Inside holocracy

Author Arthur Koestler
Image via Wikipedia

I recently went to a certification workshop to learn about holocracy and am writing about the experience over a series of blogposts. This post shares the underlying principle of holocracy.


Its roots stem from an observation from psychologist and philosopher Arthur Koestler, who, in his book The Ghost in the Machine (1967) spoke about holons, individual units that whole unto themselves and are also are part of the whole.

Simply said a business can be considered a holon. It is connected with others and makes up a community, that is connected with others that make up a town or city, that is connected with others that makes the world. Each unit is whole unto itself and also comprises other, larger wholes that self organize within an evolutionary purpose. In the reverse direction, a business is a holon made up of smaller ones – marketing, purchasing, finance, etc.

Adapted from wikipedia

…holons exist simultaneously as self-contained wholes in relation to their sub-ordinate parts, and in relation to their dependent parts when considered from the inverse direction.

… holons are autonomous, self-reliant units that possess a degree of independence and handle contingencies without asking higher authorities for instructions. That is, they handle   challenges on their own without seeking permission.

…holons are stable and are able to withstand disturbances, … providing a context for the proper functionality for the larger whole.

…Koestler defines a holarchy as a hierarchy of self-regulating holons that function

  • as autonomous wholes
  • as dependent parts
  • in coordination with their local environment

Holoarchy also stems from the work of American philosopher Ken Wilbur.

Adapted from Wikpedia

Wilber extended Koestler’s holon concept. He observed that it seems every entity and concept shares a dual nature: as a whole unto itself, and as a part of some other whole. For example, a cell in an organism is a whole and at the same time a part of another whole, the organism.[5]

Another example is that a letter is a self-existing entity and simultaneously an integral part of a word, which then is part of a sentence, which is part of a paragraph, which is part of a page; and so on. Everything from quarks to matter to energy to ideas can be looked at in this way.