Edges of Practice

I liked these reminders that Peggy Holman sent to the OSLIST recently. I think they translate well, beyond the practice of OpenSpaceTech facilitation.

…[some] aspects I think are making a difference for me:

1. Defining the Law of Two Feet as “taking responsibility for what you love”. I no longer talk about the Law of Two Feet as passion and responsibility. While basically equivalent, there’s something very powerful about this framing — it is highly actionable for both individuals and groups.

2. Using silence in the plenary. Morning announcements, evening news, I always begin with silence. This is really subtle and yet I know it matters. It seems to connect people with themselves, each other, and the whole.

3. Time and diversity. These old friends really matter. Two and a half days or more. Time to cook is so vital when dealing with complexity. PLUS bringing together unlikely mixes of people — the whole system — prepares the soil for the unexpected. The more creative the definition of the system the better!

4. Setting bold intention. The more ambitious the purpose, the more the potential energy to transform it contains. It may seem obvious, but I often find myself coaching sponsors to be daring.

I think these aspects bring qualities to the work of creating a fertile field that up the likelihood for good things to happen.

I especially like the first one. Open Space is most definitely, and essentially, about taking responsibility for the things we love… and then letting the rest of the clutter fall away.

Leadership Blogging

I wrote a few days ago about the challenge of distinguishing between a leader’s desire for control and what might be a deeper desire, on the part of true partners and teachers, the desire to share and extend what we know about the work. So how to does a leader do that?

How about a Leadership Blog? Not the kind where the CEO blogs for the customers, or internally to pep up productivity. In a Leadership Blog, everybody posts. Everybody leads. A group blog, for issues and opportunities for moving a given project or initiative forward. Everybody is invited, encouraged, required to take responsibility for the issues that matter to them. The chief can comment, or not, as he or she chooses. But he or she does get to choose. Everybody gets to choose. Everybody leads.

What I’m suggesting (and testing now for myself) is a blog-based version of OpenSpaceTech. Anybody can post an issue. Anybody can attend the “breakout session” by reading and posting comments. I’ve made four categories: Open Issue (the default), Closed Issue, Announcements, and Technical Notes.

Everything that needs doing can be posted as an Open item. When it’s resolved, it can be Closed. In the meantime, meetings and conference calls can be announced. Research, observations, technical specs and other notes can be recorded.

Anybody else blogging like this? How does it work? What have you learned? I think this does much to address the challenges of leadership awareness, experience, sharing and control.

Opening Space for the Infinite

The relative quiet of winter settles in, even in the center of this big and windy city. Newly wireless, freed from my desk chair, I find myself exploring the theology of Paul Tillich from my living room couch.

…since things in existence are corrupt and therefore ambiguous, no finite thing can be (by itself) that which is infinite. All that is possible is for the finite to be a vehicle for revealing the infinite…

Recently I discovered that Tillich was in fact a central teacher for one of my own central teachers (and friends), Harrison Owen, originator of the Open Space Technology approach to meeting and organization. Thanks to Ashley for uncovering these connections via email.

All of which has me returning and reviewing, this evening season, my own work and practice, in Open Space and beyond, as finite version and vehicle for the infinite. I notice that these two inform each other, how I see is what I see. Body as vehicle of perception. Training as vehicle of understanding. Practice as vehicle for confusion. Patient, persistent, opening, visioning, offering, grounding, as vehicle for…

I teeter on, in the open space between doing well and doing good.

Practice is…

About endeavouring in the discipline of regular formal practice, Ian Maxwell once said,

We don’t brush our teeth once in a while and do it really, really well and then forget about it. Meditation is like brushing our teeth. We do it everyday. It’s simply something we do.

Practice is… in spite of everything.

Practices Updated

My earlier posting on Open Space Practices has been updated to include the following distinctions…

  1. Being Open-Hearted: The vehicle is experience in body (heart, perception); the product is care, a sense of personal passion.
  2. Telling Visionary Stories: The vehicle is invitation (literally, “please join us…”); the product is organization, a sense of focus, future, and desired direction.
  3. Offering and Holding Space: The vehicle is organizing space (elbow room and open markets); the product is inviting, a sense of support and opportunity for movement.
  4. Grounding: The vehicle is direct and personal responsibility (action); and the product is peace, or satisfaction.

