self organizing systems

Harrison Owen owen at
Mon Aug 23 04:27:28 PDT 1999

Birgitt wrote:

>It is human beings, especially human beings in our formal organizations that
>I am not so sure about. And yes, I am separating us from the rest of nature
>as I talk about us here.Mostly because that which differentiates us so much
>from the rest of nature is that we have "will" and the freedom to make
>choices from amongst so many. And we have a lot of emotions. And we have
>tyrants and dictators and places where we aren't free to self organize.
There is no question in my mind that as humans we are different from rocks
in that we have knowledge (maybe), some degree of freedom, and feelings
about all of the above. But we  are also subject to many of the same
operative principles of nature. So if you drop me and a rock, both will
fall. There is a difference in that I will know that I am falling, and
probably not like it too much. It is also possible that I can drop myself
(jump over a cliff) and thereby demonstrate my free will (free fall?) So
there are  differences, and also similarities. Like rocks (molecules etc)
we will self organize given certain simple pre-conditions. Unlike rocks
(presumably) we can choose to create/initiate these conditions and thus
jump over the cliff or into Open Space. We will also have certain feelings
about what transpires and remember those feelings. Presumably rocks don't
have all that,  although there are certainly some people on the planet who
would disagree.
>Doing an Open Space meeting is an "intervention" into the natural way of
>things. So, if the natural way of things is self organizing, why do we even
>do Open Space? Harrison has pointed out that we do it to create the
>conditions for self organization to be possible. So...if that is so, maybe
>we are not about naturally being a self organizing system???? I have seen
>self management operate in Open Space but I would not call this a  self
>organizing system.
For me, doing an Open Space is certainly an intervention -- but it is an
intervention in exactly the same way that jumping over a cliff is an
intervention. I decide to take a break from the normal day's activities and
hurl myself into the atmosphere. But once I have made that decision, what
happens next follows pretty  much what Uncle Newton predicts. Ordinarily I
go down, and not up. The same holds true for rocks. So with Open Space --
every time , invite a group of people to sit in a circle... and guess what
Spirit shows up, magic breaks out, work gets done, and no body or group of
bodies prescribed the organizational form in which all that takes place.
Maybe I am being obtuse, but I would have to say the group did it all by
itself. Or self-organized. Of course, we all know of situations where Open
Space didn't seem to work, but in every situation I am aware  of -- the
problem wasn't Open Space -- the problem was what we euphemistically call,
"Modified Open Space" -- which almost inevitably means that somebody
couldn't quite let go, on the grounds that things could get out of control.

Harrison Owen
7808 River Falls Drive
Potomac, MD  20854

Summer address:
189 Beaucaire Ave.
RR Box 4248
Camden, ME

Phone 301-469-9269
Fax 301-983-9314
Maine Phone 207-763-3261

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