Best Wishes and Big Pictures for the New Year

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.

Open Space as Trim Tab

I was talking last week about Open Space serving as a “trim tab,” pointing to its use in guiding transformational change in organizations. Along the way, I discovered that Bucky Fuller, according to Wikipedia, “is often cited for his use of trim tabs as a metaphor for leadership and personal empowerment.”

In the February 1972 issue of Playboy, Fuller said:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trim Tab.

—Buckminster Fuller

Free Speech, Free Listening

This is a remarkable little experiment with huge implications and potential. Lucas Cioffi took some dining room chairs down to the local pedestrian mall, put signs on the back offering “Free Speech,” reminiscent of Fran Peavey’s travels and invitation as “American willing to listen.”

When Lucas wondered if he shouldn’t add more rules or guidance to shape the dialogues that have emerged, I said I didn’t think so. Though as he had already used signs and the phrase “Free Speech,” I suggested “Free Listening” would be a powerful addition to the signs. The combination of the two, right and responsibility, seems like robust and complete guidance for these small groups, all the way up to our federal government.

The Limits of the Microphone?

Friend and colleague Koos de Heer shared this video on Facebook today, and sparked a small chain reaction for me.

First, at its climax, last 30 or 45 seconds, Chaplin cries: “let us fight…!” Yes, to fulfill promise, to free the world, to end barriers, greed, injustice and so on… but it’s still all FIGHTING! Then, it occurs to me that the rallying cry for science and rationality to deliver humankind must have been heard by many of Chaplin’s original viewers. Decades later we would seem to have made science and rationality the new dictators, perhaps more dangerous because more distributed, more deeply embedded in human culture. Even an old community organizer like Barack Obama rises on the strength of a cool, rational, technology-enhanced campaigning.

I think Chaplin was onto something with his bits early in the video about kindness, and what all humans want. Wish I could here a crescendo built on that view, before he slipped back into “fight fight fight!” The big paradox… How does one person make this sort of empassioned rallying cry for neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers, parents, teachers, partners, fellow travelers and other strangers?

For me, something of the answer might unfold next week. I am looking forward to spending four days in a CJYI training course, with an old friend who just happens to be the guy who hired Obama into Chicago and introduced him to organizing. We — he’s a student in the course, not the teacher — will be learning a person-to-person approach to something called restorative justice, what a practitioner/journalist friend has called “get a rock and talk.” Not especially rational or technical or scientific. Not any sort of fighting or rallying. Just a quietly personal and increasingly effective movement, reflecting on responsibility, redefining justice, and ultimately reallocating power, in real community.

silent night / newtown news

years ago, simon and garfunkel recorded a song called silent night/7 o’clock news. in one channel, they sang the old christmas song we all know. but in the other, they played news reports of the day, most memorably, about the war in vietnam. so, yes, that’s me in the red suit at a neighbors/family party this weekend and there’s more to this story than “ho, ho, ho!”

i have a friend, ben roberts, in newtown, connecticut, who is hosting a number of open “cafe” calls this week, for people to come together to talk, to explore what’s happened and think about what might now be possible, on guns, schools, mental illness, and anything else that participants might decide is related. the cafe call details are here and the one word that stood out for me in the many good and wise things he’s posted is: isolation.


it seems to be the underlying assumption, common perception, and slippery slope at the center of all sorts of horrible news stories. our natural reaction, our immediate response, is to come together. like we did after 9/11, like ben and others are doing on the phone this week, like he and his neighbors are doing all around newtown, like we do for more ordinary funerals — but also for holidays.

in the wake of the shootings last week, the cry goes up about gun control, and then it’s expanded to mental illness, but it seems to me that the thing that makes guns and illness possible is isolation. Francisco Varela, a Chilean biologist, philosopher, and neuroscientist once said something like “If a living system is unhealthy, the way to make it more healthy is to reconnect it with more of itself.”

just three days after our world crashed down on 9/11, i convened an open space gathering at old st. patrick’s church, here in chicago. what i remember best from that day is that after 70 or 80 or more participants posted something like 30 breakout session topics, nobody moved. nobody broke out. everyone wanted only to be with everyone else, in one big circle. we sat and talked, taking turns in that large group, for more than three hours, without any break, connecting and reconnecting.

when i was in grade school, in a suburb of detroit, in the 1970’s, safety meant being able to go to any house that displayed a red hand or a blue star in the front window. when there was a string of child abductions — every time it snowed, a kid would disappear, and every time the snow melted, they’d find a body — we were told to run and yell for help if any stranger tried to get us into a car.

