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The Business Case for Open Space

For openers, Fast Company offers new strategies for creating growth in down times.

[Double Digit Growth in No-Growth Times] The current business climate is not very friendly, and yet there are several businesses that are succeeding by retooling the ways they are doing things. We're not talking about cutting costs and downsizing staff either. We're talking about "shifting from product innovation to demand innovation." in other words, seeing yourself as bigger than just the products you make. Some stories from the article:

OpenSpaceTechnology as a methodology has immediate application in all of these scenarios. In the immediate short term, convening and OpenSpaceTechnology meeting may be the fastest way to initiate these organizational changes. Imagine this:

OpenSpaceTechnology can help organizations move more easily into "demand management" strategy and scenarios, whilst building long term commitment with the company to improving the chances for success.

Beyond this, OpenSpaceTechnology meets a long list of other business needs now...

OpenSpaceTechnology helps businesses grow into a more functionally adaptive, distributed leadership model

Organizations, especially organizations that react to change, are best thought of as living systems and living systems will be most adaptable if they are organized more or less tending towards distributed control and leadership. There are several pros and cons to this kind of organization, but it is worth noting the Open Space Technology can certainly accelerate the evolution of organizations and business units in this direction.

http://www.kk.org/outofcontrol/ch2-f.html http://www.fritjofcapra.net/summary.html

OpenSpaceTechnology facilitates the transfer of knowledge through organizations

When IBM wanted to explore a new way of distributing good ideas throughout the organization, they used a large scale online effort called WorldJam?. Over 52,000 employees took part in the brainstorming session, which produced ideas for improving products, enhancing work/life balance and facilitating employee advancement within the company, leading to greater retention of experience.

WorldJam? was very much an online Open Space model. The results in live groups in Open Space are nearly identical, with the potential for many projects to be developed which are both practical and effective, and most importantly, led by the people who have passion to develop them. Projects which need cross-functional participation get started quickly and avoid getting bogged down in bureaucracy because people begin working with other people and ideas.


OpenSpaceTechnology invites working freely and openly on ideas which creates stable and self-regulating results

Business requires good ideas to be created quickly, implemented ASAP and constantly improved. Traditionally it has been thought that the "command and control" approach does this best. However, the experience of Open Source software development suggests otherwise. Making program code freely available and inviting anyone with passion to help refine it and make it better has produced Linux, an operating system that rivals Microsoft for usability, but beats it hands downs on price. Linux is free. And when Linux "breaks" it takes next to no time for a "fix" to appear.

Open Space can bring together diverse members of a business, including customers, suppliers and sub contractors, to create and improve product lines, processes or even policies that benefit all. And extending the invitation to everyone to continually improve these things results in systems and products that work for everyone who needs them to, and which can be changed on a momentís notice to meet changing conditions.

http://www.newscientist.com/hottopics/copyleft/copyleftart.jsp http://www.gridtoday.com/02/0624/100034.html

OpenSpaceTechnology uses a few simple rules to produce all kinds of complex results

Scientists studying flocking behaviour in social systems have concluded that simple rules, not complex ones, encourage social groups to move together. For a business seeking corporate alignment, Open Space, with its simple rules of engagement (known as the Law of Two Feet and the Four Principles) provides exactly the same kind of framework for inviting and achieving deep organizational alignment around goals, plans and visions that serve the needs of the whole business.


OpenSpaceTechnology helps people and whole organizations deal with real complexity

Events like September 11, or catastrophic market shifts cannot be predicted, and the business worldís response to these events cannot be scripted. The answers to quickly evolving and complex questions happen through a process called emergence. Emergence requires openness and a commitment to accept the fact that solution, like the problems, can come out of nowhere.

By organizing people quickly and focusing and critical business issues, Open Space helps companies to find the emergent solutions to dealing with change.