Hoping this helps put a sharper point on the newer, briefer, telling of the Practices story.

Chautauqua: Leader’s Guide to Storytelling

Former World Bank executive and master storyteller Stephen Denning joins Chautauqua in November to discuss his book, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling.

In his hands-on guide, Denning explains how you can learn to tell the right story at the right time. Whoever you are in the organization CEO, middle management, or someone on the front lines you can lead by using stories to effect change. Filled with myriad examples, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling shows how storytelling is one of the few available ways to handle the principal and most difficult challenges of leadership: sparking action, getting people to work together, and leading people into the future.

In the Group Jazz virtual chautauqua session, he will converse (tell stories?) with us about the book for the next two weeks. I’ll be tuning in to hear what he has to say about Invitation, the practice of telling visionary stories that bring people together.

Registration is free.

Innovation: Implement or Invite?

BlawgThink2005 ended with a conversation with NetCentrics’ Jeffrey Phillips about a new product they are bringing to market now. IdeaBank is a central, web-based database for ideas, large and small, so willing to accept new ideas that it even has it’s own email address. Once ideas are entered there, the system lays out a series of steps for developing, evaluating and deciding what should be done with each idea. It’s all actively password protected, so only the right people see the right ideas.

Seems simple enough. Sweep all kinds of ideas, spreadsheets, proposals, down to sticky notes, from technical R&D to creative flashes and suggestions, into one place for purposefully rigorous consideration — and action. But how do you get such a system started? How do you replace a massively complex, organically distributed, and obviously inefficient — but existing — system with a simple, effective and centrally accessible — but brand new — system? Daunting, but not impossible, I think.

But first, tell me one thing: Is Innovation a technical process that can be mapped and automated, or a social process that must be nurtured and cultivated? Can Innovation be implemented or only invited and supported? And what kind(s) of Invitation are required to bring so many diverse views and practices of Innovation together into one new format? Is it enough to invite the data? I’d guess not. But how to invite the people? And how many does it take to tip the new space into active and productive use?

IdeaBank seems as good a tool as any for the technical task. Open Space has taught us much about Inviting the people. Want to Invite Innovation?

Not Ready for Open Space?

Sometimes people tell me “…we’re just not ready for Open Space…” followed by stories of unenlightened leadership, restrictive rules, and scarcity of resources. My response is usually the most polite form of contradiction I can muster. Here’s a good example, from my friend Lisa Heft, of why I always disagree with such comments:

…I attend the annual prison health fair at several prisons, where I set up a circle of chairs so people can just talk and converse and ask questions about absolutely anything that is important to them. Because that is health, too. So this last time I had the pleasure of hosting an all-day talking circle. Or maybe I should call it a listening circle?

It’s the closest thing to Open Space I can get – in prison you cannot do anything that an onlooker (say a guard looking down from a tower or across a prison yard) might interpret as chaos. Therefore, so far I cannot set up a delightful-chaos-of-Open Space situation. But I can do one circle, that lasts for a day, that goes wherever anyone wants it to go.

My disagreements with comments about “not ready” in no way doubt your assessment of how things are in an organization. Rather, I want to stretch the definition of Open Space (from tool to practice) and point out the real potential for productive openings, large or small, in any sort of organization.

Mapping Open Space

Reporting in from BlawgThink2005 today, where I’ll open a space this afternoon that will stretch on into tomorrow, an Open Space unconference inside of a more traditional conference.

Had a great conversation with Olivia Woodard of MindJet, a very cool bit of mapping software. In the old days we captured proceedings from Open Space meetings in MS-Word. Lately we’ve been using weblogs more and more, for the linking and ongoing support that sort of platform offers. I think MindJet must be the future of this documenting.

Consider that a large-ish group gets together, posts 50-80 issues, discusses and documents all of them, and all the proceedings are then loaded into a MindJet-type map. Over the next weeks or months, they continue to develop and refine their map. Next time they meet, they don’t start with a blank wall, they start with their map. They post new nodes and assign meeting times and spaces to the nodes. They meet, keep refining and expanding.

And when they’re done, they turn some of those nodes in to action items that can be aggregated and tracked using Gyronix’ ResultsManager. Ongoing Opening. Ongoing Vision. Ongoing Learning and Support Space. Ongoing Management, Results and Documentation. Ongoing Practice.

