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Self- Organization: Spirit Meets Science

责任编辑:ccpg  来源:  作者:  人气:776  发布时间:2014-03-11 17:03:17

It all started quietly enough with a message titled "a space within a space within a space," in November 2001. Birgitt Williams was announcing an upcoming workshop and inviting our participation on a number of levels. Here is a bit of what she said, and what followed, directly and indirectly, over the next 2-3 months...  

birgitt williams, north carolina, usa:  

...I have come to understand that all organizations are Open Space Organizations. My work has been to assist those that choose to do so, to become conscious of themselves as Open Space Organizations, opening as much space as possible within clear and defined constraints. The paradox seems to be that the clearer the constraints or givens are, the clearer the definition of where the space is open for real degrees of freedom for action and creativity. For me, the conscious Open Space Organization, as I understand it is not a self organizing system. Rather, a matrix or nutrient field is provided that is clearly bounded and ready to nurture whatever is created. The matrix then gets filled in by choices that are life nurturing or life depleting. The conscious Open Space Organizations is life nurturing rather than life depleting. The conscious Open Space Organization is aware that within  

it, there is always the blueprint for its own health. My vision is for more and more of us to learn about the conscious Open Space Organization, developing within us the skills and capacity to assist organizations as mentors in this way.  

harris on owen, maryland, usa:  

My friend Birgitt Williams appears to have some difficulty with the notion that  

organization, forming in Open Space, is in fact self-organization at work. Or in her words, "For me, the conscious Open Space Organization, as  

organization at work. Be that as it may, it occurs to me that it might be useful to chat a bit about  


why I find the theory of self-organization so attractive, particularly in reference to the Open Space experience, either as event, or a continuing phenomenon.  

First off, please note that it is the theory of self-organization. And theory is never to be confused with The Truth or The Facts. It's only theory. But mere theory is a not nothing -- rather it is a way of looking at things (that's what the word in Greek means --"To See"). Or more broadly, a theory is a way of looking at things, enabling comprehension and prediction. In short, with a good theory we find it possible to understand what is going on, and also to make some reasonable predictions about future occurrences.  

The formulation of Self-organization theory which I find to be most attractive is that proposed by Stuart Kauffman of the Santa Fe Institute, which he describes in his book, At Home in the Universe (Oxford). Simply stated, Kauffman argues that given certain quite simple pre-conditions "order happens." These pre-conditions include the following:  

1)   A relatively safe and protected, nutrient environment,  

2)   High levels of diversity in terms of the elements present in that environment.  

3)   High levels of complexity in terms of potential inter-connections.  

4)   A drive for improvement, or in more standard evolutionary terminology, a search for fitness.  

5)   Sparse prior connections in terms of the available elements (everything is not previous "hardwired."  

The whole thing is on the edge of chaos.  

Kauffman might be described as a theoretical biologist, although I am not quite sure what he calls himself. His intent is to account for the origin of order, particularly in living creatures, at the molecular level. In a word, he addresses the interesting question as to how we got from primal ooze to us. I am sure the jury of his peers is still out, but quite clearly his colleagues take him seriously, if not with the details, then certainly with the major thrust of his argument.  

Needless to say, I am not competent to judge his science, but upon reading his work, I was immediately struck with the similarity between his pre-conditions and what for years I have described as the presenting circumstances for the use of Open Space. Which are:  

1)   A real business issue of great concern.  

2)   High levels of complexity in terms of the elements of the issue.  

3)   High Levels of diversity in terms of those involved.  

4)   The presence of actual or potential conflict.  

5)   A decision time of yesterday -- i.e. an urgent need for improvement.  

Even without going through a detailed comparison, I would hope that you can see the relationship. And if you do want the details, you might check my book, The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform (Berrett-Koehler, 2000).  

So what good is all this in practical terms? First off, it provides an interesting way of looking at, and possibly answering, the nagging question (for me) of why Open Space works anyhow. I was  


trained to know that organization at the human level only occurred as the product of prodigious effort and great skill. It required brilliant design, execution and endless maintenance. What we experience in Open Space simply cannot happen. But of course it does. It appears that quite inadvertently I stumbled upon the essential pre-conditions of self-organization.  

