More Modern Agile Connections

Thanks to Deb Preuss and Steve Holyer to the first Agile Cocktails virtual (and international) lean coffee meetup today, where a small group of us just had a great conversation with Josh Kerievsky, CEO of Industrial Logic and one of the leading voices in the Modern Agile refactoring of the Agile Manifesto.  I’ve already made a bunch of connections between Modern Agile and my own Inviting Organization work.  Today’s conversation helped me make some more.

The Modern Agile story starts with Safety, on all levels, from personal to technical.  Safety supports Making People Awesome or what I think of as Making People Heroes (in Awesome Stories).  Awesome people are able to Learn Faster via Experimenting, which supports Delivering Value Continuously (or at least more and more often).

The FIRST challenge is moving the needle on each of these things, probably, in most cases, starting with Safety.  Josh shared Stop the Process cards, the knowledge worker equivalent of Toyota’s andon cord, that team members can use in any moment or meeting when they see Safety slipping.  The purpose is the same as Toyota’s legendary tool: raise awareness and make changes while the problem is still new and small.

Exploring other behaviors that reinforce Safety, we mentioned the need to keep returning to the assumption of positive intentions, that we need to find 4-5 more positives than negatives to maintain good relations, and that any targeting of  self-protective withdrawal or responses will be counter-productive.  Invitation, on the other hand, what we called Challenge by Choice in my teambuilding days, seems some kind of bedrock.

Now linking in some practices from pure Dialogue, developed years ago at MIT, here are some of the specific things we can invite:

  1. Listen… to yourself, listen to the other, listen to the center (of the team/group/circle), and listen UP (or beyond or beneath,  for what might be emerging from above or below or otherwise outside of the group).
  2. Suspend your assumptions, especially those negative assumptions that are the basis for mistrusting behaviors.  Let your assumptions be examined and questioned and adjusted separately from your Self.
  3. Slow the inquiry,
  4. Hold the Space for Difference and…
  5. Speak from Awareness… round out the other Dialogue principles, but were mentioned only indirect or passing way.

This reminded me that the oft-cited Cynefin framework can be wired in here, as well, on the way to articulating a SECOND, higher-level, challenge of Modern Agile.   Cynefin describes four decision-making contexts:

  1. Simple, Obvious, Known
  2. Complicated, but Knowable
  3. Complex, Known Unknowables
  4. Chaotic, Unknown Unknowables
  5. (the cliff)

These contexts map well to the “environments” described by Emery and Trist (1965), pioneers of self-managing teams (what Emery called “purposeful and ideal-seeking systems”) and organization transformation via participative (invited!) work redesign:

  1. placid, random (where the goodies are just randomly available for picking)
  2. placid, clustered (where patterns emerge and can be known, learned, used to find more goodies)
  3. disturbed-reactive (competitive, where others are chasing the same goodies, with complex effects)
  4. turbulent (where surprises abound and success depends on adaptive learning)
  5. vortical (an emergent, usually unsustainable situation, think peak experience or breakdown)

The Cynefin view breaks down for me when it’s drawn as four quadrants with a kind of cliff at the far edge of chaos.  In direct experience, my knowns are always a subset of what is knowable, which is then bounded by those things I can see lie just beyond my capacity to know.  Which is to say they are nested wholes, like the levels in Inviting Organization Emerges.  This is important, because it allows for all the levels to be true simultaneously. I know some things and don’t know what I don’t know all at once.

As life and work unfolds in each moment, one of the levels is more important than the others, but they’re all still there.  AND… at each level, a different kind of Listening matters more than the others.  At the most basic, I need to pay attention to my own thinking, then to others, the collective patterns, the emergent, and finally to all of them at once, swirling in a vortical way.

In the same way, the SECOND challenge of Modern Agile is to turn the four steps into a self-reinforcing virtuous practice loop is the second challenge.  That takes means finding ways that continuous delivery reinforces safety and moving toward a vortical swirl that feels like doing all four at a high level and all at once.  That means Inviting customers, business leaders, dev and ops into a Safe, Awesome, Fast-Learning, Continuously Valuable Dialogue.  That means Inviting (vs. driving or grabbing for) more Peak Experiences and practicing the things that help us sustain higher and higher plateaus between those Peaks.

