Columbus, like any major city, is a collection of institutions locked in hierarchy and politics trying to do useful work. Yet leaders here didn’t begin by trying to dismantle hierarchy. They chose a simpler way based on their belief in people. They invited people to come together to explore a good question: What does ending hunger mean to you? What is the purpose of the healthcare system? How can we create the community people are longing for?
They used their positional power to convene people, not to tell them what to do. They learned that their city—any city—is rich in resources, and that the easiest way to discover these is to bring diverse people together in good conversations. People who didn’t like each other, people who discounted and ignored each other, people who felt invisible, neglected, left out—these are the folks who emerged from their boxes and labels to become interested, engaged colleagues and citizens.
Hosting meaningful conversations isn’t about getting people to like each other or feel good. It’s about creating the means for problems to get solved, for teams to function well, for people to become energetic activists. The leaders of Columbus have created substantive change by relying on everyone’s creativity, commitment, generosity. They’ve learned that these qualities are present in everyone and in every organization. They’ve extended sincere invitations, asked good questions, used a robust operating system and had the courage to experiment.
Their courageous efforts moved laterally across the city, state and nation, gaining ground where heroes had once prevailed. And now, people are discovering what’s been there all along—fully human beings wanting to make a difference for themselves, their city, their children, the future.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. Berrett-Koehler Publishers: San Francisco. April 2011.
Art of Hosting Goes Global
Just like an open-source operating system, the Art of Hosting has emerged through networks of relationships—and is spreading like freeware through organizations and communities around the world. It’s been a multi-cultural, multi-generational, self-organized voyage of discovery, fueled by people’s inventiveness, curiosity and generosity. Art of Hostings get held wherever people decide to call them, whenever people are willing to do the work of inviting a group together to have conversations that make a difference.
The result today is a vibrant global community whose breadth and impact is impossible to measure. In 2010 alone, Art of Hosting trainings have been held in the U.S., Canada and Mexico; in Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, The Netherlands, Sweden and the UK; in Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The movement also has spread to Brazil, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Israel, Greece, Slovenia and Greenland. It is serving as the operating system for children and family service advocates, financial planners, public educators and health service workers; for indigenous communities, rural villagers, union activists and faith-based groups.
No one knows exactly how many people have experienced the Art of Hosting, nor how many people are skilled to train others in the practice. That’s because no one owns, runs or measures this movement. Despite the increasing demand for their hosting skills, the Art of Hosting community has remained self-organizing and passionate. They function as a community of practitioners who maintain their identity and coherence through clear values, a shared worldview, agreed-upon practices and a commitment to supporting one another. That integrity and commitment magnetizes people to them, resulting in rapid growth—without a single moment wasted devising a growth strategy. People practice the Art of Hosting because it works, and they love doing it. They practice the Art of Hosting because it invites us to do what humans do best: connect and create together. Learn more at artofhosting.org.
Margaret J. Wheatley is President Emerita and founder of The Berkana Institute. She has been working with people for many years to develop new practices and ideas for organizing people and communities. Meg is an internationally acclaimed speaker and author of Leadership and the New Science, A Simpler Way, Turning to One Another, Finding Our Way, and Perseverance.
Deborah Frieze is an author, entrepreneur and social activist. As former co-president of The Berkana Institute and co-founder of the Berkana Exchange, Deborah joined Berkana in 2002 to help bring its vision into the world and grow the Institute. She serves as a board member and is leading several initiatives that serve to create healthy and resilient communities. Deborah has an MBA from the Harvard Business School. Meg and Deborah are co-authors of Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now (2011).
1. These are the practices of circle, made explicit through the work of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea of PeerSpirit.
2. Statistics from Our Optimal Health documents and based on 2004 figures.