Medium 9781576756171

Wave Rider

Views: 1649
Ratings: (0)

What began twenty years ago as a journey of exploration into the interplay between chaos, order, and the creative process culminates in this capstone work of Harrison Owen’s pioneering career. From the creator of Open Space Technology (OST), Wave Rider shows how to apply the fundamental principles of self-organization – the driving power behind OST’s immense success – not just to a single event but to the day-to-day management and leadership of organizations.

Owen proposes that all systems – not only our organizations but indeed the entire cosmos – are fundamentally self-organizing. Control is ultimately an illusion, and attempts to assert it are a waste of time and can even be destructive. If we want to have truly high-performing organizations, at some point we need to set aside our preconceived goals and strategies, important as they are, and align ourselves and our work with the primal force of self-organization – learn how to ride that wave. To that end, Owen lays out eight concrete steps for becoming a successful Wave Rider, derived from the global experience of hundreds of thousands of Open Space events, wit ha clear focus on producing exceptional performance.

The book includes a real-life tale from a genuine Wave Rider, Dee Hock of VISA International, as well as an imagined account of a day in the life of a wave-riding manager, to show how self-organizing principles can deal with specific functions like running a staff meeting, managing projects, motivating staff, and much more. Wave Rider is another exceptional contribution from one of organizational developments true innovators.

List price: $24.95

Your Price: $18.71

You Save: 25%

Remix
Remove
 

18 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

Chapter I The Holy Grail: Superior Performance

ePub

In 1975, my friend and colleague Peter Vaill (at that point the Dean of the Business School at George Washington University) wrote a short paper which turned out to be long on influence. The paper bore the academic sounding title, “Towards a Behavioral Description of High Performing Systems,” However, as Peter was quick to admit, the academics were only skin deep, if only because he found himself “unable to say what a High Performing System is.” So much for academic precision, and it gets worse. It turns out that the thoughts expressed did not result from careful research but rather from “intuitive leaps” most of which occurred in “one four hour burst.” In fairness, Vaill carefully identified each of his Behavioral Characteristics as “hypotheses,” which indicates that they are subject to future validation, although he says nothing about how such research might be conducted, and expresses no interest in pursuing it. At whatever risk, I can only say——It worked for me.

It is true that many have written about high performance in human systems before and after Peter Vaill, but the appearance of his paper was a watershed in my estimation. Those of us who happened to receive a copy found our view of organizations, the way they were supposed to work, and how we might work with them changed in ways that, at least in my own case, would take years to fully appreciate. Some of the other recipients of the paper obviously came to a quicker (and positive) conclusion, most notably Peters and Waterman. Peter Vaill’s “intuitive leaps” became a cornerstone of a much larger effort which hit the streets bearing the title, In Search of Excellence.426

 

Chapter II High Performance Systems Defined

ePub

Peter Vaill declined to define a High Performing System, which appears reasonable since we always seem to know one when we meet. It simply does better than the competition, and usually a lot better. Despite Vaill’s hesitance I feel compelled to make some effort at definition, which may be yet another example of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. However, I am not insensitive to the risks involved, and therefore have chosen to back into the task by starting with a definition that I know does not work.

It is tempting to define an HPS in terms of the absence of the apparent opposites, such things as chaos, confusion, and conflict. If only we could rid our systems of this trio then perhaps order, clear thinking, and peace would reign. Under these circumstances, high performance would appear to be inevitable, or at least clearly within our grasp.

There is some problem with this approach, however, in that all three of these (chaos, confusion, and conflict) seem to be essential to living, and therefore their elimination would do substantial damage to life, to say nothing of high performing life. For those of us who cherish a pacific lifestyle, such an assertion verges on the outrageous, but consider the following.32

 

Chapter III Getting from Here to There

ePub

If Excellence and High Performance are the objectives we seek, how do we get there from here? The short answer could be: Define the problem and fix it.

This simple approach has much to commend it. If nothing else it seems like the logical thing to do, and from this logical basis a rational approach to the achievement of High Performance surely emerges. So for example, if a business is suffering from diminished sales one would begin with a consideration of the relevant factors such as the general state of the market, the position of competitors, and eventually focusing on the sales mechanisms in the business itself. Should it turn out that the market is strong and that competing products have no special advantage, the problem is clearly internal. As pleasant and dedicated as our sales manager may appear, and even though the sales force is ever so energetic——a fix is required.