We sticky-note our way through all the knowns and knowables, toward being more and more prepared for anything and everything else, always inviting attention to whatever level of listening, knowing, decision-making and learning that is most important, in that moment and the next and the next.  In this way, the being and doing of Safe, Awesome, Faster and Valuable are continuously developed and refined, same as, inseparable from the actual software product.

At the close of our session today, one of us suggested that we can’t actually make people safe.  I think we can’t actually make people awesome or heroes.  Or make them learn for that matter.  Safe and awesome and learning are individual choices.  Which is what I’ve said elsewhere about Engagement, too.  The best we can do – and all we really need to do – is continually Invite them into these practices, to make it easier to choose these ways of working.


Inviting Agility

Still churning through all the ideas and connections that popped up at the Agile2016 conference in July.  Collaborated with Mark Kilby on the design and facilitation of a two-part session on distributed Agile teamwork, in the Audacious Salon track.  Flew drones in the hotel with Tim Ottinger and friends.  Josh Kerievsky’s keynote presentation of Modern Agile sparked an exciting update of my Inviting Organization Emerges work.  Got to kick around the SMARTer Agile approach I’ve been developing from Sandra Walsh’s OpenXP.  And I met (and reconnected with) a bunch of great folks, whose videos and materials I’ve been devouring.

I’ve shared much of this (but not the drones) on a new Agile Practice Library page in WorkSpace.  Inviting Agility is how I’m understanding my ongoing cross-pollination of Open Space (and other inviting practices) and Agile methods.

Open Space for Rapid Agile Adoption

what happens when agile adoption runs on invitation and self-organization, more like open space? here is an interesting case story

walmart has 4000 core IT employees and another 6000 contractors — and four agile coaches. they’ve gone from 10% agile to 80%+ agile in about 1.5 years. they don’t mandate scrum, XP, kanban, SAFe, etc. they’ve done 30 open space meetings for 300+ people each in about 8 months. until just recently, they considered OS an important competitive advantage and did not speak about it publicly.

when i talked with one of their coaches in an agile learning group, he shared that his SVP keeps asking him “what does the agile store look like?” (they have 11,000 stores). i sketched him a back-of-the-envelope, invitation-based, open space plan to touch all 11,000 stores in a year. he thinks it might take five. (probably we have slightly different done criteria.)

either way, agile in open space looks fast and effective, in IT and beyond. and, of course, this same approach would work with any other enterprise-wide transformation.

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

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.

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.

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.

Prime Moment for OS?

Daniel Mezick’s been doing with what he calls the Prime/OS™ approach, where two Open Space meetings bookend a 100-days period of intense experimenting, to create a rite of passage process in support of transformation in organization. Prime/OS is a generalization of his Open Agile Adoption practice, wherein the “transformation” being achieved is the understanding and embrace of Agile software development. Daniel’s approach effectively broadens and deepens the Inviting center of Open Space. This Agile Coaching Institute points to the needs served by Daniel’s approach:

…Many companies are responding to the turbulence of today’s world by adopting agile development in their product and service delivery. And for good reason: Agile provides well-­‐tested practices and frameworks that improve a company’s speed, customer satisfaction, and quality of delivery.

As many organizations are finding, however, Agile’s focus on team delivery alone is not enough. Consider a recent Version One 2013 “State of Agile” survey: respondents cited “inability to change organizational culture” and “general resistance to change” (at 54% and 42% respectively) as the two largest barriers to sustainable agile adoption.

These two issues have nothing to do with agile delivery methods per se. More and more, companies are already quite good at the nuts and bolts of agile team delivery. What they lack are new skills and practices at the management and organizational level to create an overall environment of agility…

The paper goes on to describe a “Sense and Respond” approach to leadership that fits well with what I called “Post and Host,” way back in 1998. Like my Inviting Organization story, they also rely on Ken Wilber’s work.

