Noticing and Remembering

…some key principles, teachers, and ideas while doing a bunch of thinking and learning, writing and designing last week. I sorted some old and new ideas into a rough framework, named the biggest buckets, and discovered they were an excellent update to the four dimensions I first outlined in Inviting Organization Emerges, 1998. Either I’m still crazy or this view is still true: (personal) passion, (shared) purpose, (learning) practice, and (high) performance.

Here are some of the bits that came up along the way…

  • “people are purposeful and can be ideal-seeking. you don’t have to agree with someone’s purposes, but they surely do have them.” merrelyn emery, in a search conference and participative design training, 1995.
  • imposing democratic self-management or how do we teach responsibility? i posted this topic in my first-ever open space conference. “i don’t! i just ask what’s working. and then i ask how to grow more of that.” my first brush with harrison owen, in open space, 1996. this works just as well for individuals and oneself.
  • “if a living system is unhealthy, the way to make it more healthy is to reconnect it with more of itself.” a quote from francisco varela that i carried in my wallet on the back of a business card, for about 10 years.
  • standing around a campfire at an Outward Bound instructor training… how are we going to remember all the details of how to brief all these different teambuilding exercises? “these kids don’t care about the initiatives. they just want to know if you love them.” we never quite outgrow that need for love or circling up around a fire.
  • in the beginning there was change. then it got spun up more hopefully, as transition. when it got deep and potentially uncomfortable, we called it transformation. now that we’re beginning to really understand it, i hear more and more people talking about evolution. the main benefits of this view is that we can’t evolve other people and we don’t waste as much time trying escape or avoid it.
  • in agile development, the purpose of individual scrum sprints is to produce value, but the purpose of sprinting is learning and improvement. and yes, these things happen to be distinct and inseparable.
  • the best games have four elements: a goal, some rules, a scoreboard, and they’re opt-in, says game designer and ted talker, jane mcgonigal. this aligns surprisingly well with the essential elements of an invitation and inviting leadership.
  • after one of the championship games michael jordan won with a last-second shot, an interviewer asked him what he was thinking about during the timeout right before that shot. “i was thinking that nobody knows what’s going to happen. all the people in the stadium, all the people watching on TV, nobody knows. i thought that was really cute. (big smile)” in agile terms, this is the essence of valuing responding to change more than following a plan.
  • we can mandate performance, but high performance is invitation only. mandates can set minimum standards, but will almost always limit the upside or be completely unreasonable and irrelevant. invitations express ideals in ways that call people to their pursuit.

Open Space as Trim Tab

I was talking last week about Open Space serving as a “trim tab,” pointing to its use in guiding transformational change in organizations. Along the way, I discovered that Bucky Fuller, according to Wikipedia, “is often cited for his use of trim tabs as a metaphor for leadership and personal empowerment.”

In the February 1972 issue of Playboy, Fuller said:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trim Tab.

—Buckminster Fuller

silent night / newtown news

years ago, simon and garfunkel recorded a song called silent night/7 o’clock news. in one channel, they sang the old christmas song we all know. but in the other, they played news reports of the day, most memorably, about the war in vietnam. so, yes, that’s me in the red suit at a neighbors/family party this weekend and there’s more to this story than “ho, ho, ho!”

i have a friend, ben roberts, in newtown, connecticut, who is hosting a number of open “cafe” calls this week, for people to come together to talk, to explore what’s happened and think about what might now be possible, on guns, schools, mental illness, and anything else that participants might decide is related. the cafe call details are here and the one word that stood out for me in the many good and wise things he’s posted is: isolation.

isolation.

it seems to be the underlying assumption, common perception, and slippery slope at the center of all sorts of horrible news stories. our natural reaction, our immediate response, is to come together. like we did after 9/11, like ben and others are doing on the phone this week, like he and his neighbors are doing all around newtown, like we do for more ordinary funerals — but also for holidays.

in the wake of the shootings last week, the cry goes up about gun control, and then it’s expanded to mental illness, but it seems to me that the thing that makes guns and illness possible is isolation. Francisco Varela, a Chilean biologist, philosopher, and neuroscientist once said something like “If a living system is unhealthy, the way to make it more healthy is to reconnect it with more of itself.”

