Supporting Dynamic Alignment

This is a cool physical demonstration of what it feels like to work in open space. Thirty-two metronomes start out clicking away discordantly. On a static surface, think rigid, static organization structure, they stay that way: discordant.

On a moving surface, however, the more fluid, flexible foundation, allows the vibrations of each to inform and be informed by those around it. The synchronicity that results is surprisingly quick. That too fits my experience in working with the flexible foundation that open space provides in groups, organizations and communities. Open Space is a flexible “platform” that quickly and easily supports synergy and alignment in action.

If you’ve any concerns about falling into lockstep and getting stuck, we have only to recall how many different inner and outer disturbances there are to keep reintroducing discord and turbulence. The danger usually lies not in getting stuck in sync, but in not being able to achieve or sustain it, being stuck on a static platform in a world that demands coordinated movement.

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.

One View

Patrul Rinpoche, a great Tibetan buddhist teacher, wrote a book called Words of My Perfect Teacher. In it, he cites a famous Tibetan master as saying, “That is why my view is higher than the sky, but my attention to my actions and their effects is finer than flour.”

I think I might call this “vastness without a loss of focus.” I’d suggest it’s not far from what we routinely invite in Open Space meetings. We ask participants to consider their biggest, broadest, most important business issues and work out all the nitty gritty details that might be required to address them. We ask them to take on the long-term success of their group, project or whole organization even as they make tiny and personal decisions about what to do to maximize their learning and contribution… now and now and now again.

As another great master once noted… it’s not that Big Mind is better than small mind. It’s the going back and forth that strengthens us. And so I think it is with how minds move in Open Space, and also between Open Space meetings and “normal” or “everyday” ways of working. It’s important to have the capacity to Open Space, sometimes, in whatever moments it’s needed.

Heartening, too, to see this sort of view manifesting in a new book about American politics and economics. Recently I read a summary of American Gridlock, by H. Woody Brock, an intellectual powerhouse and the product of a brilliant economic lineage. In it, he suggests win-win solutions to cut through what he calls the “Dialogue of the Deaf” in Washington. He suggests that the entitlements, especially healthcare, dilemma we face in this country can be solved by increasing access to healthcare — but also (and only!) by simultaneously increasing the supply of services even faster, in ways that cause total spending on them to decline.

He makes similar “this AND that” proposals — all reasoned from what he calls First Principles, not idealogical positions or data cherry-picked or otherwise massaged to fit some narrow interest or bias — to resolve our debt, tax and employment situation, strengthen our negotiating position with China, and rethink redistribution of income in ways that respect relative contribution of our luckiest stars and the relative needs of the unluckiest poor.

Again, it’s the going back and forth between these apparent opposites or mutual exclusives that will strengthen us.

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.

Now What?

some reflections following a conversation this week with a client, about what to do now that they are several weeks past their first open space meeting, an annual/national sort of managers gathering:

if we make open space a “process” or worse yet a “special process” and focus even casually on it being somehow magic, radical, new or otherwise different, then we make all the benefits, the passion, clarity, movement and results of the “program” unattainable until “leadership” convenes or allows a repeat of the “event.” it tells people that they have to go back to being smaller, in whatever box or bottle they habitually stuff themselves into in order to get along in an “organization.”

if, on the other hand, we understand that open space is just an expanded version, deeper, more focused, more fluid perhaps, of what we already do all the time, it tells people that they should continue to feel good, move freely, and keep maximizing their own learning and contribution. if we remember and remind, in official and casual ways, that open space is common and normal: inviting, conversing, and documenting, it gives people permission to be as caring, engaged and responsible as they can be.

caring, engaged, responsible — these are the things that we can explore, invite, and celebrate in every interaction, every time we pick up a phone or a keyboard. in this way opening space is not just a process. it’s also a posture. a doing and a non-doing(being). it’s the things we do to run a meeting and the way that we are with people everyday. i’ve long suggested “inviting” is a useful way to think about this because it let’s me straddle these to ways. it’s a thing i can do, but it’s also a way that i can aspire to be.

the real practice is the effortless pulsation between the two. at our best, these two appear as one, in the same way that some of lifes most amazing moments arise out of surprisingly ordinary circumstances. when it happens, it seems so easy. when it’s not happening, it can seem completely impossible. but when all else fails, it’s enough to keep asking each other “what matters most right now?” and restart the conversation and action from there.

