Best Wishes and Big Pictures for the New Year

OpenSpace Agility

Congratulations to Daniel Mezick and friends, who’ve done some great work to connect invitation, engagement, Open Space and Agile software development.  The OpenSpace Agility Handbook, v.2.0 has just hit the shelves at Amazon.  This is practical, powerful stuff – for every kind of change in any kind of organization.

OpenSpace Agility™ is a repeatable technique for getting a rapid, genuine and lasting Agile adoption. OpenSpace Agility can be used to effectively introduce any kind of change into any kind of organization. It works with what you are currently doing, and can be added at any time.

OpenSpace Agility encourages very high levels of human engagement. It incorporates the power of invitation, iteration, Open Space, game mechanics, passage rites, storytelling and more…so that real and authentic change in your organization can actually take root.

The Open Space meeting format is a primary tool of OpenSpace Agility. The OpenSpace Agility method leverages the amazing power of iteration and the Open Space meeting format to help you get genuine and lasting success with your Agile adoption program.

With this handbook, you will learn how implement the OpenSpace Agility method. You’ll learn about how invitation, iteration, Open Space, game mechanics, passage rites, executive storytelling (and more) can be used to achieve a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. Inside this book, you’ll find specific, actionable step-by-step guidance on implementing the method. You will discover:

  • Why people power the Agile practices, not the other way around
  • Why engagement is an essential ingredient in any successful Agile adoption
  • How invitation increases engagement, passion and responsibility
  • How to immediately put the OpenSpace Agility method to work … in your organization

Lean Startup

Just finished Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and posted my notes in my WorkSpace section. Minimum Viable Product, Validated Learning, Small Batches, Five Whys, Innovation Sandboxing and Management Portfolio are all worth exploring in any size/kind of organization. The Five Whys is included in the Liberating Structures book mentioned in a recent posting here.

Inviting and Unleashing

This morning I read David Holzmer writing recently suggesting that mechanistic order, stability and rationality, the core assumptions underlying what we think organization is and how it should function, are crumbling under the pressure of increasing change and disruption.

Our bias for order and stability shows up in what Harold Shinsato described this morning on our OSHotline call, from a book called The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures. Our limited default menu of meeting structure options looks like: (1) formal presentation with questions, (2) open unmanaged discussion, (3) managed discussion where a facilitator is charged with herding the group to a desired outcome, (4) status reports that would also include going around a circle giving names and titles or suggestion box style of information gathering, and (5) brainstorming.

Reading the Holzmer post, it seemed to me that rational planning itself is not to blame, but rather that we engage such a small slice of an organization or community in planning, and coincidental awareness and responsibility. I’m encouraged to see Liberating Structures identifying 35 approaches, ranging from simple techniques to robust practices, with the potential to involve and engage more and more people in more and more thoughtful, interconnecting, and active ways.

Looks like a practical language for deepening and diffusing the practice of Inviting organization, what the LS folks call including and unleashing. I find “including” a little flat, preferring the practical tension inherent in “inviting and unleashing,” where each side makes the other side possible.

Thanks to Chris Corrigan and Diana Larsen for pointing to the Holzmer post.

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 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.

neighborhood news?

after i wrote yesterday about network and neighborhood, sally duros shared this this in the nytimes about the emergence of neighborhood news.

makes me think that someday we’ll all be tweeting (maybe slightly expanded from 140 characters?) about what is happening, more than what is happening to us as individuals. all tweets will coded by location, so at anytime, from wherever you are, you can pull in a stream of tweets coded for some radius of your own choosing. a way to listen to the neighborhood, and report into it, from wherever you are.

imagine the reports from a parade or street fair, from a place where someone is running from police, or a school yard on recess. okay, now imagine the kids drop their blackberries and go run and jump and swing.

from the nytimes about hyperlocal news…

If your local newspaper shuts down, what will take the place of its coverage? Perhaps a package of information about your neighborhood, or even your block, assembled by a computer.

A number of Web start-up companies are creating so-called hyperlocal news sites that let people zoom in on what is happening closest to them, often without involving traditional journalists.

The sites, like EveryBlock,, Placeblogger and Patch, collect links to articles and blogs and often supplement them with data from local governments and other sources. They might let a visitor know about an arrest a block away, the sale of a home down the street and reviews of nearby restaurants.

A Fresh Take on those Four Practices

Over the course of several years, I wrote and taught and wrote some more about Open Space Technology as the skillful practice of Inviting Leadership. Along the way, I wrestled mightily with what we called “The Four Practices,” trying to articulate what it was that we are really doing when we Open Space. Eventually, I just gave up.

