I get asked this question a lot. It makes me laugh because truthfully there is very little “technology” to an Open Space Technology meeting. You just need some paper and markers and some tape and away you go. In fact you don’t even need that.
So why is it called “Technology?” Well, I have known the story for a long time, but today I goaded my old friend Harrison Owen to tell it again, and he did, beautifully, on the OSLIST:
It was 1989 in Bombay (now Mumbai). My friend and colleague, one V.S. Mahesh, a senior member of the Tata Administrative Service Corps, had invited me to do a series of lectures, in addition to an Open Space conference in Goa. How could I resist?
At the conclusion of the several programs, Mahesh convened a press conference for the business reporters of India. This was rather a formal event, and in the way of such things in India, Mahesh’s introduction of myself seemed to go on forever. He covered my CV in detail, including articles and activities I had forgotten, one of which was a review of a colleague’s book entitled, “Global Management Principles.” This 725 page monster described the work of 4 management theorists under such headings as, “Primal Management,” “Developmental Management,” – and last, “Metaphysical Management,” …and that was me.
As Mahesh drew to a heart stopping close, he said… It is my pleasure to introduce Harrison Owen … and Harrison will you please explain to the gentlemen of the press what you mean by Metaphysical Management and Open Space…Technology. And he sat down.
I think I could have shot him. “Metaphysical Management” was the invention of a colleague. I think I know what he was getting at, but it surely would not have been my choice of wording. As for Open Space Technology, that was, I do believe, Mahesh’s invention. “Open Space,” I admit to… as for “Technology” – I can only think that Mahesh got on a roll. “Metaphysical Management” was pretty cool. But “Open Space” was a little weak. Needed a tweak. “Technology” might just make it into the titles of the next day’s articles.
Mahesh was right. The Press took the bait. And we have been stuck with it ever since.
So that’s the story… as best as I can tell it. But I think there is a moral. If we ever take what we are doing too seriously, we are definitely in trouble. What we “do” is really a joke. Truthfully, it all happens by itself. We just take naps… if we are smart.
So that’s the answer. And like all good Harrison Owen stories, it comes with a bit of self-deprecating humour and some very good advice.
I was asked the same question during Day 3 of the Cognitive Edge training today. In addition to the name, also about what it is and what is looks like in practice. Managed to avoid the inevitable debate about the usefulness of the law of 2 feet … light constraints etc 🙂
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