Pulsation and Practice in Organization

chris corrigan’s been out tuning the bass notes, the buzz or the spirit, in organization. i would tune his story a bit and say the buzz, the bass note, is pulsation. i think he’s right, it’s not culture. but it’s also not deeper than culture. it’s before culture.

i agree that it rises not from organization purpose, but purpose does matter. the buzz in organization arises out of personal purpose, and desire, in the context of organization. but it’s not personal purpose. and it is not spirit.

its the connection, the pulsation, the spark across the gap, between purpose — what i want — and spirit — all that is. the bass note is not the purpose, the driving force, but it’s not the deeper field of spirit either. it’s the mutuality of the two, together and distinct.

open space works because it invites people to spark across the gap, to renew the pulsation, between the personal and organizational, between solid and spirit, between purpose and passion, between learning and contributing, between what they want and what they are willing to do about it.

the bass note is not any of these things… it’s the space and the movement, the sound AND the silence between them, together AND distinct.

so, to make open space the operating system in any organization is (simply!) to refine of the annual strategic planning meeting into the pulse of (each of) the people. that’s why it takes practice, especially personal practice.

finally, it’s not that leaders *should* do this practice. it’s simply that those who do practice invitation, opening space, are easily and immediately recognized as leaders.

Inviting Leadership Practice in Organization

My understanding of Inviting Leadership has been evolving and unfolding for at least 10 years now, but it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve come to call it that in my teaching.

Here are my cryptic notes about teaching it now, after Jill turned my old teaching model upside down. She did that just before we went to India and Nepal for a month, so this newest approach was cooked while travelling and retreating in those places.

Maybe you can appreciate the order and flow of the pattern, even in these brief notes. Maybe you can see how the parts inform and support and each other:

Day One – Inviting Practice: Embodying Well-Being

-pulsation: simple morning somatics practice, renewing and refining
-density: intro to levels and layers of energy and awareness
-mutuality: intro to holding two states/positions at once
-resting and integrating: how the learning sinks in
-text: somatics exercises (selected)

Day Two – Inviting Leadership: Opening Invitations, Hosting Action

-living in the middle of order and chaos (survey of personal and spiritual practice)
-holding space for multiple states (learning/contributing, passion/responsibility, facilitator/group, etc.)
-working in open space (planning, facilitating, harvesting, sustaining)
-mechanisms for supporting all kinds of meeting and modalities (hybrids and others)
-text: inviting guide (18 pages)

Day Three – Inviting Organization: Evolution at Work

-evolution at work (opening everything)
-opportunities for evolution (new dimensions, levels)
-implications of evolution (new structures, sensations)
-leadership in evolution (body, ground, results)
-text: inviting organization paper (15 pages)

And if this is all too cryptic, suffice it to say that in these three days we move from moving bodies (observable), to moving meetings (meaningful), to moving whole organizations (powerful). What we do as bodies on day one, is extended into meeting groups on day two, and leveraged into ripples throughout whole systems on day three. If you’re curious what it all means, give me a call — or host a three-day!

Inviting Water 2.0

uv water purification unit in south africa

I’m hearing a lot about Global Warming realities and Web 2.0 technologies these days. Not connected, mind you. More like a pulsation in attention between long-term and short-term spans, big and small scales, very outside and very inside, if you will. But more and more, it seems the causes of Warming and the potential for Tech are dwarfed by immediately obvious needs of Life:

  • 2.0 billion people have to go outside of their homes to get drinking water.
  • 1.2 billion of those go out to get water that isn’t even safe to drink.
  • 600 million others have unsafe water piped into their homes.

That’s one third of all people on the planet without safe water to drink. In Bangladesh the situation is even more acute. 46 million choose daily between arsenic-poisoned groundwater (arsenic at 30 to 50 to 100 times the EPA and WHO safe limits) and bio-contaminated surface water. Most choose slow death by the poison over a swifter death by disease.

Ashok Gadgil, interviewed by Massive Change in November, 2003, is working directly to solve these things. An environomental physicist, he’s invented kiosks for UV purification of water and is now working on the arsenic issue. Refreshing and heartening to hear him talk about his work at the intersection of planetary life science and human-scale social interaction, a quieter ground between warming alarms and techno buzz.

