The Art of Hosting

Filiz wrote on the AoH emaillist: (April 15, 2011)

I would like to share with you an inspiring TED talk by Michelle Holiday, on organizations as living systems. (It is also uploaded here; Media -> Videos)

What stroke me was that she uses a complete AoH language, so much that I bet she's been part of an AoH training or she is a host herself. :)

At the end of the talks she asks these questions:
how can we reinvent our organizations so they nourish the life within us and around us as much as possible?
how can we reimagine ourselves, not as consumers, not as human capital, but as vibrant, thriving contributors to the whole life?
how can we recraft the artifacts and architecture of our organizations and our societies so they support wiser, more life sustaining ways of being?

which are of course very familiar to this tribe of people...

a good watch, and even a good visual to share for the purposes of AoH...


(In the meantime Michelle Holiday opened a Ning site herself Humanity 4.0, with the slide show and conversations)

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Reply by Kat Morgan:

"I don't want to take anything away from her talk or your enthusiasm but I'd like to urge folks to read Gareth Morgan's Images of Organization, which was first published in 1986 (possibly earlier; my first copy was published then). His classic has a chapter on the machine metaphor as well as the organism (living system) metaphor.

Her (The TED video) talk is great but the idea isn't new. But that's the small part if my point. What I want to emphasize is that that's a good thing to me, as it means there are many ways folks can learn about this philosophy and change the way we think and approach our work with organizations. AoH doesn't have a corner on the market for complexity science language and systems thinking. That is something to celebrate as it makes these concepts more widely accessible and thus powerful. That does not diminish AoH. It points us towards allies, compatriots, and affinity groups.

Plus I want folks to know about Morgan's book (no relation to me) because it remains excellent and useful. Morgan's archetypal metaphors of organizations are: Machines, Organisms (living systems), Brains, Cultures, Political Systems, Psychic Prisons, Flux & Transformation, and Instruments of Domination. Each chapter explores the insights, implications and provides leverage points for facilitating organizational change. Fascinating."

Reply by John Inman:

Kat and all, I would recommend a bit of a turn if you will.

Read Complexity and Organizational Reality by Ralph Stacey and also read Changing Conversations in Organizations by Patricia Shaw.
These are certainly not the only mind expanding texts that might take you down a different path from a living systems metaphor but they are a good start. I would also suggest that they both are supportive of the field of practice that AoH represents. Just a thought. I wish you all the very best.
John Inman

Reply by Mark McKergow:

I’d like to second the huge value in Gareth Morgan's Images of Organization. (It was indeed published in 1986, and there is an updated 20th anniversary edition out now, ISBN 978-1412939799.) Not only does Morgan take all these different metaphors for organisation and show how they all make some sort of sense, he also shows how talking about an organisation differently (ie choosing a different metaphor) is already somehow to change it. The book is taken as a starting point for those interested in organisations as discursive systems as well as those of us from a complexity/social construction perspective. A masterpiece. I still use it in teaching about

how language and organising are intertwined.


Reply by Kara Stonehouse:

I read the introduction to the Morgan work.  It's stated premis is that any theory is a metaphor and explains seven or eight different metaphores for organizations.   I like how it encourages the reader to consider the strengths and limitations of each metaphor. 
I would like to point out a that Michelle is not talking about using an organism metaphore for business operations.  She is stating that organizations ARE living organisms (adding my own words now..) with a life and purpose of their own at a higher level of order than any individual within.  And for that being to be healthy, there are patterns the individuals in the organization can be aware of;  (back to MIchelle's points) Convergence, Divergence, Relationships and that we are coming into an era of Integration and that we should remember
its really about life not just profit.  
Check out the Ning (Michelle's) where this conversation buzzes on! 
Love Kara

Reply by Allister Hain:

There are a couple of useful aspects to Morgan's work.
First, the recognition of the "reality" of "metaphor." We could probably get into a huge philosophical debate about what is "real" however I think Morgan basically offers the idea that "real" is what you make it. Organizations are perceptual "living" pictures we create and re-create. We can "view" them in a multitude of different ways.  
A second, connecting point is that in describing these different organizational metaphors, he expands our ability to "choose" which one is right, or most useful, for us. Knowing there are different ways of seeing the nominalization we call "organization" means we can choose to view it differently and ultimately act differently in our interaction with the world.  
It's been a long time since reading the book (and I could be wrong), but I don't think Morgan plays favorities. One is not valued over another. My guess is he would agree in choosing to create a command and control metaphor for the organization (army) that is engaged in fighting a ground war in Afghanistan and a different reality (maybe more fluid and flexible) for the organization that is working on bettering conditions for inner-city youth. And, when necessary, bring a bit of one into the other! I guess, it comes down the intention you hold, in the present moment, and where and what you want to do.
The final point I'd make is that all metaphors (including Michelle's) provide a jumping off point for further conversation, discovery and exploration. The differences between our mental models of the world make us human and make us interesting. I have often said, and I know many others hold this too, there are atleast six billion different realities on this planet -- there are six billion different metaphors -- all of them are relevant, real and poignant. Can you imagine what you would learn if you connected, in a meaningful way, with just a minute fraction of them!