Last week, Raffi Aftandelian’s new e-book, Living Peace: The Open Space of Our Lives, (and a request for the latest version of the Practices, which didn’t really exist) gave me a chance to refresh my thinking on these things. So here’s the new short list… Open Heart. Share What’s Inside. Let Everything Move. Own What Happens. And the full story, which I really (finally) do like.

Radical Transitions

That’s the name of George’s and Jack’s newish blog. Radical Transitions: An intentional model for community building. I went a bit nuts in the comments there today, agreeing with Wasting Time Building Consensus.

In short, almost always, I find consensus to be oppressive. An arbitrary requirement that restricts individual action. I much prefer “Finding Consensus” to “Building” it. I prefer to find and focus on those things that we already agree on.

Those agreements, made clear just as they are — not necessarily made broader or deeper — can support immediate action, by anyone. Over time, as we find agreements, take actions, make contributions, we’re bound to make more agreements. We’ll also get more done.

Now I’m curious what else G and J have tucked away in their upcoming book.

Not the Four Practices

Chris Corrigan and I have been refining our thinking and language for open space leadership. We have it down to four inter-informing and inter-supporting practices: Appreciating, Inviting, Supporting and Making Good.

While the practices themselves are each quite whole and robust, tolerant of description but not of disecting, that’s not actually how it is when we try to practice them as bodies. Incarnation is more discrete. On and off, in or out, dead or alive, male or female. More or less. Appreciating, Inviting, Supporting and Making Good.

So it occurs to me that naming their opposites, daring to notice their dual nature, one might say… could be helpful. Here are my proposals:

  • Analyzing, the opposite of Appreciating;
  • Protecting, the opposite of Inviting;
  • Fixing, the opposite of Supporting; and
  • Wasting, the opposite of Making Good.

These four meet two criteria for me. First, they are sort of obvious literal opposites of our four practices. More importantly, I have some felt sense of what each actually feels like. I can feel when I am doing them. This matters, because it means that I can feel when I’m not doing them. It’s great to notice when I am practicing well, but perhaps more important to be able to notice when I’m losing my way.

I can hear them, too, in the language of colleagues and clients. I know Appreciation gets things moving and I can hear others talk about the “paralysis of analysis.” I know that when people resist using Open Space Technology, they often explain their resistance in terms of protecting others. Or they attempt “modified open space” and speak explicity about fixing and improving the experience of their colleagues. And I hear people decrying business as usual as a waste of time, waste of money, and wasted chances to do good. So these are things I find in the territory, not theories I’m making up out of nothing.

I should add that it’s not that we should stop doing these opposite things altogether, but rather be more conscious of our habits, assumptions, and balance about these things. These opposites have their place and value. And they are all very well supported in western, industrial cultures. The new practices are not. So it’s the balance we need to reconsider, each of us personally, consciously, actively.

These four words aren’t magic, any more than the last four were magic — and I haven’t worked out the all the details. But somehow the marriage of these opposites, the rebalancing, or mutuality of them, allows us to handle in local, personal ways the enormity of what Dave Pollard and author Derrick Jensen are talking about?


Lunch with Shilpa Jain

Today was a rare treat, lunch with my friend Shilpa Jain. Rare because she lives in India, Udaipur to be exact. Once upon a time we ran a few days of Open Space Technology training together, for her organization, Shikshantar, the People’s Institute for Rethinking Education and Development.

My favorite of all the stories we told today was of a week-long bicycle trip 14 colleagues did last October in India — without cash. They rode out, with signs, juggling gear, sleeping pads, jewelry making tools and no food on their bicycles.

The signs invited conversation. The other stuff was some of what they used to survive… by offering entertainment, cleaning, carrying, and other “body labor” along the way, bridging the gap between urban and rural people, and learning a lot about simple, human relations, economics, exchange, humility and power. I think the humility of the endeavor is most impressive for me.

Shikshantar is doing community work with zero-waste and organic urban gardening. I shared my new Nestworking experiment and Shilpa has connected me with somebody here in town working on community gardens.

Finally, Shilpa brought me a copy of Expressions Annual 2005, a journal recently published by in which Shilpa interviews me about Open Space. Dialogue, walking, film-making, cooperative games, and a piece by Juanita Brown on World Cafe are also featured this year.

Jill and I are hoping to meet up with Shilpa in Udaipur this Fall, but likely not for the next cashless bike/work tour. Guess we’ll just have to organize our own tour here in Chicago!

It’s the Conversation…

Shel Israel this morning, talking about business blogging at MeshForum:

Blogging’s not the revolution — the conversation is the revolution.

I’d say the same about Open Space Technology — and that’s why the two go so well together. Have a meeting that is many meetings at once. Blog all the notes and plans. Comment on the progress. Blog the milestones. Repeat until full resolution, of everything.

