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The Inviting Organization Emerges

And there you have it, in about twenty nutshells. This is my story of evolution at work, mapped onto the oldest story of human evolution, as integrated and animated by Wilber, from the physics of excitement and matter, through the biology of body, the psychology of mind, the theology of soul, finally arriving at the mysticism of spirit.

Drawing on Wilber, Harrison Owen has developed his own story of the evolution of organization and leaders, based on his own personal experience in organization and Open Space. That story begins with the reactive organization, defined by the reptilean instinct of killing and eating whatever moves. The leader here is the pioneer, the entrepreneur. Next comes the responsive organization, customer-focused, aiming to please, and as reassuring as a good English pub, but don't mess with the bartender. The proactive organization comes next, characterized by an insatiable need to measure and analyze everything, led by the MBA. In Harrison's story, the interactive organization is emerging now, characterized by the energy of a good coffee break and the action of surfing, and leadership that is 'everybody.' This is, of course, just what Open Space looks like. And finally, the highest realm of organizational life, says Owen, is the inspired or inspirited organization. He is quick to add that while he's seen it show up often, he's never seen anyone sustain this highest level of organization, where leadership is invisible, it's nobody, or at least it's nobody we can see.

Coming at this from a more academic direction, Fred and Merrelyn Emery have studied what they describe as four kinds of organizational environments. The first level is 'random,' where the goodies and badies come randomly and can't be predicted. That's why we have to be reptilean and reactive, per Owen, at this level. Next comes 'clustered,' where patterns emerge and learning and planning become possible. Then, they say, one group is eating into a pile of goodies and discovers another group eating into it from the other side. They call this environment 'competitive' and 'disturbed,' because the competition continually disturbs our well-laid plans. Next comes the 'turbulent/adaptive' stage, a state where the disturbances have resolved into permanent whitewater and continuous adaptation becomes essential for survival. Finally, they hypothesize that there is actually a fifth level. They could sense it, but could never study it formally because, like Owen's inspirited level, it can't be sustained long enough to document. They call this level vortical, as in vortex, which fits perfectly with our experience in Open Space and elsewhere. When spirit runs high in a workgroup, as it does so often in Open Space meetings, participants often report having planned to or even tried to leave, "but something kept sucking me back in." The energetic pull of inspiring work seems consistent with the physical sucking of the vortical (swirling, whirlpool) environment in the Emery story. While it's important to note that their research and analysis did identify distinct ideals, strategies, planning scopes and operating skills required to survive in each of the first four environments, we'll save those details for another day.

A more playful extension of this story, however, and one that might help this map sink a bit deeper in memory, is something I call the Seattle Stories. This is really a simple, five-stage history of the Seattle region, which has participated in every major wave of American economic development. The first wave was timber, led by Weyerhauser, an exciting, pioneering sort of business, gathering the raw materials (matter) that were the building blocks of the rest of business life. Next, came Boeing, literally in the business of manufacturing stable, secure bodies that make deliveries and are operating by chiefs who make monologues over loud speakers like CEOs on the company-wide conference call. In the information age there is Microsoft, a company that may have invented stock option incentive plans, has networked us all, and made us all a little out of our minds. Next comes free-agent nation, where the leadership is everywhere and the headquarters is Starbuck's. Like the very first open space meeting, it's all about the energy of a good coffee break, simple, powerful, working, learning, relaxing -- and exceedingly profitable. And finally, there is Chief Seattle, the invisible, spiritual leader of the environmental movement, to whom all kinds of wise sayings are attributed.

Finally, if you step back for a moment, to the Evolution at Work table of contents, you see that the five sections of my own story flow through these same five levels. Opening Invitation (in organization) is about what had me so excited in the first place, about my own pioneering and discovering in open space. Inviting Evolution defined the body of this work, with mission, vision and values that include poetry and science, beginnings and endings, the personal and universal. Evolving Organization is the section we're in now, rational, logical, analytical, the strategic justification and business case for the inviting organization. Next, Organizing in Open Space introduces the soul of this work, where it all comes together, in practice, as inviting -- something we can do AND be, as individuals and organizations. The pieces there are built to travel as handouts, as the leaders of the practice become 'everybody.' Finally, the Opening Invitation (as organization) comes back to where we started, but knows the place for the first time. It's a last wisp of the spirit of (this) invitation to discover the inviting organization.

And so we return to the Fast Company story that gave rise to this whole adventure. As a strategic question, "What business are you in?" certainly rests on the obvious, the essential, the matter of work. "What's your business model?" demands more of a body: set the boundaries, integrate the parts, make the case for what's in and what's out. "How digital are you?" is all about information, data, mind, and running the business by the numbers, which is where most of our organizations are now. But I wanted to know what the new leaders were doing now, not fifteen years ago. What is the NEXT great strategic question? Everything I've seen says it must be "How open and inviting is your organization?"

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Last edited April 21, 2006 9:23 pm CentralTimeUSA by Mherman
© 1998-2019 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