doing self-organization

Peggy Holman peggy at
Sun May 27 12:15:00 PDT 2007

Such a rich discussion!

I want to introduce a couple themes that stand out for me as we continue to 
form the notions that describes self-organization in social systems.

For me, the practice of opening space brings consciousness to the 
self-organization that is evolution at work.  As Harrison said:
> If we did none of the above, it is quite likely that the system would 
> still
>  perform at some level.

Indeed, if we did nothing, emergence would happen, it just might be quite a 
bit more painful.  By doing it mindfully, my belief is that we have the 
chance of tickling out what is wanting to emerge with substantially less 
pain than often accompanies the birth of something new.

For me, the essential core of open space is the invitation to take 
responsibilty for what i/we love.  I think we are in a time of completely 
rethinking social behavior that serves in light of a new guiding story (no 
longer Newtonian, but some form of new science).  Inviting is part of it. 
Welcoming diversity, disturbance and mystery are also aspects of it.  I 
believe that another vital apsect is learning to follow what has heart and 
meaning.  Over the last several years, I've discovered that there are those 
who perceive taking responsibility for what you love is as an invitation to 
be selfish - to follow one's own agenda.  And I have been in situations 
where the postings in an OS event are just that.  It has taught me how 
important it is to create a rich, nutrient environment (with a nod to Stuart 
Kaufman).  Or, as Juanita Brown would put it, create hospitable space.  When 
these conditons exist, taking responsibility for what one loves becomes an 
egoless act of service on behalf of the whole.  It lives at that remarkable 
intersection of one's passion with the needs of the whole.

To Pat's comments about the relational nature of self-organization and 
Ralph's naming of what we are describing as evolution in action, I say yes! 
I think of emergence as the learning edge of evolution.  And opening space 
creates the conditions for emergence by inviting the disparate threads 
around some attractive intention to form a new nexus - a new center enabling 
a naming of something which could not previously be named.  That interaction 
is evolution speaking through us.  We are the midwives.  And all evolution 
happens through interaction, which, of course, requires relationship.  I 
love the image of nexus - the coming together to form new centers through 
disparate aspects rubbing up against each other in unexpected ways.  In 
fact, as I've wondered about a name for the field that describes our work of 
supporting whole systems to interact, I grabbed on to a term used by my 
co-author, Steve Cady, in jest: Nexustentialism.  (Doesn't that make you 

I want to name a couple qualities of invitation that I notice at work. 
First, I am more and more drawn to invitations that show up as inquiries. 
For me, the value of questions is that they focus our attention, bound from 
the inside, and invite us into mystery.  They focus by providing direction - 
letting us know the nature of the call.  Rather than focus coming through 
declarations, which frequently leave no room for anyone else, they provide 
the masculine archetype of direction without its more punishing - 
do-it-my-way quality.

Questions bound by acting as an attractor, drawing towards them those who 
care about the call.  And in that attraction, a loose edge forms, allowing 
people to put a toe in without being trapped by boxes - rules and 
regluations that define what can be said or done.  Because they create a 
natural boundary, they shape a safe space for us to be together - in 
relationship - with all of our lovely, quirkly and challenging differences. 
After all, we wouldn't be in that space if we hadn't felt the call.

And, of course, if there isn't the deep, dark entry into mystery - 
archetypical of the feminine, there is no space for novelty to emerge.

In  this union of the masculine and feminine, there is very hospitable 
space, bounded by both direction and mystery.

I'd add one other element that for me, preceeds invitation.  And that is 
uncovering intention.  What is the purpose for coming together?  What gives 
it meaning?  The more an invitation invokes an aspiration that attracts, the 
more fertile its potential.

Guess that's it for now.

