Michael Herman started thinking through the practices of Open Space again and yesterday we had a good conversation about the not-practices of Open Space. He has blogged about them here and here, trying on different words and language and making a case (:-)) for various iterations.
Briefly, these not-practices, or anti practices are:
- Analyzing as the opposite of appreciating (and opening)
- Protecting, defending and facilitating as the opposites of inviting
- Problem solving and fixing as the opposites of supporting (and holding)
- Accounting and making a good case as the opposite of making good (grounding)
For me these are important because thy help us to throw the practices of Open Space into high relief. I would say that “business as usual” highly values analysis, protection and defense of decisions and turf, problem solving and fixing (especially in the consulting world) and accounting and making a case as the “desired outcome” of all of this work. One of the reasons I have become so disenchanted with traditional strategic planning for example is that it proceeds from this particular world view:
- Analyse the problem
- Protect the enterprise, turf, or project from encroachment from the environment
- Fix any problems that might be around
- Measure what you have done and use it to make a business case or a best practice.
My problem with this is that it works at creating and maintaining boundaries, and rarely does anything happen. This is a common complaint about the modern work world and traditional conferences and meeting. Nothing seems to happen, but at least if we can make a good case, we can save some of the effort.
Sometimes that is useful, but I think in a world where the work of making good is the highest calling (no matter what enterprise you are in), the Open Space practices offer a way to do more effective planning:
- Appreciating the resources and assets that we have by viewing them as being of multiple use and increasing value, and being open to other resources
- Inviting choices to participate, join and work together so that people come together in a way that is more like a fellowship and less like a project team or even a community of practice
- Supporting connections between people and enterprises which means opening the boundaries of structure to find solutions from outside and allow order to self-organize and finally;
- Making good things happen and seeing the results spin out into the world in ways that you cannot control nor foresee, nor scarcely measure.
The efficacy of the Open Space worldview is evident in the difference between proprietary software development and the Open Source movement, for example. In the proprietary world (closed space worldview) one analyses the market and the need, defends the company and product from market encroachment by copyrighting it, takes full and exclusive responsibility for fixing, problem solving and debugging, and sells the thing by making a case for why your should use it through marketing and so on. In fact much of consumer culture is based on the fact that poorly working things have better crafted marketing messages. The quality is misplaced. Look at beer ads for example.
In the open source world, we appreciate what is out there, listen to what people want and invite each other to play. The invitation extends right through to bug fixing and problem solving. Anyone can play: you can code solutions or offer to pay someone to do it for you and invite others to incorporate your fixes. Instead of protecting code, it is released into the community, supported through places like Sourceforge and what is made is a good product. And from a good product, which in this case is given away, good things happen. Non-profits for example find themselves better able to meet their stated purpose in the world because they are using Open Office and therefore not spending huge sums of money on licensing.
So this is the value of seeing the not-practices of Open Space (if you can think of a better term for them let me know). They throw some more light on the benefits of what I call the Open Space worldview, and they help describe the reasons why Open Space is not a generally accepted way of doing business, even in progressively structured communities of practices.