The Art of Hosting

(from the email list, May 2014)


Since 2007 when Monica Nissen, Silas Lusias and I sat down at Phil and Laura Cass’s kitchen table to write up our thinking on the Art of Harvesting I have been a keen student of the art and practice of meaning making, sensing, visualizing and sharing the fruits of our work.  We have called this practice the Art of Harvesting and I am as happy as anyone that it has become a big part of our practice.  
Increasingly however I notice that the term “harvest” is being used with some imprecision that leads to confusion. For example, often on the list here we see people saying things like “that sounds great, I look forward to the harvest” without specifying how and why that harvest would be useful.  Other times in meetings people will say things like “we will do this work and then we will do a harvest.”  I have to admit that I am confused by this statement.  What is the harvest?  Is it simply a two minute silent reflection on the work?  Is it a 30 page report?  A video?  A picture? a collection of post it notes?
I owe this confusion to the fact that in English the word “harvest” is both a noun and a verb.  As a verb, it is a beautiful word to describe our practice of “harvesting” just as “hosting” is a beautiful verb.  But as a noun it is imprecise and meaningless and sometimes confusing to the process.  Newer practitioners ask “what is a harvest?” thinking that it must be a certain thing done in a certain way rather than an agile response to purpose and context.
And so I have adopted a simple practice.  While I continue to use the term “harvesting” as a verb, I have tried to stop using it as a noun, and in working with clients, students and apprentices I have stopped them when they use this word as a noun and invited them to tell me WHAT we will be doing, HOW we will be doing and WHY we are doing it.  This leads to far better harvesting plans.  
For example, instead of a design that says:
1000-1130 World Cafe: two rounds of discussion about our vision, one round of harvest
1130-1145 Final Harvest
We get 
1000-1130 World Cafe: two rounds of discussion about our vision, one round on “what are we seeing about where we are going”  Harvesting: 1. participants will record insights on post its.  2. Harvest team will group and theme these post its. 3. Graphic recorder will create a mural of the main ideas 4. Videographer will interview participants on these themes to elaborate further
1130-1145 Collective harvesting: Participants take two minutes to silently reflect on the conversation and how it guides their work.  Participants then given five miuntes to journal on that topic and host conducts a 10 minute popcorn conversation with the room to allow a few insights to be shared.  Tim will make a slam poem and read it out to the group.
Harvesting is important.  In fact it is, for me, the most important thing.  “We are not planning a meeting, we are planning a harvest, and the meeting serves the harvest.”  I invite you to reflect on your use of the term harvesting and bring as much or more precision in your design to this practice.  Just as a farmer must till the sol and plant with the final crop in mind. our hosting practice means nothing if we cannot create fruit to accelerate learning, wisdom and powerful results.  
Wishing you a beautiful day, from the Salish Sea of British Columbia.  
Dear Chris, Dear All
Thank you Chris, for bringing this to our awareness. I have been working on a basic harvesting grid (together with Anita Paalvast, in the framework of a process we host in the European Commission)  to guide us to more depth in our harvesting practice. 
I attach it here, in case somebody else might find this useful. It's a puzzle, the cells/rows are not to be read linearly but to be used as little building blocks for planning. And it's a 0.1 version: any good ideas to move this to a next level are welcome :-)

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