The fix could start with a simple upgrading of sales training, but if that does not bear immediate and positive results, the scalpel of change must cut deeper. Perhaps our friendly sales manager has passed her prime? And all those eager, energetic members of the sales force, could it be that they are mere sycophants playing out an old script, written in another age? If so the fix is clear: radical surgery and organ replacement.

 

Chapter IV The Anomalies

ePub

For all of our searching for High Performing Systems, it turns out that they are very much present, hiding in plain sight. It is just that they are rarely where we might expect them, certainly do not appear when we want them——and even less when we planned on their arrival. Most usually, the High Performing Systems in our midst pop up as curious anomalies in the larger fabric of our enterprise.

The actual stories are legion. My personal favorite is the tale of Post-its——the omnipresent product of the 3M corporation. To hear the current corporate version of the story, one could draw the conclusion that the little yellow (now multi-colored) “stickies” came to market by way of a concerted corporate effort made in an atmosphere of broad support for innovation. If you listen to the tale as told by those who were there at the creation, the situation was a little bit different.

The story begins, as I have heard it from several of the perpetrators, with a curious mistake. It seems that one of the 3M chemists, working in the area of adhesives, came up with a glue that was perpetually sticky——not exactly the sort of performance one might prefer. What happened next is a matter of some confusion in my mind, but either the chemist himself, or a friend, just happened to sing in a choir. In that choir it was common practice to page mark all the hymns to be sung during the service with little slips of paper. This was a workable solution until the slips of paper fell out of the books——which they always seemed to do at the most inopportune times. Needed: a practical way of holding the papers in place without permanent attachment. Solution: a perpetually sticky, but easily removable, glue.54

 

Chapter V The Open Space Experiment

ePub

Open Space Technology was first developed and utilized in 1985. At the point of genesis there was no thought to run any sort of an experiment. In fact, the precipitating condition was a very practical need. Open Space Technology emerged as an intuitive response. It took five years before it became apparent that a grand natural experiment was in progress. But that is to get considerably ahead of the story.

The story begins on a warm afternoon in April 1985——the first real day of spring in Washington, DC. In celebration of the season, I went to my patio with my first “outdoors” martini in hand. As I savored the drink, a disturbing thought passed through my mind. I had agreed to convene a symposium set for early July, dealing with Organization Transformation, to which I had given little thought.

I had convened the first of such gatherings two years earlier, and by any reasonable standard it had been quite a success. The participants, however, let it be known that even though they had enjoyed the various speakers and panels, the most useful and productive parts of the entire event were the coffee breaks. I found myself in agreement.

 

Chapter VI Self-Organization: The Key to High Performance Systems?

ePub

The jump from the very limited situation of an Open Space event into the infinitely larger realm of human systems of all sizes is considerable, to say the least. However it is not without precedent. Making such a move is, in fact, the common practice of “scaling up.” When some new product demonstrates its effectiveness in the experimental environment, the next step is to shift from the “micro” to the “macro.” There is no guarantee of success, but the decision to move onward is easier when it appears that similar conditions pertain at both levels. In this particular situation the critical question is——what likelihood exists that large human systems are fundamentally self-organizing? In the event that Open Space Technology represents only a special, limited case, all reasons to move up the food chain simply disappear. On the other hand, were we to have some reasonable expectation of similar conditions at the macro level, making the move becomes much more attractive.

Arrayed against the feasibility of such a journey is the solid tradition of the conventional wisdom, buttressed by decades of theory and practice in Management Science. Organizations come into being when they are organized, and we all know who did that——us. Or if not us, then somebody. To suggest otherwise is unthinkable. Or is it?

