Holons

Contents of this Section

A way to look at the basic structure of our universe, how wholes and parts interact, how all of this relates to work and why it is important for us.

Short Version

Throughout this website, we will use the philosophical concept of holons. Holons are wholes made up of parts while simultaneously being a part of a higher whole.
We will mainly focus on the Integral Agile Coach holon, the Integral Agile Team holon, the Integral Agile Company holon, and the context surrounding these.
Holons have four basic drives:

Main Version

Is everything fundamentally a separate individual piece or one gigantic whole? Is the universe made of strings or is it made of processes? In order to answer that question we will use the term “holon” introduced by Arthur Koestler.

A holon is a whole which is made up of parts and is itself a part of another whole. We say that the universe is made of holons everywhere you turn, infinitely.

The first conclusion we are forced to draw from this is that nothing is truly independent. Nothing and no-one is ever truly just an isolated individual. On the other hand, nothing and no-one is ever only exclusively context-bound. The holon concept bridges the gap between these two worldviews and unites them in “both and” thinking.

Holons tend to organize in so-called holarchies. A few examples: Atoms form molecules, molecules form cells, cells form organs, organs form organisms. A letter is part of a word which is part of a sentence which is part of a paragraph which is part of a poem. Holarchies are similar to hierarchies, but every step of the ladder includes all of the former steps and holarchies do not have an absolute top or an absolute bottom.

Throughout this website, these are the four holons we will be focusing on in particular: the Integral Agile Team Member (the Individual level), the Integral Agile Team (the Micro level), Integral Agile Company (the Meso level), and the larger context for the Integral Agile Company (the Macro level).

There are certain holonic tenets which describe how holons behave. We will explore these as an optional module later. For now, let us focus on one main aspect:

Holons have vertical and horizontal activity.

A holon's drive to climb the proverbial ladder of a holarchy (moving upwards) is called self-transcendence. It seeks to become more than it currently is by transcending its current state and including everything it has previously been.
(A holon pathology would mean that a holon transcends, but doesn't include its junior holons; it suppresses them. It transcends and negates.)
Moving downwards, a holon has the capacity of self-dissolution. A holon can break down and it will do so along the same axis it came up from.

In addition, holons have communion and agency, which is their horizontal activity. Communion is the holon's drive towards connecting and forming bonds with other holons.

Agency, on the other hand, is the holon's drive toward being an individual. It stays separate from other holons. In a balanced fashion, both of these are healthy. In a pathological fashion, a holon can display too much agency and thus become damaging to the whole system (think cancer, serial killer and the like), or too much communion and thus become stuck in inertia (think co-dependency, herd mentality and the like).

These four drives, two of them vertical and two of them horizontal, are in constant tension and are some of the traits that characterize each holon.

How does this relate to our Integral Agile concept?

We can look at the basic holonic characteristics and drives and see how they apply to our holarchic structure. If you are an Integral Agile Coach or an Integral Agile Team Member, do you tend to display strong agency or strong communion? Do others when they interact with you? Have you ever noticed anything that would classify as vertical growth where you have outgrown and included a previous form of being yourself?

When we focus on the Integral Agile Team holon we can ask similar questions. Does the team focus on communion or agency? How does the team display these traits in interaction with other holons (other teams, other parts of the company)?

And finally, we will look at the Integral Agile Company and apply the holonic drives here. In relation to the environment, is your company too agentic, acting like cancer? Does it display too much communion, not standing out, not being innovative, not being visible?


Next part: quadrants