Looking forward to working on an invitation and open space for MindJet and Gyronix users, and seeing what they can map and make together.

Opening and Offering, in Spite of Everything

Chris posted this from Pema Chodron, which I like so much that I’m reposting the whole of it. In terms of Open Space Practices, Chris links it to the Offering/Holding Practice. You’ll see that Pema also makes reference to open-hearted.

“Here is an everyday example of shenpa. Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens— that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place— that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you—they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child— and, shenpa: almost co-arising.

At Gampo Abbey it’s a small community. We’re thirty monks and nuns there. You have a pretty intimate relationship there, living in community. People were finding that in the dining room, someone would come and sit down next to them and they could feel the shenpa just because this person sat down next to them, because they had some kind of thing going about this person. Then they feel this closing down and they’re hooked.

If you catch it at that level, it’s very workable. And you have the possibility, you have this enormous curiosity about sitting still right there at the table with this urge to do the habitual thing, to strengthen the habituation, you can feel it, and it’s never new. It always has a familiar taste in the mouth. It has a familiar smell. When you begin to get the hang of it, you feel like this has been happening forever.

Generally speaking, however, we don’t catch it at that level of just open space closing down. You’re open-hearted, open-minded, and then… erkk. Right along with the hooked quality, or the tension, or the shutting down, whatever… I experience it, at the most subtle level, as a sort of tensing. Then you can feel yourself sort of withdrawing and actually not wanting to be in that place.

This reminds me that our work around the quadrants is a pulsation from Open-Hearted (inside, individually), then doing our best to maintain our opening even as we are seeing and hearing (and ultimately saying) things in the organizational world, then bringing those things out as organizational openings (space for others, offered and held), which we try to sustain even as we take specific actions. So we are ultimately practicing open-hearted offering, even as we are seeing, hearing, and doing things in the world. It makes for a full day.

The Physics of Organization

I’m reading David Bodanis’ biography of Einstein’s famous equation. In a word, the equation says that that Energy (E) and Mass (m) are interchangeable, convertible like currencies, at a fixed exchange rate, the square of the speed of light (c^2). It says that the invisible world of Energy is constantly transacting with the visible world of Mass.

So what does this have to do with organization? The invisible world of personal passion, opening, storytelling and invitation is constantly transacting with the visible trappings of shared supporting structures and individual actions. Okay, fine. This we sort of already knew, though you wouldn’t know that by watching how we run most businesses. But now it has me wondering about the resulting dynamics, and also about the velocity (the equivalent of c^2) of organization.

What is Energy in organization? Passion, Story, Invitation? And what about Mass? Number of people or some measure of their ‘weight’ as empowerment. As Energy is used up, does Mass increase? As passion and invitation are exhausted, do new structures, actions and capabilities show up? Is Passion and Invitation automatically created when Structures are broken down and action blocked? Yes, I think so.

So what then is the velocity of organization? And is it a physical constant, a limit, like the speed of light? Light is a pulsation, between electricity and magnetism, what Bodanis describes as a little swirling pulsation between the two. Electricity, power, supporting Action. Magnetism, passion, attracting like Invitation.

So progress in organization means refining the pulsation between invitation and action, making organization so efficient that it hums. Or sparkles. Makes me think I was on quite the right track seven years ago, with Inviting Organzation Emerges, when I suggested the highest strategic question in organization is beyond “business model,” beyond “speed,” and even beyond what I suggested as “inviting.” The ultimate question it (still, more than ever) seems to be: “How Light is your organization.”

This is one of those days when it’s really good to have a PhD particle physicist turned organization development consultant in the house. And as luck would have it, she’s coming home a bit early today! Maybe she can help translate the actual equation. Much as I usually think such exercises are just silly, there just might be something valuable in this one, so long as it can stay grounded in the original science.

Open Space Practices

Last night was one of those “go to bed, have an idea, get up and get a pen, go back to bed, get up again with the next thought, go back to bed, puleeease can I not have another insight, oh good I do see now that I’ve got enough of it staked out that I can sort out the rest in the morning, maybe now I can finally sleep…” sort of nights.