 

Chapter VII How Do We Deal with the Pain?

ePub

I have argued that true high performance, of the sort that Peter Vaill described, is the natural product of a well-functioning self-organizing system. It comes ultimately from the search for fitness as the system seeks better ways to be——internally with its own mechanisms and processes, and externally with the relationships to the environment. This is an ongoing process of adaptation as changes, large and small, ripple inward and outward, initiating still more changes. Under the best of circumstances, the ongoing process is a complex symphony of movement productive of wholeness, health, and harmony——always in some degree of disequilibrium, on the way to something new. When the process ceases, the system ceases (dies)——but in the interim between start and finish, the search for fitness continues, marked on occasion by stunning insights and radical breakthroughs. But there is a cost. As the process of self-organization works its way, the powerful forces of chaos and confusion do their work——opening new space for novel approaches even as conflict smoothes, sharpens, and refines the outcomes. All are necessary and integral to the full life of a truly high performing self-organizing system, but none of them are free from pain. And how do we deal with the pain, particularly the pain of ending, as old, familiar patterns of life disappear?112

 

Chapter VIII A Spanner in the Works

ePub

If High Performance is the natural state of a well-functioning, self-organizing system, and the toxic, and sometimes lethal, by-products of self-organization are effectively processed by Griefwork, what is the problem? By all rights it would seem that we need only to allow the fundamental power of self-organization, well assisted by Griefwork, to do the job, and the Holy Grail of High Performance should be well within our grasp. Not occasionally, not as some odd anomaly——but everyday, 24×7. Somewhere, it would seem, there is a spanner in the works.

The clue to the mystery lies in the word “allow,” as in “we need only to allow the fundamental power of self-organization … to do its job.” The problem is that for many of us self-organization simply does not apply to the wonderful world of human systems. And even in those situations where we may see the fine hand of self-organization at work (as in the Informal System), we consider the outcomes to be odd anomalies at best, or definite aberrations to be corrected or eliminated. After all, things are happening which were not part of The Plan and definitely beyond the span of control. In a word, it is all about control——its presence, absence, loss, and true status.126

 

Chapter IX Becoming a Wave Rider: The Care and Feeding of Self-Organizing Systems

ePub

The task from this point onward is to apply what we have learned about self-organizing systems and the ways in which they may be consciously initiated and sustained. The goal is increased levels of performance for our organizations and our personal lives. The short take on all this is: When superior performance is desired——Open Space. This is not about “Doing an Open Space Event,” although there are certainly occasions when that might be the appropriate approach. Rather it is about the continuous opening of space in a variety of situations and circumstances. With sufficient space, the natural power of self-organization will do its work, not just in the circumscribed conditions of “an event,” but 24×7——365 days of the year.

Although there are a number of things that may be done in support of this objective, none of them include choosing self-organization as a modus operandi. That choice was made billions of years ago. From that moment forward all systems are self-organizing, including our own. Truthfully, we all recognize this fact of life, if only intuitively, witness our participation in the Informal Communication system. We all do it, but guardedly, and usually with a twinge of guilt. It seems that we are not playing by the established rules. But who among us has not heard a piece of “good gossip” which led to some useful action on our part? We may, however, avoid the guilt and the surreptitious missions to find Lucy. The alternative is a conscious choice to align ourselves with the fundamental power of self-organization, and to leverage its potency in support of our goals.138

 

Chapter X Step 1 Do Your Homework Before You Start

ePub

Before beginning any journey it is useful to consider where you want to go, why you want to go there, and what might happen along the way. Initiating (or renewing) an organization, particularly a high performing organization, is a journey of a different sort, but with all the same prerequisites.

Under the old rules, we might call this creating a Business Plan, but plans have the unfortunate connotation of being something that will be implemented, and in extreme cases there is the implication that somehow The Plan creates the future. Given the nature of self-organizing systems, the notion that the future will be created by our plan is a little absurd. So if we have to call the product of our efforts anything, I would suggest Business Intention.

Where do you want to go? This first question might also be phrased, What do you really care about? The object of your quest may be large or small (a whole new business or some relatively minor improvement), but until there is some clarity about its nature, the likelihood of reaching the goal is rather small. But clarity is only part of the equation——it must be complemented with caring. If the goal is simply a good idea that somebody else finds attractive, it will remain at the level of “good idea,” until it has heart and meaning for you.146

 

Chapter XI Step 2 Extend an Invitation

ePub

Effective self-organization in human systems starts with voluntary self-selection in response to a genuine invitation. This contrasts dramatically with the common practice in which the manager in charge identifies the needed individuals and assigns them to a project. While this makes sense given the traditional understanding of the nature of organizations, it is the direct antithesis of self-organization.

