What can we learn from the Icehotel?

Birth of the Icehotel

Gareth Morgan published Images of Organization in 1986, over three decades ago. It was considered to be ground-breaking because it was an overview of organizational design that, through the mechanism of metaphors, was comprehensible far beyond the academic world. His eight original metaphors, each incorporating a group of organizational theories, are: machine, organism, brain, culture, political system, psychic prison, flux and transformation and instrument of domination.

Later, other theorists came up with new metaphors, of which, for me, the most striking is the Icehotel created by Jonathan Pinto in 2015.

“The Icehotel, located in Sweden, is the world’s first hotel to be constructed entirely of ice and snow. The Icehotel functions as both an edifice (i.e., a man-made, more or less permanent structure with a roof and walls) and as an organization.” Jonathan Pinto in ‘Wow! That’s So Cool!’

The Icehotel takes temporariness to an extreme. It reflects the need to be specialized in order to be part of the team that comes in each year to build the new rendition.

The Icehotel symbolizes a paradoxical organization that is simultaneously:

  • Temporary and permanent
  • Evolutionary and revolutionary
  • Different yet the same

In his paper, Pinto shows how the Icehotel is similar to current thinking on organizational behavior, organizational resilience and ecosystems.

We tend to think of organizations as having a life span that goes far beyond just a few years. The Icehotel on the other hand melts every year and is rebuilt every following year.

Jonathan Pinto describes how the original Icehotel is built: “There are several distinct teams or work forces involved in the Icehotel. Each year it is conceptualized collaboratively by Arne Bergh, a sculptor and designer, who is the creative director, and Ake Larson, a world-renowned ice architect. It is then constructed by a temporary, non-hierarchical team that includes architects, builders, and sculptors who come from all over the world.”

Multiple skills + complicated tasks + time pressure

This means the Icehotel is a temporary organization where a group of people with different skills work together on a multi-dimensional’’ job over a short period of time with tight deadlines. Pinto says the Icehotel exemplifies Gareth Morgan’s view that “organizations are multidimensional, socially constructed realities where different aspects can coexist in complementary, conflicting, hence paradoxical ways.” Food for thought.

Here are some observations that I believe you will find intriguing, and hopefully relevant. They can be stimulating triggers and conversation starters inside organizations today that so desperately need to evolve, and do so fairly quickly!

  • The Icehotel is built in sync with its surroundings and makes us think about ways to design organizations and products that are in harmony with the environment as well.
  • The idea of rebirth each year is a strong way to think about transformation. Out with the old and in with the new — year to year.
  • The Icehotel is inspiring for surviving and thriving in adverse environments, and for decision-making under conditions of risk, and leadership and teamwork under time-pressures.

You will find more comments by researchers and writers in Jonathan Pinto’s article ‘Wow! That’s So Cool”.

My key takeaway is that we live in a temporary world to an extreme. Change never stops. We need to be flexibly specialized and skilled at working as a team to survive.

What are your takeaways? What have you experienced that you can share with us?

Please share in the comments below, or directly with me via Twitter @netjmc or my website at https://www.netjmc.com/contact/

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Originally published in my weekly newsletter The Inside Outsider on LinkedIn.

Notes

“Wow! That’s so Cool!” The Icehotel as Organizational Trope.

Lead article in Special Issue entitled “Beyond Morgan’s Metaphors in Human Relations”. Request full text copy: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301237889_Commentary_Beyond_Morgans_eight_metaphors

Today, Icehotels exist in many countries. The original one in Sweden is over 25 years old. You can find many more today by doing a search on the internet and scanning the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_hotel

Gareth Morgan’s seminal book “Images of Organization” (1986)

Written in Note the lack of “S”. I interpret this to mean images of how we organize and not images of different types of organizations. I’ve noticed people tend to instinctively add the “S”. More here, and you can of course find it on your local Amazon. https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/images-of-organization/book229704

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