getting started in consulting

Harrison Owen hhowen at
Fri Jun 18 12:39:18 PDT 2004

I am the guilty party, having suggested that Raffi post his letter on
OSLIST. As I said in my original note back to him, there is a lot of
experience out there in OS-Land, and he might as well take advantage of it.
I offered my two cents which I have copied below.






Raffi - thanks for your confidence, and while I certainly understand your
hesitance in putting all this up on OSLIST, perhaps you might reconsider for
two reasons. First, your experience is not unique, although it is obviously
unique for you. That being the case, a discussion online could be helpful to
many others. Secondly, there are multiple folks on that LIST with a great
deal of experience, and they might be very helpful to you. But it is your


And now to the substance of your note. Finding your way in the world is
always exciting, never secure, and rarely, if ever, follows whatever sort of
plan you may have created. Speaking just for myself, I can honestly say that
I never had a clue where I was going and how I might get there - at least
not in specifics. 40 years ago when I more or less finished my academics,
there was nothing on my radar screen that predicted the future course of my
life. It is a fact that I never had a job that I sought, and every job I did
get came entirely out of the blue. It is also true that every job I did,
nobody had ever done before. I guess maybe that is the secret strand -
follow your nose into the unknown, always being ready to be surprised. There
may be another point here - when the surprise is over and learning stops  --
follow your nose one more time. In a word, I always had an intention to be
useful and contributory to the world in which I lived. I never had a plan,
or at least a plan that worked out the way I thought it would. At this point
in my life, I can say without reservation that I do not regret a single
thing that I have experienced or done. There are more than a few instances
that I would just as soon not repeat - but regret, Never. I would guess that
it is all about the journey and not the destinations.


One thing I have learned is to be a fully open and available to whatever is
happening. This can get scary, but the opportunities are everywhere, and
they become obvious as long as you don't blind yourself with an artificial


And experience is certainly useful. In fact it is what you are getting now.
Being a manager in some company might be helpful, but is by no means
essential. My father was a consultant for 50 years. Never once did he hold a
management position, but he was well respected in his field. Certainly he
had technical expertise, but most importantly he had genuine authenticity.
Every day 24/7 he was Ray Owen, and you could count on that. I guess he did
have one management position - When he was 70, he retired, and as he was
making a final visit to his major clients, he stopped in the office of a CEO
with whom he had worked for years. The CEO said nice things to the effect
that my Dad had always done what he promised to do  -- except once. Dad had
promised the CEO to find a General Manager for one of their plants, but that
hadn't happened. Dad didn't miss a beat - he said he had found the General
Manager: Himself. At 70 years old, never having a run a plant (but having
worked in hundreds of them) Dad took on the job of general manager with the
understanding that he would stay a year, find and train his replacement, and
make the whole operation profitable (it had been losing money for years).
One year to the day later, his job was done, and Dad went to Florida. 


I never quite thought about it - but Dad has been a major role model for me.
Our areas of interest were vastly different - but he taught me in many
subtle ways to be myself. I have tried.


As for Open Space - it certainly can be a tool - but for me it is ultimately
a way of life. It is not so much a matter of what you do, but how you do it
that counts. I find that I am fully myself, and most fully effective when I
begin every undertaking with an invitation. Invite the folks who care. Bring
them into a circle (virtual or real) where each person stands equal to all
others. Make sure they come as whole people with all their passions - even
when those passions conflict. And don't forget responsibility - pure passion
is great, but it is just a flash in the pan without taking responsibility
for the impact and outcomes. The Four Principles seem keep you on-track, and
never forget the Law of Two feet. You and you alone are responsible for your
experience - and when it is time to move on  -- Do It!


Last but not least - always be prepared to be surprised. Never get
blindsided by your plans and all those should-have-beens, could-have-beens
and might-have-beens. Just have a ball. I have.



Good Luck







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-----
Sent: Friday, June 18, 2004 1:47 PM
Subject: getting started in consulting


Dear listers,

[Below is a letter I sent to two folks on the list privately, one of them
convinced me to post it. After giving it some thought I have posted it with
some minor edits.] 

I have been very troubled recently by some thoughts and wanted to run them
by you (by the way, I would post this to the listserv, but right now I don't
feel ready to, it seems too personal!)

The story:

I have been sending an appeal letter to various friends and colleagues to
raise the funds to go the OSonOS in Goa.

One of the responses I got was from a mentor of mine, a prominent North
American political and social activist/trainer and occasional consultant to
(nonprofit) organizations. He was the person I had said in a previous post
felt that OS is oversold. 

His "beef" with OS from a consultant perspective is:

If you go around consulting organizations and you only have one tool in your
toolkit, why would I want to use you? In other words, if you go around life
with a hammer, you're going to see every problem as a nail.

I had a conversation with him a while back and was consulting on my life
direction with him, the plusses and minuses of getting (deeply) into OS and
the like. 

Later, in response to my funding letter, he wrote (paraphrasing): 

To attempt to consult organizations using OS (or any other OD tool) without
the (significant) prior experience of managing one (thus having been in the
shoes of the director of an organization) reflects the pretense of a
twenty-something. That being in my mid-30's I should know better. That no
right-thinking organization should/would really want to hire me as a
consultant if I don't have a track record. A track record of managing
organizations. A consultant who hasn't had the nuts and bolts experience of
having dealt with the nitty-gritty of managing is apt to be in the clouds,
not likely to really understand what the organization is going through. [I
understand that initially he consciously chose putting his thoughts to me in
a "tough love" kind of way; later he broke it down for me]

One of the underlying messages on using OS that I gleaned from Harrison's
User's Guide - if I recall correctly- (being somewhat reductive here) is the
Nike slogan "Just DO it!"

I find it hard to argue with him on this question about acquiring requisite
managerial experience to offer a more "grounded" OS.

As I understand, many listers in the OS world, managed in different
contexts, consulted (traditionally) in different contexts before they
started using OS consciously. 

My own managerial experience is limited at this point; I don't necessarily
want to get into managing organizations even over the short term. But maybe
this is something I nevertheless need to do?

Your thoughts?



p.s. And yet I know that part of my passion lies with OS, I have no choice
but to follow it, right or wrong...

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