[OSList] Structure -- Heavy, lite, whatever....

Harrison Owen hhowen at verizon.net
Sat Mar 1 13:56:43 PST 2014

Michael -- I would guess that the whole world (at least that part of the
world connected to any News source) is asking the questions you pose. And I
suspect the answer will be "all of the above." Clearly there are people who
think they are in charge, or would like to be. Putin, for example. And many
others are searching for their parts. Still others are searching for the
script, and are sure that "somebody" has a plan. I don't doubt that a lot of
"somebody's" have a lot of plans. I am equally sure that none of those plans
will work out as "planned." One more time that marvelous self organizing
system known as Humanity is going through its paces. Where it will stop --
nobody knows. Sometimes it is very uncomfortable, to say the least. And for
all the folks in the Ukraine (including Jo), my heart goes out to them in
this moment. But to date, we have all survived, and I can't help but
believing that this too shall pass. Stay tuned!


Harrison Owen
7808 River Falls Dr.
Potomac, MD 20854

189 Beaucaire Ave. (summer)
Camden, Maine 04843

Phone 301-365-2093
(summer)  207-763-3261

www.ho-image.com (Personal Website)
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-----Original Message-----
From: oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org
[mailto:oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org] On Behalf Of Michael M
Sent: Friday, February 28, 2014 5:55 PM
To: World wide Open Space Technology email list
Subject: Re: [OSList] Structure -- Heavy, lite, whatever....

Dear Harrison,
studied your piece, thanks.

I have tried to follow the Ukrainian experiment, especially the "Majdan" 
("square" or "open space" according to Wikipedia) prozess.
(Jo and I were there in 1984/Orange Revolution on our way to an os-training
in the Ukraine and Jo is there now).

Its blinding, I dazzle myself with whats happening there.

I wonder whether I am able to look at it in the context of "structure".
Its in no way a "representative" process, the folks there are neither
"elected" nor sent by anyone (delegated). The representative of the old
structure has fled into a parallel universe.

Still, the proposed government goes there and presents itself to the crowd
and only after that step returns to parliament to be "installed".

Of course, this is completely illegal, undemocratic, chaotic, and, as you
might point out, probably also quite fattening.

What is happening there?
Do we see a "complex adaptive system" navigate through a stormy sea?
Is it "passion combined with responsibility" rather than "democratic
structure" that creates "order" out of "chaos"... without America Speaks,
OST, AI and other stuff active? Is it an illusion, doomed to fail?

What does it mean to us in the light of all the ouside expert advice from
Russia, the European Union, USA, Germany... what does it learn us?

Who could have thunk up such a process.

Who will try to close it down quickly to return to business as we know it?