A genuine invitation is one that can be refused. And to whatever extent the invitation is actually a veiled command, space is closed and the likelihood of fully functional self-organization diminished. One might think of the old joke in which the manager says, “I need four volunteers——You, You, You, and You!” That is not an invitation!

A real invitation carries certain risks. After all, people might choose not to come. But it also carries a genuine benefit, for it assures that those who do come actually care to come. Caring, or personal commitment, carries with it an essential ingredient for superior performance in any project, which is the passion of those involved.150

 

Chapter XII Step 3 Come to the Circle

ePub

The circle is critically important for the initiation and support of self-organization. And so when individuals are invited to participate, the geometry of meeting must be a circle. This may be a circle of the mind, what I might call the image of organization, or a real time/space circle of chairs, but a circle nonetheless.

The images of our organizations, which we hold in our minds, radically affect behaviors and organizational function. Were I to ask for the picture of your organization it is likely that you would describe the standard organizational chart——with the CEO at the top and all attendant personalities and functions arrayed like roots beneath. Granted that this picture is probably out of date, it nevertheless strongly influences the way we think about, and actually perform, our jobs all of which shows up in the language we use. For example, if we get a new position we say, “I went up the ladder” or “took a lateral transfer,” or (God forbid) “went to the basement.” When a decision is required, we might say, “I have to go up for a decision,” and by the same token, when implementation is the order of the day, the words come out——”take it down to the folks.” With this picture in our minds, life at work becomes an exhausting scramble up and down the organization chart.158

 

Chapter XIII Step 4 Welcome Passion, Responsibility, and Authentic Leadership

ePub

When the circle is formed——in your mind or for real——welcome passion and personal responsibility. This is really just another way of saying, make sure the whole person is welcome. So often it seems that we only want the “nice” part of people to participate in our projects. And it can go downhill from there, to be limited only to the socially acceptable “business face,” suitably garroted by the appropriate tie (for the male of the species). The real issue is diversity, and when people in an organization look, act, and think as if they came from a common cookie cutter, diversity is limited to a crippling degree.

Of course, there was a day when the conventional wisdom decreed that efficient and effective operations depended on everybody thinking the same, acting the same, and all singing from the same song sheet. Variance was to be minimized, if not eliminated. At that point, diversity becomes an enormous problem to be fixed. However, as we have come to understand the nature and mechanisms of self-organizing systems, we have learned that without high levels of diversity, in all the ways that diversity may be understood, the entire operation may come to a gooey halt, mired in its sameness.162

 

Chapter XIV Step 5 Remember the Four Principles

ePub

The Four Principles, announced at the start of every OST, go as follows: (1) Whoever comes are the right people. (2) Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. (3) Whenever it starts is the right time. (4) When it’s over it’s over. The principles in OST do not tell people what they should do, but simply acknowledge what will happen in any event. In a word, they are descriptive and not prescriptive. One might ask why state the obvious? The answer is that many people who first come to OST, find the situation to be strange, counterintuitive, and even wrong. We announce the principles to alert them to what will be happening, and hopefully make them feel more comfortable. And of course, what is “happening” is not so much OST, but rather self-organization. It is for this reason that I suggest that remembering the Four Principles when consciously working in the larger world of self-organizing systems will be helpful.

It is typical at the beginning of any project, large or small, that much time and effort is devoted to selecting the “right” people. No small amount of anxiety is produced when some or all of those “right” people fail to make an appearance. The situation in the world of self-organization is a lot different and in many ways much easier. It turns out that whoever comes are the right people.168

 

Chapter XV Step 6 Observe the Law of Two Feet

ePub

The Law of Two Feet specifies that if at any time you are neither learning nor contributing, you should use your two feet and move to a more productive place. In OST this may first appear as a curious, possibly quaint, affectation, but its application in the larger world of “real” businesses and organizations seems something of a stretch. The immediate assumption is that if everyone were to follow their own personal predilections the resultant chaos would be disaster.

