Vivi M.L. Storsletten: Reflections on Kindergartens, Management, Leadership and the Holonomic Circle

Vivi Storsletten is a Norwegian research fellow at the Centre for Ecological Economics and Ethics, Nord University Business School whose doctoral thesis is examining “flourishing processes of qualitative development”. Her work explores the rich landscape of stories and narratives in Norwegian kindergarten’s organisational context, researching new perspectives on what qualitative development and ‘enjoyment-of-life’ in ecological economics might mean at an organisational and individual level.

Vivi’s aim is to describe the key characteristics of a holistic understanding of the concept quality which is relevant for ecological economics and in kindergartens. Her inspirations which are framing her research are Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of organism, Arne Naess’ deep ecology, and Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi’s The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision. Her fields of special interest are the systems view of health care, management and leadership, ecology and education, economics and justice.

For this research, Vivi joined the spring 2017 edition of Capra Course where she shared many reflections and deep conversations both with Fritjof and with many of the other course participants. I have been working with Fritjof as the course manager of Capra Course since its inception, and for this reason, I too also enjoyed talking with Vivi, especially when she introduced the theme of interpretations of quality and success in Lecture 9 that looks at life and leadership in organisations. In this discussion Fritjof commented on the interplay between self-assertion and integration within the self-organisation of living systems:

In order to be able to sustain itself over time, a living system needs to constantly recreate its identity. You could say that this is the purpose, or meaning, of life. The system does so in the manner described by the theory of autopoiesis. This constant self-generation requires a constant flow of energy and matter, which comes from the system’s environment.

I then introduced our new tool The Holonomic Circle which shows how we can blend many elements together, including the systems view of life, into a new coherent approach to management, leadership, design, strategy and sustainability. This lead Vivi to reflect on how the Holonomic Circle could be applied to her studies on kindergartens, and as such, she has given me permission to publish her comments in this article below.

Reflections on Management, Leadership, the Holonomic Circle and Kindergartens

Vivi M.L. Storsletten


I am interested in how management and leadership theories influence the interpretation of quality. The organisational structure and practice may facilitate or restrict the process of human development and well-being; and I find it very relevant, but not easy, to understand how integrated emerging patterns of structure and process may guide thought and practice in different ways.

Different management and leadership perspectives lead to different priorities in the context of the primary ends of the organisation. The ends and means of the organisation are deeply interconnected with basic assumptions in economics. On the one hand, neoclassical economics and scientific management are both based on mechanical worldviews, favouring an objective and quantifiable interpretation of quality. On the other hand, ecological economics and value-based and spiritual leadership share basis on a systems/deep-ecological or organic worldview, and have emphasis on relationships, meaning and (qualitative) processes.

There is not a clear-cut division of the shift of focus on profits and efficiency, and the collective focus of serving positive development of society. However, unlike management philosophy based on a mechanical worldview, a holistic perspective provides an understanding of life in organisations as an integrated union of spirit and matter. In value-based and spiritual leadership there is a change in the primary goal of organisations, as profit and income are natural consequences of authentic individual actions, where the individuals’ extended self connects them to both nature and culture.

I am studying how Norwegian kindergartens can operate within the given economic and organisational framework while maintaining the development of human beings in line with the values ​​and quality requirements, and how this depends on the inter-subjective processes. This includes ongoing investigations of belief systems and worldviews and development of ethical competence, both in the individual and in the collective sphere. As a counterweight to instrumental pragmatism and economic objectives, there is a need for improved holistic and integrative thinking. This prevents tendencies of both adults and children to be victimised and alienated in a society that is very much grounded on the primacy of instrumental and economic rationality, described as “the malaise of modernity” by the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (1991). In value-based and spiritual leadership, there is a stronger focus on values of culture and nature.

Although some management theories can be considered adapted to another era, they may have the potential to handle special challenges today as well. More specifically, scientific management can provide important input for improving the efficiency of many companies. Transferred to the practice of kindergartens it is highly relevant to the control of financial budgets and offering a satisfying quality of structure, as housing, safe playing gardens, number of adults and so on.

The positive image of man in Human Relations provides an important impetus for the development of organisational culture, and Participative Management based on network theory provides important input to an understanding of the company as inextricably linked with cultural and ecological conditions. Focus on relations also contributes to further development of the knowledge of change processes, and transferred to kindergartens this provides important insights and reflections of the content and tasks of kindergartens, in addition to relationships beyond the organisational borders. Value-based and spiritual leadership represents a more profound change since the Kindergarten is perceived as an integral part of a larger community where the objective is beyond its traditional boundaries.

