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Evolution in Open Space

So far, we've seen that our oldest stories of spirit are aligned with some of our newest stories of business. Now we come to the practice of Open Space Technology, as discovered and disseminated by Harrison Owen. Given his experience in the Peace Corps with the tribes of West Africa, his study of Ken Wilber, his friendship with Angeles Arrien and his deeply practical approach to business of all kinds, it's not surprising that Harrison's contribution to evolution in organization would directly address each of the dimensions of evolution at work AND the challenge of moving in all of them at once.

When he looked back on the first handful of years of practicing Open Space Technology, Harrison concluded that Open Space works best when four key conditions are present: when the the tasks to be done are highly complex, when the people who are needed to do them are personally, professionally, or simply geographically diverse, when there is real or potential conflict, and when the decision time was yesterday.

Keeping up with our picture then, map the conflict to our first quadrant, as it's just passion in diguise. It just means people care enough to disagree, but not yet enough to hold the larger whole in their hearts. Map high complexity to the absence of vision, as we don't yet see how we all work together, can't yet see the plan. Map the decision-making lag to questions about whether so-and-so is ready to let go of thus-and-such, the structure's not ready to move. And finally, map the diversity as deviance or differences of opinion as block creative new action and new value, remembering that environmentally and financially, diversification is power.

To look at why it works so well when the levels of conflict, complexity, urgency and deviation are high and rising, we have only to look at what it invites people to do. First it invites leaders to invite leadership, from all sides, to sit together as one circle, and to give their attention to this larger whole. Next the big, empty bulletin board wall invites all to speak their truth, write it down, and post it so that others who share the same passions can be found and engaged. Then the open marketplace invites the everyone present to move and move and move again, constantly letting go of groups and ideas, in order to maximize learning (wisdom) and contribution (value). Finally, it is the responsibility of everyone who led a breakout session to document what happened so that the action can continue.

What's more, the preparation for any open space event has four requirements: the invitation, the invitation list, the space/time logistics, and a plan for publishing the proceedings. The invitation list is about attracting the necessary talent. The invitation document is the vision that brings them together. The logistical opening of the space and time for meeting give people a chance to let go of regular routines and speeds the flow of work. Finally, the plan for publishing the proceedings takes responsibility for action afterward. In the end, it seems that the practice of opening space naturally addresses the four dimensional challenge of evolution AND the four basics of business.

To paraphrase Harrison's own story on this, leadership emerges as passion bounded by responsibility, the vision emerges on the wall, the community moves together in the marketplace and the management is a 'no-brainer,' because the whole thing is sprung from leadership and responsibility. He never designed it to do this, indeed Harrison is the first to say that he didn't design it or create it at all... but discovered it, in the process of trying to make the work of managing one particular conference event amazing AND easy.


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Last edited April 21, 2006 9:20 pm CentralTimeUSA by Mherman
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© 1998-2017 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