Greetings from Berlin

On 28.02.2014 19:25, Harrison Owen wrote:
> I just love the serendipity! The LIST was dead silent for a day or 
> two, and suddenly there is this marvelous conversation about 
> structure, heavy, lite, whatever. Turns out OSLIST was not dead at 
> all. Just gestating. And during that period of gestation, I received a 
> note from a friend raising issues about structure. That note turned me 
> on, and I replied at length - not knowing a thing about the burgeoning 
> conversation online. Imagine my surprise when I signed on! And being 
> the lazy sort that I am ... I am simply passing on my response to my 
> friend with his name removed. But he does know that stuff is happening 
> on OSLIST, and perhaps he will join us?
> Ho
> *************************************************************
> XXXX -- Love to talk about structure. As a matter of fact, it is a 
> subject I have found myself pondering increasingly over the past 
> several years, often taking me to some odd places, which shouldn't 
> surprise you, knowing me as you do.
> Your observations and questions are rich places to start,  ("Nothing 
> gets done without a structure. Open Space is a minimal structure which 
> is why it doesn't get in the way of self-organization. Does it mean 
> that it is the only minimal structure? Can it be combined usefully 
> with some other minimal structure? Are there situations where another 
> minimal De structure might be just as or more useful?"). However, my 
> wanderings, make it necessary to back off a bit, explain a bit, and then
> Sorry for the detour, but it is the best I can do. J
> Last spring, Peter Block did a conference, and prior to its opening, 
> he invited me to sit for a filmed interview which he moderated. I 
> don't remember how the subject came up exactly, but Peter asked me 
> what I thought about structure, and my reply surprised even me. I said 
> that I rather thought that structures were possibly a figment of our 
> imagination, or at the very least a snapshot of the process of reality 
> at a moment in time. My basic thought was that everything from the 
> moment of the Big Bang is flowing energy, which does in fact assume 
> certain configurations in the moment, and then flows on. What we call 
> structures are actually a freeze-frame representations of a moving 
> process. Thus whenever we depict a structure it is always a picture of 
> how things were in that moment now past. That picture does not, and 
> cannot, capture the present reality, and it is no predictor of future 
> configurations. Perhaps not figments of our imagination, but artifacts 
> of our memory?
> So, for example, if you look at a mountain, we might say that for sure 
> we are confronting a "Structure," some might say an eternal structure.
> Mountains, after all seem to hang about for a bit. But all of that is 
> only "true" within our restricted (one might say, infinitesimal) snap 
> shot of time. Extend that time frame to cosmic proportions and the 
> solid mountain structure transmutes into a flowing sea of cresting waves.
> I rather suspect that the same sort of thinking applies to 
> Organizational Structures. Most people, I believe would acknowledge 
> that the famous Organization Chart is most notable for its 
> irrelevance. At best it represents how someone thought things should 
> look, but everybody "knows" that isn't how things work. Were we to 
> move from something supposedly cast in stone, or at least printed in 
> all the corporate manuals, to a more contemporaneous representation, 
> we have a similar problem. No matter how hard we try we have, at best, 
> a snap shot of how things were at that point in time.
> The situation doesn't get much better with the structures we design.
> They can only represent how we hope things will work, and even if the 
> design is truly detailed and elegant, the moment they are put into 
> operation, things change. I think this is true at every level of our 
> endeavors, from the "design" of a simple meeting or process up to the 
> design of a whole corporation. It may look great on paper, but the 
> instant the "start" button is depressed - things change.
> If any of this thinking coincides with how things actually are, we 
> have some interesting difficulties. Or at least all those who presume 
> the priority of structure as an /a priori/ truth in organizational 
> life, have some difficulties. They (whoever "they" are) take it as an 
> article of faith that FIRST you create/design the structure and THEN 
> you do the business. That certainly makes logical sense, but I fear 
> the logic is based on a pretty weak reed. A figment of our imagination, I
could say.
> I believe the source of our difficulty arises from that strange 
> creature you and I so much enjoy, the phenomenon of Self Organization. 
> I will confess that my infatuation with the critter over the last 50 
> years has led me into some strange places, to say nothing of heretical 
> opinions, as some would see it - but it has been a fun ride. The 
> history of that adventure is lengthy and convoluted, but as I approach 
> the end of my journey I have come to two conclusions, which may well 
> be the only things I have truly learned in 78 years on the planet. 
> Whether this is the result of Insight or Alzheimer's I can't say - but 
> the conclusions are as follows:
> All systems (including all human systems) are open.
> All systems (including all human systems) are self organizing.
> The first conclusion (All systems open), I take to be self evident. It 
> is also true that I can't think of any possible way to prove it. In 
> the scientific community, as I read the literature, I think there 
> would be substantial agreement. From the cosmos as a whole down to the 
> level of the lowliest Quark, with ants and asteroids in between, it is 
> all one big churning mass with each element actually, or potentially, 
> interacting with all others for 13.7 billion years. Yes there are 
