This week I was in a gathering with 16 friends about the nature of hosting new organizational structures that arise from the hosting practices that seek to move groups to new levels of consciousness and collaboration. The gathering was essentially four days long, and at the end of second last day I had an interesting conversation with my friends Peggy Holman and George Por about the art of harvesting. “Harvesting” is usually thought of as a way of telling the historical story of a gathering, and as a metaphor it has some value in terms of expanding the idea beyond the forms of minutes, notes or summaries. In the Art of Hosting community we are currently looking at how to broaden this activity.
George and Peggy and I looked at what this starting pattern said about the processes of harvesting, including teasing apart the word itself. We started by teasing apart the basic pattern of harvest and noticed that it lives in three modes: time, media and speech acts. We immediately asked the question what would harvesting looked like if we fully harvested from these modes, to wit:
- Time modes of the past present and future. We are practiced at harvesting from what has happened, but what does it mean to harvest in the moment, and to harvest from the future? The World Cafe process lights up the practice of harvesting in the present, as we capture and map nuggets of insight. The work of the Presencing community might have some insight into how we might harvest from the future, through a process of sensing and presencing.
- Media modes include the typical text modes that we use to harvest (reports and web sites, for example) but increasingly I am personally using audio and visual representations in my own harvesting work and this week I worked with Thomas Arthur who, as a performing artist and in relationship with Ashley Cooper, is harvesting from our gathering using video to capture the patterns of how we were together. Graphic facilitation is a method that combines hosting and harvest in the present, and the commission of music, dance and other movement is a mode of harvest that, although it is strange to Western cultures, is very alive in traditional cultures. Here on the west coast of North America events are harvested through song and dance and the song and dance live to “tell the story” of an event. My own ancestors in the Ojibway territories of Canada, use birch bark scrolls and petroglyphs, “abstract” wampum belts and rock paintings of images and shapes to harvest. Traditional cultures know that the full story of something cannot be told simply with language and so the harvest often lives in what western cultures might call abstract art. It is precisely this abstraction that allows for the richness of the harvest to live.
- Speech act modes are all about the way the harvest is communicated. Typically harvest takes the shape of “telling the story” and so remains in the monological mode. Harvesting can also take the form of inquiry where the harvest is a question and invitation to engage. In both modes support is needed for understanding to arise, so in a telling mode, one must have a good communications infrastructure to get the story out and understood, In an inquiry mode, one also needs a way to support the harvest of an event. Harvesting through inquiry sets up a reflective learning process with the world at large and so it demands an open, inviting and deep listening infrastructure to further the work of the gathering that produced the harvest.
- Levels of what is happening which implies that there is more going on in any given gathering than simply what can be captured in a set of notes. Levels might include, the level of work, the level of process, the level of underlying patterns.
I got really excited about these, for when you combine these modes together (in the moment video making, having children in a gathering tell the story of the future, producing a series of audio recordings that ask questions) the art of harvesting becomes liberating and alive. A menu pattern emerges in which you might select harvesting strategies to both serve the purpose of the gathering and stretch it to harvest the underlying patterns of the gathering which make for learning conversations about HOW we meet as well as what is done in any given meeting.
There are many other dynamics that might emerge from this thinking on harvesting, including how we might harvest both individually and collectively or in combination, and harvesting from an inner perspective along with an objective perspective, which leads us to an integral model of harvest.
We also spoke of how technology, taxonomy and folksonomy might conspire to extract patterns of meaning from our artifacts of conversation through “knowledge gardening“, which is work that has been alive in George’s life for many decades.
As we spoke I found that our conversation became inspiring and emergent. We initially began informally in three chairs at the end of a long day of meeting, and we moved to have dinner together in the room in which we had held a World Cafe earlier in the day. The markers and paper were still on this table, like a huge “back of a napkin” which just begged scrawl. I started mind mapping our conversation which led us to explore many branches of what was possible and still keep the emerging whole in front of us. I was so excited by what we were learning together that I found myself “sparking” for many hours afterwards. There was a breathless feeling to our talk which became so strong that we actually felt it must be in the field of the after dinner conversation among others too. We called for a late night circle with others to harvest from the conversations that happened at the end of the day. What we discovered was that the pattern of inspiration was alive in the natural cafe of dinnertime and much of what was harvested by all and then understood collectively provided the fodder we needed to integrate our experiences of two days and lead us towards a place where day three could be convergent and about the implications of our work in the world together.
And so in the spirit of inquiry about harvesting, what do you think? What is alive in you about this story? Where does it lead you?
[tags]George Por, Peggy Holman[/tags]