The Agile Leader, by Michael Hamman and Michael K. Spayd, Agile Coaching Institute.

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.

revisiting self-organization: the view from jakarta

still thinking about something i posted to the OSLIST a while back.

…some years ago, at one of our chicago open space trainings, a music therapist friend (louise mitran), brought a couple cases of music-making things.  in a session she convened, we tried to make and sustain “chaos,” a state of no rhythmic pattern.  we found it pretty much impossible.  so i think maybe why we don’t see it happening in open space is that it is so fleeting.  it’s just changes happening, being made, shapes shifting and then new patterns emerging so quickly that we notice the new, enduring patterns and it’s pretty much impossible to notice, much less sustain, any “chaos.”

thinking about a spectrum from chaos to control, my first guess was that chaos and not-caring were somehow connected to the same end of the spectrum, opposite to control.  today i’m thinking that not-caring IS what makes control possible, and maybe even necessary.  a wandering philosopher of sorts once told me that totalitarian dictatorship required three conditions:  widespread apathy, control of the media (story), and generalized insecurity.  open space works to directly undercut all three.

as often as not, i think, as more people step up and express more active caring, those “in control” can relax (unless being in control of others is their main intent).  managerial ease happens long before real chaos shows up.  and chaos probably never shows up, because no captain or crew members, excepting the sociopathic few, want it to go there.

the balance between caring and control would seem to be a sort of self-balancing thing, like the number of breakouts and size of the large meeting room in open space.  that is, the more breakouts we have, the smaller they get, the closer people sit, the quieter they can be… so the room size can be pretty much the same, and hold more or fewer breakouts.  if the room can hold 100 people, it will work no matter how many ways the group divides.  as passion increases, responsibility increases, managerial control can decrease.  as less caring and attentiveness allow breakdown, those who
still care must work harder to hold things together, to maintain control.

i guess the far end is that too much caring, everybody cares, is where stalemates and conflicts emerge, spats, fights, even wars.  but then there’s also the question of WHAT it is that everyone is caring about.  this is why purpose matters.  this is why we convene open space around the future of the company rather than something like “what are the issues and opportunities for raising your (own) pay, reducing your workload, and improving your benefits package.”

so maybe the dance is really between individual caring and organized control, and the thing that holds it all together is our continual reach for the biggest possible theme, question and organizational “self.”

as i recall, the only way to (almost by chance) sustain any sort of chaos in that musical exercise, i think, was to actively NOT listen to any others and concentrate fully on my own (noise).

this morning, coming out of a two-day open space in jakarta, indonesia, i’m understanding it this way…

it’s not that control is better than chaos, or vice versa. no more that passion is better than responsibility or learning better than contribution. nor questions better than answers. they’re all akin to breathing out and breathing in. it’s not that working in open space is better than traditional managing, planning and conferencing methods. (and in the context of our work with USAID here in jakarta this week, not that american way is better than indonesian way of development.)

it’s the going back and forth that strengthens us, in the realization that complete chaos and total control are equally untenable, unsustainable, impermanent. so the one will always nudge us, gently or firmly, back in the direction of the other. self-organization is the inescapable play between these two ends of everything and open space doesn’t oppose formal organization, it depends on and supports it, and vice versa.

the more we practice backing and forthing between the two, our work in open space can handle all kinds of technical, analytical, conflicted, complex decision-making challenges and the results get more measurable, far beyond mere “brainstorming,” while traditional management and planning work can become more adaptive, flexible, inviting and engaging. it’s the going back and forth that strengthens our organizations and communities.

putting this in terms of the inviting organization story, this is the backing and forthing between what matters on the inside and what can be observed and constructed on the outside, and also personal caring and action as processed through organizational culture and process. in this going back and forth, all “techniques” become part of a larger body, called practice.

convening power

what i’ve called the practice of invitation, harvard business school’s rosabeth moss kanter highlights here as “convening power.”

