self organizing systems

Sheila T. Isakson isakson at
Mon Aug 23 10:17:48 PDT 1999

Dear Birgitt,
     Welcome back and thanks for your descriptions of your travels.  I am
sure that you shared your marvelous ideas with many Australians and
learned from them as well.  Then upon your return you really stirred the
pot with your questions about self-organizing systems and spirit.  I have
been thinking about your questions for a few days and offer the

1.  Self-organization.  I have often wondered why we don't organize
ourselves in business environments as we ourselves are organized.  This
rhetorical question can be asked at many levels!  Circles, as a
fundamental structure in nature, are found at many levels from cells to
organ systems to populations to communities.  Look around at the boxes,
rectangular tables, and cubicles in most business environments.  Open
Space Technology circles create the container or the vessel in which
dynamic self-organization takes place, which also is at many levels!  The
peace and tranquility that emerge within some people on the one hand and
the chaos that emerges within other people on the other hand, happen
regardless of whether we notice it or not.   Self-organization is
energized by information and happens at various levels including
individual, group, and community beginning with the opening circle and
processing through numerous replications and tranformations that results
in new, emerging patterns of people and information.  If business leaders
organization truely cared about creating self-organizating systems, we
would find more examples of the Open Space Organization.   I am guessing
that when anything is difficult to control,  the temptation is to
separate it into key elements in the sense of "divide and conquor."
There is plenty of self organizing going on in business environments.
When we cannot control it, we deny its existence.  Nonetheless,
self-organizing goes on anyway.  Some of the principles of Open Space
Technology occur naturally even though their existence is denied.  It's
really quite natural.  And healthy individuals cope at various levels of
the organization by self-organizing communication networks, special
interest groups, etc.

2.  Spirt .  A recent article in the Sloan Management Review (Sept. 1999)
by Ian Mitroff and Elizabeth Denton ("A Study of Spirituality in the
Workplace") reports some empirical evidence that I can relate to our work
in Open Space.  Participants in the Mitroff and Denton surveys make
strong differentiation between religion and spirituality.  Spirituality
was defined as being connected with one's complete self, others,
humanity, and the entire universe.  It is also the belief that there is a
higher power, whatever we call it, which governs everything.  It is the
feeling of awe and the mystery of being.  The single word that best
captures the meaning of spirituality and the vital role that it plays in
people's lives is "interconnectedness" and is inextricably connected with
caring, hope, kindness, love, and optimism.   Mitroff and Denton stated
that "unless organizations learn how to harness the 'whole person' and
the immense spiritual energy  that is at the core of everyone, they will
not be able to produce world class products and services."   Why has
spirit and the state of spirituality been neglected for so long?
Probably for two reasons:   1) too soft, nebulous and as Harrison Owen
has stated, "can get weird."  and 2)  U.S. society has a long-established
tradition of relegating the expression of deeply personal beliefs to
clearly confined private places.   Healthy individuals find ways to deal
with bringing their complete selves to work.

        Are we dealing with one thing that is the same here?  Self-organization
and Spirit being different manifestations of the same phenomenon?
Maybe!!!!  Is the soul the container and the spirit the
interconnectedness within the container, no wonder processes of
self-organization are invisible?  This may be part of why Open Space
Technology works regardless of whether or not we focus our attention.  It
may be what quantuum physics describes as the relationship between
particle and wave.  Relationship is what we can focus on.

        Birgitt, thanks for starting this conversation.  Mulling this over a
bit, makes me more certain that I have lots of work to do in this domain!

Sheila T. Isakson

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