Thanks, Michael, for starting the conversation and Harrison, Pat, and others 
for engaging with it.

from rainy Seattle,

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Harrison Owen" <hhowen at>
Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2007 1:33 PM
Subject: Re: [OSLIST] doing self-organization

> Pat Wrote: "To refer back to Harrison's statement I don't think you can
> enable it or sustain it.  I think all of creation is the an expression of
> it."
> No question in my mind Pat, we do not "create self-organization." It is. 
> But
> I really do believe that we can learn to use it, to optimize it, and to
> sustain it. More to the point, I think that is precisely what we all have
> been learning to do for 20 years with OST. I presume you would have no
> problem in talking about "Optimizing and sustaining life." And mutates
> mutandis -- the same applies to self-organization, which after all is what
> life is all about, at least a fundamental level.
> For sure we know how to screw it up (which also teaches us what NOT to 
> do).
> Terminal screw up occurs every time we attempt to organize a 
> self-organizing
> system -- or control it, which amounts to the same thing.
> And I think we have been learning a lot about how to make it (SO,Life,Open
> Space) sing. It starts with Invitation, comes to a circle, includes 
> passion
> and responsibility etc. Or something.
> Harrison
> Harrison Owen
> 7808 River Falls Drive
> Potomac, Maryland 20854
> Phone 301-365-2093
> Skype hhowen
> Open Space Training
> Open Space Institute
> Personal website
> OSLIST: To subscribe, unsubscribe, change your options, view the
> archives Visit:
> -----Original Message-----
> Black
> Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2007 1:52 PM
> Subject: Re: doing self-organization
> Michael et al
> First of all thank you for this discussion.  You can't have self
> organization without open space and probably you can't have open space
> with out self organization.  But I love the rolling around of thoughts
> in these regards.  I love the mystery of creation that is revealed.
> I come at self organization from a biological science perspective. In
> creation self organization does enable high performance, sustaining
> life and evolution or leading change in organization as you put.  Some
> would say that without selforganization there would be no life.  Self
> organization is not an outward event.  It is not an abstracted event.
> It is  action in response to experience and the identity transforming
> that occurs because of this relationship between self and the
> environment self occurs in.  It does in its essence make life
> possible.  In looking at the organization of a cell and what is
> possible, self organization facilitates the association and
> configurationof lipids and proteins that allow the passage of certain
> materials into the cell.  In the case of the living each action the
> living entity takes changes the environment that the entity is in.
> This would create a toxic environement for living to be sustained if
> not for this dynamic relationship between self and environement.  This
> is what self organization is.  It is a presence to be in the place
> where it is.  It is a presence that allows transformation in a
> transforming environment.  It is a presence that recognizes
> possibility and enters into relationship with it.  Varela would call
> it the mindfulness found in Buddhist tradition and the the fundamental
> cognition. Self organization is what makes even a molecule possible
> and everything else in creation possible.  For me it is like a fractal
> that is fundamental to everything and defines creation and is
> integrated into all that is created.
> To refer back to Harrison's statement I don't think you can enable it
> or sustain it.  I think all of creation is the an expression of it.
> So for me it is more how to remain the most synchronized with it and
> therefore with myself.  Individual entities can I suppose intefere
> with the process or presence  but not without causing their own death.
> Even if one eliminates their own self organizing abilities and cause
> their death, their physical form will be included in the possibility
> of something else in creation.  Like I said I just don't think that
> anything can be separated from it because we are it even in our own
> deaths.
> I guess what I hear when you say that you like to enable high
> preformance, sustain life in neighborhood communities, leading change
> in organizations, or other purposes is that you like to work at the
> macro level.  In reading your posts and some of your writings I
> speculate that in your work with groups of people that you try to be
> present for the group in a capacity that facilitates creation,
> identity, transformation, possibility.  I am thinking that if my
> specualtion about you is correct you name what you do a little
> deferently.  From where I view it, I would name it an expression of
> self organization.
> I am totally a believer that is certain from this post and part of
> what I love about the topic is the implications it has.  If this is
> true and self organization is fundamental to creation and us as part
> of creation what implications does it have for how we view actions in
> the world like violence lest say?  What implications are there for how
> we work in community if any?  Self organization is on some level the
> seed for intelligence.  It has helped me view the workings of the
> world as intelligent in that they all lead down a path. This view
