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?

Ship-to-Shore Education

A couple weeks ago, Ocean Leadership‘s Deep Earth Academy, with National Science Foundation support, rewrote the book on informal ship-to-shore science education — in just two days.

The JOIDES-Resolution (JR) is an international research drilling ship, managed like other joint science stations in space or antarctica, and the source of perhaps 60% of everything we know about climate change. It can hit the bottom in the deepest waters on earth — and then drill another 1.3 miles into the rock and sediment below, to extract core samples for study.

Deep Earth Academy works to translate the science done aboard the JR into classrooms, museums, and other learning places. With planning grant funding from the NSF, DEA gathered 55 scientists, educators, media experts, and other specialists for 2.5 days in open space — to rewrite the book on informal ship-to-shore science education and draft a set of collaborative, synergistic pilot project proposals.

Participants raised 35 issues, explored them in depth, prioritized all of it, and then began drafting specific project proposals. We posted all of their notes in a new project website which will be used for the next two years as the proposals are funded, the pilot projects are implemented, the outcomes evaluated and a much larger implementation grant.

UPDATE: On 3/21/12, organizers reported on the S2S website: Thirteen is our new lucky number. By noon EDT we had received 13 proposals that include about half of our meeting participants. To say we are thrilled would be an understatement.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

San Diego

Opening Space in San Diego this week. I did a large-ish department’s annual meeting last year and that is being repeated in OS this year, finished this morning. Wonderful to sit in the circle and talk “practice” with 30 or 40 people who’ve now done this twice and are keen to soak it into the rest of their year and work.

Keen too, to share it with the rest of the organizaiton. We’re going to do that in a couple days, when we open again for 100 or so of the management team. This is a new one for me, opening for subset and then opening just days later for the whole (and many people totally new to Open Space). Already, it’s made for good conversation about what this department has learned, and how it will be same and familiar and also very new and different to go now into Open Space with the larger organization.

Also… Hoping to meet up with OS friend and colleague Raffi Aftandelian while I’m here. Went over with the meeting group for dinner on the deck of the USS Midway. (a very BIG boat, but very small airport. amazing.) A bit more noodling on the Four Practices (previous post), too, which I’ll see about posting later.

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.



Here’s a pretty good shot of me Opening Space at the Scrum Alliance gathering I facilitated recently in Chicago. This is a pretty good view of open space about to happen. Circle of 200+ people, many of them leaning in, listening. A big blank wall, grid of post-it notes at the end of the wall, me in the middle doing a quick briefing. Then they filled the wall with dozens of sessions, scheduled, conversed, typed, posted.

The remarkable thing about this particular gathering is the number of people who came up to me along the way, or mentioned in the large group comments, that they are using open space technology as a regular part of their business practice. Monthly meetings, staff meetings, project kick-off meetings, crisis pow-wows. All sorts. All very encouraging, too.

opening space for appreciative inquiry — and peace — in nepal and its government

romy shovelton emailed today, from her farm in wales, asking about mixing open space and appreciative inquiry. it turns out i have a pretty good story of such mixing, from grassroots to new national government, that i’d been meaning to update here.

on my third visit to nepal, i helped convene and facilitate a third open space event there, this one a first national summit for peaceful development. the first two meetings were a classroom presentation/demonstration of open space technology, for about 20 students and faculty at kathmandu college. the second was a city-wide event, organized on the success and with the skills gained in the first session, looking at the 20-year future of kathmandu.

at this second event, i made a point of having side conversations with as many of the 40 participants as i could, suggesting that we might do 4 days the following year, two days of open space, followed by two days of ost training. this was a model we’d used elsewhere and i thought it could give the depth of experience needed to accomplish the things that were being discussed for the next 20 years in kathmandu.

when i contacted my colleagues about returning for a third visit, they began organizing the event we’d discussed the previous year, with some important changes. it was to be four days, but it would be national in scope. it would be held in open space, but it would be based also on AI principles and the 4-D process. it would include training, as well, on both ost and ai.

i never would have believed it was possible, but my nepali colleagues never thought otherwise. so we did four one-day open space events, one on each of the four D’s, the first one shortened by opening speeches, the last one shortened by a grand closing ceremony that included gifts and acknowledgements and official thank yous in addition to the usual comments in a circle. the middle days opened with ost training observations and closed with evening sessions on how to do AI. we also started a blog that they used for several years.

since then they have had second, third and fourth national summits, sometimes in open space, sometimes with appreciative inquiry facilitated by ai originator, david cooperrider.