A related question for me has been why does Open Space work just about anywhere it has been tried, regardless of the education, ethnicity, economics, national origin, etc of the group? The answer would appear to be that the groups are "already there." There is nothing new to learn or do, although there may be much to unlearn and stop doing. It would appear, perhaps, that from the moment of the Big Bang, we and all the rest of the cosmos have been operating under what might be called The Laws of Self-Organization, even as we operate under the Laws of Thermodynamics, Gravity, and the like. Seen from this perspective, the "workability" of Open Space is precisely what one would expect, given the essential "Laws" of our environment. One consequence of all this is that the notion of creating an Open Space Organization is a little absurd. It already is -- no creation necessary.  

Life for us humanoids, however, seems to be a tad more complex and multi-faceted than life at the level of atoms and molecules. Sorry, there seems to be some hierarchical order. Thus while it is true that we and all rocks are bound by the Law of Gravity, it is obvious that we can to some extent circumvent that Law -- or better -- learn to use it to our advantage. Which is precisely what we do when we fly in an airplane. But it is noteworthy-- the airplane would not work if you eliminated gravity. It is only because we are pulled "down" that we can go "up" -- surfing on a wave of air.  

I suspect the same thing is true with the laws of self-organization and their local manifestation every time we open space. We can't repeal those laws, but we can learn to work with them to our advantage. And that for me is the great adventure of the moment. So if you don't like the notion of Self-Organization relative to Open Space, not to worry, it is just a theory. However, to the extent that the theory is explanatory of some previously non-understood phenomenon (Open Space works!???) and is predictive of future conditions, it could be useful. At least I think so.  

larry peterson, ontario, canada  

I generally think that Harrison has got it mostly right on this one. I think "self-organization" needs also to be put in context. I don't have time for a long or well thought out statement, but here are a few points:  

 

-Awareness of it is at the "interactive" level of organizational consciousness. It is the growing recognition that organizations are in fact organisms - living. Self-organization is part of what  


living things do. It is a useful metaphor for shifting up the spiral (dynamics) from "orange" consciousness (proactive) to a "good" green consciousness (interactive, connected)  

-The scientific phrase, "self-organizing" is still "flat land", it does not acknowledge the other quadrants. From a spiritual perspective, at other levels of awareness the self that self-organizes and the Self (and my self) are one.  

birgitt williams, north carolina, usa  

 

First of, please note that it is the theory of self-organization. And theory is never to be confused with The Truth or The Facts. It's only theory.  

Harrison, For me, I am clear that the conscious Open Space Organization is not a self organizing system. IT IS MUCH MORE THAN THAT and I am as clear as I can be in my communications that the two for me, do not equal each other. I believe that Spirit is all that is, and that all is Spirit and that we are connected through Spirit. Spirit is powerful and active and there are infinite  

possibilities.  

see it as useful to use the theory of self organizing systems to explain what happens within Open Space Technology. I see it as limiting and a disservice to the wholeness of Open Space Technology.  

The effect we have as facilitators working with energy is very influential in both the Open Space Technology meeting and the conscious Open Space Organization. The matrix I referred to is not a “pre-condition” only but also an ongoing and active ingredient. This is work with energy, with the unseen, with Spirit. Deeply powerful and non-visible. And the facilitator “holding space” influences the self organizing behavior that is part of the Open Space Technology meeting.  


I do not believe that there is such a thing as a self organizing SYSTEM. I do think there is self organizing behavior. I do not believe that there is such a thing as a system. I believe systems are illusions, human constructs. We are all one in Spirit.  

Harrison, I have huge respect for you as you know. And we both know from about a decade of conversations and debates between us, that we have different perspectives. I think you would be both surprised and disappointed if I agreed with you. Over the years, you taught “opening space for Spirit to show up”. I taught “opening space to work with Spirit that is present everywhere always”. You taught that organizations are shifting from proactive to interactive and eventually if all goes well to the state of inspired. You taught that with use of Open Space Technology organizations could make that leap from pro-active to interactive. I taught that the inspired organization is always present, exists NOW. The inspired organization simply needs to be uncovered—to get the barriers to accessing Spirit out of the way. I called this the Open Space Organization, and over the last few years as my own learning has evolved, the conscious Open Space Organization. And then of course was the huge debate we had for years regarding “givens”. I remember when I introduced the importance of “givens” as essential for working with Open Space Technology, you responded by saying that with “givens” I was going to ruin Open Space Technology. I still stand behind my belief and experience that it is through clear definition of the “givens” that we define where the degrees of freedom really are rather than where they are assumed to be. The “givens” create the matrix (or womb) for the OST meeting to take place.  