Reply by Brigitte Kupfer:

Thank you Allister,
for re-minding us of our six billion realities down here on earth. I would even say that the differences between our mental models not only make us human and interesting, but that they ARE the evolutionary agent which propels us forward. Monocultures die. Biodiversity, nature's law # 1, does not exclude our minds. This is the big learning of this time: to learn to love our differences, because this is the natural way to lead to integration.  Of course we need courage to learn to love our differences, to follow an "inner truth" or knowing when it is dissonant with the surrounding culture. 
Let's not forget how many have been demonised and killed for expressing their different views in the past.  Now we are living in a time where we can form clusters and "Walk out and Walk on" (Can't wait to read Deborah Frieze's and Margaret Wheatley's new book). The Art of Hosting community is such a cluster which helps me to see the bigger picture and stay connected to my courage. It is much more than a philosophy. For me it is the coming together of minds and hearts learning to love their differences and cultivating courage for the benefit of all. 
As a re-minder and "en-heartener" for us all I'd like to point to the purpose of AoH from the webpage
The Purpose of the Art of Hosting
• To connect and align our inner and outer worlds, remembering what we hold and having the courage to act wisely

• To create a container for emergence: practicing leading from the “field”

• To be in a safe space, to learn to be together in the best possible way

• To appreciate that being afraid is part of the journey and so gain the courage to travel through the fear

• To host with a consciousness so people will be together in an authentic way 


Thank you all for your contributions and for cultivating courage


Reply by Mark McKergow:

Hi everyone,

I'd like to pick up on John's quotes from Ralph Stacey, which I do think are saying something important.

> And Stacey (2010) outright rejects systems thinking. He says "Complex
> responsive processes, however, is a responsive temporal process theory
> which, when it comes to understanding human action, argues against
> systems thinking. Human interaction is patterned in the interaction
> between bodies and there is no need to look for any causal agency
> outside human interaction itself" (p. 225).
I take Stacey to be saying that there is no 'system' outside the interaction itself, and therefore we could/might do well to look very carefully at the interactions (discourse/dialogue/conversation) itself without attempting to find higher levels of system/pattern. People respond to other people, not to underlying or overarching systems.

The Solutions Focus approach is one school which attempts to take this idea seriously. It's where I and others part company from (for example) Peter Senge and all the theory U ideas - which it seems to me are trying to find a rather complicated way of looking at what happens already (people interacting and things emerging from that). The work of people like Janet Bavelas at the University of Victoria about microanalysis of dialogue is one way that an alternative view is being taken. (

The good news is that all of this - this list, theory U, AoH, everything - is created by human interaction! There is in my view a different kind of simplifying lens to look at it provided by Stacey and co. It seems to be a practical and effective route to take.


Another reply by John Inman:

Mark you do not take a simplistic view I think. In my framework as in Stacey's, it is all about the local conversations. We spend billions of dollars in training and organization interventions and never focus on the one thing that everyone can impact every second, every day, week, month and year and that is local conversation. Do I include all generations in conversations? Do I speak to people respectfully? Do I understand that I have choice at every conversational turn in a communication event as to how I am going to respond? Do I choose my responses or do I simply react? Do I blame it on the system? What ever that may be. I am a student of systems and have been for years, however I am far more included to focus my practice on those things we actually can control in this world, local conversations.


And a last one by Jerry Nagel:

Many thanks to everyone contributing to this thread. It has been most informative. I thought I would add one more perspective to the mix. Her is a quote from a paper John Shotter wrote in 1997 titled " THE SOCIAL
CONSTRUCTION OF OUR 'INNER' LIVES". I share it because it seems to me that since that first Art of Hosting training in 1999 in Santa Cruz, this community has been working hard to as Shotter says "...develop new practices, new stances, new ways of talking and being: we must 'instruct' ourselves not only in how to 'see', 'talk', 'think', 'act', and 'evaluate' in relational terms, but work also to develop the kind of multivoiced tradition of Argumentation, a new social 'order', appropriate to sustaining such relational forms of relating ourselves to each other."



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