just three days after our world crashed down on 9/11, i convened an open space gathering at old st. patrick’s church, here in chicago. what i remember best from that day is that after 70 or 80 or more participants posted something like 30 breakout session topics, nobody moved. nobody broke out. everyone wanted only to be with everyone else, in one big circle. we sat and talked, taking turns in that large group, for more than three hours, without any break, connecting and reconnecting.

when i was in grade school, in a suburb of detroit, in the 1970’s, safety meant being able to go to any house that displayed a red hand or a blue star in the front window. when there was a string of child abductions — every time it snowed, a kid would disappear, and every time the snow melted, they’d find a body — we were told to run and yell for help if any stranger tried to get us into a car.

the message was that help was all around, help was there for the asking. a bit like santa’s helpers being scattered all around the neighborhood, watching behavior, but also watching out for us. this is just the opposite, i think, of the voice that says, “the world is dangerous. i need to be prepared to shoot my way out,” or “if i’m hurting or struggling, nobody could possibly understand.” it’s these views we need to attack, need to prove wrong, need to dispel with our action.

i’m thinking that the solution to our current grief is not simply the opposite of gun rights, nor the opposite of mental illness, but the opposite of isolation, the opposite of whatever darkness might separate us from ourselves. holidays it seems, and especially the one(s) upon us now, in the dark of northern winter, are for practicing: coming together, rekindling light, watching over, and looking out for each other.

coming together might just be the only and every thing we need. the challenge, i think, is that it’s going to be most effective when we do it with those who seem most different from how we think we are, everywhere we are, in families and neighborhoods, churches and schools, politics and business. but teachers and pastors, mayors and the president, can’t do it for us. we have to do it together, each of us, all of us, everywhere, with every one, every chance we get.

merry happy to all, and to all a good night.

Out of the Sewer

Found this archived bit of wisdom today in the Esquire politics blog. Reflecting on the nature of hope and absurdity, Vaclav Havel tells a tale of his falling into a sewer hole full of shit then somehow finds his way out of that telling to explain:

…history is not something that takes place elsewhere; it takes place here. We all contribute to making it. If bringing back some human dimension to the world depends on anything, it depends on how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.

The kind of hope I often think about (especially in hopeless situations like prison or sewer) is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t. Hope is not a prognostication — it’s an orientation of the spirit. Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

History, yes, but also “organization culture” and most all of the real work that gets done in the world, it seems to me, depends on “how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.” Some talk of “culture change” but culture is what we all create together, what we all agree and reinforce with each decision, what is good and right. We can make grand plans and designs, but it’s the absurdity of taking immediate next steps, into those designs, that depends on hope, stepping into the absurdity of doing this one little thing in the face of the great need or plan or vision.

This reminds me of opening space in organizations. It’s not about some theory of how things work, or some conviction that open space is some sort of magic. It’s about inviting and leveraging our innate ability to come together, hope together, and do the first things, the most important things, even if we only have a couple days or hours. We make a beginning, purposefully not pointlessly.

Acceleration

Apple chief Tim Cook had an interesting line about the velocity of change in his earnings call last week:

…through the last quarter, I should say, which is just 2 years after we shipped the initial iPad, we’ve sold 67 million. And to put that in some context, it took us 24 years to sell that many Macs and 5 years for that many iPods and over 3 years for that many iPhones. And we were extremely happy with the trajectory on all of those products. And so I think iPad, it’s a profound product.

Wow.

Generosity Without Wealth

Giving material goods is one form of generosity, but one can extend an attitude of generosity into all one’s behavior. Being kind, attentive, and honest in dealing with others, offering praise where it is due, giving comfort and advice where they are needed, and simply sharing one’s time with someone – all these are forms of generosity, and they do not require any particular level of material wealth.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

how do i say…

my friend birrell walsh posted this to an email list i’m part of. it captures well how i think of our work in open space…

“How do I say, in your language,
to allow a space to open
inside oneself, no – *as* oneself –
and in that space to have
such welcoming that others
come there too, not as images,
no, but *as* themselves;
and in unfolding as themselves
within the spacing you are being-as
they find ease and freedom (by the way)
to be well. How do I say that,
in your language,” he, moving his tongue
around unfamiliar syllables, asked
so he could teach me.

if you like this, you might like some of his other poetry. he has a book posted at lulu.com. there are two of his favorite poems there, on the lulu product page.

in case you’re inspired to purchase, it’s worth noting that given the weird economics of publishing right now, he makes more money from the download (US$5.00 to the purchaser) than from the printed copy (US$22.00 plus shipping). but of course, hardcopy is still hardcopy. the book itself is beautiful, very well and sturdily made, and with a remarkable cover photograph from the collection of another friend, one radmila krieger, of munich.

if you want to know what birrell actually looks and sounds like, or just want somebody to read poems to you, he read twelve of his poems into his webcam and posted to youtube.

or maybe it’s enough just to enjoy this one, that seems to understand our work so well.