And now we see the importance of the theory of “self organizing systems” differently. It is not a matter of me not understanding, simply a matter of my view of Spirit with Open Space Technology and the conscious Open Space Organization, my experience with Spirit and my love relationship with Spirit. All of this for me minimizes the importance of “the self organizing system theory”. I am informed based on my background in the healing arts and my journey with Spirit.  

winston kinch, ontario, canada:  

Hey you beautiful people (H and B)! Does it matter so much if inspired organizations "leap into being" or are "uncovered"? Is there anything that prevents a "precondition" from also being an "ongoing and active ingredient"? Meseems you would both acknowledge the ultimate oneness of Spirit (although H is usually more cagey about it) and the existence of "story" - whether it is seen as discovery or recovery or spiral - and besides; there are exactly seven angels on the head of a pin. At least that's what I think but I don't suppose I'm right... With love and respect for you both, Winston  

harris on owen, maryland, usa:  

I agree, I agree!!! "Uncle!!! Spirit is primary. As the author of a number of books, 4 of which have "Spirit" emblazoned in the title, I would be on pretty shaky ground were I to suggest  


otherwise. Displaying my true colors as a total pedant allow me to quote myself from the opening lines of my latest and last, "The Power of Spirit."  

This book is about Spirit, and the ways in which Spirit forms and transforms in organizations. It is written from the belief, and experience, that Spirit is the most important thing. When the Spirit of a people is strong, focused, and vibrant, wonderful things can happen. When the Spirit is down, it makes very little difference how good your reputation, how much money you have in the bank, or how strong the need for your goods or services. Not too much happens.  

Having said all that, I still find that the theory of self-organization to be very helpful (but not exhaustive) when it comes to understanding how and why Open Space works, how we might work in it -- and more broadly, how organizations work. There might even be some useful clues here as to how Spirit works.  

Harrison, I have huge respect for you as you know. And we both know from about a decade of conversations and debates between us, that we have diferent perspectives. I think you would be both surprised and disappointed if I agreed with you. Over the years, you taught opening space for Spirit to show up . I taught opening space to work with Spirit that is present everywhere always . You taught that organizations are shifting from proactive to interactive and eventually if all goes well to the state of inspired. You taught that with use of Open Space Technology organizations could make that leap from pro-active to interactive. I taught that the inspired organization is always present, exists NOW. The inspired organization simply needs to be uncovered to get the barriers to accessing Spirit out of the way. I called this the Open Space Organization, and over the last few years as my own learning has evolved, the conscious Open Space Organization.  

Sure -- No problem. And I would even agree that the Inspired Organization is a present reality, albeit pretty well covered up. When we are lucky and intentional the covers slip away, and we experience ourselves as we actually are -- fully. Our Buddhist friends and others would say that in the evolution of consciousness we move to find "our original face" which is another way of saying, "Its all there from the beginning -- just covered up."  

And then of course was the huge debate we had for years regarding givens . I remember when I introduced the importance of givens as essential for working with Open Space Technology, you responded by saying that with givens I was going to ruin Open Space Technology. I still stand behind my belief and experience that it is through clear definition of the givens that we define where the degrees of freedom really are rather than where they are assumed to be. The givens create the matrix (or womb) for the OST meeting to take place.  

Truthfully, I think the notion of "givens" is very important. As far as ruining Open Space -- not a chance. And one of the major "givens" for me relative to all organizations is their status as a self-organizing system. Just as we are all limited by gravity, and violate that limitation only at our peril -- so also, I think we are "limited" by the "Laws of Self-Organization" -- which we are just now coming to understand. Which means that we may not have them right. But I think we are  


gaining on it. And is that The Whole Story? Absolutely not. Just a place of beginning. As for the grand debate --- You win!  

