Monday, June 22, 2009

Agency and Self Organization

Somewhere along the line the idea crept in that a self-organizing world severely limited, if not eliminated, human initiative. With thoughts such as these it is not surprising that many would find the notion of self-organization abhorrent, and definitely to be resisted. After all -- if true we would be reduced to the level of zombies whose fate and future lay totally out of our hands.

I believe the truth of the matter to be radically different. And the basis of my belief is our common experience in the 1000’s of Open Spaces we have enjoyed. I take it as a given that the essence of Open Space is the primal power of self organization – no news there. J Every time we open space the forces of self organization are invited to be fully present. Of course, those forces are there all the time, but we do seem to make best effort to keep them under control. J J

Now ask yourself – what is the common experience in Open Space for both First Timers and Old Hands? I don’t think you would describe it as restrictive, dis-empowering, or imprisoning! Indeed – quite the opposite. I grant you some folks get a little carried away, but I have heard it said that the experience was one of radical freedom and intense creativity. I remember one total skeptic saying, as the event came to a conclusion, that never before had he experienced such respect and acceptance in a group – and never before had his feeling of personal power and contribution been as great. Such feelings might be mistaken as the outpouring of rampant individualism. Something that Anne Rand might be proud of. But that is hardly the case for these same people and others as well speak of a deep sense of community, being in the presence of brothers and sisters who only hours before were total strangers – of Coming Home.

I have often heard another remark which is rather bitter/sweet: “This has been so wonderful – too bad we have to go back to reality.” Or it is said that it is time to go back to the “real world.” Sad statements for sure, and were it to turn out that the experience in Open Space WAS reality – those statements are tragic. I am quite aware that life is filled with a full measure of chaos, confusion and conflict. Indeed all three are essential for life, and all three predictably show up in the course of any juicy Open Space. But the difference is that in Open Space the flow of emergent events is honored thereby allowing them to reach their natural resolution. Nobody attempts to coral them into submission. The Law of Two Feet applies.

At the end of the day Open Space Technology is not about having great meetings. Nor is it simply another tool in the facilitators’ tool box, although both are doubtless true. For me the true equity I find in OST is the ongoing natural experiment and learning experience of living intentionally in a self-organizing world. Perhaps it is for this reason that I find the enhancement of the facilitator’s role and tools to be less than interesting – unless that enhancement involved the reduction of that role to the point of total invisability