> discrete systems, here today and dissipated tomorrow - but none stand 
> in splendid isolation. It is all connected and therefore open to any 
> and all interactions. At least that is how I hear the story.
> The second conclusion (All systems self organizing) certainly could be 
> open to debate, but from where I sit, it is the natural correlate of 
> the first. In as much as all systems are open they are all subject to 
> the pushes, pulls and challenges of the external environment, which is 
> constantly shoving them out of their comfort zone (equilibrium) into 
> chaos.  Self organization is the natural response through which life 
> and existence is sustained. And it doesn't *start* with order (structure).
> It *creates* order/structure. In a word, structure is emergent. Which 
> is what self organization is all about.
> How and why all this alchemy takes place is obviously a matter of 
> major moment. If you can accept the work of Stuart Kauffman "the magic
> seems to be a set of very simple pre-conditions, which if present, 
> automatically initiate the process. But note, these are preconditions 
> and not structures. Indeed one of the preconditions is the /lack/ of 
> pre-existing structure. My memory is a little foggy, but I think 
> Kauffman describes this as "minimal prior connections." Another one of 
> his preconditions is that the system be at the "edge of chaos" which 
> is actually the dissolution of structure. I understand that Kauffman's 
> work is subject to ongoing discussion, but I have not seen any 
> substantial disagreement with his core idea, although others surely 
> suggest different conditions or ways of describing them.  On more 
> familiar ground, I like Kauffman's explanation/preconditions because 
> they parallel almost exactly the "essential preconditions for Open Space"
> which I had noticed for a number of years before I ever heard of 
> Kauffman. When asked when to use Open Space my response was that it 
> always seems to work when the following preconditions are in effect. 
> 1) A real business issue that people care about. 2) With mind numbing 
> complexity 3) lots of diversity. 4) Much passion and conflict. 5) A 
> real sense of urgency.
> And now - at long last - back to the points/questions you raise about 
> structure and Open Space. In all honesty I just do not think that the 
> initiation of Open Space has anything to do with structure, minimal or 
> maximal. Certain preconditions - YES. But structure, NO. Structure 
> does manifest in Open Space (as it does in all self organizing 
> situations) - but it is emergent, and not prior. At least that has been my
> Recently I have found myself fascinated with what I might call 
> "natural occurrences" of Open Space. This began with a conversation 
> with Claudia Gross, a friend and colleague from Egypt. We were talking 
> about the events of Tahrir Square in which she participated. She 
> remarked that the overall impression of the happening was that of a 
> great mob scene, with thousands of people milling about in apparently
random patterns.
> Occasionally someone would ascend a makeshift podium and address the 
> crowd, but there was something else going on. Smaller groups would 
> form in the midst of the mass, spiraling inwards to form circles of 
> conversation. In the center of these circles, the focused attention 
> was such that the ambient noise and confusion seemed shut out. The 
> conversations themselves were intense but respectful. To be sure there 
> were flashes of passion, but there was also a sense of shared 
> intimacy, and people spoke of an awareness of brotherhood and 
> connectedness. The conversation circles would continue for a time, 
> some longer, some shorter - and then the circles would dissolve, only 
> to form again with different people in a different place. Sounded an 
> awful lot like Open Space to me, but its occurrence was purely a 
> natural phenomenon. There wasn't a facilitator in sight, and certainly 
> no prior structure or process. It was all emergent.
> Some little time later, I had occasion to speak with another friend 
> who had been in Tiananmen Square, and she reported precisely the same 
> phenomenon. Those are my only two examples, but I strongly suspect 
> that were one to make a broader study of such events, the Natural Open 
> Space would be seen as a regular occurrence. All of which made me 
> think that we needed a 5^th Principle - "Wherever it happens is the right
> So where does all this leave our discussion? For me it comes out 
> something like this. Open Space is in fact a naturally occurring 
> phenomenon. It is clearly not a process that I, or anybody else, 
> invented, and it is certainly not initiated by  a "structure" of our 
> design, be that heavy or light - see Tahrir Square above. However, 
> when the essential conditions are present, it is possible to invite or 
> "allow" space to open. Of course it is always possible to fight or 
> oppose this natural emergence - which sadly is what much of management 
> seems to be about.
> It is also true that we may encourage the appearance of Open Space 
> with the provision of certain simple elements: a place to meet, chairs 
> to sit in, magic markers, post-its, flip charts, and even temple 
> bells. JBut none of that is essential. In fact Open Space works all by 
> itself. Self organizes. I think.
> Harrison
> Harrison Owen
> 7808 River Falls Dr.
> Potomac, MD 20854
> 189 Beaucaire Ave. (summer)
> Camden, Maine 04843
> Phone 301-365-2093
> (summer)  207-763-3261
> www.openspaceworld.com <www.openspaceworld.com%20>
> www.ho-image.com <www.ho-image.com%20> (Personal Website)
> To subscribe, unsubscribe, change your options, view the archives of 
> to:http://lists.openspacetech.org/listinfo.cgi/oslist-openspacetech.or
> g
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Michael M Pannwitz
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