Online Conference Report

The most remarkable thing about the four-day, online Open Space conference I ran with Lucas Cioffi at last week is how strongly it replicated what so many of us have experienced in face-to-face open space meetings and events.  See the complete proceedings document here. From my Summary…

The intention was to extend and expand the best of the Organization Transformation symposium (where OST started), Open Space on Open Space, and OSLIST and support the sharing of all manner of practices, innovations and learnings. The invitation was to bring forth what’s been working – and learn together how to make more of it…

The plan was simple: Invite the world. Do three Openings, with start times spaced evenly around the clock, around the world, each one followed immediately by a Discussion Session with multiple breakouts possible. Then twelve more Discussion rounds evenly spaced over forty-eight hours. Finally, we’d close with a series of three Closing Circles, starting eight hours apart in our fourth day. All sessions were scheduled for two hours, space evenly across all time zones. We didn’t know if we’d have four, forty or four hundred participants…

The invitation went out just about a month before the start of the event. Forty-five participants were registered by the first Opening and sixty by the first Closing. Together, they created, managed and documented 22 working/learning sessions to address their most important issues and situations. The live action was a rich mix of voices and faces, participating by phone and computer, audio and video, reading and typing, link and file sharing. Notes were taken in a Collaborative Notes tool available in every breakout session. The Openings and Closings, and really the entire event, unfolded in ways remarkably similar to how face-to-face gatherings do. We made several important technical adaptations to the platform, and how we used it along the way, each time making it even more like face-to-face gatherings…

The conference agenda wall and proceedings document were open for public viewing throughout the event, and remain open at

Virtual Open Space on Opening (All Kinds of) Space

Please join us for an experiment I’ve been working to organize…

Inviting Community, Sharing Learnings, Evolving Practice
Everywhere, July 8-11th or 9-12th (depending on where you are)

Conference Schedule | QiqoChat Platform and Registration | Questions

We have learned so much about bringing people together. We have imagined, invited, and unleashed. We are agile and appreciative, artful and improvisational. Our media is social, our networks are linked, and upstart movements can have national and international effects. We mix the newest technologies and the oldest human patterns. We work on peace AND high performance, passion and purpose, sharing and storytelling. We focus on what’s working, why it works, and how we can make more of it.

So what? And now what? The world is under pressure, in every time zone, maybe like never before – socially, politically, economically, environmentally, spiritually. Everywhere, complexity, diversity, real and potential conflict, and urgent needs are more obvious than ever. What is the opportunity here? What is our responsibility? What are the possibilities – and the practices that are working now – where you are? Full Invitation

Open Space Anywhere

I recently reviewed the basic conditions, preparation, and mechanisms/patterns for Open Space practice at Here’s a quick summary…

The conditions are about turbulence and change: complexity, diversity, passion (even conflict) and urgency. The preparation is simple and easy, an invitation, invite list, a place and time and few materials, and anything needed to support the products required. As for basic mechanisms, invitation makes the purpose clear and participation voluntary, circle is the team that volunteers. Bulletin board holds the portfolio, transparently accessible to all. Marketplace, platform or meeting space is the ground of self-organization, where learning and contribution trade. Iteration establishes practice, enabling long-term results.

Business Agility Boston

Looking forward to being a part of this on June 30th…

BUSINESS AGILITY BOSTON is the 1-day event for executives, directors, managers and #Agile transformation leaders who are responsible for implementing BUSINESS AGILITY across the entire enterprise. The concepts of invitation, facilitation, Open Space and opt-in participation are prominent aspects of this edgy conference event. Agile Boston, an agile community of practice in Greater Boston, is the conference organizer. Details and Registration

Immersion eclipses engagement

Paul Levy told me this week that a group of young people in Brighton UK are using open space in something called “creating our future.” It looks a lot like open space, but the invitations that are issued for their gatherings are apparently, intentionally, and invitingly rough. Then they are openly edited by anyone who’s thinking about attending. Effectively, the whole conversation about what the invitation should be IS the invitation. And it’s not over until the people start to gather which is to say that it’s not over until it really just begins. Brilliant. Inviting inviting itself. Immersion eclipses engagement.

Noticing and Remembering

…some key principles, teachers, and ideas while doing a bunch of thinking and learning, writing and designing last week. I sorted some old and new ideas into a rough framework, named the biggest buckets, and discovered they were an excellent update to the four dimensions I first outlined in Inviting Organization Emerges, 1998. Either I’m still crazy or this view is still true: (personal) passion, (shared) purpose, (learning) practice, and (high) performance.