The best CEOs do it. Effective entrepreneurs do it. Middle managers who become change agents do it. Individuals with passion do it. Weak leaders are too timid to do it. On September 20-22 former President Bill Clinton is doing it.

Hold those scurrilous thoughts. “It” is convening large groups to tackle big issues and commit to action.

The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) models the use of a widely-accessible but still-underutilized power in any sector or company: convening power. As leadership shifts away from hierarchical decisions-at-the-top-slowly-cascading-downward, to social networks and self-organizing, knowing how to use convening power becomes critical.

…On a small scale, that’s what meet-ups do. They are self-organized vehicles for finding out who has the interest and capabilities and then getting something moving. Women’s networks have started in many companies just because someone decided to host a breakfast and identify areas for problem-solving.

On a bigger scale, this model is used by courageous CEOs to morph the 15-person management committee into a 1500-person leadership cadre that comes together in one place, in fluid subgroups, to define issues and commit to solutions — like John Chamber’s strategy meetings at Cisco. In another case, a company in trouble convened 35 top people for a leadership conference; post-turnaround, they convened 350. With 350, much more work was done on the spot, including policy changes and action commitments fully embraced by those who would implement them.

Sounds an awful lot like Open Space and Inviting Leadership to me.

the essence of invitation

“i’m going, because it matters. come with me. we need you.” this is, to me, the essence of invitation.

harrison owen reported recently, via the OSLIST, on a conversation with a woman who was in the middle of the tahrir square action earlier this year. they concluded that the tahrir event(s) had all the deep qualities of open space, and none of the official trappings, no facilitator, no flipcharts and markers. i thought, yes, that’s true, save one: invitation, lots of individual invitations, that must have sounded just like “i’m going, because it matters. come with me. we need you.”

this might be the best working template for invitation that i’ve yet discovered. there is the integrity of the leader going first, committing first. there is the statement of an issue or opportunity that really matters. it’s personal and active and voluntary: come with me. and it points out beyond control, to what the leader can do only with the help of others: we need you.

harrison’s point was that open space is naturally occuring, and i would say that’s true… because invitation is naturally occuring. facilitation and flipcharts? not so much. but invitation… is.

inviting business

euan semple muses today about what to call our new way(s) of doing social-media-powered business. He suggests the term “literate business.” my response:

my dad used to work in public relations for ford motor company. along the way he wrote things like the marker at henry ford’s birthplace and materials that went out to every ford shareholder, sometimes speeches, too, i think. when i was learning to write in grade school, he told me “the last thing you do when you write, is write.” think, feel, sense… sort… write.

literate doesn’t fit for me. i always go back to the dictionary on these things, to have a look at the old shape of these things. literate: scholarly, learned. but what you’ve actually described seems more reflective than literate. then i wondered about articulated, annotated, and examined. the unexamined business is not worth…?

and then i come back to the stuff i started working on 10+ years ago, this story of “inviting organization.” perhaps what you’re talking about is “inviting business.” (see InvitingOrganizationEmerges for the full story.) in essence, these new tools and practices you’re talking about are for actively inviting new business, and simultaneously require the thinking, feeling, sensing, and reflecting that must inform our actually being inviting, connecting people.

for me, “inviting business” captures all of the inner, subjective, and aspirational AND all of the outer, objective, and technically practical (practice-able) dimensions of personal practice, collaborative work, and business organization today.

what makes open space training work?

a question came up today, on the OSLIST, about the design of open space training programs, and what the leader could do to make them “work.” this was my contribution to that conversation:

thinking back on the trainings i’ve attended, hosted, designed, and led, the single most important criteria is not what we as ‘trainers’ or ‘teachers’ bring. rather, just like in any other open space (cuz what we’re really doing is just opening a space for learning and exploration of open space itself), so just like any other open space, the thing that matters is the complexity, diversity, urgency and passion that comes in with the participants.