Value-based and spiritual leadership requires a radical change in the way of understanding reality. This implies that elements from all other management and leadership forms are re-interpreted and get a ‘second opinion’ within spiritual leadership. Leadership with spiritual grounding assumes a mental change that, amongst other things, results in mechanical solutions total being understood in terms of a systems view of life, deep-ecological or organic worldview. For me, it makes sense to interpret the change process of management and leadership theories as a development in evolutionary consciousness, in the same way as the change from self-assertive to integrative tendencies.

Source: Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design

I found your descriptions of ‘customer experience with soul’ very interesting, and the model of the Holonomic Circle correlates with findings in my research on how key topics in stories told by leaders in Norwegian kindergartens illuminate and contribute to holistic understanding of quality. From the landscape of practice, stories are told, about life and experiences in kindergarten, and these stories concern both the relationships within the organisation, and across the organisational borders. A holistic understanding of quality connects the micro, meso, and macro level by six key topics that characterise the stories from practice; authenticity and connectedness at micro level, process and network at meso level, and culture and diversity on macro level.

Authenticity and connectedness are essential concepts on micro level (the inner circle). To develop authenticity the leader in the kindergarten said that the children should be empowered to accept, to resist and to transcend socialisation. To reach this goal the children must be allowed to develop their self-awareness while integrating with others. In other words, authenticity is depending on a combination of individuality and relations to others.

Authenticity means being a socialised individual moving beyond conformity. To develop trust, the children must be given freedom to create their own solutions. The focus in the kindergarten is the qualitative development of the children. The leader point to problems connected to business thinking, when it comes to development of authenticity based on social integration. Development of authenticity occurs in continuous dialogue with nature and people, where reflection on their own experiences form the core, rather than a controlled development into something predestined.

Process and network illuminates the meso level (the circle in the middle), and focus on processes in the kindergarten as an organisation and the implication of kindergartens as part of networks in the local society. Change happens in interaction with others in dynamic networks. Dynamic networks balance between order and disorder. The leader delegates tasks to all the members of the staff, and the children in the kindergarten are allowed to experiment with learning by trial and error. The children are allowed to challenge themselves doing things like climbing trees and talk in the bigger group.

The point is that the children are on the move, each one of them in their own rhythm. The adults in the kindergarten give direction and facilitate the process. The daily processes depends not only on the interplay between the people within the kindergarten, the connection to the children’s relatives are of great importance, as well. In addition, they draw attention to the importance of good relations between the kindergarten and the local community. The authorities’ definitions of the formal conditions for the activities in the kindergarten are of great importance. The quality of the integration process depend on regularly reflection meetings. In other words, the network is based on open dialogue and constructive cooperation between all involved actors.

Key topics of macro level are diversity and culture (the outer circle). The focus is on the children’s development of tolerance based on cross-cultural understanding. This is an international kindergarten with children from different parts of the world. To develop tolerance the adults highlight positive characteristics with the different cultures in order to make the children proud of their cultural background. It is of great importance that the children meet and makes friends across cultural borders. To stimulate cross-cultural knowledge the staff initiates more than talk and dialogue. They believe that working together in concrete projects is very important.

Integrating children (and their relatives) with different cultural background in practical work motivates integration and tolerance. Diversity is defined as a precondition for creativity and resilience. The leader describes the kindergarten as a diverse society where all children learn to respect others by being proud of their own culture. There is another very interesting aspect with the multi-cultural interplay in this kindergarten. To develop tolerance the leader points out that reciprocity is a necessary condition for success. To require something from others you have to accept that others can require something from you. Everybody contributes on daily basis with small drops of positive behaviour to develop a peaceful society in the kindergarten. One interesting solution for solving problems connected to cross-cultural cooperation in the kindergarten is facilitation situations for practical work.

Well, these key characteristics of a holistic understanding of the concept quality are not exactly the same as the concepts in your Holonomics approach, but I find some very exciting similarities, fruitful for my thinking. However, I do find it challenging to view the children and their parents as customers in a traditional way, but the Customer Experiences with Soul  framework is suitable for exploring qualitative development in kindergartens.

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