Here are some of the bits that came up along the way…

  • “people are purposeful and can be ideal-seeking. you don’t have to agree with someone’s purposes, but they surely do have them.” merrelyn emery, in a search conference and participative design training, 1995.
  • imposing democratic self-management or how do we teach responsibility? i posted this topic in my first-ever open space conference. “i don’t! i just ask what’s working. and then i ask how to grow more of that.” my first brush with harrison owen, in open space, 1996. this works just as well for individuals and oneself.
  • “if a living system is unhealthy, the way to make it more healthy is to reconnect it with more of itself.” a quote from francisco varela that i carried in my wallet on the back of a business card, for about 10 years.
  • standing around a campfire at an Outward Bound instructor training… how are we going to remember all the details of how to brief all these different teambuilding exercises? “these kids don’t care about the initiatives. they just want to know if you love them.” we never quite outgrow that need for love or circling up around a fire.
  • in the beginning there was change. then it got spun up more hopefully, as transition. when it got deep and potentially uncomfortable, we called it transformation. now that we’re beginning to really understand it, i hear more and more people talking about evolution. the main benefits of this view is that we can’t evolve other people and we don’t waste as much time trying escape or avoid it.
  • in agile development, the purpose of individual scrum sprints is to produce value, but the purpose of sprinting is learning and improvement. and yes, these things happen to be distinct and inseparable.
  • the best games have four elements: a goal, some rules, a scoreboard, and they’re opt-in, says game designer and ted talker, jane mcgonigal. this aligns surprisingly well with the essential elements of an invitation and inviting leadership.
  • after one of the championship games michael jordan won with a last-second shot, an interviewer asked him what he was thinking about during the timeout right before that shot. “i was thinking that nobody knows what’s going to happen. all the people in the stadium, all the people watching on TV, nobody knows. i thought that was really cute. (big smile)” in agile terms, this is the essence of valuing responding to change more than following a plan.
  • we can mandate performance, but high performance is invitation only. mandates can set minimum standards, but will almost always limit the upside or be completely unreasonable and irrelevant. invitations express ideals in ways that call people to their pursuit.

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.


Deb Hartman recently shared an invitation to StoosXchange. Wish I could be there…

Great ideas for shifting management are not lacking, so why, after decades, is there so little evidence of change? In January 2012, a group of concerned colleagues met inStoos /stōˈôs/
Switzerland for 2 days to discuss how to accelerate the transformation of management around the world. They published a communique, as a first step in catalysing the change they seek, and invited public discussion by launching the Stoos Network.

The Stoos eXchange is the result of our own local discussions: we invite you to contribute to a weekend of significant face-to-face conversation with a diverse group of organisational change practitioners and thinkers, including changemakers in business, education, and local communities; and business leaders and entrepreneurs working towards a new era.

…maybe will have to think about convening some sort of ChicagoXchange. Hello, co-conveners?

The Ideal Invitation

Years ago, I wrote in Inviting Organization Emerges, “…diversity, that’s really only half-way there, as it is really about uniqueness, the reality that each of us is absolutely unique…” Today, it seems that 31 years of research, reported by Peter Bregman at Harvard Business Review, is now backing me up on this.

Bregman’s case against diversity training suggests it predictably fails because it heightens, rather than diffuses, focus (especially negative) on categories instead of individual people. While he proposes instead a regimen of “communications” training, to help people deal with each other as unique individuals, I’d suggest this also is only a half-way solution. People, like the differences between them, aren’t as important as the things they hold in common, as valuable, or even more, as ideal(s). Focusing on individuals takes focus away from the importance of the work and it’s best possible outcomes.

I’m quite convinced that organization development pioneers Fred and Merrelyn Emery, with Eric Trist, had it right decades ago, with their core assumptions that people are purposeful (you might disagree or not understand their purposes but they always have one!) — and can be ideal seeking. Values, mission, and vision statements are about as useful in getting real work done as diversity training. Instead, articulate an ideal, or set of them, and invite people to seek their realization, or replication.

It can be as simple as “we’ve had three great successes in the history of this company, and now we’re up against [insert challenge here] — so we need another great success, and soon.” Almost any statement that starts with “We’re in a real pickle, or are sitting at the edge of a great and complex opportunity, and the ideal solution… ” would do. Ideals are stories that directly inform us about what to do — not because they specify the steps, but because they help everyone measure (against the ideal) every step along the way.

