FW: OS and Personality Type?

Pete Hovde phovde at mindspring.com
Sun May 2 06:47:38 PDT 1999

A reply from Harrison:

-----Original Message-----
From:   owen [SMTP:owen at tmn.com]
Sent:   Saturday, May 01, 1999 8:17 AM
To:     phovde at mindspring.com
Subject:        Re: OS and Personality Type?

At 09:41 AM 4/29/99 -0500, you wrote:
>Has anyone ever researched Open Space as it relates to personality type,
>such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)?  For example, does OS "fit"
>better for certain personality types than it does for others?  And if so,
>could that be a useful factor in deciding whether to use OS in given
To the best of my knowledge no such research has been done, at least at a level
where it might reasonably be called research. My personal experience is that
every single predictor I have ever heard of fails to predict the workability of
Open Space. Indeed every group I have ever worked with always seems to say in
one way or another, "Harrison, OST is a wonderful idea -- but it will never
work with THIS group." But it always seems to work -- at least in terms of
bringing the group to a point of significant conversation, and usually to the
point of resolution of complex issues. Will it always be so? Who knows.

In all fairness, I must say that I have little direct experience with
Personality Typing such as Myers-Briggs,  largely due I suspect to the fact
that I can never remember the alphabet soup required. However,  at the group
level, it turns out that some of the most unlikely suspects genuinely "get with
the program," including such folks as accountants, engineers, scientists,
lawyers, the military and quasi-military organizations. At the end of the day,
I find myself saying that if a group fits somewhere in the generic
classification of Homo sapiens -- there should be no intrinsic problem.

Obviously, what may be true for the group as a whole, need not be true for an
individual's reaction. And so it seems reasonable that a strong "J" (I do
remember that letter) might have some personal difficulty operating in Open
Space. However, I am not sure that is necessarily bad, nor indicative that such
a person should not participate in Open Space. Indeed it may very well turn out
to be an extraordinarily powerful learning experience. I am reminded of a
friend, who by her own account is an archetypical J. Four years ago, she found
herself in the middle of an Open Space I did with the ODN, and her response was
about as negative as it could get. Worst day of her life -- she said. Out of
control, waste of time, etc. etc. However, four years later she sees things
rather differently. In fact she uses Open Space with her clients, and at a
personal level reports a major degree of positive impact. She has learned to
let go of stuff over which she had no control to begin with, resulting in a
massive reduction of stress, frustration, to say nothing of anger and anxiety
related to "folks not doing it right." She also indicates that she is much more
effective in doing the work she wants to do -- simply by not taking everything
on herself and controlling it into perfection.

For me, the real issue is not about Open Space as an event or methodology --
but rather Open Space in the broadest possible sense. In a word, we live in
Open Space, and sometimes that gets very uncomfortable -- for Js and all the
rest of us. The notion that somehow or another we can create rational
structures that will control our destiny doesn't seem to work very well
anymore, and certainly not as well as it used to. This doesn't  mean (for me)
throwing up our hand in despair, but rather learning to operate and navigate in
some very different ways, which are appropriate to the environment we now find
ourselves in, and quite effective when it comes to getting useful things done.
Open Space (the event) turns out  to be a very powerful school room.

Anyhow, I do hope that research can be done on the correlation of personality
type and Open Space. I think we would learn a great deal about what is going on
in each of us as we navigate in Open Space. However, I would be distinctly
uncomfortable with the notion that personality typing might be used as some
sort of a screen for participation in Open Space. I can see it now -- All Js
need not apply.

We do know, of course, that there is precisely one way to mess up an Open
Space: Try and control it and think you are in charge. To the extent that
control (worse yet, total control)  is or has been an article of faith with Js
-- some degree of discomfiture may be anticipated. And all the rest of us are
going to have different sorts of discomfort. But at the end of the day, I
rather suspect that it all comes with the territory -- not just the territory
of Open Space Technology, but the open space of the world we all inhabit.

Harrison Owen
7808 River Falls Drive
Potomac, MD 20854   USA
301-469-9269 (phone)
301-983-9314 (fax)
email owen at tmn.com
Website http://www.tmn.com/~owen
Open Space Institute website
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