This is one story of evolution at work,
my story of the inviting organization. It's the integration of
a dozen or so years of study and practice in organization --
crunching numbers, building teams, redesigning process, and opening
It's a practical mapping of the old, deep
stories recounted by anthropologist Angeles Arriens and philosopher
Ken Wilber and the modern business stories developed by organization
development pioneers Fred and Merrelyn Emery, Open Space Technology
originator Harrison Owen, and the new economy gurus at Fast Company
Taken together these stories invite us
to take a satisfying look back, a hopeful look forward and a
practical view of our present, as the inviting organization is
emerging in open space. Please join us...
In Search of the Next Great Strategic Question
In 1999, the cover of Fast Company magazine,
a leading voice of the so-called 'new economy,' proclaimed "How
Digital Is Your Company?" as the next great strategic question.
According to their story, business strategy used to be as simple
as "What business are you in?" As organizations evolved,
"What's your business model?" became the definitive
question. Today, it's all about getting digital.
These questions matter, they said, because
every time we get an evolutionary click from one question to
the next, everything throughout the organization needs to evolve
together, to answer it. Specifically, they said that organizations
need to rethink the "four basics of business" which
they named as (1) attracting talent, (2) segmenting and selling
customers, (3) using speed, and (4) financing operations.
Their newest and greatest strategic question,
"How digital are you?" demands a rethinking of how
we use information and technology to drive the flow of goods
and services. In their story, however, they held up examples
like McDonald's, Wal-Mart and Intel that were working this digital
question 15 years ago. "How old is this story?" is
the question that came to my mind -- followed closely by "If
this is a 15-year-old strategic question, then what's the NEXT
great strategic question? What are the next leading-edge organizations
At the time this story came out, I was already
deep into the work of mapping my own understanding of evolution
in organization, with the overlapping stories of first-peoples
anthropologist Angeles Arrien, Open Space Technology originator
Harrison Owen, organization developers Fred and Merrelyn Emery,
and philosopher Ken Wilber. If these wise people, and the map
I was making from their stories, were to be of any use at all,
they had better point me to the next great question.
My map was (and is) a four-quadrant, five-stage
diagram of evolution in organization. Fast Company's four basics
of business mapped quickly and easily into my four quadrants.
Their three strategic questions fit perfectly with my first three
stages of evolution. And when I looked into my own fourth stage,
the next great strategic question, "How inviting is your
organization?" was right there waiting for me, jumping up
and down begging to be asked.
Since then, this evolutionary map has been
invaluable in orienting myself to what is going on in all kinds
of organizations. Along the way, I've shared it in conversation
with clients and colleagues. It's been universally understood
and appreciated, even by friends with no training in business
or practice in organization. While the map may appear either
overly simple or overwhelmingly complex at first glance, the
story itself has been easily understood by those who've heard
it over the phone and other places where the actual map never
What follows here is my story of evolution
at work. It begins with the story of the map, which pulls together
the old stories of spirit and new stories of business and organization.
Along the way, the inviting organization will emerge and will
be linked to a number of other developments in organization.
So it will live in the context of other real stuff, not just
in the context of my little map. Finally, we bring Open Space
Technology into the picture, noticing its easy alignment and
ready support for the emergence of inviting at work.
As I look back, this story gives me a deeper
appreciation for where we've been in organization and real satisfaction
that nothing's been wasted. Looking ahead, I find a hopeful clarity
and confidence that all of this swirling does indeed work out
in the end. All of which helps me now, in the present, to rest
a little easier, stand a little readier, and invite a little
more evolution at work. Please join me...
Evolution in Four Dimensions
This story starts with the work of philosopher
Ken Wilber, who was already being hailed as the greatest American
philosopher when he was just 23 years old. He earned this acclaim
for his first book, Spectrum of Consciousness. It was
the first successfully seamless integration of earthy native
spirituality, rational western science and transcendent eastern
wisdom. It was also the first of a long line of Wilber writings
offering various spins on this same seamless theme. I read his
Brief History of Everything first and it got me thinking.
Two years later I heard him speak and was moved to read his Marriage
of Sense and Soul. Halfway through that second book this
picture of evolution in organization exploded into my consciousness.
I put down the book and started writing.
I started with Wilber's basic two-by-two matrix,
a four quadrant map, that has at its core two basic tensions
or spectrums of consciousness, shown as intersecting, perpendicular
axes. The first axis stretches from inside to outside, subjective
to objective. In organizational terms, every organization has
a subjective, depends-on-who-you ask, open-to-interpretation
and re-interpretation, unmeasurable-but-undeniable, story-based,
deeper meaning INSIDE and an objective, observable, measurable,
put-it-in-a-powerpoint-pie-chart, pass-it-around-the-room, obviously
real OUTSIDE. We use soft, interpersonal skills to deal with
the inside stuff of people and culture. We use hard data skills
to deal with the outside stuff of decision-making and action.
The second axis is equally clear. It runs
from the one to the many, the individual to the collective, the
personal to the organizational. Every organization exists simultaneously
as a single, whole entity AND has many, many individual parts
or people. Leadership skills are about the personal, about passion
and responsibility, about what do I want and what am I willing
to do about it. Strategy is a bigger, organizational form of
the same stuff, about culture and decision-making, about where
do we want to go and how are we going to get there.
When Wilber lets the inside and outside play
with the one and the many, he generates four quadrants, what
he calls the four dimensions of evolution. Translated into organizational
terms, we see that our work really is pulling us in four directions
at once! Wilber's four dimensions are consciousness, culture,
social structure and behavior. Consciousness is the internal,
individual dimension, what we all know on the inside, for ourselves.
Culture is the collective form of that, the stories that we make
to hold us together and tell us what is good and bad, right and
wrong, sought and avoided. Social structure is the outside, collective,
the outside of structure, it's what we literally construct based
on our cultural beliefs. Finally, behavior is the individual,
outside dimension, the individual actions taken within the social
structures, what each of us actually does about the things that
we are conscious of and care about.
Translating this into more organizational
terms, consciousness becomes personal passion or intention. Culture
and structure need no translating, as long as we remember that
culture is all about story and structure is about how we make
decisions and move forward. Finally, behavior becomes action,
the bottom lines at any standard cocktail party and any organization...
what do you DO? and how do you get people to DO what is required
at work? So we really are being pulled in four directions at
work, continually reconciling and aligning what I love and care
about as an individual with the plans and policies of who WE
say we are as a culture, with the decisions, choices and options
WE have now in the current organizational structure, with what
I am willing to take personal responsibility for DOing about
all of it. No wonder we come home tired all the time!
If we turn now to the wisdom of first-people
nations through the ages, as told by Angeles Arrien in her book
The Four-Fold Way, the advice we get about this is simple
and clear: show up, pay attention to what has heart and meaning,
speak your truth, and let it go. In her book, The Fourfold Way,
Arriens links these four simple practices with four hero archetypes,
four meditations, and four human resources. All of these map
easily into the Wilber dimensions.
Showing up is the work of the warrior archetype,
who practices standing meditation, developing the human resource
of power. Map this to individual responsibility and action, where
we exercise our individual power to take a stand and be accountable.
Paying attention to what has heart and meaning is the work of
the healer archetype, whose meditation is lying down and resource
is love. Map this to individual purpose and intention, the things
we love and in which we rest. Telling the truth is the work of
the visionary, who does a sitting meditation and whose resource
is vision. Map this to culture, story and planning and vision
in organization. And finally, the letting go of the outcome is
the work of the teacher, whose meditation is moving, walking
and whose resource is wisdom. Map this to our capacity to make
decisions and move within and beyond the structure of the organization.
Returning to the recent Fast Company story
that prompted this journey, we can now appreciate just how basic
their "four basics of business" really are. Attracting
talent is about creating organizations that people can put their
hearts into, where they can find a reason to work, something
they love and can rest into. Segmenting and going after customers
is about creating a vision, a story that customers can literally
buy into. Using speed as a competitive advantage is about structuring
for movement, letting go of control, and allowing more distributed,
front-line decision-making. And finally, financing the operation
is about generating power or value through responsibility and
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.
Evolution in Organization
To summarize our progress here then, we've
discovered that evolution, Open Space, and apparently everything
else, is four dimensional, four directional, even four seasonal
if you let them move in that way. But as we click through those
seasons, where do we go and what do we become? I hear the echoes
of kids in the backseat... when are we gonna get there? Where
is the inviting organization? How much longer 'til we get there?
Well, I'll show you the map...
...keeping in mind that no map is RIGHT, but
that some maps are helpful, we'll tie up these quadrant stories
and show how they evolve together, as we resolve bigger and bigger
conflicts, see our way through increasing complexity, move faster
and easier in organization, and act more and more responsibly
in larger, more diverse circles. What follows is a nutshell review
of each quadrant and a new story of evolution through five distinct
levels which parallel Wilber's continuum from matter to body
to mind to soul to spirit.
It seems right enough to start with what we love, what we think
we want, why we work, and what we intend to create for ourselves.
This is the inside-individual face of organization. It's about
consciousness, about paying attention to what has heart and meaning,
about resolving the conflicts that arise between what we have
and what we want, about why we get up and go to work everyday,
and about what organizations must honor and appreciate in order
to attract talent in competitve markets.
Looking into our map now, we see that the
evolutionary journey in this quadrant is about learning to work
for higher and higher purposes. In the beginning of our own work
lives and the lives of organizations, we work for the excitement
of it all. Over time, we might start a family, settle down, and
excitement isn't as important as security and stability, to be
able to maintain the success we've had at the first level. Once
we come to believe that we will not lose the gains we've made,
it's easy to shift into a proactive drive for still more reward,
and work becomes about reaching the next rung of the ladder.
At some point, however, we come to the place of asking ourselves
what's really most important to us, what is our deepest passion,
what do we really love and how can we do THAT in our work. We
give our attention to insight, integrity, the things that pique
our curiosity and help us feel healthy and whole. Until finally,
we begin to ask how we can do the most service for the most other
people, working beyond our own personal passions to a compassion
for so many others.
I should note here, too, that our movements
through these levels, as individuals, organizations and a whole
national consciousness is never as strict and mechanical as moving
from first grade to second to third. Rather they are a journey
like any other learning or practice scale, like our 10K race
times, monthly sales, and the stock market. They are some easy
milestones against which to mark the movement of what we can
think of as the critical mass of our attention to each of the
four dimensions. And how big we care, how much we see, how easily
we let go, and how responsibly we act -- just like our 10K race
time -- moves from day to day, depending on all sorts of circumstances
and conditions. We'll see differences, too, between people in
the same departments and departments in the same organization.
The critical mass of attention in the sales department is likely
very different from that of the corporate philanthropy department
or employee assistance program.
Furthermore, if we say that the latter fall
higher on the scale, at a higher stage or level, we need also
to note that their work is only made possible by the revenues
generated by the sales department. None of the higher levels
are sustainable without the infrastructure and foundation provided
by the lower levels. This is what Wilber means when he says each
level transcends, rises above the one before it, AND embraces,
includes, and depends on the work done at the level below. The
overall drive is to increase, expand, and transcend, bringing
more and more of our individual, departmental and organizational
attention and energy to higher and higher levels. This movement
happens always and everywhere, trending upward without effort
or trying. It's enough just to pay attention. Simply noticing
these movements and levels can make our work easier, but making
one level better than the next always seems to get in the way.
And so, keeping in mind then, that no map
IS the territory, that no person, department or organization
is all or always focused at one level, in any of the quadrants,
and that no one level is better or worse than another, we continue
with our story about story...
Here the challenge is to explain what we see, to clarify where
we should go, and develop the stories that help us stay focused
and stay together. This is the inside-collective face of organization.
It's about culture, about seeing and telling the truth about
who we are, about defining simple patterns in times of complexity,
and about the work every organization must do to segment and
go after the customers it wants to serve. It's about creating
a story that customers (and everyone else) can literally buy
into and believe in.
The logic of our central organizational story
moves from what I call auto-logic, the obvious, through monologue
to dialogue and onto multi-logue and beyond to what I call translogue
or translogic. As organization begins, it's central story is
about headlines, imaging and spins. It's logos, business cards,
press releases and soundbites on the outside and the grapevine
on the inside. It's the superficial, the automatic, the obvious
and it's all about excitement. At the next level, the focus shifts
to stories of stablity and loyalty: mission, vision, values statements
and monologues by the people in charge. The organizational body
emerges, followed by organizational mind: the strategic plan.
And with the emergence of the plan, dialogue takes over. The
leader can't dictate through monologue, but has to control through
ongoing dialogue with each part. The story, the plan, and our
reason for working are all told and retold in the universal language
of 'the numbers.'
As evolution continues and complexity rises,
the parts start talking to each other and the multilogue breaks
out. It's everybody talking to everybody, which doesn't happen
very often in most organizations. In the chaos of it all, the
strategic plan gives way to the strategic invitation, a story
that is simple enough to travel fast and light, to appeal to
people's passions, the reasons why they really want to work AND
is complex enough to embrace and include the most important issues
from the grapevine, the mission statement and the strategic plans.
Strategic invitation is the story that leads organization into
multilogue, where strategic conversation can move faster than
the plan. Beyond this, at the highest level, where the reason
we work is compassion for all, the story and vision become dream,
a 'translogue in which we seem to be in conversation with the
whole organization, as organization, at once... or maybe even
As the challenge with caring is to speak it,
the challenge with our talking story is to walk it in our decisions,
structures and systems.
This is where the vision, reflection and conversation of story
and plan emerge as the objective, observable choices and decisions,
the stuff that guides real action. This is where we get down
to how we're going to get where we've said we want to go, where
we develop the structures and systems that support timely and
wise decision-making. This is the outside-collective face of
organization. It's the sandbox where we build up organization
structures and production systems AND where we let them go, tear
them down, and open space for what's next. This is where we come
up against the dizzying reality that it's ALL moving, where we
learn over and over again to go with the bigger, faster flow.
The evolution of organization structure and
systems (and restructuring and redesigning) begins simply as
a circle of friends, colleagues and associates. It's a cast of
characters, some of whom may be bigger stars than others, but
none of whom really tells the others what to do. As cast, circle,
task force, posse, and business start-up we may take our cues
from outside directors, sheriffs or financiers, but inside the
organization, it's an all for one and one for all kind of game
that we play for the excitement and headlines. If we have some
success together, however, we turn quickly to those bigger names
to secure our future. We pledge our loyalty and submit to more
and more monologues about policy and procedures, mission and
vision. When we appoint a team leader, hierarchy emerges and
in time becomes bureaucracy, where responsibility for outcomes
rests not with the workers, but with the managers one or more
organizational layers above. And this works for a time, until
the pressure for front-line decision-making starts to erode lines
of command and the bureaucracy starts to dissolve. We restructure
into smaller, faster networked boxes, each one full of numbers
and assigned to a person, who sits in a matrix of cubes and reports
to a handful of different bosses.
Each year or so we reshuffle the boxes, until
the whole organization ends up in constant motion, one big organizational
to-do list, a veritable marketplace of projects, each its own
little cast, circle, posse, task force. The circles are formed
by invitation (though some invitations are more open than others),
to meet specific business needs, given a budget and/or other
resource boundaries, and directed to perform in a way that adds
value. This is what we're coming to know as the structure of
organization and the way real work gets done. Now look again
at the process of Open Space, where the circle is formed by an
invitation, based on personal passion, professional interests
and business needs, the resources and boundaries are clearly
marked and the direction is do whatever you can to maximize your
own learning and contribution. Open Space is real work, made
faster and easier, in circle and invitation and marketplace.
And finally, if our experience in Open Space
is any indication, when the marketplace of ideas and issues and
projects REALLY starts to move, what emerges as the highest form
of organization is movement, an undeniable sense of spirit and
hardly any real structure at all. At this highest level, our
compassion or concern is for all (all customers, all employees,
all people, take your pick). Our story starts to sound like "I
have a dream..." and structurally, in the words of folk
singer Arlo Guthrie, "They'll call it a movement!"
when the flow of work is nothing but flow. And the thing about
flow is it comes and it goes, but it CAN be invited, we know.
Action/Responsibility. In the end, however, organizations don't really move,
don't really do any work -- people do. We think and talk and
build support for what we care about. And then, each of us DOES
something. Takes responsibility and takes action. Makes a difference
and makes our own unique contribution to the flow of evolution.
This is the outside-individual face of organization. It's about
unique, individual behavior, about creating value and using diverse
abilities to make things different, about what we have to show
for ourselves, and where we stand, when our work is done. This
is the question of finance, value, and contribution -- the footprints
we leave on a bottom line and better world.
The evolution in this quadrant runs from making
different stuff, the proverbial better mousetrap, to making a
difference that makes a difference, rippling through everthing.
While it's been associated here with diversity, that's really
only half-way there, as it is really about uniqueness, the reality
that each of us is absolutely unique and the possibility that
every single action IS a unique, creative act.
This journey begins with making appearances,
making points, adding value with bells and whistles, a new look
to an old product. It's what makes work exciting, makes headlines.
In the beginning, it's about showing up in the right places,
but eventually it becomes about showing up at the right time,
making deliveries, as promised, time and again, loyal and stable,
like it says in the mission statement. Eventually, however, as
the business grows, the loyal servants are rewarded. We make
them partners, shareholders, give bonuses as rewards, and investments.
Everything is done based on expected return, the places we work,
the projects we choose, the phone calls we return are all 'calculated'
for potential payoff.
At some point, however, the luster of marginal
gain, or the effort of calculation in the face of rising uncertainty,
just doesn't matter anymore, and we begin to do what we REALLY
want, without regard to returns. We make offerings, contributions
and invitations, true gifts of ourselves and our time. We begin
to connect our work to those issues, ideas and opportunities
and questions that make us feel curious, passionate, healthy,
whole. And in those moments when spirit shows up, it all seems
to swirl together, everything really works. We make responsible
ripples and have an effortless but amazing impact on the people
and world around us, often without even knowing it.
The Inviting Organization Emerges
And there you have it, in about twenty nutshells.
This is my story of evolution at work, mapped onto the oldest
story of human evolution, as integrated and animated by Wilber,
from the physics of excitement and matter, through the biology
of body, the psychology of mind, the theology of soul, finally
arriving at the mysticism of spirit.
Drawing on Wilber, Harrison Owen has developed
his own story of the evolution of organization and leaders, based
on his own personal experience in organization and Open Space.
That story begins with the reactive organization, defined by
the reptilean instinct of killing and eating whatever moves.
The leader here is the pioneer, the entrepreneur. Next comes
the responsive organization, customer-focused, aiming to please,
and as reassuring as a good English pub, but don't mess with
the bartender. The proactive organization comes next, characterized
by an insatiable need to measure and analyze everything, led
by the MBA. In Harrison's story, the interactive organization
is emerging now, characterized by the energy of a good coffee
break and the action of surfing, and leadership that is 'everybody.'
This is, of course, just what Open Space looks like. And finally,
the highest realm of organizational life, says Owen, is the inspired
or inspirited organization. He is quick to add that while he's
seen it show up often, he's never seen anyone sustain this highest
level of organization, where leadership is invisible, it's nobody,
or at least it's nobody we can see.
Coming at this from a more academic direction,
Fred and Merrelyn Emery and Eric Trist have studied what they
describe as four kinds of organizational environments. The first
level is 'random,' where the goodies and badies come randomly
and can't be predicted.
That's why we have to be reptilean and reactive,
per Owen, at this level. Next comes 'clustered,' where patterns
emerge and learning and planning become possible. Then, they
say, one group is eating into a pile of goodies and discovers
another group eating into it from the other side. They call this
environment 'competitive' and 'disturbed,' because the competition
continually disturbs our well-laid plans. Next comes the 'turbulent/adaptive'
stage, a state where the disturbances have resolved into permanent
whitewater and continuous adaptation becomes essential for survival.
Finally, they hypothesize that there is actually a fifth level.
They could sense it, but could never study it formally because,
like Owen's inspirited level, it can't be sustained long enough
to document. They call this level vortical, as in vortex, which
fits perfectly with our experience in Open Space and elsewhere.
When spirit runs high in a workgroup, as it does so often in
Open Space meetings, participants often report having planned
to or even tried to leave, "but something kept sucking me
back in." The energetic pull of inspiring work seems consistent
with the physical sucking of the vortical (swirling, whirlpool)
environment in the Emery story. While it is important to note
that their research and analysis did identify distinct ideals,
strategies, planning scopes and operating skills required to
survive in each of the first four environments, we'll save those
details for another day.
A playful extension of this whole story, however,
and one that might help this map sink a bit deeper in memory,
is something I call the Seattle Stories. This is really a simple,
five-stage history of the Seattle region, which has participated
in every major wave of American economic development. The first
wave was timber, led by Weyerhauser, an exciting, pioneering
sort of business, gathering the raw materials (matter) that were
the building blocks of the rest of business life. Next, came
Boeing, literally in the business of manufacturing stable, secure
bodies that make deliveries and are operating by chiefs who make
monologues over loud speakers like CEOs on the company-wide conference
call. In the information age there is Microsoft, a company that
may have invented stock option incentive plans, has networked
us all, and made us all a little out of our minds. Next comes
free-agent nation, where the leadership is everywhere and the
headquarters is Starbuck's. Like the very first open space meeting,
it's all about the energy of a good coffee break, simple, powerful,
working, learning, relaxing -- and exceedingly profitable. And
finally, there is Chief Seattle, the invisible, spiritual leader
of the environmental movement, to whom all kinds of wise sayings
Finally, if you step back for a moment, to
the Evolution at Work table of contents, you see that the five
sections of my own story flow through these same five levels.
Opening Invitation (in organization) is about what had me so
excited in the first place, about my own pioneering and discovering
in open space. Inviting Evolution defined the body of this work,
with mission, vision and values that include poetry and science,
beginnings and endings, the personal and universal. Evolving
Organization is the section we're in now, rational, logical,
analytical, the strategic justification and business case for
the inviting organization. Next, Organizing in Open Space introduces
the soul of this work, where it all comes together, in practice,
as inviting -- something we can do AND be, as individuals and
organizations. The pieces there are built to travel as handouts,
as the leaders of the practice become 'everybody.' Finally, the
Opening Invitation (as organization) comes back to where we started,
but knows the place for the first time. It's a last wisp of the
spirit of (this) invitation to discover the inviting organization.
And so we return to the Fast Company story
that gave rise to this whole adventure. As a strategic question,
"What business are you in?" certainly rests on the
obvious, the essential, the matter of work. "What's your
business model?" demands more of a body: set some boundaries,
integrate the parts, make the case for what's in and what's out.
"How digital are you?" is all about information, data,
mind, and running the business by the numbers, which is where
most of our organizations are now. But I wanted to know what
the new leaders were doing now, not fifteen years ago. What is
the NEXT great strategic question? Everything I've seen says
it must be "How open and inviting is your organization?"
The Inviting Organization in Open Space
The inviting organization emerges from everything
and everywhere we've already been, and indeed still are. The
emergence of passion, curiosity, health and well-being at work
come not at the expense of excitement, security and achievement.
They come as the fruits of it. The excitement comes not from
the outside, but from the rush of bringing our own personal art
to the outside, at work. The security comes not from knowing
this job or organization will last, but from knowing who we are
and that we have options beyond this one. And while we still
get things done, we do them better than ever because they are
the things we see as most important to do.
Similarly, the emergence of strategic invitation
and strategic conversation does not come at the expense of the
strategic plan, but comes on top of it, animating and detailing
it like never before. Every invitation, from the largest, company-wide
strategic planning conference to the simplest "Joe and Susie
are moving to California, come help us pack them up and send
them off" gathering of friends is built on the same information:
(1) the news, headlines or theme, (2) the mission, vision, values,
and (3) the expectations and plans. In the case of Joe and Susie,
the news is that they're moving. The values are love, friendship,
community. The plan is for everyone to bring boxes and tape and
for Joe and Susie to keep the pizza and beer coming until their
stuff is all packed.
The strategic corporate invitation does the
same: some news that needs attention, the boundaries, budget,
and other known constraints, and the logistical details for where
and when the working session will be convened. The invitation
includes all the levels of story below it, and transcends them
as something smaller, faster, clearer, stronger. They look like
soundbites, but move at the speed of the grapevine, with the
simplicity of a to-do lisi and the power of the entire strategic
plan. And as we move beyond the soundbites, the mission statements
and the plans, posting their essences in strategic invitation
and hosting our most important work in strategic conversations,
we transcend command-and-control, as well.
Command relies on the bartender, pilot, captain
or other executive who can be heard over all the others. Control
relies on measurement and constant observation. As we move beyond
command-and-control into a world of post-and-host, we don't discard
these things, we expand them. Over time, the initial cast grows
into team, becomes bureaucracy, dissolves into network. When
it finally blooms into marketplace, it allows EVERYONE to be
heard over the turbulence of the work and demands that EVERYONE
be paying attention to maximizing their own learning and contribution.
In our most highly evolved organizations, ANYONE can post an
invitation and host a working conversation to address business
issues AS THEY ARISE and everyone can see all of the invitations,
the entire work of their organization.
Finally, as our work evolves, we don't stop
making appearances and discovering new and different things,
we don't stop making deliveries and making good on commitments,
and don't stop expecting a return on investment. But the nature
of these things changes and merges. Most notably, as our circles
expand and bloom into marketplace, we notice that we benefit
from all kinds of unexpected contributions by others. As this
happens, we contribute more easily and actively because we don't
expect our returns to come as quickly or directly. Our commitments
become pledges to stay together, stay present, until the work
is done, as long as it takes. And finally, the appearances we
begin to invite and be excited by are no longer about our moments
to shine, but those moments when spirit appears and shines through
The inviting organization emerges and re-emerges
out of personal passion and artistry, strategic invitation and
conversation, an open community marketplace, and the responsible
pursuit of learning and contribution. It is truly extraordinary,
and not where most of us live and work everyday. But it does
happen, and happen with regularity. It has appeared in most of
the Open Space meetings and events I've facilitated. And when
the work of those gatherings closes, the waves of thank yous,
amazings and extraordinaries have been heard, I always remind
the group that while the inviting organization that emerges in
open space IS extraordinary, it need not be rare. Indeed, the
passion and responsibility, clarity and quickness that is the
inviting organization can be invited easily and often, in Open
Space and otherwise, by the intentional practice of invitation
This, then, is my own short story on Open
Space Technology: It is the skillful and ongoing practice of
invitation in organization. I say this not only because an open
space event begins when the leader(s) of the organization issue
a strategic invitation and open a strategic conversation, but
also because of what can happen next, and next, and next... rippling
When the leader(s) of any organization notice
(and dare to say) that the most important questions facing the
organization are more complex, diverse and urgent than the current
systems and structures can handle, that there is some conflict
between what we have and what we want, Open Space Technology
allows them to invite and engage anyone and everyone who has
any concern or responsibility for resolving these questions.
When that first invitation goes out, it naturally attracts all
of those with real passion for the issues identified. This IS
what any good invitation does: it raises issues, stirs passions,
and links them to responsibility for showing up to work.
When the people gather on the day of the event,
the facilitator walks into the open space in the center of the
group (circle) and invites them again. This time the invitation
is to identify the issues that they are most passionate about
and for which they are willing to take some responsibility. Then
any number of people jump out of their seats, grab markers and
paper, and the next invitations go out. This time, however, the
invitations come from all over the organization, from any of
the participants in the room. These folks are inviting the rest
of the group to their targeted breakout session to deal with
the issue(s) that they see as most important.
When the conveners (hosts, if you will) of
the breakout sessions capture the notes, ideas and next steps
identified in their sessions, they can be distributed in a book
or website with the same from all of the other sessions. These
collected notes invite all participants, and anyone else with
whom these notes and next steps are shared, to follow-through
on the actions identified. Often, some of those next steps include
convening other meetings in open space. In this way, the practice
of invitation comes full-circle, and sets itself up as an ongoing
practice in organization. When new leaders emerge in open space,
new invitations spring forth, and new results tend to follow
-- people and organizations growing together, by invitation.
In day-to-day organizational life, this identification
of issues, assigning of responsibility, scheduling of meetings,
discussion of options, and documentation of next steps all qualifies
as "real work." In Open Space, however, so much of
this real work happens so quickly and easily, that we often fail
to notice how much real work is actually getting done. Indeed
we often slip into measuring "real action" and "real
work" in terms of pain and suffering rather than promise
and progress. And, as ever, we'll get what we ask for.
We could theorize that this new, inviting
organization goes beyond command-and-control, to a place and
practice of post-and-host -- the posting of working invitations
and hosting of working conversations. We could reason further
that while there is much to achieve in organization, nobody wants
to BE an achievement. And while people want to BE inspired, as
soon as we put "inspire the troops" on our to-do list,
we flatten spirit into just another doing. Invitation begins
to resolve all of this -- because invitating is something we
can DO as an ongoing practice and can aspire to BE as leaders
In practice, however, we quickly discover
that things tend to get done faster and easier by invitation.
In short, working by invitation really works.
And looking back, we see that nothing has
been wasted. We've called it management flavor-of-the-month.
Well, pick your favorite flavor and you're sure to find it on
the map of our evolution, sure to find it contributing to the
infrastructure that supports the emergence of open invitation
at work. We've seen the emergence of "people goals"
and "culture objectives" that give attention to the
softer side of organization. Flexible schedules, open-book management,
large-group meetings of all kinds have created new options, movement
and markets within organization. We've seen all kinds of experiential
team-building work, supporting both the rise and the fall of
traditional leadership in organization. In our systems, we've
seen technology explode into e-commerce marketplaces and knowledge
management systems let everyone talk to everyone, even across
time through the use of archiving functions. In the area of diversity,
we have evolved from boundaries and glass ceilings as a focus,
to quotas (diversity by the numbers), and now to various kinds
of diversity training that helps organizations find valuable
diversification rather than dangerous deviance in difference.
The inviting organization rests upon and fully embraces all of
our work to date, every flavor-of-the-month has been distance
Looking forward, with this clearer picture
in hand, we can see how our journey can be that much more carefully
directed and quickly actualized. We can see now how evolution
calls us to balance our work in the four dimensions. Over-emphasizing
finance or speed at the expense of clear cultural story and passionate,
personal artistry can only throw our wheel out of balance. We
can see ourselves rise and fall between the levels of evolution,
not a steady, mechanical climb but a series of peak moments that
we keep working and practicing to make ordinary, everyday, routine.
We can see that what happens in Open Space meetings and events
are such peak moments and that the practice of invitation --
doing AND being inviting -- makes more of them. And finally,
we can see that in supporting this seeing, this story itself
invites you to create it and reaches for the vision, the dream,
that lies beyond.
As I shared this picture with Harrison Owen
one evening, it occured to me that in the physicists' story,
matter arises out of nothingness, the void. And in the mystic's
story, spirit returns us into it. When I added that blackness
in the center AND at the edges, it immediately followed that
I should fold the four blackended corners into the blackened
center, so the whole thing becomes a sort of doughnut. In this
way, our seasonal evolution through the four quadrants becomes
a spinning around the empty hole of that doughnut. And our evolution
through the levels becomes a turning of that doughnut through
the hole of that doughnut. This realization gave me pause, a
quiet little moment of personal "oh, wow!" Then into
that silence, Harrison told me for years he'd had recurring dreams
of such a doughnut, mysteriously spinning in space, around and
through it's own hole... and that some years later a physicist
friend of his explained that physicists call the doughnut a "torus"
and know it as the shape of every energy field in Universe.
So we just might be onto something that's
quite a bit bigger than we expected. I find it reassuring to
rest inside of a story that goes so far and can still inform
my day-to-day work in organization. In a recent Open Space conference
on management renewal, inside of a giant pharmaceutical corporation,
a number of managers noticed that once the event got underway,
I didn't seem to do very much at all. The usual comment as they
approached was something like, "Boy, I wish I had YOUR job."
And my usual response was to notice aloud that when we get our
most important issues and projects posted on the wall, with a
space and time for each one, the people get moving, the work
gets done and management gets a whole lot easier.
These kinds of Open Space events are inviting
this kind of simple, powerful, productive ease -- in more and
more major corporations, schools, churches and community organizations
around the world. The case study that follows next, by friend
and colleague Uwe Weissflog, tells the story of evolution at
work, in Open Space, over the course of four years, in a major
global engineering and design firm. I find it incredibly hopeful
that so many of these stories are emerging in Open Space and
in the world. More and more, it seems that as we get better at
bringing people together at work, it gets easier to get the job
done. It gets easier to breathe, easier to sleep, easier to let
go... and easier to do the most amazing things, at work.