This morning is my first experience with trying to listen to conference presentations, following thoughts that pop up for me, and blogging highlights all at once. Think I’m getting a brain cramp!

Tip of the morning: Robert Scoble uses I setup a free test account and in the first 10 minutes it looks way better than bloglines. Think I’m sold.

Is Your Organization a Black Hole?

Some new physics research is suggesting that Black Holes in space could be the ultimate quantum computers. This New Scientist article explains that a controversial new study argues that nearly all the information that falls into a black hole escapes back out, in the form of “Hawking radiation,” that eventually evaporates them away completely. Originally thought to be too random to be useful, it is now acknowledged by Hawking himself that black holes do not destroy information.

The physics-speak in this New Scientist article is fascinating in itself, but also because it all sounds like organization and conversation to me — this great, invisible, gaping void that sucks up all the information it possibly can, originally thought to destroy all of that information, creating chaos, unless it was harnessed, controlled and directed.

What I’m hearing in the physics of organization is that the massive, invisible conversation that is the whole organization talking to the whole organization, every day in the normal course of business, devouring information, also radiating energy and effects, is also making fantastically complex quantum calculations. The challenge in outer space and open (organization) space seems the same: to decode the radiation coming out! As we understand how these things work, we will better understand what to put in them (invitations) to get the results we want.

Elsewhere, I’m working my way through Tor Norretranders’ User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down To Size, which posits that the Third Grand Unification Theory in physics will reach way beyond the unification of gravity with the other fundamental forces and connect theoretical physics as a whole with consciousness, meaning, conversation and the stuff of everyday life.

Socratic Practice

James Rehm’s review of Michael Strong’s book on Socratic practice makes me want to be a teacher.

“Socratic questioning,” writes Strong, “is an endlessly sophisticated art. It is the engine that drives Western thought forward. Socratic questioning is not a technique, it is an approach to conceptual understanding which contains within it an intrinsic craving for conceptual refinement at every level of understanding.” (p. 149).

…A good argument can be made, he says, that introductory science courses would teach more if they offered students an immersion in scientific method and thinking rather than flooding them with a sea of information. In the same way, Strong – who likes math and is good at it – believes that Socratic practice should be a prerequisite for all math education. Why? Socratic practice, whether it traffics in discussions of trust, love and betrayal or other ideas equally remote from square roots and tangents, improves students’ facility with abstract concepts, and abstract concepts are the basis of mathematics, which is at root a way of thinking rather than a body of knowledge.

In reading the whole of this review, I notice that I have some deep inner valuing of teaching and learning. They are self-inviting, self-satisfying, self-sustaining. The more I teach or learn, the more I want to teach and learn. And in Socratic practice these two seem to run together, as the flow of Awareness. Why stop with the humanities, math, and science? Why not paint all of our work with this care?

Strong’s book, The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice is available at New View Publications.

The Physics of Invitation

Okay. The last posting is all wrong. A good start, but really rough. My resident physicist has straightened me out on several points, though there have been moments where I got some good shots in and really made her think. When your partner is a former particle accelerator jockey, not losing too bad is a win in my book.

One of the more important distinctions she’s made for me is the one between Newtonian and Quantum physics, the former is the big stuff and the latter the small. Quantum leaps are actually quite small, as it turns out. Along the way, it seemed that we might be looking at a marriage between the big and small, organization vision and structure might be Newtonian and individual passion and action might be more mappable to quantum theories. That got complicated in a hurry.

As we keep tossing Einstein’s equation around, we come up with lots of potential mappings, but Jill keeps making me make sure it ALL works… and so far it doesn’t. This doesn’t dim my view that some thing of E=mc^2 *does* map to our work in organizations.

My Bodanis reading (see last post) is bogging down a bit, but today I picked up a new book at the library: User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, by Tor Norretranders. In the first two pages of preface he notes the radical shifts in our understanding of “information” which we now measure in “bits.”

“Eureka!” says I.

In mapping Einstein’s equation, there is no need to map Energy, we know that organizations run on people power, perhaps more specifically, personal passion. People gotta care. No care, no go. Next, building on this notion of bits as the measure of information, it occurs to me that information is organizational analog of Mass in physics. And as bits now move along fiber optic networks, on the web, on the phone, from whiteboard to eyeball, it follows that top speed for bits in organization is same as for particles and such in physics: the speed of light.

Still have to work through all the “math” tonight with Jill, but everything seems to hold quite well. Consider: If no additional Energy is added, as organizational mass, the mass of information that is an organization, continues to grow, the speed must slow down. Conversely, if more and more Energy is poured in, remember Energy might be personal or financial or probably some other kinds too, but as it rises, either you generate lots more information or you generate lots more speed. All depends on whether the information you already have (mission, vision, grapevine, procedures manuals, email system, website, brochures and the rest) are able to handle the speed.