The Substance of Revolution

Recent calls for “substance”, or more commonly criticisms of its absence, in Barack Obama’s speeches remind me of so many questions I’ve heard over the years about “How does open space technology lead to action?”

When 100 or 200 people create a working agenda of 50 or 70 cricital issues, take personal responsibility for leading those conversations, and pledge to bring back the notes to share with everybody — in about an hour — that IS action. We just have to know where to look.

As to the history of the Revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by the Revolution? The War? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the minds of the People . . .
—John Adams

Many Obama supporters might simply be thinking differently about politics, partisanship, and policy. It’s a different set of priorities, that includes the process, and the personal experience of the process. Words like cult and messiah are popping up, I think, because it looks so mysterious, as many are voting on the basis of criteria that simply don’t exist for some others. Jeff Aitken has some interesting things about Obama and self-organization and another post that includes this:

Catherine Austin Fitts warns us that we have a stark choice: we support the centralizers or the decentralizers. We support a centralizing economic system (the “tapeworm” economy, which has sucked 10 trillion dollars out of communities into globalized concentrations of wealth); or forge a decentralizing, community economics when we pull our investments (and those of our community’s institutions, like pension funds) out of the tapeworm and put them to work in our communities. The government is not coming to our rescue when “peak everything” leaves us to our own relationships with farmers and shoemakers.

The Adams quote comes from Fitts, and I’ve added her Coming Clean process, toward a financially intimate world, to the Practices Roll in the sidebar. If self-organization and Open Space are less centralized, more intimate, then is it fair to say that Obama is running a more intimate campaign and proposing a more politically intimate government? Not just “for” the people, but more “of” and “by” than ever before?

Surreality Bites?

Susan Walker quoted historian John Brooks last week in The Daily Reckoning:

[It] came with a kind of surrealistic slowness … so gradually that, on the one hand, it was possible to live through a good part of it without realizing that it was happening, and, on the other hand, it was possible to believe one had experienced and survived it when in fact it had no more than just begun.

He was writing about how it felt to live during the Great Depression, 1929-1933. She was writing about US housing markets these days. I wonder if it might not apply more broadly than that.

At what point does not knowing become worse that any one of the possible outcomes? Isn’t that the moment when the next big things really get to begin? The moment when we finally decide? And what if some billions would decide all at once?

Inviting Employee Engagement

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s secret to maintaining flow:

The only solution to achieve enduring happiness, therefore, is to keep finding new opportunities to refine one’s skills: do one’s job better or faster, or expand the tasks that comprise it; find a new set of challenges more appropriate to your stage of life. Paradoxically, the feeling of happiness is only realized after the event. To acknowledge it at the time would only serve as distraction.

Recently, I’ve been working in the area of “employee engagement,” organizing “engagement summits” in Open Space, to invite deepening engagement with the most important business issues, following company-wide engagement surveys. This quote puts that work in perspective. Anything other than direct invitations into the most important issues and opportunities seems like so much distraction in organization. We need to engage in something!

via Chris Corrigan

Real Practice

How do we know if our practice is a real practice? Only by one thing: more and more, we just see the wonder. What is the wonder? I don’t know. We can’t know such things through thinking. But we always know it when it’s there.

–Charlotte Joko Beck

Opening Space for the Infinite

The relative quiet of winter settles in, even in the center of this big and windy city. Newly wireless, freed from my desk chair, I find myself exploring the theology of Paul Tillich from my living room couch.

…since things in existence are corrupt and therefore ambiguous, no finite thing can be (by itself) that which is infinite. All that is possible is for the finite to be a vehicle for revealing the infinite…

Recently I discovered that Tillich was in fact a central teacher for one of my own central teachers (and friends), Harrison Owen, originator of the Open Space Technology approach to meeting and organization. Thanks to Ashley for uncovering these connections via email.