The point is that this is brand new Life tech AND it fits easily into how people already Live. That’s the unit on the wall behind the people in the photo.

Inviting Everything

All at once, Life seems as chaotic and coherent, pressured and peaceful, stirred up and stable as I can ever remember. All of my energy and attention seems fully deployed, into three nested spheres and three separate blogs — Open Space World, Chicago Conservation Corps, and here Inviting Life — each one a tidy list and squirming heap — of thinkings and meetings and doings.

The strangest thing now is how all three lay claim to being my center of everything. I’m Body alive, radiating energy and taking action, in Chicago communities and a global Open Space movement. I’m facilitating Open Space meetings, inviting leadership in community, and practicing intimacy with Life. And I’m balancing it all on my bike. Most everything that’s really working and getting done these days has some sort of grounding within riding distance.

Of course, the big exception to that last one is that Jill and I are leaving on Sunday — for four weeks in northern India and Kathmandu, Nepal. We’re going to eat and explore, to see old friends and big mountains, for a practice retreat and a honeymoon, and (another) bit of Open Space work with NAINN. Go figure. I guess we’re going for everything.

Inviting Comfort

From the Christian Science Monitor…

Previous school shootings, notably the 1999 murders at Columbine High School, have led to calls for any number of useful, preventive measures, such as tighter security, more federal gun control, antibullying training for young children, more parental vigilance in communities, and closer screening of wayward students. And perhaps, as a result, many shootings have been prevented.

Those Old Order Amish who live a secluded life near the school at Nickel Mines, Pa., have a different idea. Their faith in the power of forgiveness led them to invite the widow of the nonAmish killer, Charles Carl Roberts IV, to the funeral for four of the slain girls. One Amish woman told a reporter, “It’s our Christian love to show to her we have not any grudges against her.”

This isn’t surprising. It is common for the Amish to invite car drivers who have killed one of their community members to the funeral. Such a compassionate response reveals a belief that each individual is responsible to counter violence by expressing comfort – a sort of prayer in action.


The Power of Compassion

This kind of makes me want to move to Kalamazoo, with a name like that and people like this in town…

International Conference on
Engaging the Other: The Power of Compassion

October 26-29, 2006 in Kalamazoo, Michigan USA

An international, multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary conference examining concepts of “The OTHER” from a universal, cross-cultural perspective to promote wider public dialogue about concepts of “Us and Them”

Sponsored by Common Bond Institute, HARMONY Institute, the International Humanistic Psychology Association, the Fetzer Institute, and Western Michigan University. Supported by a growing international list of universities and organizations.

Hoping to be doing my own compassion practice that week in sunny Kathmandu, Nepal, otherwise I’d have to think about getting over there… and ask them about Opening a little Space, too.

Mutuality in Markets and Meetings

Bloomberg’s Caroline Baum sums it up the recent market movements pretty well yesterday:

Copper up, stocks down, bonds down. No, wait, it’s copper down, stocks down, bonds up. Can someone please help me get a handle on these inter-market relationships?

As I think about movements and relationships, in markets and in open space meetings …and organizations …and communities… I notice that I can indeed understand, or at least explain to myself, why things are happening. I can know, too, what is is happening now, and even what is happening next. The challenge is knowing what to do — because these two kinds of knowing, what is happening and why it’s happening — seem to happen in two different sides of brain or, perhaps more accurately still, in brain and in heart. Brain can’t really calculate what comes next. And heart can’t explain it.

What Julie Henderson calls “mutuality” is a practice in letting other(s) be as real to us as we are to ourselves. Chris Corrigan and I have been teaching Open Space and Inviting Leadership as the practice of being mutually aware of self and group, or self and organization, letting body be source of information about how I am as well as how “we” are. Today I’m remembering that this same sort of mutual awareness scales down, to where I can know what is really happening and why it is happening, simultaneously. When I can do this, I make better decisions, wise and kind, in markets and meetings.

What’s that you say, “Kind decisions? In the currency markets?” Ah yes, even in something as apparently solid, objective, measurable as trading, there is room for kindness. So easy to second guess oneself, destroy confidence, grow fear, lose focus and money and more. And, of course, it’s always dangerous to argue with a market.

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