LASER's etc.

John Dicus jdicus at
Mon May 11 08:32:43 PDT 1998

At 11:16 AM 4/30/98 -0400, uwe weissflog wrote:
>Together they create a structure that "forces" us to be open,i.e. basically
we are
>not in control and can not resist it. Another analogy I found helpful in this
>context is a laser. When ordinary light enters the environment of the
laser, what
>creates the laser beam is not the light, but the physical setup of the laser

Dear Uwe,

I was re-reading some OS messages and decided to add some thoughts to yours.

I believe it's useful to think about how we use the word "structure."  I've
been trying to re-train myself to use the word differently.  I will admit,
though, it's not been easy so far.  I'm trying not to use the word
"structured" when I want to convey that something is more limiting or more
tightly guided.  As an example, I sometimes tell people in the OS planning
phase that OS is not "unstructured," but "differently structured."  Because
the structure of OS appears strange to some people, they call it
unstructured because it is outside their zone of familiarity and, in many
instances, comfort.  Structure simply guides us while enabling us to relate
cause with effect.

Although I've not tried this with larger groups in OS, I have explored it in
smaller groups during various learning experiences.  I've asked them, while
sitting in the circle, to engage in some isometric exercises -- something
like tightening sets of opposing muscles or pressing both hands together.  I
ask them to push or resist as hard as they can while keeping a calm look on
their faces -- remaining virtually motionless.  A stranger walking into the
room at that moment might not be able to see the intense consumption of
energy taking place below the surface as ten or so people "appear" to be
doing nothing.  But as the beads of perspiration begin to flow on people's
brows, it is evident that they are doing something different than you expect
or are able to see.

In may respects, I see opening and holding space much the same way.  There
is a poem I love that talks about a mother watching her daughter learn
through some tough challenges.  The poem refers to it as "learning to live
in what kills us."  In the middle of the poem it says...  "Your mother is
doing nothing -- and she never did anything harder."  The mother was holding
the space for her daughter to learn.

Facilitating OS and other emergent processes gives a broad experience base
to help understand language, theory, and practice -- which in turn helps us
to have broader and richer experiences.  And maybe as importantly, it helps
us to re-create the conditions -- the environment -- for what wants and
needs to happen.
Which brings me to LASERs.  In Capra's book "The Web of Life," he describes
in layman's terms how the LASER works.  Those of you who have been in the
"learning container" when the beauty has emerged have, in my thinking,
already experienced a human LASER.

LASER means light amplification through stimulated emission of radiation.  A
reasonably powerful external light source pumps, or excites, the process.
Normal light is incoherent, or unordered -- much of the light conflicts,
cancels, and spreads out.  Many different frequencies/wavelengths are
present.  But the light from a LASER is coherent.  In the LASER, individual
atoms are excited by the external light source.  The excitement raises their
energy levels, and as each atoms' energy level drops back down, they emit
radiation (light).  This continual process of excitement and emission takes
on the characteristics of a self-organizing process.  A stable
self-organizing state is reached and maintained (just as a hurricane is
stable, yet far from equilibrium).  The external light source pumps the
process and maintains that stable state -- order beyond chaos.  In the case
of the hurricane, stability is maintained through the flow of thermal
energy.  A hurricane dies out over land because the excitation is taken away.

The LASER's coherence derives from the container that contains the excited
atoms.  Through it's construction, only certain predetermined emissions can
continue to exist -- can continue to survive.  Others are absorbed nearly
instantaneously.  Hence only coherent emissions are allowed to exist, build
up, excite other atoms, and exit the container.

In short, a LASER is an externally-excited self-organizing system that
allows only desired emissions to exist and escape.  The external energy
source does not cause dysfunction, rather it produces coherence.

In Open Space -- in Emergent Space -- I think much the same thing might be
happening.  In the way the space is opened and held, a learning container is
created that supports certain "behaviors" while canceling/eliminating
others.  The person facilitating excites the individual people who then
"emit" and interact as a self-organizing human system.  The learning
container absorbs the behaviors that the group does not want, while enabling
certain other behaviors to interact coherently.  I feel that the "design"
and "creation" of the container for OS does matter.  While we may not be
conscious of it's structure -- because it may be invisible -- much of our
growth as OS facilitators has to do with learning to recognize that
structure.  I feel it is the essence of the organizational structures we
seek for future generations.

I think it matters how the facilitator fashions the initial container and
excites the field.  At the same time it speaks to the "rightness" of the OS
process because the individual atoms (people) would not support a container
that is not natural to them nor would they respond to excitation too far
from what feels right.

The facilitator must somehow excite the process, yet stay out of it's way at
the same time.  The group reaches a high functioning stable state that is
far (sometimes magically far) from equilibrium.  A group of people
functioning in this manner can take "heat" from both the inside and outside
and turn it into coherence rather than dysfunction.  When the facilitator is
doing the job well, he or she will be observed to be doing nothing ("and
s/he never did anything harder").   At some point the whole group becomes
self-exciting and the facilitator can become one of the "atoms in the
LASER."  But somehow I think that someone(s) must hold/"excite" the process
or it winds down.   But I could be wrong -- after all this is just a model...

When it's over, everyone deserves a long nap.

The neat thing about being practitioners is that we can read books like
Capra's and say "hey, we've been there," and then use the theory to help
explain and "language" what we've experienced.

As an aside, this is excerpted from some writing I'm doing for a book on
emergent systems, and we've used the concept in the design of our
"Experiences in Stewardship" series of gatherings.  While each gathering is
different, each is very much the same in "structure" and in the quality of
"magic."  It strengthens my belief that we can be conscious of new and
different structures that holistically include body/mind/spirit.

Thanks for "exciting" my imagination.

John Dicus


John Dicus  |  Cornerstone Consulting Associates
Teamwork - Systems Thinking - Leadership
Open Space - Action Learning - CourseWare  |  mailto:jdicus at
800-773-8017 |  330-725-2728 (2729 fax)
2761 Stiegler Road, Valley City, OH 44280

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