the message was that help was all around, help was there for the asking. a bit like santa’s helpers being scattered all around the neighborhood, watching behavior, but also watching out for us. this is just the opposite, i think, of the voice that says, “the world is dangerous. i need to be prepared to shoot my way out,” or “if i’m hurting or struggling, nobody could possibly understand.” it’s these views we need to attack, need to prove wrong, need to dispel with our action.

i’m thinking that the solution to our current grief is not simply the opposite of gun rights, nor the opposite of mental illness, but the opposite of isolation, the opposite of whatever darkness might separate us from ourselves. holidays it seems, and especially the one(s) upon us now, in the dark of northern winter, are for practicing: coming together, rekindling light, watching over, and looking out for each other.

coming together might just be the only and every thing we need. the challenge, i think, is that it’s going to be most effective when we do it with those who seem most different from how we think we are, everywhere we are, in families and neighborhoods, churches and schools, politics and business. but teachers and pastors, mayors and the president, can’t do it for us. we have to do it together, each of us, all of us, everywhere, with every one, every chance we get.

merry happy to all, and to all a good night.

Generosity Without Wealth

Giving material goods is one form of generosity, but one can extend an attitude of generosity into all one’s behavior. Being kind, attentive, and honest in dealing with others, offering praise where it is due, giving comfort and advice where they are needed, and simply sharing one’s time with someone – all these are forms of generosity, and they do not require any particular level of material wealth.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Occupy and Commons

i’ve been thinking about the notion of “commons” and it’s popped up in a number of conversations lately. here’s a quick explanation lifted from “Commons Not Capitalism,” a day 20 report posted about a month ago at OccupyPhillyMedia:

A commons is a simple idea really, and something that humans have done throughout our existence, even before we had languages, even before we made up the word “commons” in multiples languages. A commons is something held by people in common, to be used, shared, and enjoyed. It can be a physical space, like a field for grazing or planting, or a library or park; it can be knowledge, like the ideas within our libraries or free and open-source software; it can be those things that sustain all of life, like the air and water; it can be some of the things that make us most human, such as dignity, love, caring, art, and our imagination.

i’d add to this culture, beliefs, agreements, like the common agreement we have in this country that it’s okay to protest and speak out, if done peacefully, or as is catching some press today, that America is not a battlefield.

in Open Space, the circle, bulletin board and “marketplace” in which participants move about, with the right and responsibility to maximize thier own learning and contributing, are all commons. and while i appreciate the focus on commons, setting it against capitalism might miss the point. capital is perhaps another sort of commons, or at least the parts that move and accumulate because of various commons existe and are accessible to all. “markets,” so often held up as dangerous are also commons.

the video above does a good job of telling this story in another way. it’s not as simple as any us against them, or this against that.

Regional Economic Communities

My friend Tim Reeves, in Munich, has been working on something called Regional Economic Communities. I’m just starting to explore his ideas, but I’m intrigued because he (and co-author Anna-Lisa Schmalz) seem to be articuting something quite new. At the same time, it rings a bit like a conversation I had ten years ago with friends in India, about the wisdom and utility of many overlapping languages spoken there. It seems to me that the “solution” for which many are fishing about will have something to do with overlapping wholes, reflecting a world that is layered and connected rather than simply delineated and divided. Given my long history with Open Space, I appreciate the emphasis on renewing the mechanism of personal responsibility, as well.

Why we need Regional Economic Communities

The egocentric world-view is not viable in the long term, because its picture of the world is incorrect. This is because the basis of ones own life is shared with and made by countless other beings, or in the case of resources there is only a finite amount available. The egocentric view ignores these facts. It demands more than would be sustainably possible and thus destroys its own basis for life. We don’t need to look far to be able to see that humanity is moving fast towards such a fate.

The only attitude which is able to survive in the long term is that which puts the well-being of the community of all beings on this planet foremost, actively cares for them and takes responsibility for this goal.

A global way of thinking leads to local action. The Regional Economic Community was devised to put these insights into practice. It consists of a Community of Participation and Ownership (CPO) and a barter community which builds upon it. It invites all the citizens within the region to step back fully into personal responsibility, in both economic and interpersonal respects, and provides the tools required to do so.

B-Corps to Support Responsibility

A heartening development in corporate law, that allows corporations to be more responsible, not just talk about it. Via

Maryland and Vermont have passed Benefit Corporation legislation with similar legislation on the table in Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In these states, Benefit Corporations, unlike traditional corporations, must by law create a material positive impact on society; consider how decisions affect employees, community and the environment; and publicly report their social and environmental performance using established third-party standards.