For some time now, Chris Corrigan and I have been thinking about how to talk and teach about the Practices that are at the heart of Open Space Technology. An early version of Open Space Practices lives in my wiki notebook. Last night I got a more rarified and practical spin on them:

  1. Being Open-Hearted… not just the act of opening, but the practice of being that way, resting in that state. The tool here is experience, our own life experience. The workshop conversation is about the life experiences that have opened our hearts, in gentle or devastating ways — and how we’ve managed to maintain various states of openness, in spite of everything. The vehicle is body (heart, perception); the product is care, a sense of personal passion.
  2. Telling Visionary Stories… not just any storytelling, but the practice of speaking of our visions, of putting words and giving voice to the scattered data, fuzzy patterns, and blurry sensations we have of what we want and what might now be possible. The tools here are maps and languages. Every department, team, family and function has its own set of words and pictures to hold them together. The more languages we know, the bigger and broader the story we can spin, the more people we can invite. The workshop conversation here is about Inviting Organization, a map and language for maps and languages. The vehicle is invitation (literally, “please join us…”); the product is organization, a sense of focus, future and desired direction.
  3. Offering (and Holding) Space… the offering is important, no push, no grab, just letting what we have, our attention and our space, be there for the taking, for the use and support of what wants to happen in front of us, and all around us, within the circle of space that we circle and name as “us” and “our time together.” The tool(s) here are structures, but specifically those structures that support movement, rather than restrict it. Rules, if you will, that say what we can do, rather than what we must or must not do. Shapes of organization that create, and offer, choices. The workshop conversation is about space and support for movement. The vehicle is Organizing Space (open markets); the product is inviting, a sense of support and opportunity for movement.
  4. Grounding… making it real. making it touch, as impact, and imprint, a difference. and making touchdowns. score! making tracks, traction, and action. taking the steps, in the space, aligned with the vision, as guided by an open heart. showing up. on the ground. The tools are actions, steps, or perhaps gifts. The workshop conversation might be about gifts and giving. Assets and Exchange. Self and Others. Ground. Ground that is bigger, less theoretical, more sensational than Common Ground. More like Ground of Being. Which brings us back to the first practice, and how we are being… Aaaahhhhh….. The vehicle is direct and personal responsibility; the product is peace, or satisfaction.

Chris will be teaching some version of these later this month in Vancouver. After that, I might just have to fly out there so we can sit together and write this all down in a short book. In the meantime, here is another installment of that volume, a brief guide for… Inviting Movement in Organization.

UPDATED: Nov 15 2005, noted in italics.

Report from Aspen

First, the hiking was fabulous.

Second, in The Conversation, the Open Space conference that was my reason for being there, we did two innovative things that bear reporting here, for future practice.

One of them happened very spontaneously. We convened for the opening at 3pm, built the agenda, and then started the first working sessions in Open Space at 4:30pm. Meanwhile, 15 or so of our 100 participants were battling weather conditions, airport delays and mountain traffic in hired vans, still trying to reach us in Aspen. So we called them on cellphones and gave them the first session discussion topics. They had their sessions in the vans!

The other innovation was part of the program design, in response to the sponsors’ request for “some structure” and “panel discussion.” How did we build a structured panel discussion in the middle of Open Space? We picked the five panelists from participants, but not until just a few hours before the “discussion.” We asked them to talk about their experience at the conference, everything that was being accomplished, and also to look forward at what was yet to be done or discussed. We put them in the center of the room, rather than at the front. And we did it at the end of 1.5 days of Open conversation, the evening before what would be the closing half-day for action planning.

It worked perfectly, in that we allowed for panelists to tag or be tagged by others, so that those center seats could rotate. After a couple of rounds, the panel broke down, into one big circle with a talking stick. The structure gave way to community. We heard ideas, insights and appreciations from many people, which did an excellent job of setting up the next conversations, convened on the last morning. Next time, I’d put 6 chairs in the middle and use that empty chair as invitation to come join, and the signal that somebody should leave the panel.

The Conversation event was a great success, by all accounts. Two accounts of The Conversation, one from the event and one from the vans, were published in newspapers and are posted in my wiki notebook.

At the Same Time!

In the course of conversation in the VirtualChautauqua with Michael Ray, he makes this observation, on his way to saying something else…

At the same time (or “that being said” as everyone seems to say in the media nowadays in the same place that before that they would say “at the end of the day” and before that would say “the bottom line is.”)…

Language, and the very subtle shapes we create with it, are so important. This progression he notes, this shift in reference from quarterly (bottom-line business focus) to daily, to just a moment ago, to at the same time, is so subtle and so important.