I think… when we say we want Action in an organization, what we usually mean is that we want mass the velocity of work to increase (or the ease to increase) when we add new Energy, rather than just getting more talk or other “information.” Or… we are creating some new information, a new pile of bits, some new story, and we want Energy, in the form of passion or cash, for instance, to increase, rather than the alternative reaction, which would be that everything just slows down.

Since this latter increase in information usually causes a decrease in speed, rather than an increase in Energy, herein lies some of the payoff of Invitation. Think of invitation as a super-slimmed down, low-bit, strategic plan. As the mass of the plan is reduced, its speed must automatically increase OR the Energy to drive it must be much less than for the old, bit-heavy “plan.” So, same Energy, more velocity, more action.

And there you have it, the beginnings of a General Theory of Invitation, or the Physics of Open Space, the latter being simply the skillful practice of Invitation in Organization.

The Physics of Organization

I’m reading David Bodanis’ biography of Einstein’s famous equation. In a word, the equation says that that Energy (E) and Mass (m) are interchangeable, convertible like currencies, at a fixed exchange rate, the square of the speed of light (c^2). It says that the invisible world of Energy is constantly transacting with the visible world of Mass.

So what does this have to do with organization? The invisible world of personal passion, opening, storytelling and invitation is constantly transacting with the visible trappings of shared supporting structures and individual actions. Okay, fine. This we sort of already knew, though you wouldn’t know that by watching how we run most businesses. But now it has me wondering about the resulting dynamics, and also about the velocity (the equivalent of c^2) of organization.

What is Energy in organization? Passion, Story, Invitation? And what about Mass? Number of people or some measure of their ‘weight’ as empowerment. As Energy is used up, does Mass increase? As passion and invitation are exhausted, do new structures, actions and capabilities show up? Is Passion and Invitation automatically created when Structures are broken down and action blocked? Yes, I think so.

So what then is the velocity of organization? And is it a physical constant, a limit, like the speed of light? Light is a pulsation, between electricity and magnetism, what Bodanis describes as a little swirling pulsation between the two. Electricity, power, supporting Action. Magnetism, passion, attracting like Invitation.

So progress in organization means refining the pulsation between invitation and action, making organization so efficient that it hums. Or sparkles. Makes me think I was on quite the right track seven years ago, with Inviting Organzation Emerges, when I suggested the highest strategic question in organization is beyond “business model,” beyond “speed,” and even beyond what I suggested as “inviting.” The ultimate question it (still, more than ever) seems to be: “How Light is your organization.”

This is one of those days when it’s really good to have a PhD particle physicist turned organization development consultant in the house. And as luck would have it, she’s coming home a bit early today! Maybe she can help translate the actual equation. Much as I usually think such exercises are just silly, there just might be something valuable in this one, so long as it can stay grounded in the original science.

Reading About States

Just finished (in about 3 days) Richard Ben Cramer’s How Israel Lost: The Four Questions. Fascinating collection of storytelling by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who’s been on the watching the Middle East for 25 years or more. This is perhaps the first thing I’ve ever read that actually starts to make sense of what I’ve heard about in the news all my life. He addresses four key questions: Why do we care about Israel? Why don’t the Palestinians have a State? What is a Jewish State? And… Why is there no Peace? His personal storytelling, as opposed to historical chronologies or theoretical explanations, reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point and created for me a practical context for understanding the news reports I’ll see next week and next year.

Next up, David Bodanis’ E=mc^2: a biography of the world’s most famous equation. Here’s a taste… Consider that a 747 flies at almost Mach 1, the speed of sound. Light travels at Mach 900,000. What’s the difference? Next time you’re sitting in a coffee shop listening to somebody yapping to their friend somewhere very far away, remember that their voice signal is travelling as radio waves (speed of light) through the air and, I suppose, optical networks. The sound travels to your ears as simple, slow, sound waves. The difference is that their friend in another state actually hears them before you do!

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.

Goal-Free Living: Inviting Movement

Steve Shapiro is just putting the finishing touches on his newest book, Goal-Free Living: How to Have the Life You Want NOW. Goal-Free doesn’t mean no goals, it means not trapped by goals and targets that don’t move and adapt as life ebbs and flows.

I was lucky enough to be interviewed for the book and have a few good stories showing up there. The excitement last night was making the seeds of a plan to use OpenSpaceTech to support readers in making connections and growing practice groups. Next month we’ll spend a day working out four invitations to seed a Goal-Free movement.

For more, see the book and the blog and Oprah’s magazine in November. It’ll be in stores for New Year’s Day.

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