Birgitt, I love your spirit, and your love of Spirit. Keep it up!  

tim sullivan, british columbia, canada:  

The conundrum of the term "self-organizing" when thinking about organizations (which are social) is: What is the "self" of an organization or social phenomenon? That's one idea. Another is: I would say it is the radical difference between biological organisms and social organizations that must be considered for a truly explanatory, predictive theory to be developed; not the similarity between them. Kauffman's simulations of molecular based processes to model the arising of self-organizing systems (i.e. organisms) is useful, but does it capture all the characteristics of social systems? Again until we consider the radical differences between organisms and their eco-environments and social organizations and the meta-systems that constitute their environment, we will not have truly powerful understanding for organizational change and transformation. I suggest that because humans have the capacity for self-reflexive communication, and because social organizations exhibit that same capacity, reflexivity is an emergent property of social organizations, which manifests as the tendency for radical transformation. ( e.g. Wilber's appropriation of the meme levels of Spiral Dynamics.. .evolving memes suggests dynamic evolution) Something we don't see in biological organisms. Organisms change structure (form) but the underlying organization is the same eg DNA-protein-cell membranes etc. Whereas social organizations not only exhibit different forms, they can exhibit radically differing states of awareness (meme-levels).  

nino novak, germany:  

My friend Birgitt Williams appears to have some dificulty with the notion that organization, forming in Open Space, is in fact self-organization at work. Or in her words, "For me, the conscious Open Space Organization, as I understand it is not a self organizing system."  

Dear Harrison, are you pointing at the paradox that self-organisation occurs anyway - even if we "try to win" (i.e. to influence the outcome)? So - when I try hard to achieve a certain result, am I then hindering self-organisation? (I don't think so, I rather think that my "directed" activities are part of the process of self-organisation of the system I live in). On the other hand, I think that  

actions of human beings are to a great extent motivated by somewhat like their biological needs. And the means they use (e.g. military power, or demagogic speech, or personal communication) are the means that they feel to be adequate to achieve their goals. Now, in my personal judgement there are certain means I don't like, and others I do prefer. I like to feel empowered, active, cooperative and constructive. And I enjoy "group feelings", when things like "success" or "love" happen to happen. (Sometimes I think that, the opener the space - the more I like the  


process ;-) My question now is, why not "try to consciously open space"? Is it a contradiction in re? (or have I basically misunderstood your thoughts?)  

harrison owen, maryland, usa:  

What started as a small "chat" now seems to be developing into a full blown conversation. Wonderful! And as it proceeds, I think it is most important to recognize that all of us (and certainly myself) are venturing into uncharted territory. We are not alone on this expedition, and there are some useful road maps created by the likes of Kauffman, Wilber, Prigogene, Dawkins, Kelly, Coveney, Wheatley and many more. But it remains true that the map is not the territory, the menu is not the meal, and for sure the book is not the experience. Having said all that it is clear to me that the global conversation on the subject of self-organization has progressed well beyond the level of purely hypothetical statements. There is some genuine experience here, and the beginnings of what be called a practice (something to be done).  

Under the heading of experience and practice, I believe that we, in what might be called the Open Space community, have a special, and possibly privileged position -- our 15 year encounter with what I like to think of as the Open Space experiment. Nobody, and certainly not myself "designed" this experiment. And for sure the "creation" of Open Space Technology out of my martini enhanced brain had nothing to do with the conscious design of an advanced human technology based upon the emerging scientific understanding of self-organization. It just happened. To be truthful, I had been fascinated with the work of Ilya Prigogene in the 70's -- but I never put 2 +2 together, until much later. But Open Space did happen, and it does happen. And we have the opportunity, and I think responsibility, to ask Why? How? and Where do we go next? And so to the conversation...  

Tim Wrote: Again until we consider the radical diferences between organisms and their eco-environments and social organizations and the meta-systems that constitute their environment, we will not have truly powerful understanding for organizational change and transformation. I suggest that because humans have the capacity for self-reflexive communication, and because social organizations exhibit that same capacity, reflexivity is an emergent property of social organizations, which manifests as the tendency for radical transformation.  

Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. Rocks and human beings are different, but both share a common substrata of existence. Thus if I drop a rock and a human, both will fall (thanks to gravity), but the human will typically know that he or she is falling, and have certain feelings about the situation. The addition of knowledge and feelings which collectively we might call awareness, certainly makes a richer stew. And then when folks talk about it all (self-reflexive communication) -- things do get complicated. Thus when we consider the process of self-organization, or its more radical and painful form -- Transformation -- in human beings (groups or individuals), we would expect certain additional processes to handle the added complexity. I think this is where Griefwork comes in. When Chaos strikes a rock it keeps on being a rock or some transformed version of it. When Chaos strikes us we commence to grieve the loss of what was --leading (hopefully) to the emergence of what might be. Shock, Anger, Denial... Just think of 911.  