From a company’s point of view, the new law empowers directors of Benefit Corporations to consider employees, community and the environment in addition to shareholder value when they make operating and liquidity decisions. And, it offers them legal protection for those considerations.

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.


this weekend i did a number of small things that i’d like to think must be part of some grander solution. perhaps you’re doing some of these same sorts of things.

on saturday morning, we woke up to a pile of new snow. so i shovelled our house and six or seven neighbors, plus the park on the corner and the lawrence avenue bridge across the chicago river.

later that day, we bought faucet parts from a tiny little local 30-year-old family shop where adam runs a service counter almost buried in every imaginable faucet part, old and new, as a steady stream of customers line up six deep for his help fixing or finding parts for all kinds of old faucets. on the way home we stopped in at the riverbank neighbors mid-winter planning meeting. then we loaned our folding chairs in support of a baby shower across the street.

tonight, i wrote and mailed a letter to our new governor recommending somebody for appointment to the metropolitan water reclamation commission (the folks who manage the river at the end of our street). this week i’ll send out an email reminder for our block’s next monthly potluck dinner. last weekend i distributed 1000 neighborhood newsletters to 30 block delivery people. it’s also time to make and distribute flyers for the neighborhood winter social event.

less locally, this week i’ll also have conversations about organizing meetings for the future of buffalo new york, the future of the credit union industry, and some other important projects where i might make some small contribution to others’ larger success. more personally, we’re still chipping away at a number of plumbing projects (with some borrowed tools) as we refinish an old house, still slogging away at the triathlon challenge mentioned a few posts back, and just getting started on painting the kitchen so we can finally order cabinets and counters.

mostly this doesn’t seem so much like working as just living. and when i stop long enough to notice, it seems quite lucky that i’m able to do any of these things.


Being visible in the practice of open space technology brings a number of inquiries and requests for training and coaching and such. Being visible on this web, these come from everywhere around the world. It’s been a fun way to connect with people, or sometimes, discover connection.

Today I was chatting with Pete terHorst about open space and invitation. I mentioned that some of my approach to that comes from what I learned from my Dad, who worked at Ford in Governmental Affairs and Public Relations. He used to write things ended up in state legislation or on the bronze marker at Henry Ford’s birthplace, stuff where words really matter. So this is some of the sensitivity I bring to the crafting of invitations.

Well, it turns out that Pete’s dad worked for Ford, as well. Same group, different city, a ten-year overlap with my dad. I call home and ask, and sure enough, Pete’s dad is somebody well-known to my people. And this is some of why I don’t blow off any of these random requests for training and coaching.

When it Snows, it Pours

Awoke to a small blizzard today. Watched a neighbor clean several inches of snow off his SUV, waving his brush in gentle swooshing strokes and little detailing moves, with the grace of a great concert conductor. When another neighbor came out, he cleared her car too. It was all just that much fun. Later in the morning, in the course of a wide-ranging conversation about Open Space and Unconferences, friends and projects and writing books, Doc List pointed me to Wisdom. After lunch, Wyatt Sutherland and I had lots of good laughs about rebuilding old houses, and hatched a bit of a plan for YellowCello Young Artists to play in open space. Finished just in time for training home with Jill, to Jerry’s moroccan stew and a gaggle of neighbors at the monthly potluck. A great warm day, even with the thermometer running on empty.


This is the strongest, clearest public statement I can remember hearing in a long time. Maybe ever. This video of an interview on al-Jazeera, shows Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American woman, working as a psychiatrist, living in Los Angeles.

She addresses the “clash of civilizations” as a sort of Muslim excuse and challenges Muslim culture to, in so many words, grow up. Unbelievable… “…We have not seen one Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. Three great Buddha statues have been reduced to rubble. We have seen not one buddhist destroy a Mosque.”

via Carla Winterbottom

From the Top

My friend Birrell Walsh is a technician for public television. He recommended this show, for the kindness and generosity of the host and performers, as much as the beauty of the music. He says this show wins the technicians’ award… the sort of show that technicians, who have to watch lots of television, actually want to watch. Check this out…

A hypnotic performance on the marimba by sixteen-year old Joshua Jones of Chicago, Illinois kicks off Season Two of From the Top at Carnegie Hall. And don’t miss the third segment on that same page, when a young trio plays Haydn with “happy” and “angry” and “rock and roll” faces.

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