Harrison Owen hhowen at
Tue Dec 21 05:04:56 PST 2004

I was recently asked to write a piece about "Nescience and Open Space." I
suspect your reaction paralleled mine -- what the hell is that? Truthfully I
had never seen the word "Nescience" before -- although I could guess the
meaning. Something about "ignorance." But that doesn't quite do it. If you
take the word apart, just a little bit, something a little deeper starts to
come out. Ne-Science. Science is knowledge, or the process of gaining
knowledge. Nescience would be the absence of knowledge, usually called
ignorance -- but maybe more. It occurred to me that Nescience and Science
might relate to each other in the same way that "negative" and "positive" do
when one speaks about electricity or an electrical field. Neither one is
good or bad, and both are necessary in order for current to flow. Useful
power only shows up when the positive is grounded in the negative. All by
itself, the positive does nothing.

A little arcane and weird, I guess, but following the thought along --
Nescience would be the negative field which draws out Science. Or --
Nescience is the Open Space in which knowledge shows up. Or -- Necience is
the question and Science the answer.

Which might bring you to the curious position that Open Space is
questionable. Which is true. And it might also give us another way of
thinking about what happens in Open Space. Coarsely put -- Open Space is a
huge sucking hole that draws out knowledge. It is not about asking
provocative questions -- but BEING the essence of question itself.

I apologize to all those on the LIST (Probably the majority) who do not have
English as a primary language. If what you have read above sounds a little
twisted and strange -- that is not due to your unfamiliarity with English.
It is pretty damn weird -- but I guess the same could be said for me.

Anyhow, I have been having some fun, and who knows whether I will write the
article. One side of me dearly wants to rise to the challenge. Another side
of me says -- Hold on a minute. We got enough trouble without putting out an
outrageous title -- something like "Open Space is Ignorance."


Harrison Owen
7808 River Falls Drive
Potomac, Maryland   20845
Phone 301-365-2093

Open Space Training
Open Space Institute
Personal website
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-----Original Message-----
From: OSLIST [mailto:OSLIST at LISTSERV.BOISESTATE.EDU] On Behalf Of Brendan
Sent: Monday, December 20, 2004 2:56 AM

G'day folks

I've been pondering lately on the 'art of provocative questioning'  - or
Working recently with couple of 'undecided' clients -  co-designing a
process for working with staff groups on such themes as 'team-building
days' or 'planning conferences' - we've discussed the notion of 'different
purpose, different space, different process'
They had already decided that they wished to go off-site but seemed
reluctant to engage in any unconventional or 'way-out/weird' activities...

One of my key questions to them now is:
Why would you invest so much to take your staff, team, whatever away from
their normal 'business as usual' space - place of work - and then just
expose them to the same old 'business-as-usual' processes...where
predetermined plans, outcomes, bells and whistles dominate the timetable?

During the ensuing conversation, I usually have the opportunity to provide
an invitation to consider a real alternative - if you are going away, then
go away in more than just a physical sense - go away in terms of place,
pace and space...
a different place - removed from the usual environment, sights, smells,
sounds, tastes, touches in order to create
a different space - in which the unknown can be made known, the unusual can
be accessed and the creativity of people can be unleashed at
a different pace - a slowing down and/or a speeding up, determined by those
who are there, in response to the energies and passion that emerge from
them as they engage with each other and with the theme...

This basic, simple question and subsequent conversation seems to have
provoked a couple of welcome 'ah-ha' moments from sponsors struggling to
accept the 'risks' associated with their 'loss of control' or fear of the

It's so much fun developing 'provocative questions' - much easier than
trying to provide answers!

Any other favourite 'provocative questions' hanging around?


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