along the way, in the midst of the sometimes violent maoist resistance, a 6000(?)-year old landmark gate was destroyed in an explosion that also destroyed part of one of the organizers’ homes. the village where this happened was devastated by the loss, but this organizer emailed me almost immediately, saying that they were planning an open space to talk about rebuilding gate. i don’t know if that event ever formally happened, but having it there as a possibility in such a moment is surely worth something.

and now, after a fifth summit event just held in january, this one also in open space, and run totally on their own, without outside facilitators or consultants, they are planning a sixth national summit — this one for the 601 members of the soon-to-be-elected “constituent assembly” that is the budding solution to more than a decade of political, sometimes armed, in-fighting, and the governmental structure that will replace the ages-old nepali monarchy. the sixth summit will seek to infuse the new government with open space and appreciative inquiry.

No Child Left INSIDE: Weblog Working

Last Fall, we did a one-day summit event in Open Space to help establish a central Ohio contribution to the national Leave No Child INSIDE movement. Nice to see them growing the KidsAndNature weblog we started with the conference notes. This is my current favorite example of how to keep the Spirit of an Open Space meeting alive and working.

Recognizing that creating a universally meaningful logo graphic for such a diverse group would be difficult, we opted for a flicker badge of four photos, pulled from a kids and nature tag at flicker. This means that the logo actually shows what they mean by kids and nature. It’s able to be displayed by any member organization, the main criteria for membership being that you’re helping to spread the word, or really the vision, embedded in the photo badge. And anyone with great pictures of kids and nature can add them to the tag group, and thus add their view of kids and nature to the emblem and the sites of every member.

Progress Reported

An old client recently shared some thoughts on their progress since we ran an executive leadership summit together, in open space:

…we have indeed leveraged open space a couple of times since and most recently with the 120 odd manufacturing managers to great successes… Our journey has been interesting… although we are grappling with the same issues we have taken many of the principles to heart… Our learning is that the solutions are time consuming and need to be debated and internalised. We have kicked off numerous such discussion with integrated solutions… but the work is still nascent… not everyone is yet at the same stage…

Time consuming, yes. Need to be debated, ongoing. Integrated solutions AND still just getting started. This, to me, is the great learning in Open Space: Organization as Conversation. So many people simply talking to each other is the real lifeblood of all those org charts, spreadsheets and plans. So Open Space works because it lets us invite new focus and energy in the big conversation that already is the organization.


I met Prabu Naidu in Singapore in 2002, when I responded to 9/11 by going literally around the world teaching Open Space. Prabu was host as well as participant in the Singapore workshop. Now he’s teaching for himself and sent this report on his latest work in Tehran:

On 4th February 2008 some forty producers and managers from the radio division of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) converged in one of the studios that was the venue of an Open Space Technology (OST) session to discuss on the theme “Radio Management in Iran”.

The participants who came to the session – based on open invitations announced on banners throughout the studios – had a desire to contribute to the future of Radio in Iran, they came, enjoyed the collegial networking and contributed ideas and thoughts.

The Open Space was facilitated by me. The event was co-sponsored by the Freidrich Ebert Stiftung and IRIB.

In the full day session, six concurrent market place discussions were held over two time slots of one hour each. There was deep conversations and many ideas generated on the theme. During the action planning; six key ideas were voted to be worked on next and six leaders accepted the responsibility to take the ideas to the next step.

The next day on 5th February 2008, a smaller group of ten participants in the morning and another ten in the afternoon attended a training session on Open Space so that they will be equipped to conduct Open Space sessions on their own in the future. These participants had also attended the full day session the day before. The participants intend to use Open Space to engage their own staff as well as their listeners in improving their programmes and services.

The two-day proceedings were beamed live on the Internet for IRIB staff outside Tehran to follow.

This is the most amazing thing about the practice of Open Space. We never really know where it will lead, or turn up, next. Good to see such fruits still ripening, five years beyond the first plantings. Way to go, Prabu! And may the Iranian harvest be bountiful, as well!

Leave No Child INSIDE

I’m off tomorrow for Columbus Ohio, to open space for the Central Ohio Collaborative’s “Leave No Child INSIDE” Summit, part of a national movement in response to what Richard Louv has called “nature deficit disorder.”

I’ve built a blogsite for the summit and we expect to post proceedings, after we get back from camp. Looking forward to a couple of days at Campfire camp, no computer, and I’m told my cellphone won’t work there either. Nice.

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