to increase or at least encourage these things, i used to ask early and often for them to bring real situations to work on and wrestle with. then during the sessions, it seems important to keep looking for those situations… not only where “ost” might be used in a meeting, but where each participant may have encountered open space somewhere else in their lives. open space is. and we find ourselves casting about in it from time to time.

how have we handled those times? how can we understand and learn from our responses to those moments? when have we been able to do nothing but “be with” one or more others in their work or even suffering? and as we turn these stones over, the thing we do is help folks understand that it’s all part of normal life, rather than something to be fixed, avoided or otherwise controlled. so we don’t so much as teach open space, but suggest that it’s normal, and useful… then it’s easier to deal with some of those complex, diverse, urgent, passionate meeting situations.

for a while i led training programs with others, and soon found myself callling them “practice workshops” and “practice retreats,” inviting as actively as possible participants to step across the line, between observing open space and actually diving in, or noticing that it is indeed everywhere around them. for some years, the way i’ve extended this is to give up the ‘program’ altogether and work one-on-one with people who want to learn the practice. that’s what i ended up doing inside the ‘program’ anyway.

my one requirement in the one-on-one work is that people bring one or more real situations, so that i can point out the many options and they can make real choices between those options. i think they learn the options better when they examine them all in the face of choosing one. so next time, they will again have all the options to consider, and perhaps choose differently because the situation is different. but mostly what this does is maximize the concentration of “reality” and minimize the spectating and ungrounded theorizing that sometimes bubbles up in training conversations.

the most important condition for learning open space would seem to be a willingness to be in it, in work, in life. if students are willing to make that leap: learning happens.

the inviting organization emerges… at TED

wow. it’s not every day you get to hear a TED talk validating ideas you wrote up 10+ years ago.

back in 1998, i wrote a paper called the inviting organization emerges, suggesting that a fast company magazine cover story was wrong: the new strategic question was not “how digital is your company,” but had gone beyond that, to “how inviting is your organization?” getting the question right mattered because everytime it changes, businesses need to rethink their answers, in terms of talent, customers, speed and finance.

home sick this week, trying to ease my (very literally) feverish mind, i stumbled upon a lisa gansky TED talk about the future of business. it seems that what i was calling “markets” and “marketplaces,” she and others are now calling “mesh,” “sharing” and “platforms.” specifically, she says, “platforms = invitations” and notes the success of apple, facebook, netflix, zipcar and others in the last ten years. she makes my 1998 paper look pretty good.

successful leadership cafe

the open space approach is best known for inviting meeting participants to craft their own agenda by taking personal responsiblity for issues they care about. the “world cafe” approach to “conversations that matter” is characterized by larger groups gathering in few-somes around bistro tables for several short rounds of conversation. usually there are several rounds, with table-mixing in between each, addressing a series of questions. sometimes the ever-shifting groups take successively deeper cuts on the same basic question.

last weekend we did something a bit different.

we hosted 100 scholarship finalists (high school seniors) and another 20 scholarship recipient students and alumni, in four rounds of conversations, each lasting 25-30 minutes, in a 20-table cafe. we had several purposes to accomplish. we wanted to promote the two hosting universities, give finalists a good taste of what it would be like to be part of this leadership scholars community, have conversations that mattered so that they would be genuine and useful (even to those who didn’t win the scholarships), and finally, this was still part of gathering data for evaluation and selection of scholarship winners.

the process

in the first round, we did something rather like open space. the question was, essentially, “what are the question(s)? or what should they be?” the task for each table was to generate a list of questions about leadership, community, how the world is, and how it should be. we asked, “what do young people know that nobody else seems to be noticing? what questions you are already living in, caring about and looking for ways to do something about? what questions do young people need to address on the way to leadership? what questions are you wrestling with and want to raise with your peers? what questions must young people raise in the organizations and communities you come from?” during this round, i went from table to table with a small tray, noticing progress and clearing away the last bits of box lunch trash. this round and three subsequent rounds lasted 25-30 minutes each.

in round two, each table chose one person to stay on at that table, and choose one question from their table’s list for the next round of discussion at that table. everybody else changed tables and twenty different, but important, conversations sprang up. notes were taken on flipchart paper, one sheet per table.