I think we see all this going on in our "natural experiment" every time we open space. Things begin in Chaos -- there's confusion, lack of answers, anxiety -- and if that weren't true -- why bother to do Open Space? And if we keep our eyes open, we can observe the Griefwork process commencing. Stories are told of how it used to be. Pain is shared. Bitches expressed -- and over time as the group self-organizes in a new form -- all of that leads to some form of vision, resolution, moving on. At least it certainly can. And should you ask -- is that the whole story? Probably not -- but at least it gives us a starting point towards understanding the process of self-organization in the human dimension. But it is just a starting point. Larry Peterson has a useful caveat...  

The scientific phrase, "self-organizing" is still "flat land", it does not acknowledge the other quadrants. From a spiritual perspective, at other levels of awareness the self that self-organizes and the Self (and my self) are one.  

And From Nino Novak... So - when I try hard to achieve a certain result, am I then hindering self-organisation? (I don't think so, I rather think that my "directed" activities are part of the process of self-organisation of the system I live in).  

What I am suggesting is that the principles (Law?) of self-organization are analogous to the Law of Gravity. All critters, including us, are subject to the same laws, but that is not the end of the story. We can build and fly airplanes, and presumably rocks can't. However we would be very ill-advised to dis-regard the law of gravity. It could be painful. By analogy, I suspect that all organizations are essentially self-organizing systems, and that they (we, us, me) along with all the rest of the cosmos do not escape. But just as we can learn to use the laws of gravity for our benefit (planes for example) so also we can learn to use the Laws of Self-Organization. But we must start with a recognition of the laws -- which for me are the primal "givens," and everything else is pretty much negotiable.  

This insight or recognition cuts right to the core of much of the current understanding of how organizations work, and how we work with organizations. Many managers and executives at least say that their job is to create and organize the system. I think it would be more accurate (efficient and profitable) if they were to understand that their job was to create and sustain the conditions under which self-organization may occur and continue. There is a needed change of metaphors here -- from auto mechanics who build machines to gardeners who understand that at the end of the day, the flowers will grow all by themselves, or not. Water and fertilizer help -- but the flowers do their own thing.  

We have learned from Open Space that the one way to mess it up is to try and control it. And a close second is to have a fixed attachment to specific outcomes. Either or both of these things can bring the whole process to a shuddering halt. This is not to say that we can't have "intentions" --or that we should not have hopes for a positive outcome -- but when it comes to the details of the outcomes or how we get there -- I believe the experience has been -- You have to Let Go.  

Having said all of that, I definitely take your point -- "I rather think that my "directed" activities are part of the process of self-organisation of the system I live in." True, true, true -- and I might  


suggest that the impact of your "directed activities" will be vastly enhanced to the extent that you understand (as you obviously do) the context in which those activities all take place -- in the midst of a self-organizing system. The bottom line is, you are not in control. None of us are -- although maybe all of us are.  

kenoli oleari, california, usa:  

At a workshop last year, Harrison Owen commented that he thought all organizations were self organizing, that they all manage to "muddle through", making their own way, in spite of CEOs, strategic plans, budget constraints and horrible (or sometimes excellent) management practices (including OD consultants). This is one perspective. And, I suspect, that our conscious or unconscious awareness and appreciation (this does feel good when you area a part of it) of this aspect of organizations is what moves us to try to make systems self-organizing. What we are probably really doing (and OS is a prime example of this effort) is to get out of the way of this process as much as possible. How many leaders have thought they were running an organization only later to realize that the organization was very well running itself?  

In addition, there are many people who have tried to list characteristics of "self-organizing" systems and many large group consultants whose work is about trying to support these characteristics. Thus we do things like give people a chance to tell each other their stories, talk about past and present experience, reflect on what has worked in the organization, make decisions, share "successes" together and dream together.  

And then there is the quality of "group", the added element and experience that results from doing things together, sometimes, feeling almost spiritual. For a wonderful treatise on this see "Centered on the Edge: Mapping a Field of Collective Intelligence and Spiritual Wisdom" published by the Fetzer Institute http://www.fetzer.org. The power of group may be a next step in human development.  

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