> helps me to descripe the path and do specualte where it might lead.  I
> am wondering where that kind of wondering will lead?
> Love to be present for this conversation.
> pat black
> On 5/24/07, Michael Herman <michael at> wrote:
>> and harrison... looking back at your language about essentials, "the
>> process of self organization
>> can be enabled and sustained by paying careful attention to eight
> critical"
>> occurs to me that i'm not much interested in "the process of
>> self-organization... enabling it... or sustaining it.  more interested
>> in enabling high performance, sustaining life in neighborhood
>> communities, leading change in organization, or other purposes... but
>> no doubt this issue is only popping up because this bit you've posted
>> is taken out of context, so it's lost the links to these and all the
>> other "good" things that we would ever want to invite.  i imagine that
>> high performance and the rest are already wrapped up inside of what
>> you mean when you say 'self-organization' above.
>> m
>> On 5/24/07, Michael Herman <michael at> wrote:
>> > hi doug,
>> >
>> > seems to me that your first question assumes halfway state.  "if there
>> > is such a thing as self-org" then leaves open the question of whether
>> > or not there is anything else.  once we notice that it is, AND is
>> > everywhere, then the need for knowing or creating the conditions seems
>> > to dissolve, maybe into harrison's beer.  we need to know more,
>> > perhaps, if we want to make a better beer, but probably not about the
>> > "conditions" for refrigeration, but about refrigeration as the
>> > condition for beer.  so the conditions that matter are the conditions
>> > for high performance or productive work.  and when we ask that, i
>> > think we can quickly dissolve most of what people say into what
>> > happens in our principles and law and circle and invitation and...
>> >
>> > inviting, like marshall rosenberg's 'non-violent communication,
>> > emphasizes choice.  invitation is request for attention, not demand.
>> > even in writing an invitation with a leader/sponsor, i'm not ever
>> > trying to make the invitation go a certain way, but i do invite
>> > attention (theirs) to focus on various bits of what i'm
>> > hearing/sensing in them and their situation, exploring the 'rightness"
>> > of these bits to see what dimensions of everything they'd like to
>> > invite others to focus on with them.
>> >
>> > my two cents.
>> >
>> > m
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> > On 5/24/07, douglas germann <76066.515 at> wrote:
>> > > Michael, Harrison, Joelle, Andrew, Pat, Raffi, and all--
>> > >
>> > > (Sorry for the previous posting--somehow hit the send key before I 
>> > > was
> done.)
>> > >
>> > > Would you be interested in entertaining a couple of musing questions?
>> > >
>> > > If (some people in command and control mode might still use the word
>> > > "if") there is such a thing as self organizing, what would be its
>> > > conditions?
>> > >
>> > >         This seems to be to be a fruitful inquiry, and it goes beyond
>> > >         our usual important, complex, diverse, conflict, immediacy
> list.
>> > >         For me it perhaps overlaps but is not precisely the same as
>> > >         Harrison's list of 8 essentials.
>> > >
>> > >                 For instance, is invitation necessary for self
>> > >                 organizing? What level of freedom? What order of
>> > >                 equality of the participants? Are there physical
>> > >                 conditions? Or is it just two or more gathering?
>> > >
>> > > Closely related: What is the difference between trying to control 
>> > > what
> a
>> > > group does and inviting? (Harrison, you hinted at this in a post 
>> > > today
>> > > when you say "I believe that there is an infinitely better 
>> > > possibility
>> > > through which we may discover deep ways to realize our full potential
> as
>> > > human beings, as well as doing something very useful and good in the
>> > > world.") Is it simply a matter of degree, or is the difference
>> > > qualitative?
>> > >
>> > >                 For instance, when Birgitt writes of "givens," or I
> help
>> > >                 someone write the theme for their invitation, we are
>> > >                 consciously directing the attention of the
> participants
>> > >                 to something we want to examine or change. So for
>> > >                 instance, we are inviting people to make positive
> change
>> > >                 in the area of X, or to explore the issues and
>> > >                 opportunities of X, and this necessarily takes their
>> > >                 attention off Y, Z, Q and J.
>> > >
>> > >                                 :- Doug.
>> > >
>> > > *
>> > > *
>> > > ==========================================================
>> > > ------------------------------
>> > > To subscribe, unsubscribe, change your options,
>> > > view the archives of oslist at
>> > >
>> > >
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>> > >
>> > >
>> >
>> >
>> > --
>> >
>> > Michael Herman
>> > Michael Herman Associates
>> > 300 West North Ave #1105
>> > Chicago IL 60610 USA
>> >
>> > phone: 312-280-7838
>> > email: michael at
>> > skype: globalchicago
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> --
>> Michael Herman
>> Michael Herman Associates
>> 300 West North Ave #1105
>> Chicago IL 60610 USA
>> phone: 312-280-7838
>> email: michael at
>> skype: globalchicago
>> *
>> *
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