All of which has me returning and reviewing, this evening season, my own work and practice, in Open Space and beyond, as finite version and vehicle for the infinite. I notice that these two inform each other, how I see is what I see. Body as vehicle of perception. Training as vehicle of understanding. Practice as vehicle for confusion. Patient, persistent, opening, visioning, offering, grounding, as vehicle for…

I teeter on, in the open space between doing well and doing good.

Practice is…

About endeavouring in the discipline of regular formal practice, Ian Maxwell once said,

We don’t brush our teeth once in a while and do it really, really well and then forget about it. Meditation is like brushing our teeth. We do it everyday. It’s simply something we do.

Practice is… in spite of everything.

Highest Goal

Lisa Kimball sent an invitation yesterday for a new Virtual Chautauqua event, September 15 (now) though the 30th, with author and teacher Michael Ray. I”m finding his book, Highest Goal, to be both brilliant and helpful. Some of my favorite bits from Jim Collins’ foreword:

…the story of a businessman who visited a Zen master seeking enlightenment. They sat down for tea, the businessman blabbering on about all the issues and challenges in his life, and his quest for achievement and direction and meaning and purpose and . . . the master said nothing, pouring tea. With the cup full, the master kept pouring, the tea flowing into the saucer, onto the table, and finally into the man’s lap.

“Hey! What are you doing?” yelped the businessman, leaping up as the scalding hot water seeped into his pants.

“Your cup is too full,” said the master. “You add and add and add and add and add and add to your life. There is no room for enlightenment until you empty your cup.”

…I’ve come to believe that there are two approaches to life. The first, followed by most, is the “paint by numbers kit” approach to life. You do what other people say. You follow a well-traveled path. You stay within the lines. And you end up with a nice, pretty—and unimaginative—picture. The second, followed by few, is to start with a blank canvas and try to paint a masterpiece. It is a riskier path, a harder path, a path filled with ambiguity and creative choice. But it is the only way to make your life itself a creative work of art. To paint a masterpiece requires a concept, a place to begin, a guiding context in the absence of the comforting numbers and lines in the premade kit. That guiding frame of reference is the highest goal, and bringing it into your life with the help of Michael’s discoveries is what this book is all about.

…A core process—both in the course and in this book—is the idea of “live-with” heuristics. These are mantras of living that you implement for a period of time (usually a week or more), and reflect on the experience. At Stanford, we were challenged with such livewith assignments as: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Surrender. Pay Attention! Ask Dumb Questions. Destroy Judgment, Create Curiosity. Don’t Think About It. Be Ordinary. And the hardest livewith of all: Do Only What Is Easy, Effortless and Enjoyable.

You can join, or just read through, the two-week conversation with Michael at the VirtualChautauqua.

Got Sunscreen?

From Alexandra David-Neel’s Initiations and Initiates in Tibet, via Birrell Walsh, author of Praying for Others:

Imagine, one of them said to me, that whilst the sun is shining, a man is obstinately determined to light a lamp, his lamp, in order to provide light for himself or for someone else. In vain it is pointed out to him that it’s broad daylight, and the sun is shedding its radiance upon all things. He refuses to benefit by this radiance, what he desires is a light produced by himself. Very likely this man’s folly is due to the fact that he does not discern the sunlight; for him it does not exist, an opaque screen prevents him from perceiving it. This screen consists of infatuation of self, of his personality and his works, reasoning as distinct from comprehension.

Anybody else been playing with matches? Got sunscreen?

Living a Life of Invitation

Chris Corrigan has posted this from biologist Varela, via leadership guru Jaworski, in the latter’s book called Synchronicity:

“When we are in touch with our ‘open nature,’ our emptiness, we exert an enormous attraction to other human beings. There is great magnetism in that state of being which has been called by Trungpa ‘authentic presence.” Varela leaned back and smiled. “Isn’t that beautiful? And if others are in that same space or entering it, they resonate with us and immediately doors are open to us. It is not strange or mystical. It is part of the natural order. “

Chris links it to our work on the practices of Open Space. I add it here because it fits in so well with my recently posted bits about “action.”