Welcome

Here at Heart of the Art we seek to explore the nature of living systems and how we may understand them. We look to make sense of the nature of things and how by understanding them better, we can be more effective in our work, our relationships, our lives. We offer you this site as a place where we share our own writing alongside articles and resources from others that we have found helpful or provocative. Please enjoy it and use it as you will, crediting the original authors in anything you share.

About us

John Atkinson is a designer, architect and catalyst for whole system change. He has instigated and led projects around the world in corporate and public settings that help people design approaches that will make fundamental change to their work and lives.

Emma Loftus is a researcher and writer, specialising in organisational learning and the human process of change. Emma was the researcher and co-writer of The Art of Change Making. Emma provides support to national and international programmes for change, across public and private sectors, including work with open innovation and systems leadership programme.

What’s New?

And who are you?
Ever been asked that question and not been quite sure how to respond? Surely you know who are by now? Why the hesitation? Did you just respond with your name? Or did you talk about your profession, or your role, or your post. I’m a doctor, an engineer, an architect. Did you struggle for a description because you’re not actually working right now? Or did you say I’m a mother, a pensioner, an ex-soldier or veteran? Does how you respond get conditioned by who asks the question? In what circumstances? In what environment? Do you always answer exactly the same ...

And who are you?

Celine Schillinger- One Human at a Time
Introduced by John Atkinson. It is always interesting to read external perspectives of change. As a consultant you see things differently to those engaged in the work, like to think at times that this is a part of what you offer. This blog from Celine Schillinger is different. It is an honest, generous and deeply thoughtful piece on what it takes to be at the heart of a change process as an insider. Celine draws out 10 incredibly valuable points that she shared in a recent conversation with the International Red Cross in Geneva. A Knight of the French National ...

Celine Schillinger- One Human at a Time

How the Organisation Subverts its Subversives
John Atkinson is a founder of  The Phillips Kay Partnership Ltd There’s quite a buzz at the moment around rebels and radicals who ‘hack’ the organisation. They are said to be growing social movements that alter the fabric of our great global corporations and institutions. Passionate about ‘what’ they want to achieve, they can be rather more naive as to ‘how’ that might actually come to pass. This has been brutally exposed time after time in the political sphere where early populist success has sadly ended in yet more repression. Initially there is an upsurge of enthusiasm. The radicals’ message, ...

How the Organisation Subverts its Subversives

The Myth of The Learning Organisation
John Atkinson is a founder of  The Phillips Kay Partnership Ltd Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline captured the story of The Learning Organisation and described how it might come about. The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook is full of tips and tools that practitioners have used and found helpful in pursuit of this. For a few years I was caught up in this. I worked with global organisations building their capacity for learning. I saw local successes, plenty of them in fact. I saw the energy and enthusiasm you release when you set people free to learn about their work, change ...

The Myth of The Learning Organisation

The Local Corporation
John Atkinson is a founder of  The Phillips Kay Partnership Ltd Globalism has been created in the growth of the corporation. As local enterprises, founded and worked by local people grew they lost their local roots. Where once the firm was family owned, with generations following each other into the same enterprise, as owners or workers, now it is owned, financed and controlled globally. We no longer know our bosses, they ply their trade in far away cities, in other countries. Connection is distant, even vestigial. We are managed by process and procedure and have become servants to them. Our ...

The Local Corporation

Is a Smart City a Healthy City?
From Avery Robinson at Conscious Cities  Living in a city can be very expensive. At the forefront of this cost is rent (or homeownership).  According to a 2013-2014 English Housing Survey, London tenants paid almost 50% of their net income just for rent. This staggeringly high number is not unique to London. Furthermore, this figure fails to take into account other basic needs—utilities, food, and transportation—which can take another significant piece away from that net income before. This is of course before one can even consider paying off debt, contributing to savings, personal expenses, raising a family, and even buying ...

Is a Smart City a Healthy City?

Getting beyond the Buzzword
‘Smart City’ is the big noise. Rapid technological advancement has opened up a whole range of opportunities for city managers to increase their capacity to do what they’re paid to, manage their cities. A battery of smart sensors, vastly increased computing power, the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence and machine learning all combine to transform our cities into some wonderful utopian dream. Cars that navigate themselves to free car parking spaces (and then park themselves) drastically reduce traffic congestion and so increase air quality and productivity. Waste collection is no longer tied to the scheduled collection rounds, recycling becomes ...

Getting beyond the Buzzword

Naming Harassment
At last the silent years of women (and men) having to accept that sexual harassment and physical invasion of our bodies is, I hope, drawing to an end.  The Weinstein situation is enabling the development of a space in public and private arenas where it’s ok to speak out and say ‘me too’. But there’s some debate around what’s serious enough to voice and report and name: Do we only name unwanted advances? Forceful intimacy? Rape? Is a touch on a knee simply part of life? Is workplace innuendo and sexual bullying just part of where we work? And to ...

