Michael Herman and I ran an Open Space practice retreat here on Bowen Island a couple of weeks ago, and while he was here we made major progress in our thinking about the Open Space Practices. Here’s some of that thinking.
When Harrison Owen conceived of Open Space and ran the initial experiments in the 1980s he said that he hoped that Open Space would eventually become ubiquitous, that it would fade away and just become the way people do business. For a long time I thought that this meant Harrison hoped Open Space would become like brainstorming: used everywhere all the time without any thought to its origins or mechanics.
I’m now coming to realize that Open Space does indeed fade away, or at least fades into the background when my use of the process dissolves into practice. If anything, this long journey into articulating and understanding the four practices of Open Space has been an effort to understand what I’m learning about organizations, communities, leadership and passion in Open Space and applying that learning throughout my life and work.
Dissolving into practice. That is the essence of why this stuff matters. Some of the participants we had with us here on Bowen Island a couple of weeks ago reported coming to learn about the mechanics of Open Space and leaving with a deeper knowing of how space can be opened everywhere. That is what we are after: cultivating the practices of open space so that it can happen everywhere, at any time and in many different guises. For me, sometimes this takes the form of an Open Space Technology meeting, but there are something like 345 days a year when I am NOT in an Open Space meeting, and yet I’m still practicing.
Michael and I continue to look for ways to make this story accessible and practice-able as we deepen our exploration of these ideas. In the past we have talked about the four practices as Opening, Inviting, Holding and Grounding. This language still holds, and in fact a number of different words and concepts are useful, because these four words describe practice areas in which many distinct practices can be gathered.
After working through the fire of a workshop and some fantastic conversations, we have refined the ore a little more and we are now using the following descriptions:
- Appreciating: noticing what we have, what’s good, what’s easy and possible to develop, what wants to be born. This is an area where our individual practices incloude opening our hearts, cultivating compassion for others and finding ways to join ourselves to the work through connecting purposes.
- Inviting Choice: When we invite, we invite people to join us and in the act of doing so they choose to be our allies. This is profound, because when people choose to be with us, to “live in truth” with us as Vaclav Havel would say, then our purposes are joined and our work becomes meaningful and important. Creating conditions that invite choice is the essence of leadership in Open Space leading to…
- Supporting Connection: which is the way we help each other, once joined, to do the work.. WE bring resources, time, attention, help and put it to work to support evolving and changing structures that arise and fall away to be useful exactly when they are needed. The essence of supporting connection is a complex world is in letting go of control, holding space for new things to emerge and supporting the energy when the do emerge.
- Making Good: this is the logical outcome. When we are in alignment, and our purposes are joined and our connections supported, we ground all of that by making good. Making good looks like better, improved, peaceful, powerful, deeper, happier, healthier. All kinds of organizations have making good as their focus, and within those organizations, people making good will find ways to continue lending their time and attention to the work at hand. When work becomes about something else, it turns into drudgery and control and compulsion are the only ways to keep people around. So we make good on promises, responsibilities, commitments and we make good on fulfilling our purpose in the world.
We’re ploughing away on lots more writing and thinking about this. I reckon there’s a book in it at some point.