


Village is a silent mindful movement and sensing exercise, practiced in groups of 5 people or more, (ideal with larger groups of 15, 20, 30+ people), for 10-20 minutes.  Participants practice using the body as a 360° sensor to expand awareness to the social body. They begin to notice the individual body as an integral part of the collective and develop an ability to redirect attention out towards others, with the wellbeing of others in mind.  Participants also notice inclusion, exclusion and relationships with others. They co-create a village. They cultivate curiosity and having a sense of comfort with uncertainty. They notice and release three voices of fear, judgement and cynicism.

During Village, participants pay attention to three things: 1) the level of the body, 2) the spatial proximity of their own body to other bodies and 3) direction faced.   They hold their attention on the whole space, using peripheral vision. One way to practice Village is in two parts: Part 1) engage in some or all of the following six gestures without eye contact: stand, sit, lie down, walk, run, turn; Part 2) add a greeting whenever eye contact is made with another villager.  Greetings have 3 distinct parts a) acknowledge eye contact b) respectfully bow to the other person 3) acknowledge eye contact again…. then continue with the other six gestures.

At the end of the Village, participants journal in silence and/or speak from their body and the space, using the first person voice to share events that occurred (what you saw) and feelings (what you felt).  They can complete some or all of the following verbal statements: 1) “I noticed about myself……” 2) “I learned about myself………” 3) “I saw patterns of……” 4) “Regarding intimacy, distance, connection, I noticed….” 5)  “Thinking, pre-planning, judgement, cynicism got in the way of fresh engagement when…..” 6) “The experience of agenda-less connection felt……” 7) I experienced/did not experience freedom. This sensation affected the whole in that…….”  (Hayashi, Presencing Institute 2018).

Field Dance

Photo credit Rob Laughter on

Field Dance

The Field Dance is a silent mindful movement and sensing exercise involving a presenter and an audience, practiced in groups of about fifteen people. Timing is one hour and fifteen minutes.

Participants explore what it means to attend to and be present with a social field, i.e. the audience, allowing the expression of the field to become visible and motivate the presenter to make a “true move”.  Participants practice letting go of performance, separateness from the audience. They focus on paying attention to the whole.

Participants sit in a semi-circle facing a stage area.  Everyone assumes the role of audience and presenter during the exercise. Each person, one by one, walks in front of the audience as a presenter and faces the audience upon reaching the center, then turns away and walks to the other side of the stage.

Audience and presenter pay attention to feeling the vertical, the back body, the horizontal 360° awareness field, staying present, balancing groundedness and openness.  Presenters have the courage to be seen. In a second round, each person repeats the steps but adds bowing to the audience.  In a third round, each person makes a spontaneous gesture or shape that emerges from the field. They let go, let come, and act in an instant.

At the end of the exercise, participants share their experiences as both audience and presenter.  They answers the questions, “What did we notice?” and “Seeing with the heart, not the eyes, what was the feeling quality of each person?”  (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018)

The applied SPT exercises will be discussed in another article on MindEQuity Insights.

Reference: Hayashi, A. (2018). Resources page.

The Business Caring Formula Podcast: Michelle N. Moore on Social Presencing

You are invited to listen to part 2 of a conversation about Theory U via my interview on The Business Caring Formula podcast.

Podcast host, Emma Arakelyan, asks me questions about Social Presencing, a tool to notice, recognize, feel, see the true potential goodness in the situation or challenge a team, organization, or system is facing.

We discuss the following questions:

  • What is Social Presencing? Where did it come from?
  • What is embodiment?
  • How does this practice help train vulnerability?
  • What is a “true move”?
  • How can we access different types of knowing?
  • Case Study #1:  “Improving Board Engagement, Peel Art Gallery, Museum & Archives, Ontario, Canada”
  • Case Study #2: “Developing Potential for Refugees, Immigrants & Citizens Umbria Region, Italy.”
  • Word of the day – wisdom

Listen to the Business Caring Formula podcast

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.

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

Photo by Jordan Cormack 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.

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


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