So the most important thing about people is not our categories and not our differences — but not our individual preferences and styles, either. What matters in doing great work is shared ideals that we can articulate, care about, and choose to seek together. This is the logic and wisdom of invitation. Review the situation and point to some important shared ideal(s), and get to work.

In the same way that communications trumps diversity training, clarity and greatness of purpose overcomes the need for communication and teambuilding trainings. High ideals invite and require great work, while narrow interests and mushy values communications open space for nitpicking of all kinds. Or said another way, if we have a great shared ideal, a most important shared purpose, we’ll find a way to understand each other.

This is not to minimize situations of genuine mistreatment or disrespect, only to say that they will be greatly reduced by more active calls to important work.

Egyptian Youth in Open Space

In the turbulent times following the Egyptian uprising and Mubarek resignation, a group called the Egyptian Youth Federation has begun convening youth leadership forums in Open Space, around a theme of Egypt at the Crossroads. Every so often something like this pops up in the world and makes me proud to be playing on the team, and working in the community, that I am. They’ve written an excellent invitation (which I also archived in my InvitationWriting page), and from the pile of photos and notes posted on their Facebook wall, had just the sort of high-performance experience you’d expect in Open Space. Seems Egypt at the Crossroads II is now in the works, as well. Go team!

National Park(ing) Day

National Park(ing) Day 2008, an annual event, is coming up on September 19th. It celebrates parks in cities by creating temporary parks in public parking spaces. National Park(ing) Day is an all-volunteer event, and any participation is welcome. One can, build his or her own park, help others build parks, or simply visit Park(ing) Day parks throughout the day. Get the details here, a how-to manual, photos and videos, or to connect with participants near you.

Chicago Civics 101: Getting (Green) Things Done with City Government

A political education and organizing workshop:

Saturday, June 28
10AM – 1PM
Chicago Center for Green Technology

Learn how the city works from the people who do it everyday! Work more effectively and strategically with aldermen, ward staff, and city departments to get green things done and build the healthy neighborhood food systems we envision. This three-hour workshop will provide tools, insights, and guidance – and a chance to converse with policy makers about ways we can help them to help us, help each other. More Info and Register Online

Permaculture Seminar in Chicago

Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture says Permaculture is a creative and artful way of living, where people and nature are both preserved and enhanced by thoughtful planning, the careful use of resources, mimicking the patterns found in nature (bio-mimicry) and a respectful approach to life. Thus embraced, these attributes create an environment where all may thrive for untold generations.

We’re intrigued. So Jill and I are signing up for the upcoming seminar here in Chicago. Join us?

Saturday, March 29th – 2:00- 5:00 p.m.
Hosted By: Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center
1246 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago

Fee: $50 Door -or- $35 with Pre-registration (by March 26, 2008)
To Register – Call Yoga Center: 773-878-7771 (MC/Visa)
You may call or email the center if you have questions.
The Sivananda Yoga Center is in the early stages of creating a permaculture design for their urban location.

Evening Meal and Discussion 5:30 – 8:00
Topic: Spirituality and Permaculture – Exploring the Connection?
Stay into the evening for an open discussion. Share your thoughts.
Suggested Donation for Dinner and Talk: $20

Will You Lead?

Friends at Grand Valley State University and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, in Grand Rapids, Michigan are planning a conference in Open Space:

  • Are you an emerging leader committed to social and community change?
  • Are you willing to discuss the unique needs of emerging leaders and explore innovative solutions to the challenges that lie ahead?
  • Are you eager to share your vision, ideas and passion for the sector?

You have the opportunity to convene with peers and add your voice to a conversation on future leadership of the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofit 2020: Issues and Answers from the Next Generation on July 26-28, 2007, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Full Invitation and Registration Info

Inviting Food Expo

Jim Slama at Sustain invites:

Join us on March 23 & 24 at the Chicago Cultural Center for the 3rd Annual EXPO – the one event in Chicago where farmers, families and friends all come together to celebrate delicious, healthy, local and organic food.

You’ll have the chance to meet local family farmers, shop the farmers market and learn from informative exhibits set up by local food businesses and organizations. There are a wide variety of workshops to attend; keynote speakers including top names in the food world; great movies; an interactive Organic Kids Corner; bookstore with hundreds of titles; and demonstrations by some of Chicago’s hottest chefs including Rick Bayless, Bruce Sherman, Gale Gand, Karyn Calabrese and Timothy Young.

Buy your tickets online at and get two tickets for the price of one!

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