Thanks to Harrison Owen

  1. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
  2. Whoever comes are the right people.
  3. When it starts is the right time.
  4. When it is over, it’s over.

And of course, the law (invitation) of mobility. “If you are not learning or contributing, go somewhere where you can.”

These are well-known principles of Open Space Technology. And now widely practiced.

The founder of OST, Harrison Owen died this week. An elder in our field of group process facilitation. An elder that pointed to the ever present reality and vitality of self-organization. An elder that pointed to the aliveness that exists in people to be in good learning together.

Open Space Technology is now a part of most every group facilitation I do. Because people want to learn. Harrison, curmudgeon and sage (I liked this a lot about him), insisted on such simplicity.

My early days of Open Space go back to the late 1990s and early 2000s. My first memory is with Toke Moeller and Bob Stilger. We were together in a leadership initiative, From the Four Directions. We were gathered for an opening retreat at a place called Naledi, near Johannesburg, South Africa. Toke was very excited about “something new that he was learning.” That was OST. And it was Toke and Bob in such huge commitments and passion in learning that had us meeting about the possibility of OST in our program.

Not long after that, I began hosting Art of Hosting gatherings. First with Toke, Christina Baldwin, Teresa Posakony. Not long after that with Chris Corrigan. OST became a must-include part of those gatherings that continue to happen globally.

And now, 20+ years later, OST is still so often a must-include. Next week in a leadership development program, OST will be much of our 2nd day together. Later in the summer, OST will be a key part of a two day learning summit with medical professionals. Renamed to fit their context — “Self-Organized Learning Groups”).

Open Space — thanks Harrison, and thanks Anne Stadler (if there was a mother of OST, that’s Anne, who died October 2023 ). On it goes. It takes the heart and practice and voice of good people to move a field. And a few decades of time too.

Harrison did that. His love and structure of such simple things (whoever comes, whatever happens, when it starts / ends) lives in my heart and in my practice.

A bow.

2 Replies to “Thanks to Harrison Owen”

  1. I’m glad you mentioned Anne Stadler along with Harrison. For me, they were the godmother and godfather of Open Space. Harrison gave it form, Anne brought it to life by insisting he take it seriously. They ran workshops on Open Space together for years.

    Anne and Harrison were my spiritual parents. So much of how I do my work together was influenced by what I learned from each of them.

    I once witnessed an exchange between them on the Law of Two Feet. For Harrison, it was about the freedom to walk away and get some air. For Anne, it was about standing for what you believe. I learned that both are true. The brilliance of Open Space is that its simplicity holds tremendous complexity. Room for us to be our unique selves and be connected.

    I miss them already. And I hear their voices all the time reminding me of what’s import. They will be with me for the rest of my days.

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