Fairbanks, Alaska lies close to the center of a really BIG piece of territory. If you head out of town the wrong way, especially at night, you can drive a very long way before you figure that out. For this reason, our driver, a careful sort of Bostonian visitor, refused to leave the driveway of our dinner hosts until we'd located the right map. Easier said than done, however, as the car was littered with the maps people had been drawing for him all week.
By the time we did finally locate the one that would lead us to our place of lodging, the windows of the car were heavily fogged. It was the middle of April, thirty-three degrees, and midnight. The ground still snow-covered, the sky black like crazy, no moon in sight. A steady rain was turning to snow and the roads were turning to ice.
With the windows still fully fogged, our driver eased back out of the driveway and idled slowly up the street, defroster blazing and blowing. The fog cleared quickly, everywhere except right in front of our driver, who began fiddling with the defroster in frustration. "I can't see where I'm going!" he complained. I looked over at my friend Chris and buckled my seatbelt.
Then I looked at the windshield and laughed, "Well, actually," I said, "you can see where you are going OR you can see where you are going... And since the map is not the territory, why don't you give ME the map and YOU stick to the territory." Leaning over then, I snatched the map from the dashboard, clearing the defroster vent, and the window quickly cleared. I tossed the map on the seat and we headed out into the Alaskan darkness.
Maps, you see, are important for two reasons. First, they give us the comfort we need to get out of the driveway and on our way. And second, they sit there on the seat until such time as we might need them to reorient ourselves in suddenly unfamiliar territory. This "circles and arrows" map of evolution in organization does the same. It gives us some comfort as we get out into Open Space and helps us re-orient and understand what is going on, once we're out there in the territory.
And so, with the map still fresh in our minds, in this last section we will toss it aside and get out into the territory of organization and the open space we live in. As we do, we give credit to Chris Corrigan, who first noticed that this map was indeed a useful tool for navigating this territory. By the time we reached Fairbanks to work together, he'd already been using it as a backpocket guide to "what's happening" during open space events. It was in looking around the city of Fairbanks, however, that I really started to understand the power of this little map, for understanding cultures, writing invitations, and directing movements in organization. Since then, I have used this map to sort out many many chaotic situations, cultures and moments. What follows here are a few of my favorites, where the map of evolution was used either to guide the writing of an OpenSpaceTechnology invitation or to make sense of "what's happening" (and what might happen next) in midst of Open Space.
The City of Fairbanks, Alaska. This is a place where they call people from Anchorage and Juneau "wannabes" ...as in they "wannabe" real Alaskans, but they're not. The business district is dotted with steam pipes that vent the underground heating that makes running water possible in the central city. Parking lots have electric power for plugging in the cars and outside of town all the water has to be delivered to individual underground water tanks which also have electric heaters to keep the fill pipes thawed. As we drove around town, we crossed and recrossed the path of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. And when we walked out behind our hosts house, we found mine shafts dug by miners who had come to stake their claim in the days of the goldrush. In short, looking around the Fairbanks landscape, the entire human story and local culture had everything to do with Energy, Power, Money, and the Peace of a vast untamed winter and wilderness.
The Fairbanks Conference. How fitting, then that the first big event in Open Space in Fairbanks was the "Becoming A Peacemaker" conference sponsored by the Fairbanks school system and the Alaska Dispute Settlement Association. More important, however, is how the structure of the event really FIT with the culture of the place. Open Space is usually practiced in a 2.5-day format, with the last half-day set aside for "action" -- associated in our map with money, power, peace, etc. In Fairbanks, however, we did two days of Open Space conference and then ANOTHER two full days on action. Specifically, we did a training and practice workshop in which we had time to reflect on all that had happened and THEN plan a large number of followup meetings that would also be run in Open Space. So the practice got really grounded in that place.
Peoria Neighborhoods. In the second training and practice workshop, in Peoria, Illinois, one participant was showing off the invitation from an event they'd done some years earlier. One thousand people had gathered to work on the "Future of Peoria's Neighborhoods." What was most interesting to me, however, was the little "tag line" at the top of this one-page invitation: "A Community-wide Forum and Call to Action." This was an event sponsored by the City of Peoria, so it was about the structure of neighborhoods. But it was also about the things that people had to do for themselves. So this tag line says, "We live together, but now we have to work together." We need to move beyond structure and get into action. The invitation was to take a giant step forward, from one season to another.
Peoria Schools. We used a similar formula when inviting everyone who lived in Peoria School District #150 to come together in Open Space to work on "The Future of Education in Peoria." In this case, we specifically invited people to "create a vision that will be the foundation for moving forward together." We focused on the vision quadrant specifically because we did NOT want to invite a spontaneous community referendum on questions that were ultimately up to the School Board to decide in formal session. We invited visioning by the people that would be the basis for movement by the Board. In this way, we avoided raising expectations and threats to the formal sturctures and processes.
Singapore as Trading Center. Some time later, I found myself running the training and practice workshop in Singapore. As I looked around the landscape of this place, the dominant shapes were the shipping lanes thick with ocean-going trading vessels, a massive investment in public housing (about 95% of the population lives in government-built high rise apartments) and public transportation, and considerable personal preoccupation with shopping, automobiles and education -- third quadrant all the way. Trading, marketplace, movement of goods, personal mobility, community, education. Of the perhaps two dozen workshops we've run around the world, this one stands out as the one in which participants were most hungry for "action." Clearly it is the next BIG question for this relative young national culture.
Singapore Airlines. These folks are the world leaders in customer service, for years running. Even so, when I visited with them, they were in the process of a multi-year program they were calling "Transforming Customer Service." I didn't breathe a word to them about the four quadrant map, but as they told their story, it matched the seasonal evolution perfectly. When they started, they found that they spent the first year or so of the effort focusing on "purpose," specifically explaining why and what it was that they wanted to do this work. Then, they talked about the second year as "skills building" which I was afraid was skipping the second quadrant and leaping to the "learning" third quadrant. As they explained, however, it became clear that "skill building" meant "tearing up major sections of the old service manual" -- rewriting the story. Second quadrant, after all. Now, they said, the challenge was to "roll it out" (movement, third quadrant language). They were not yet clear about how to do this, because they recognized that most employees were still playing it safe and doing things the way they'd been mandated in the old manual. When we notice that the third quadrant is also the place of "community and support" it's clear that the invitation they were looking for was one that created the collegial, community support for individual, on-the-spot, not-necessarily-by-the-old-book, decision-making. Community Support for Individual Action.
Ridgeview Medical Center. The American healthcare industry has been on the financial ropes for years so it is not surprising that this medical center's first entry into Open Space was on a financial question: "How Can We Find 50 More Days of Working Capital." They were short on cash and didn't want to take it out of the hides of the people doing the work, so they invited staff from all across the hospital to help find the needed resources. Clearly a fourth, finance, quadrant question. And, without any study of our map, they convened several other Open Space events to follow their first, financial success. The later sessions focused on "Patient-Centered Care." In other words, once they did their fourth quadrant warrior/finance work, they found their obvious next step was into the first quadrant space of the healer/caregiver.
The Food Security Summit. In November, 2001, a large Chicago foundation invited all kinds of food producers and distributors, all activists of one kind or another, from organic farmers to food shelter volunteers, to come together and recognize the larger purpose of all their various work: healthy food for all. After the conference, a small group began working to structure a Food Policy Council, a structural response that could not really get underway until the larger community was able to "develop a common language." This common language, the common story, was the obvious theme for their next conference. Only after the development of that common language, could really structure and movement be supported.
The Story of Open Space Technology. Finally, we come back to the story of Open Space Technology, itself. Springing from Harrison Owen's passion for transformation and written up as a professional paper, it evolved into a traditional professional learning conference structure. That soon dissolved into the first Open Space Technology event, when Harrison wanted to make the business of it a lot easier. So far, that's purpose/passion into vision/story into structure/learning into ease/power.
For years, people worked on that original purpose of Organization Transformation. Then, as they started using Open Space with their clients, by accident and experiment more than by plan, the stories they told started to shift from the purpose of transformation to the places where it was working, the directions it was leading, and the visions they were developing for the "Open Space Organization." More recently, the conversations have migrated to an email listserve and have been more and more about the structuring of events and hybrids with other methods. Then last year, after doing work with a number of Isreali and Palestinian groups, Harrison has come back and propopsed OpenSpaceTechnology as the Practice of Peace. And so we click forward from the purpose of transformation, to visions of Open Space, to the alternatives for structuring OpenSpaceTechnology, and finally to the action, the practice, and the peace that is the pay-off.
In all of these situations, this relatively simple map (Inviting Organization Emerges) gives me the confidence to tread out into Open Space, helps me make sense of what I see happening, and gives me clues about what might be most easily invited next.
From what I have shared here and seen elsewhere, I have no doubt at all that the thing that comes out of our practice now is a whole new focus on healing and compassion -- transformation writ larger still. As we cycle through these seasons, from purpose to vision to structure to action, we have been spiralling up from event facilitation to organization evolution to planetary practice. In this way, this stuff we call Open Space seems to rest close to the center of a very BIG piece of territory, indeed.
Map, check. Seatbelt, check. Let's go...