OpenSpaceTechnology supports genuinely strategic planning on the issues and opportunities that really matter

A great deal of leading edge business research, such as that conduct by Henry Mintzberg at McGill? University or McKinsey? & Company, has suggested that traditional strategic planning fails because it locks business into plans that are unable to change when business conditions change. Instead, these leading thinkers advocate that strategy happens in conversation, something Open Space is very good at promoting. Moreover, formal planning processes should achieve two goals: building "prepared minds" and increasing innovation and creativity in ideas development. Open Space can help accomplish both of these goals by developing new ideas in a experiential laboratory that where employees can engage with each other, practice the art of conversation, and increase the likelihood that innovative ideas will come to the fore.

From "Tired of strategic planning?" McKinsey? Quarterly 2002:

A key starting point is the acceptance of the counterintuitive notion that the strategic-planning process should not be designed to make strategy. Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management at McGill? University, calls the phrase "strategic planning" an oxymoron.1 He argues that real strategies are rarely made in paneled conference rooms but are more likely to be cooked up informally and often in real timeóin hallway conversations, casual working groups, or quiet moments of reflection on long airplane flights.

What then is the purpose, if any, of a formal planning process? Our research persuades us that the exercise can add value if it has two overarching goals. The first is to build "prepared minds"óthat is, to make sure that decision makers have a solid understanding of the business, its strategy, and the assumptions behind that strategy, thereby making it possible for executives to respond swiftly to challenges and opportunities as they occur in real time. GE Capital, for instance, has consistently proved quicker to react and better able to value acquisition opportunities than have its competitors. Part of this success is due to a strategy process ensuring that GE Capitalís executives have a strong grasp of the strategic context they operate in before the unpredictable but inevitable twists and turns of their business push them to make M&A and other critical decisions in real time.

The second goal is to increase the innovativeness of a companyís strategies. No strategy process can guarantee brilliant flashes of creative insight, but much can be done to increase the odds that they will occur. In addition to formal planning at the business unit level, for example, Johnson & Johnson uses crosscutting initiatives on major issues such as biotechnology, the restructuring of the health care industry, and globalization in order to challenge assumptions and open up the organization to new thinking.

OpenSpaceTechnology understands markets as conversations. It invites and embraces your customers, engaging them in your business for the long haul.

When The Cluetrain Manifesto appeared on the scene, it attempted to rewrite marketing strategy. IN an interconnected age, markets are conversations. Potential buyers can find out more about your product than you might even know yourself. And customers are no longer just passive consumers. They have ideas that, if brought into your development world, can improve your products to meet their needs.

So if markets are conversations, and customers are talking, we need a process to involve them in business operations. Thatís where Open Space can help. By convening meetings that are beyond focus groups, customers can help you develop the products they need and, in the meantime, invest themselves in a stake in your company that represents the pinnacle of marketing achievement: brand loyalty.


OpenSpaceTechnology builds robust businesses by catalyzing and directing the power of your people really working together

Research conducted in the area of group forming, suggests that businesses that can leverage the potential of their employees in novel ways will thrive in complex and networked settings, like a market.

Open Space provides a business process that allows groups to form around immediate business issues and invites employees to leverage their own potential towards solving problems and achieving goals. The practice of encouraging of self-managed work teams has been joined by the need for self-forming work teams as well. Open Space allows teams to form and manage themselves quickly towards concrete results.


OpenSpaceTechnology is an effective process for knowledge management, which has become absolutely essential for every kind of business.

All over the business world, knowledge management is taking hold. The idea that businesses need to retain what they know isnít new, but the technology has caught up to the field and a plethora of knowledge management tool have appeared over the past couple of years.

But knowledge is nothing until it arises in conversation, whether that conversation is online or face to face. Because of its flexible nature, Open Space is able to marry face to face conversations with the technological tools now being deployed to marry knowledge to work. Open Space provides the human face of KM.

http://www.macroinnovation.com/papers_pitches.htm http://www.voght.com/cgi-bin/pywiki?PersonalKnowledge

OpenSpaceTechnology decentralizes systems so that leadership and governance can work like they should -- and must

Decentralized systems are more stable, flexible and accommodating than centralized ones are. The implication for business is that it has to find management and governance systems that accommodate the same values thereby moving away from a system where knowledge and power is concentrated in the hands of the few and instead allowing it to naturally disperse among the many. This is the new definition of "free enterprise": changing it from a noun to a cry for help. Enterprise wants to be free. Thatís what Open Space does.


OpenSpaceTechnology maximizes individual performance, because high performance business relies on high performing individuals

The experience of working in "flow," a state common to high performing work teams, is enhanced by working towards goals that are attainable but challenging. Getting just this right balance is very difficult without involving individuals in the creation of these goals.

But when individual employees are brought in to define these goals and are then invited to get to work on them, productivity increases and teams perform better and better. And with each goal achieved a higher goal is set and reached for.

Open Space facilitates flow, both in the process itself and as a result of the process. High performance is both possible and attainable.


OpenSpaceTechnology makes quantum leaps, because certain business problems are better solved using intuitive seeking rather than standard business logic

There is no question that some business problems require straight forward, rational and linear thinking to be solved. Problems that require rules, or where the problem can be solved by engineering and reductionist analyses are examples.

But the vast majority of really significant business decisions require an intuitive approach to be solved well. These include problems where the situation is complex or chaotic such as market fluctuations, major changes through mergers or disintegration of business units, or chaotic fallout from such events as the Enron scandal. Here Open Space provides the means to quickly bring together people to create intuitive solutions which have a better chance of helping the business through the times of quick change.


OpenSpaceTechnology fully supports the supply side of your operations AND meets the divergent demands of your most important customers. Markets as conversations, revisited.

Rick Kash, whose new book The New Law of Demand and Supply, is being shared in alumni groups at some of the best business schools in the world, says the shift we're in is from supply-driven to demand-driven business. He lays out six steps for succeeding in this new mode:

  1. build an integrated picture of demand and supply, current and emerging, within your competitive environment
  2. build your share of total demand by targeting most profitable customers
  3. drive relevance, differentiation and insulation via strategic choices
  4. increase pricing inelasticity with specific strategies and business systems
  5. allocate resources according to priorities established in those strategies and systems
  6. plan, implement and monitor the demand strategy

We can wrap a lot of words around this, but that's not really necessary. We simply sit down and make a list of all the key insiders who knows something important about our business environment, and all the key outsiders (vendors and customers) -- and then get them together in one big circle of 40 or 400 people, no matter the number in an OpenSpaceTechnology environment.

Ask them to map out and create together the future of our demand-supply relationships, the future of US meeting THEIR needs, together. Use a book like Kash's to frame the task(s) at hand, but be sure to translate it out of his supply-side language and into mutually beneficial terms that your customers (and vendors) will understand and appreciate. Then send the invitation and get those key people together -- to DO it.

In OpenSpaceTechnology, they will create #1 in the first hour and a half. We will already have done #2. We all work together on #3, with #4 being the inescapable result, so long as we continue to attend to #5 and #6 in followup, internally focused OpenSpaceTechnology summits. Supply-side, demand-side, no matter. It's all markets. Markets are conversations. And they move with a really practical -- and practice-able -- ease in OpenSpaceTechnology meetings.


A Quick Summary

...from Andrew Donovan, Australian consultant to corporations and boards of directors:

Open Space forums are based on an "operating system" different to traditional events:

Event processes which utilize these mechanisms, while somewhat new to some businesses, have been used successfully in literally tens of thousands of corporate and government situations around the world, where there is a growing recognition that the emerging dilemmas of the present and future cannot be adequately solved using the traditional ways we engage in meetings.

For more about the confluence of Fast Company strategy, OpenSpaceTechnology practice and the deep wisdom of Ken Wilber and others (which explains more about why OpenSpaceTechnology really works), see /InvitingOrganizationEmerges, by MichaelHerman?.

See also /FrequentlyToldStories - business and other nutshell stories on OST results

This case is being developed by ChrisCorrigan?, PennyScott?, J. Paul Everett, Joelle Everett, Fr. Brian Bainbridge, and MichaelHerman?, hailing from Canada, Australia and USA.

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Last edited February 26, 2006 5:17 pm CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
© 1998-2020 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