Seen from the point of view of those who consider the formal, organized system to be dominant and desirable, such a judgment is doubtless correct. On the other hand, when the mind shifts, and the ground reverses with the figure, so that self-organization is understood to be the fundamental reality, chaos becomes an essential precondition of emergent order. No chaos——no order, no life, no organization. More to the point, all attempts to limit, or eliminate chaos are not only doomed to failure, but are actually counterproductive. Chaos, we are learning, is the rich seed bed of emergent order. Strange new world.

 

Chapter XVI Step 7 Keep Grief Working

ePub

It is a fact. The process of self-organization proceeds with what, in other situations, is called collateral damage. As things naturally move along, the forces of chaos, confusion, and conflict do their essential work, and some inescapable level of destruction occurs. Chaos rattles the old order, giving new opportunities a chance to emerge. Confusion muddles made-up minds, putting dead certainty at risk, so that fresh ideas may make their appearance. And conflict knocks off some rough edges as it sharpens our ideas and hones our levels of performance. All good, all useful, and all attendant with some degree of pain——which at times can be excruciatingly severe.

Fortunately for us there is the Griefwork process. For as long as human beings have been human, this process has been doing its job. When trauma occurs, the process begins quite automatically, and if it runs to term, which is the usual case, the pain of ending is transformed into the joy of a new beginning. Through Shock/Anger, Denial, Memories, Despair, Open Space——we eventually are swept to Vision. Truthfully we might have wished for some alternative, or even to be able to escape the entire thing, but so far no alternative has surfaced, and escape does not seem possible. We did not design it, certainly don’t run it, and in the majority of cases, Griefwork takes care of the business all by itself. But it is absolutely essential that it keeps doing its job, and we can help.182

 

Chapter XVII Step 8 Formalize the System

ePub

You may have thought that I had forgotten all about the Formal System. Not true, but the order of consideration is just the reverse from the traditional procedure. Conventionally, we would start with organization design, proceed to implementation, and then engage in an ongoing series of “fixes,” otherwise known as re-organizations. In the world of self-organizations all the “heavy lifting” of system design and implementation is taken care of by the system itself. That is why it is called Self-organization. But there is still much work to be done.

In the earlier discussion of the formal system I suggested that it was exceedingly useful in boundary situations——those points where the system comes in contact with the external world. For the customers, there must be a plainly marked Complaint Desk, banks will be happier when they can see a position marked Treasurer. For the newcomers, there must be sufficient connect points to get them started along the path to becoming a good employee, until that happy day when they discover Lucy. For all of this to occur in some efficient manner, good maps and signage are essential, but the maps must reflect the territory and the signs must be clear and well placed. But in no case will the maps create the territory.198

 

Chapter XVIII A Day in the Life of …

ePub

So what would it be like were you to take the plunge? Just imagine … It is a standard Monday morning in your place of business. Your inbox (electronic or wooden) is overflowing with requests, reports, along with small notes about possibly bright ideas, or eminently bad ones. And every piece of paper, or electronic notation, is only the leading edge of a web of complexity stretching outward in time and space, well beyond your capacity to see or sense.

Financial statements reflect the tremors of the rise and fall of currencies from a country you have never visited, whose culture you know only from newspaper snippets, and whose recent political currents disappear in a swirl of unknown issues and personalities. The announced resignation of a colleague sounds fairly straightforward, something about “pursuing new opportunities,” but there is no information about why this is happening. Family breakdown, office politics, professional slight——all of the above, or none? A new technology is announced by a competitor which comes from a field of science with a name you can’t even spell. That is just the top of the box——it just gets deeper, and this is just Monday morning. Your first cup of coffee is getting cold, and somehow you must make sense out of all this to the point that useful directions may be established, business be done, and not just any business but something approaching excellence, high performance. And to make things more interesting, it is not just any Monday morning, but your first Monday morning on the new job you had been hoping for. It isn’t quite like being CEO, but you have your own Department——and now what?216

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Chapters

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000023333
Isbn
9781609944476
File size
591 KB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata