Wave Rider — Book by Harrison Owen

Below is an email that came out through the OS listserve. It announces Harrison Owen’s new book, Wave Rider, published by BK. I’m posting it here because I love the clarity of description on experiment. When I think of what OS is, and how I describe it to others, this little post is exceptionally good. I like the focus on self-organization with OS as one of the ways to work with the reality of self-organization.

“On September 12, 2008, Berrett-Koehler will
publish my new book, Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self
Organizing World. As I explained to my publisher, Steve Piersanti, this is the
book I have been waiting to write because it represents my final report on my
participation in a grand natural experiment.

The experiment, of
course, is that ridiculously simple way to elegant gatherings, Open Space
Technology. As you may know, the creation of OST was not a labor intensive
activity. In fact it appeared in my mind on the strength of two martinis in the
time it took to drink them. That was 23 years ago, and in the intervening period
millions of people from 134 countries have discovered that if you will sit in a
circle, create a bulletin board, open a market place, and go to work — some
fairly incredible things are likely to happen. Massively complex issues can be
dealt with in amazingly short periods of time. Intense conflict can find useful
paths of resolution. And it seems to happen all by itself. There are even
recorded cases where the sole facilitator took a nap!

I have no way
of knowing what all these people thought about their experience, but I found it
profoundly mystifying. How could something so simple do so much? Considered
against the dominant theory and practice of organization and meetings, such
things not only could not happen, they should not happen. But it did and it

Over time it occurred to me that the magic was not Open Space
Technology, but something infinitely more powerful and profound: the elemental
force of Self Organization. For whatever reason, I have had a lifetime
fascination with the great cosmic dance of chaos and order. My 1965 thesis could
have born the title, “Chaos, Order, and the Creative Process,” for that was the
central theme. As the evolving science of chaos and complexity matured I found
myself mesmerized by the elegant insights of the physicists, chemists and
biologists who were pushing that frontier – particularly when they identified
the phenomenon of self organization as a critical player. It all seemed so
counterintuitive — and disturbingly compelling when it occurred to me that
something of the same sort could be happening every time we sat in a circle and
created a bulletin board. But they were doing High Science, and we just
convening meetings. And that is where that funny thing called OST became a
natural experiment for me.

The question was: If the primal force of
self organization lay at the heart of the Open Space experience could we learn
to leverage it for our benefit and align our endeavors with its massive power? I
think the answer is yes, not just as a theoretical possibility but in very
practical ways which might enhance our performance and expand our possibilities
in this turbulent, confusing and wonderful world. In a word, we might learn to
surf the waves of primal power to become Wave Riders.

The book
comes in two parts. The first states the case, and Part II makes the
application. If your predilection is theoretical start at the beginning and read
forward. On the other hand, if your preference is practical, skip Part I and
head straight for Part II: The Wave Rider’s Guide. I make no pretence that this
is the “final word” — indeed I hope it is but a beginning. But it will get you
started, and the rest is up to you.”

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