Questions & Answers — A Short Tribute to Harrison Owen

Harrison Owen is as much a founder as anyone of the process methodology, Open Space Technology. I’ve met Harrison once in person. I mostly see his posts on the Open Space list-serve, and have read his books. Two of the things that I appreciate about Harrison are his commitment to simplicity and his commitment to self-organization. As for simplicity, the Harrison voice I often hear on my shoulder is, “what’s one more thing you could not do?” It’s an invocation, often needed, to help the group take responsibility for itself. As for self-organzation, the voice I hear is about how “self-organization has always happened, and is always happening.” Harrison has a “no fooling, let’s not kid ourselves” realism to him.

In my facilitation, I often use Open Space Technology. I count on it to get people working together. Quickly and simply. I count on it as one of the ways that groups can embody and tangibly experience a cultural shift to work together by choice, not by obligation. It inspires.

On today’s Open Space list was a post from Harrison. It’s on answers and questions. I very much relate to the questions that matter, and was having a form of this conversation last night with my 19 year-old. I was telling him how I appreciate questions (inquiry) more than I appreciate answers (many of which are imposed certainty, for convenience).

Here’s his post — thanks Harrison.

It is all about answers.
The critical thing in life.
So I was told.

If you do not have the answers,
Or better THE ANSWER,
Life is hardly worth living.

Poor me —
No matter how hard I tried, 
Every answer I found
Was either partial, 
half-assed or stupid. 
Answers don’t help a bit.
It’s the Question, Stupid!
Not just any question. 
The Question. The biggie. The one with no possible answer.

Sitting THAT Question makes anything possible.
Nothing is certain.

It is called real open space. 


3 Replies to “Questions & Answers — A Short Tribute to Harrison Owen”

  1. Hi dear Tenneson,

    Thanks for pointing out that signing up for your updates is easy-peasy–did it!
    And even more thanks for sharing your learning so consistently and generously.

    Here’s a wondering–for you, does an afternoon of Open Space feel differently and/or have different kinds of outcomes than a 2 or 3 day Open Space? In my rather limited experiences, I think it does for me, but I haven’t figured out quite how to put it into words…

    love to you & yours!

    1. Thanks Christy — I have far more experience with Open Space for a day than over 3 days. So, I wonder too. What does feel in place to me always is the commitment to self-organization and emergence. So, for example, if I offer a World Cafe in the morning and OS in the afternoon, I’m counting on the Cafe to connect people to support and get them curious together. The content AND the connection feeds the OS. I sometimes think of it as “field tending,” these many things that many of us do. OS is part of that. It’s quite a realization when groups really get it that they can work from passion / responsibility. Fun, right.

      1. Yes, that makes sense–again, that notion of paying attention to “what are we *really* hosting?” that you speak to so eloquently. So that the connection and curiosity that’s fostered in the WC feed into and strengthen the intentional commitment to self-organzation and emergence, and all of it contributes to deepening wholeness, aliveness, relatedness, consciousness…

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