65 Chapters
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Chapter I: Open Space Technology?

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

On 21 April 1992, a group of about 225 people gathered in Denver, Colorado, for a two-day meeting to develop cooperative arrangements for the effective expenditure of $1.5 billion designated for highway construction on tribal and public lands. Roughly one-third of these people were Native Americans, one-third were federal bureaucrats, and one-third were from state and local governments. On the face of it, the prospects for a peaceful, let alone productive, meeting seemed less than bright. The participants were all natural, if not historical, enemies. As a matter of fact, the results were rather surprising.

When the people arrived, it was clear that this was not business as usual. To begin with, there was no advance agenda. People knew only when the meeting would start, when it would end, and that somehow (as yet undefined) they would accomplish the task before them. Needless to say, there were more than a few skeptics, whose disbelief was not lessened by the physical appearance of the room in which they were to meet. What they found were two large concentric circles of chairs, with nothing in the middle and a blank space of wall behind.

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CHAPTER 2: Transformation

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Transformation is occurring now—not later, not soon, but right this instant. Of course it has always been so, for the history of our species has been an ongoing journey of the evolution of consciousness: the continuous transformation of our essence from one form into a new one. From the moment we branched out from our brothers and sisters who constitute the rest of the animal kingdom—indeed, from the moment before that moment, when animal and plant became distinct entities—transformation has been occurring. To tell the truth, it all began, if it began at all, in that fiery instant of pure energy expanding infinitely across nothingness. And who knows, maybe it never began but always was. Whatever the point of genesis, transformation is not new.

What is new, or at least what strikes us as strange, is the rate of transformation. There clearly have been times when things seemed never to change. Perhaps appearances were deceiving, or we were deceived by our own lack of awareness, but at times it certainly seemed that yesterday, today, and tomorrow were all of a piece. Our deception was probably self-induced. No one and no thing likes to change, for all systems are essentially conservative. So it may well be that we have played the ancient and honorable game of the emperor’s new clothes. Everybody knew the emperor was naked, but no one dared say so.

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CHAPTER 6: Spirit and Leadership

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

For many in the West, Spirit is nothing.1 Operating under the premise that if you can’t count it, it doesn’t exist, the conclusion is that Spirit is not there, or if it is there, it can’t amount to much. At the level of proof there is little if anything that can be done to alter this position, for having started with the premise of “countability,” the conclusion is inescapable. Yet despite the obvious inescapability of the logic, there appears to be a growing sense that this logic need not be the only one used.

Perhaps it is only the uneasiness of the times but conversations about Spirit now seem to appear in some of the strangest places. As long ago as 1987, for example, a major corporation took out a full-page ad to proclaim that a central corporate goal is to “sustain the Spirit.”2 Perhaps they didn’t mean it, but it is interesting that they felt free enough to say something like that. And of course there has been a recent outbreak of spirituality in business, a phenomenon that leaves me a little uncomfortable. It tends to be off-putting to many; but most worrisome, I think, is that it may trivialize the subject. In present discourse, spirituality often shows up as an add-on—we have business to which we may add a spiritual dimension. For me there is no question of adding on—everything begins with Spirit, which shows up (for better or worse) as the business we do. Spirituality does have a place, but not as a special department in the organization, the Department of Spirituality, managed of course by the director of spirituality. Spirituality is what we all do twenty-four hours a day as we acknowledge our existence as Spirit and learn to live with that reality.52

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Chapter XIV Step 5 Remember the Four Principles

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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

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CHAPTER 1: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

Owen, Harrison H. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Where have all the leaders gone?” That could well be the song for the last part of the twentieth century. In the national press, scarcely a day passes without extended discussion of the lack of political leadership and the apparent inability of the major political parties to raise up anyone who remotely looks the part.

Corporate America is in little better shape. The strong, charismatic, decisive leader of yesteryear has seemingly been replaced by colorless men. Bold strokes have given way to defensive strategies, aimed less at defining the future than at preserving the past.

Indeed, to the extent that heroes and leaders of the people still populate the planet—at least the U.S. portion of the planet—as likely as not, they appear to be rogues: the corporate raiders and other folks who live by the Darwinian law of survival. Brandishing their leveraged buyouts, they add another notch to their guns.

As we sing our song and look for leaders, we find vast numbers of willing guides and commentators. Books and courses on leaders and leadership seem to have risen in inverse proportion to our perception of available talent. We are counseled on how to take charge, be assertive, and don the charismatic cloak, and other surefire methods for slaying dragons and summoning popular support. But for all the courses and training time, it seems that the refrain is still to be sung, “Where have all the leaders gone?”

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