Naming Harassment

Bringing life to the Smart City
Human beings have been shaping their landscapes since forever, and now is no different. In our brilliance (and there is no denying the amazingness of our development- even if we may disagree on the morals of its impact), we have built beautiful and ugly projections of our want and need, and imposed them on our landscapes. Awe-inspiring constructions that evolve, and sometimes, painfully destroy our understanding of place and our measure of humanness.  The Smart City is no different. Smart Cities are hailed to be the ethnographical and geographical change of current times. Promoted as the means to change not ...

Bringing life to the Smart City

What happened at Courage Camp
Here, Celine Schillinger, shares her experiences at Courage Camp. Developing the vocabulary of courage we share below. Exploring the nature of courage and our understanding of it, and how we can be courageous across our lives and in our leadership. A thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read... Vocabulary of courage As Courage Camp goes on, I catch words or expressions heard from the group. Each brings a different dimension to our understanding of courage: Acceptance: We aim to be accepted by whatever group we want to belong to. “What is the rejection I'm afraid of?” Coeur (Heart): : The English word ‘courage’ ...

What happened at Courage Camp

Doing Change
I’ve been harshly reminded in the past few days that change is, in fact, not a choice. That is, change will happen anyway, whether we like it or not. In some minuscule way, perhaps hateful way, it’s happening right now. When left to its own devices it can be the most charming and beguiling of evil dictators, making slicing chasms right before our eyes that we are powerless to stop. Or it can be the slyest, most cruel undercover agent, out to tip over our world, causing a wave so large we can only be swept along. Least it feels ...

Doing Change

Post Truth is Fake News
By John Atkinson  The idea is increasingly being propagated that we live in a 'post truth' world. In this world, 'fake news' has supplanted genuine news and we can no longer believe the words of our rulers or the media that we see, hear or read. Implicit in the idea of a 'post truth' era is that this follows a 'truth' era. This would have been a mythical time when our leaders spread news to us that was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That mythical time appears to have passed me by. Perhaps others remember ...

Post Truth is Fake News

Wicked Problems and Category Mistakes
(From grounded.systems) This is a brief introduction to the notion of a wicked problem. It is based on the highly-cited paper by Rittel and Webber (1973). The following characterise wicked problems: There is no definitive formulation. In a sense, formulating a wicked problem is the problem There are no stopping rules. The process of intervening is also the same as understanding the nature of the problem – the intervention is “good enough” or the best that can be achieved within other limitations (e.g. of time, budget…) Interventions are not right or wrong, they can only be viewed as making things ...

Wicked Problems and Category Mistakes

Dialogue- Isaacs
The Dialogue model was developed by Bill Isaacs. The model asks that we  reconsider the ‘rules’ we use to manage our communication. Often the typical meeting room is full of people holding a series of conversations that come preloaded with hidden paradigms of belief, expectation and personal ambition. What this means is that the communication taking place is driven by a mixture of agendas, with everyone seeking to direct and steer the conversation in ways that withhold their point of view. This is limiting, as conversations become stalled, redirected and challenged and in these spaces creativity and exploration is unsafe ...

Dialogue- Isaacs

Flight of the Starlings
A beautiful example of murmuration from @NatGeo Amazing  Must Watch What are the rules governing their behaviour? What can we learn about living systems and change? John Atkinson explores further in: The rules that limit us ...

Flight of the Starlings

Acceptance
Acceptance -The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered. -The process or fact of being received as adequate, valid, or suitable. -Agreement with or belief in an idea or explanation. -Willingness to tolerate a difficult situation.  (Oxford Dictionary The internet, and our social media feeds are full of wise words milled from philosophers and psychologists and the world’s most wise and humble of folks, quotes telling us that acceptance is the road to happiness, joy, self. And yet as I look at another picture of another artificial looking landscape, telling me that ‘happiness can exist only in acceptance’ ...

Acceptance

Kantor - 4 Player Model
The Four Player Model developed by David Kantor is at the core of the theory of structural dynamics. You can find out more at The Kantor Institute.   Kantor was originally a family therapist. During his work he began to realise that there are recurring patterns of language, behaviour and communication that lead to turbulence in families.  He realised that the same patterns existed in businesses and organisations.  Over the course of several years research working with other experts in the field, such as Senge, Schein and Argyris, Kantor became a leading expert in group dynamics, developing the Structural Dynamics Model (often ...

Kantor – 4 Player Model

The ethics of systems leadership
When you consult to a system who is your client? How do you know if you are doing the right thing? What constitutes doing good here and who decides? These questions are often asked. By definition the situation is complex with multiple organisations and individuals with differing, sometimes over-lapping, sometimes competing interests all at play. What is happening is viewed through the lens of each participant’s position and history. This filters perceptions of what you should be doing, what is correct and what is needed. You cannot please everyone all the time. Some, may be all, will question what you ...

The ethics of systems leadership

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