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On transformation and the real work of the open space facilitator

Michael Pannwitz wrote from Berlin:

Transformation happens fairly independent of the will of the people or the will of an organisation. I have not experienced people or organisations "will" transformation as little as I have seen people or organisations doing grief work. What I have seen is people and organisations navigate in transformation and that grief works. So my way of putting it would be "I believe I can attempt to hold time and space for people to navigate transformation"

Harrison Owen wrote from Potomac, Maryland:

My feelings precisely. Ever since we invented the notion of Organization Transformation, back in the early '80s -- there has been an ongoing debate. Some of my colleagues felt that Transformation was something you "did" to an organization -- as in "We will transform our organization." Lots of folks made much effort to achieve all that, but frankly I have never been convinced.

For me Transformation (of whatever sort) is something that happens. Indeed it has been happening for at least 13.7 billion years -- in short for a long time before we ever put in an appearance. And truthfully, it has done quite well without our help. But there are some rough points, for sure. It seems that Transformation inevitably requires the ending of one form as a new forms appear. The word "ending" has a nice neutral tone to it -- but we experience it as death or dying. Not a nice thing. But we do have a way of dealing with all that pain and destruction, and it is called Griefwork. And we didn't invent that either. And so from where I sit, the fundamental engines of transformation (self-organization and Griefwork) operate, have operated, and continue to operate with, or without, our permission. But we can certainly help along the way. And here Michael's words, "I believe I can attempt to hold time and space for people to navigate transformation" hit the nail exactly on the head, as far as I am concerned.

All of this has more than an academic ring to it for me at the moment. One more time our world is transforming. It is a given (and I really think it is a "given") that people will die, along with ways of life, businesses, and probably countries. Some of it is pathetically funny, particularly the rank arrogance of my President, who seems to think he is in charge. We may all end up on a charred piece of solar driftwood, otherwise knows as planet Earth. That would definitely be an ending -- and also a transformation. At such a time, it may be useful to remember that the demise of planet Earth has been in the cards since the moment of its creation. And if we don't do it do it to ourselves, it will happen anyhow, perhaps the unintended consequence of a close encounter of the cataclysmic sort should a wandering asteroid bump into us. But no matter the outcome, Michael's words constitute useful counsel. "I believe I can attempt to hold time and space for people to navigate transformation"

I think this is what we all can do. It is certainly my mission of the moment.

from Mark Jones:

This particular conversation thread has drawn me out of my customary "lurking" mode.

I note that the meaning weaving seems to be around the concept and experience of "transformation" -- either at an individual level or at an organizational level. I also observe that this is being semantically paired with the experience of "grief" -- also at both an individual and/or organizational and "world" level.

In both my own personal development experience, and in my ongoing professional work with and within organizations -- I have found it profoundly useful to hold my view and practice upon two distinctions that Ken Wilber has packaged in his "Integral Practice" initiative. He makes a distinction between "translation" and "transformation".

From an etymological perspective: "trans" comes from the Latin and means "to cross over, beyond, or through"; the applied definition is simply: "to change". So, "translation" -- from the Latin "translatus" -- means "to carry across, or to express and/or admit to being expressed in another language. And "transformation" -- from the Latin "transformalis" -- means "to change form, function, nature, and/or fundamental condition".

In my own personal development experience, I have found that my practice has gradually shifted from translational work to transformational work. The experience and the work of "grief" -- for instance when my mother died" -- was essentially translational. That is to say that I actually was attempting to "carry across, or to express and/or admit to being expressed" the deep confusion of the intellect ("Head") and the deep emotional pain and despair of the "Heart" -- in language that I could understand both intellectually and emotionally. This intentional act of being with and expressing the "grief", gave me sufficient UNDERstanding (insight and space) to begin the transformative work of letting go of my attachment to a particular "form" in relationship and view -- past, present, and future.

In my work with and within organizations -- I have found the same to be true. Most of the work that emerges is "translational" -- and is usually "grief work" manifesting in various forms. And very rarely, a transformative process ensues in which the organization "reconstructs" (Shiva -- The Reconstructor) itself and changes its essential form, function, nature, and/or fundamental condition. I hear a lot of talk and apparent aspiration concerning "transformation", but usually the conditions are not such that transformation is truly welcomed, embraced, and actualized. The insights and the space are not actually present for transformation to occur. In any event, I try to see what is really being called forth -- translation OR transformation. And I attempt to never confuse the two -- since in my experience they call forth distinctly different energies, forms, tools, and practices.

For me, Open Space has proven to be an ideal tool for engaging organizations in translational work. And the "depth" required need only be sufficient to allow for some clarity around the "meaning" of things -- typically this is the "grief" work.

However, when I sense that the intention is truly to "go deeper" and "do the transformative work" -- then my use of Open Space as a tool shifts to using Open Space (augmented by Arrien's four attitudes) as a "Life Practice". I do this in a quite literal sense by "living" the question:

I very specifically language Open Space to present a doable, measurable Life Practice:




When individuals and/or organizations take on this view and intention -- then transformation ALWAYS occurs. Impacts better match Intentions. A "natural process" as Harrison might say.

Well, this is what came up for me in reading the Thread. Perhaps these ramblings will be of benefit to someone of you . . .

Mark R. Jones

from the OpenSpaceTechnology/OSLIST email listserve - Feb 2003

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Last edited March 24, 2003 12:01 am CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
© 1998-2020 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael