Doing Business in Open Space?

Corinne Nelson asked recently about how she and her husband might run their two-person business operations in an open space way. I rather enjoyed penning this answer…

I would say that it’s definitely possible to run and grow your business in open space, even with just the two of you. And, I’ll suggest that it might not *look* like open space to outside observers, i.e. there might not be a circle and facilitator and such. Or might there?

To see how this works, let what normally passes for open space technology, circle, invitation, marketplace, law of two feet and principles, bulletin board dissolve a bit. It’s enough, I think, if you each agree that you know some things, many of which can be listed explicitly, and don’t know many others about what might happen, most of which can’t even be named.

It’s enough, in practice, to list the things you know, about your needs, resources, interests, purposes, desires, and what might need to be done now about all of that. If there are open, unanswerable questions, probably they show up as ‘things to explore’, then list those too. Put the list of everything you know you want, think you have, guess you can or will do next, and might explore… all on individual post-it notes on a wall or poster or wherever is handy. Someplace that can stay visible and available for reference.

Then just have regular conversations in front of that board, as often as you find necessary, and whenever you don’t know what is happening or what to do next. The ‘question’, i think, that all these post-it note issues and topics and questions answers is this: What is this business and what should it be?

If you add new issues whenever you sit down together in front of this bulletin board, and keep notes every time you retire or resolve an issue… which might be through active development work, or might be when conditions change and some area posted for action or exploration just ‘falls off’ the wall… just make some notes, or don’t, but move it off to the ‘done’ pile.

As for involving clients or others, they need not be joining you in an ‘event’. They’re likely only needed for one or a few conversations. So ring them up when it’s time (whenever it starts is the right time) and chat about those few issues. They don’t need to know that they’re working in what you call open space. If you hire someone new, give them the pile of ‘done’ issues, perhaps some of which have notes on them. That is your training and orientation program, how we got here, from the beginning.

And this goes on, each of you and both of you sitting with, updating, reflecting, conversing, and resolving the issues on the post-its… until it’s over.

My business is just me, unless you count my wife as an advisory board, and this is how i’ve run my practice for many years, with the same ‘mind’ to my to-do list as I bring to any community bulletin board wall in any oepn space meeting.

In the end, it’s the mind we make, not the meetings. And when I get a chance to do a meetings with clients, it is really just sharing that mind and practice with them, even when they are several hundred people.

I might add here that even when I’ve worked inside of very large corporate organizations, this ‘mind’ and these practices have been effective — maybe even essential — for staying sane and getting things done.

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