Christmas and co-creation
Hannah Arendt’s natality
(Reading time: 6 minutes)
Frank Ottenhoff
25 december 2017
Christmas as an inspiration to co-create. That’s the basic theme of this story. A short introduction to the philosophy of Hannah Arendt and the impact of her view.
“For unto us a child is born”
Hannah Arendt was touched by the power of this sentence after attending Händel’s Messiah. She was Jewish but some basic concepts of Christianity inspired her. Her concept of natality is derived from the birth of Christ. What does she mean by natality? And what is the impact of it for us, for society and for organizations?
“For unto us a child is born”
“God created man in order that there be a beginning”
A statement of Augustine. Birth means starting something new. This is natality. As a result of that, the human condition is plural. The consequences of this are vast: as we communicate and use language, we show ourselves to one another in our difference, and it’s in this disclosure that action is generated: we can do something to change organizations and the world.

The natality of human beings allows them to make new beginnings. And so it prevents us to disintegrate into routinized behavior. It gives hope. And it is freedom. Freedom for Arendt is not simply liberty from outside forces or private necessities, but a freedom enabled by natality, by the capacity to make beginnings, a freedom expressed in action.

Action is freedom
In ‘The Human Condition’ she distinguishes three basic human activities: labor, work and action. Labor is judged by its ability to sustain human life, to cater to our biological needs of consumption and reproduction. Work is judged by its ability to build and maintain a world fit for human use. It is the economic. It is the world of project management and efficiency to put it in a simple way. And action is judged by its ability to disclose the identity of the agent, to affirm the reality of the world, and to actualize our capacity for freedom. It is the world of sense making and co-creation in which we have to deal with and use plurality, the fact that we all were born different (listen to Lady Gaga’s ‘Born this way’).
Plurality is, simply put, the fact that one is born into a world populated by other people who are different from oneself and who one has to come to terms with. It is the condition in which humans are forced to reveal and communicate their uniqueness in order to facilitate living with each other.
Give birth to something new
Both labor and work are necessary to create and preserve a world. Action is the one most closely connected with natality, because by acting individuals re-enact the miracle of beginning inherent in their birth. A basic example of an action in organizational life is to start with the development of new ways of working of groups or departments, or between departments or between managers and employees.
Amor mundi and co-creation
So action can be described as coming together and in inter-action start something new. In Arendt’s view power develops as people inter-act to develop society, organizations or unions for example. Politics in Arendts view is not primarily what politicians do, but primarily the inter-action of people who differ (plurality) to start something new (natality). The space between people (inter) who act is what Arendt calls world, inter-action. Amor Mundi is her parole.


Human organisations
Labor and work are human activities. But what really makes us human is action. That is to inter-act with each other, to value and use the differences and to start something new. This is freedom. And ‘Vita activa’ as Arendt calls it: the active life. If people in organizations don’t have the opportunity to start something new (natality), if the differences are not valued and used (plurality), then there is no action and so these organizations are not fully human Arendt would argue. And I would say: these organizations loose their power to adapt which endangers their future existence. Organizational life would be reduced to only work: the efficient production of goods and services. In this situation people wouldn’t initiate and foster development (action). If Arendt would observe our society and organizations she probably would say that we pay a lot of attention to work (efficiency mindset) but less to action (sense making and adaptation).
A bit scary
Maybe because action is unpredictable, in organizations we often return to the domain of work. Action is unpredictable because you cannot fully manage the outcome of an inter-action. Also, an action can have an impact which the agents of these actions do not oversee; they are part of a larger network of actors which influence each other. On the other hand: without action there will not be any fundamental change and adaptation to market circumstances. This is the basic leadership paradox we often experience in real fundamental change.
Born to live
Born to live
According to Arendt, human beings are not “born to die” in the sense of a Heideggerian “Being towards death,” but they are born to begin anew. This capacity of making new beginnings in the world is the fundamental human capacity to be free, a capacity possessed by each and every individual.

Merry Christmas!!

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The development of an effective way of working of individuals, teams and organizations is the focus of what I do together with my colleagues of WoW-consult. Info  Insights from philosophy I use to innovate my profession.