Three of Three — Overnight Freeze Patterns, Lindon, Utah

“The origin of Open Space Technology,” Harrison Owen says yesterday on Beehive Production’s Founder Series, “is 13.7 billion years ago. Open Space is about creating life and being part of life’s natural unfolding.”

I so loved participating with a group of 75 or so, mostly listening to Harrison tell stories of what was happening as he was helping to craft what is widely used today, and known as the process methodology, Open Space Technology.

At the heart of it is a premise of self-organizing capacity. We humans can tap into that. Or trust that natural force, just like we might trust gravity. It’s happening anyway, whether we plan for it or not. Just like the ordering from the overnight freeze in the photo I harvested above — I’ve been so taken by this self-organized art. It’s not like the ice elves come overnight, have a meeting, and then leave patterned design on the sidewalk after pulling an overnighter. That art happens naturally. Pattern happens naturally.

That’s encouraging.

Here’s a few of the headlines that I loved in Harrison’s sharing and in Chris Corrigan’s prompting of a few questions (I think Beehive will be posting soon for free sharing):

Harrison Featured on Beehive Productions
  • lived life as an unrolling ball — at 84 now, Harrison looks back on his life as something that unrolled, or unfolded. It was less planned and always adapting
  • interest in chaos and order and the creative process; using OS to create life — I love what this names as already inherent. Chaos and order are natural. They dance with each other. And they create life. Ah, to think of the group process OST that is really about giving ourselves to what is already wanting to happen.
  • people knew each other but never had a chance to talk to each other — I love the “why” of this, that feels so true in most organizations. There are good people that just don’t have structure, habit, or rhythm for connection, The very thing that sustains us is often stripped from operational premise, and often stripped in the name of efficiencies. There’s a ludicrousness in that. I love Harrison’s most basic question. 1) What issues are biting you now + five years out? And then the imperative and invitation, “Do something useful.”
  • organizational transformation was a 2-beer idea — it was a desire to hold a conference on something that was attractive in idea to most, but nobody knew what it meant. It was desire to hold a learning gathering that had the energy of connection and the simplicity of structure that didn’t require a year of planning and budget. OST is what you do to put people to work, knowing that a layer of work is about creating and encouraging the connection.
  • we are the stories we tell — we just need to get a sense of the spirit of things, perhaps by asking two questions: 1) who are you (discloses the mythology of the place), and 2) how did you get here?
  • origin of OS — yup, at one level it is 13.7 billion years ago, with the appearance of self-organization. Harrison goes on about the impact of OST. “From the sitting around of participants to serious creativity. From conflict to hugging and kissing (even with Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are trying to kill each other). The other version of creation, socially, is from 1985 when Harrison didn’t have a full year of time or absence of pay to organize a conference. His basics are gold. 1) when people have something to say, get in circle. 2) create a bulletin board. 3) get to work (and do one thing less that people can do for themselves, or in other words — trust self-organization, rely on human goodness, and depend on diversity)
  • the business of business is learning — this is one of the best “what if” questions I know. Definitely true beyond business too. What if the business of community were learning? Or of family? Or of organizations? This takes me back to my grandmother, who had similar orientation. She was always about being curious and learning as fabric for community
  • next is to organize a meaningful conversation for 8 billion people — this was Harrison’s peek to the possibility of now. He named the many amplified settings. “Climate change. Polarization. Trump trumping. Economic disparity. Fires burning…”

It was great to be a participant. It was great to return to origins and founders, Harrison in this case, of a process that I use all of the time and has become central to the way that I work with people to help them work with life itself. Remembering that OST is about being with life’s natural organizing pattern — that was a gift yesterday.


Disturbance As Doorway to Organizational Learning

My friend Meg wrote an article a long time ago, “Disturb Me Please.” It was Meg’s version of how to invite organizational learning. It was Meg’s version of working skillfully and with integrity amidst complex circumstances. It was Meg’s version of trusting in self-organization — that which happens in relation to a disturbance, that impacts people in deeper reaching ways.

Yesterday I was in a conversation in which disturbance was being asked for. It was me, a colleague, and a client team leader. It was mostly the context of listening to what might be possible and helpful at an all staff gathering later in 2020. It was one of those conversations where we were listening together for possibility and pattern — as it always is with complexity, it’s seeking a direction for experimenting more than seeking a solution.

Disturbance — in thought, in understanding, in responding to circumstance — is what we were talking about implicitly. As it pertains to this team, we are inherently counting on the value of a disturbance through some provocative exercises, to create a reorganized and re-attended learning among them. It’s always about some layer of organizational health — that’s team, community, organization.

I felt an excitement beginning to imagine exercises that would support this. I also felt an excitement to hear some of the disturbance “why” that was emerging for this group. It’s a common story and a common need for teams that are usually focussed on their own stuff. But that stuff is so often connected to a broader and macro pattern that is happening in many places. My Buddhist friends remind me that the most personal is the most universal — when it comes to organizational health, the most personal of what is challenging a team is also so often what is challenging many teams in many diverse settings globally.

The “Why” For This Team:

  • Be in learning, always.
  • Be in connection, always.
  • Dare to shift orientation, even if momentarily from “I” to “We.”
  • Wonder about inherent mystery or unknowns together.
  • Know and feel a momentary equalness and sharedness together.

My job, when it comes to working with teams these days, is so much about creating a container in which the disturbance can not only be experienced, but welcomed. So that there can be some added self-organizing and aha-ing that happens to help them with learning, connection, collaboration, remembering to encounter the unknown, and reclaiming a momentary sense of equality and inclusion. And with that container, we create a few conditions that might help them grow and improve what they are doing together — or grow some capacity to evolve.

It comes from disturbance first, and then the natural organizing that can grow from there. It’s really important doorway to ongoing organizational learning, which most of us are seeking.