The capacity to be and do, to pay attention and attend to, many things, inside and outside, self and others, past and future at the same time must be our most important practice and learning now.

Highest Goal

Lisa Kimball sent an invitation yesterday for a new Virtual Chautauqua event, September 15 (now) though the 30th, with author and teacher Michael Ray. I”m finding his book, Highest Goal, to be both brilliant and helpful. Some of my favorite bits from Jim Collins’ foreword:

…the story of a businessman who visited a Zen master seeking enlightenment. They sat down for tea, the businessman blabbering on about all the issues and challenges in his life, and his quest for achievement and direction and meaning and purpose and . . . the master said nothing, pouring tea. With the cup full, the master kept pouring, the tea flowing into the saucer, onto the table, and finally into the man’s lap.

“Hey! What are you doing?” yelped the businessman, leaping up as the scalding hot water seeped into his pants.

“Your cup is too full,” said the master. “You add and add and add and add and add and add to your life. There is no room for enlightenment until you empty your cup.”

…I’ve come to believe that there are two approaches to life. The first, followed by most, is the “paint by numbers kit” approach to life. You do what other people say. You follow a well-traveled path. You stay within the lines. And you end up with a nice, pretty—and unimaginative—picture. The second, followed by few, is to start with a blank canvas and try to paint a masterpiece. It is a riskier path, a harder path, a path filled with ambiguity and creative choice. But it is the only way to make your life itself a creative work of art. To paint a masterpiece requires a concept, a place to begin, a guiding context in the absence of the comforting numbers and lines in the premade kit. That guiding frame of reference is the highest goal, and bringing it into your life with the help of Michael’s discoveries is what this book is all about.

…A core process—both in the course and in this book—is the idea of “live-with” heuristics. These are mantras of living that you implement for a period of time (usually a week or more), and reflect on the experience. At Stanford, we were challenged with such livewith assignments as: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Surrender. Pay Attention! Ask Dumb Questions. Destroy Judgment, Create Curiosity. Don’t Think About It. Be Ordinary. And the hardest livewith of all: Do Only What Is Easy, Effortless and Enjoyable.

You can join, or just read through, the two-week conversation with Michael at the VirtualChautauqua.

Four Practices

chris corrigan sent me his notes from his latest incarnation of ouropen space technology training and practice workshop. i’ve been noodling on it as i cook lunches and scrub pots at the center these last couple of days. i’ve pushed his four around a bit and we’ve yet to duke it out over the details. here’s a first attempt at my own version, which maps back to my early work on InvitingOrganization

1. practice of opening. it’s about willingness. willingness to see, to know, to open. it’s personal and reflective, but can be felt physically in body and charted in organizations.

2. practice of inviting. it’s about goodness. finding benefits TO others, as in what’s in it for them, and also benefits IN others, as in recognizing what they can add to the process of achieving what is desired personally in the first practice. it makes that first practice social, collective, organizational, and cultural, but also documented in invitation emails, letters, posters.

3. practice of holding. it’s about supporting movement and change. providing space and time, structures that support without making decisions for people, giving attention, carrying in awareness or carrying forward, holding in one’s heart or home or conference room. it creates room for others to expand, explore, experiment… to bring new things out in the world. it is simultaneously logistical, mental, and emotional.

4. practice of practicing. it’s about sustaining, returning, realizing, and making real. this is action, taking a stand, making progress, going somewhere, documenting results. this implies the continuation and diffusion of the above. standing ground, staying the course, seeing things through. it is the personal and individual (I, me, my) pursuit of the good that WE invite, in the space that WE provide. It can look simply mechanical and become deeply meditative, as we go round again, starting with Opening. (note… this might also be called the practice of “participating,” perhaps “making,” or simply “doing” or “changing.” stay tuned.

What’s really gorgeous about this is that in addition to mapping and guiding the practice of Open Space Tech as potentially very large group intervention in organizations, it also scales all the way back down into a simple, powerful one-on-one personal coaching model. Alternatively, it’s a leadership coaching model that can scale up to open, invite, hold and change the whole organization. what’s more, we can teach it in our usual two days, or serve it up as a brown bag lunch session.

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