in round three, a new host stayed put while everyone else moved. the new host chose a new question, from the questions list at that table, from the list at their original table, or they could choose to recap and continue the previous conversation with new tablemates. again, 20 different conversations sprung up, as i pulled and posted the session two notes from each table. where a topic was continued, the group often kept their old notes for reference.

in round four, we changed hosts and tables as before, and asked one person from each new table to visit the snacks table, bringing some of everything to their tablemates. we also asked that the questions be chosen and conversations proceed with special emphasis on taking action in the next year or so, the first year of campus life.

at the end of that round, we invited everyone to turn toward the center, creating so many loosely concentric circles, sort of one big huddle. the task for the next 30-40 minutes was proposed as a whole-group conversation about “what happened here? what did you see, hear, feel, think, …notice? what did you learn? what do you want to remember or do as a result of what happened here today?”

as a finishing exercise, everyone was asked to reflect and write briefly on two questions… “what will you remember or do as a result of these conversations?” and “who were the 2 or 3 people who were most important to your experience today?” in this way, all of the scholarship finalists were included in the evaluation and selection process.

results …and replication

the individual tables buzzed through each round and i thought the plenary was remarkable for the level of ownership, engagement, and the genuine sense of community that had emerged. days later, my client confirmed a resounding success. turns out that several university and scholarship groups, and even some of the participating students, are eager to replicate what we did. the notes from each round will be shared with all participants, as fodder for reference and replication.

having a room full of “high potential” scholarship-seeking youth certainly didn’t hurt the quality of the conversation, but judging by what i’ve seen youth do in other places, this sort of competition is not the essential element for success. i’d expect any replications to meet with similar success, and the absence of the competition would allow for some tweaking of things like the evaluative writing task, which could become more of a moment of recognition, thanks and appreciation.

leadership and practice

my own working definition of leadership is “practice made visible (to others).” which is to say, invite by vivid example. so what is practice? this guide from last week’s retreat with julie henderson…

notice. continue. stabilize.

this is true for any practice, but we might say that inviting leadership practice will notice, continue and stabilize “what’s working” or “what’s most inviting” in the practitioner’s group, organization or community.

The Moment of Leadership

OST orginator Harrison Owen posted something to the OSLIST today about his new book, Wave Rider…

Ever since Open Space “began,” so far as I know, the whole point was to be clear about what you care for and take responsibility for it. What may be different in Wave Rider is the central focus on Leadership which I understand to occur at the crossing point of passion (caring) and responsibility. So if you are going to talk about Leadership you have to talk a lot about caring, responsibility, and the point where they cross — which I call Nexus of Caring.

Nexus of Caring. I went to look up Nexus. Not satisfied, I went to look up Moment.

I think what Harrison is calling Nexus of Caring, I would call the Moment of Leadership. The crossing of caring and responsibility that is the cause for motion. And it’s just that small, a moment. Like an invitation.

For years, I’ve taught the practice of open space as a practice in invitation. The practice of doing something about the thing you care about. Beginning. The nexus of caring and responsibility. The moment of leadership.

When taken on as practice, naturally cascading from the Top of the organization to Everyone in organization, it becomes Momentum. The momentum in organization.

Economic Development in Buffalo

I was in Buffalo NY last week and facilitated a number of meetings for the City of Buffalo’s Department of Economic Development. We did a tenant meeting at the historic Broadway Market. We did a networking session for commercial development leaders. We did another session on housing and that got documented nicely by Buffalo Rising.

Buffalo’s lost half its population in the last 30-40 years. Lost lots of other things, too, as housing stock and jobs and tax revenues declined. That said, there are many good things happening there. And good people. We’re looking for next opportunities for bringing them together. We’re building a blogsite to support that togethering, as well. I’ll post that link when the site’s ready.

UPDATE: is now up and running, with reports from our first three meetings. Here’s the report from the largest of the meetings, with a video of the closing circle.

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.

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