Book Reviews

The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform

by Harrison Owen

Reviewed by Rene Townsend
Lecturer, California State University at San Marcos


Transforming an organization requires we "give up the increasingly absurd notion that we are, or should be, in total control."

That's an overriding message in The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform. Author Harrison Owen describes chaos as healthy and essential and suggests leaders acknowledge their lack of control, embrace the inevitable chaos, trust self-organizing and adaptive systems, and cultivate spirit to transform organizations to succeed in the future.

Known for his theory of open space technology, Owen has worked with thousands of organizations worldwide, bringing considerable experience and insight to stages of organizational transformation. He labels the stages as ReActive, Responsive, ProActive, InterActive and Inspired. Most, says Owen, are operating uncomfortably between ProActive and InterActive.

The heart of the matter for an InterActive organization is the cultivation of spirit, though the author leaves the definition to each reader.

In parts of the book, readers simply must suspend judgment until the whole concept is revealed. Some pieces resonate immediately. For me, Owen's most powerful ideas deal with the importance of developing the culture of the organization, the notion that cultivating spirit is an antidote for "soul pollution" and that, ultimately, the fate of an organization depends on the strength and quality of its values.

On a practical level, Owen's advice in the appendix about interviewing employees to gather stories to illuminate what the organization is now and what it could become is extremely useful. If you like to have your thinking and ideas challenged, this book will do it.

(The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform by Harrison Owen, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 450 Sansome St., Suite 1200, San Francisco, Calif. 94111, 2000, 232 pages with index, $19.95 softcover)