Short OS for 400?

“We have a group of 400 people. We want to use Open Space. We have 90 mins or maybe up to 2 hours. How would that work?”

My short answer? “Not very well!” With many groups, especially that large, we’d normally take the first 90 minutes of 2 or 3 days to create the agenda for the whole program.

My better answer? A Lean/OS/Cafe.

The first alternative to OS that came to mind in this situation was a World Cafe sort of program, small groups meeting and mixing, through several rounds of pre-determined questions. The next iteration was something I’ve done before, where the first Cafe question is something like, “What are the most important questions for us to be thinking and talking about?” This effectively makes all the table tops into the equivalent of the marketplace wall where topics are posted in Open Space.

The most interesting and promising design springs from this modified OS/Cafe approach, with inspiration and a little logistics borrowed from something called Lean Coffee. The Lean technique is most commonly used with small groups, almost like a one-table Open Space where issues are identified and then the top one or few are addressed in order of importance, as determined by voting.

The Lean/OS/Cafe design envisions 40 tables of 10, perhaps with an extra chair at each table to facilitate some moving about. It starts with each table identifying a set of issues that’s most important for our participants, based on their context and purpose for gathering. At each table, the top issues are identified, posted up on a little table tent, and discussion begins.

In the opening briefing, participants are given the right and responsibility to participate at their table, or move about and find new table(s) where they can maximize their own learning and contribution to the overall purpose and question. Harvest all the issues raised, those chosen for discussion, any notes that might be taken for sharing, and as many closing comments as their might be time for.

And so, Lean/OS/Cafe was born, to tap the expansive spirit, personal freedom and sense of ownership that are characteristic of Open Space, with a dash of the quickness of Lean Coffee and intimacy of World Cafe.

Lean Coffee

For years I’ve been doing and suggesting others try running small meetings in a style informed by open space. The approach is simple: invite the people into some purpose (even if it’s the weekly staff or team meeting), show up for the meeting, create the agenda (issues and issue owners), and then just start picking off the issues, one by one. Choose the most important ones, the easiest ones, the most complex, according to group preferences, informally polled. Sometimes we’ve created two agendas by tagging some issues for “whole group” and others for “anyone who cares.” The latter sessions are then run in parallel, more true to open space, rather than in series with the whole group’s attention.

The way I understand it, Lean Coffee, a marriage of Kanban and Open Space (the coffee), adds timeboxes to the process, which apparently keeps the work clicking along and engagement high. The group votes more formally on which issues to discuss. Each discussion gets a 5-7 minute timebox and the potential to be voted into a 2-3 minute extension of that. If conversations need to continue, they can spin off into a separate table. Usually this would be done with a group small enough to sit around a single table, cafe or conference room size, and the whole affair might last 60-90 minutes. It’s guided by two Kanban principles: visualizing the work agenda (on a tabletop or in an shared online posting tool for virtual coffees) and limiting the work in progress at any one time. Use for learning community meetings, agile retrospectives, and quick status checks in community meetings or other working groups. Online tabletop tool options include trello, etherpad, hackpad, and google docs. Harvesting takeaways at the end is one option for closing.

Thanks to Harold Shinsato for this learning.

Short Open Space inside Larger Meeting?

I answer a lot of open space design questions, mostly about departures from standard practice. Here’s one from a recent email exchange, about doing a small/short open space inside a larger meeting/group:

…great that you’re reading the [ost] user’s guide [by harrison owen]. You’ve got too small a time slot to do anything but confuse people if you call what you’re doing “Open Space” but it’s very fair to tell them that you’d like to invite them into a process that’s *informed* by OST. That said, the things to focus on are the basic mechanisms… invitation, circle, bulletin board (post what’s most important), marketplace (room to move around and make choices for themselves), personal passion and responsibility for maximizing their own learning and contributing.

Forget about everything else, like going around and having everyone introduce themselves. If you ask what’s most important to everyone, what they want to be sure to discuss and address with some of the others who’ve gathered with you, read those out with their names, and post them on the wall — the group has done exactly that usual going around exercise, focusing on those folks most likely to take the lead (cuz they already have). Also, since you’ve appeared to ignore doing this obvious going around exercise, everyone will do some tiny version of that in their breakouts, all by themselves. No need for you to impose it on them and slow the beginning of the work. I say this as just one example of all the other things to NOT do.

Oh, and just have fun with it. As long as you don’t call it “Open Space Technology” (complete with drumroll), then it doesn’t “have to” be anything… it can just be a process that you cooked up, informed by, inspired by, OST. Simplest process that could possible work… for your meeting, at this moment.

How do we get Action?

This is a common question about working in Open Space. It’s easy to have a great conversation, but what about action? How do we get to Action?

First, we need to notice and acknowledge that everything that happens DURING an Open Space meeting or event IS action. When people raise issues, call meetings, work out solutions and so on — in an office — we call it real work. When it happens anywhere else, it’s still real work. It’s still action.

After the meeting or event, I think it’s not so much a challenge to “get” action as to “notice” it. Yesterday, I met with a woman who’s here in Chicago for a science education conference. She wanted to learn more about Open Space. A colleague of hers had heard about the work we did in Open Space for the Ocean Leadership program three years ago. Now they will chart an Open Space-informed course to organize a global network of polar regions educators, starting with the session they’re running this morning. They’ll follow with one in Norway later this year. Sounds like action to me, even though it’s three years later and nobody in the original meeting has even heard of it. Yet.

Invite, connect, inform… and the action just happens.

Manifesto for Agile Open Space Organization?

Revisiting the Agile Manifesto recently, in conversations with Daniel Mezick, extending and expanding connections with Open Space. This isn’t a perfect translation. The third line could be tweaked to include internal customers and negotiations. Some might say that “learning and contributing” or other key Open Space terms need to be included. Even so, it’s true enough to show how easily Agile and Open Space fit together.

Manifesto for Agile Software Development Open Space Organization

We are uncovering better ways of
developing software working in organization
by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
2. Working software Open invitations and working marketplaces over
comprehensive documentation corporate communications and scripted meetings
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
4. Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.


I started blogging here in May 2003, posting daily and weekly for many years, but later only monthly or quarterly. The last post was September 2013. That was over a year ago. Let’s call it finished, at least for now. In the meantime, you can still browse my decade via the category links in sidebar. UPDATE: …and when it’s not over, it’s not over.

Devoted and Disgruntled, an Open Space Roadshow

Improbable Road Movie from Improbable on Vimeo.

Here is a fantastic video made about an “open space roadshow” put on by Improbable Theatre Company in the UK, led by friend and colleague Phelim McDermott. Their theme was “Devoted and Disgruntled” and it all began as a single event seeking to rekindle the “community” in “the London theatre community.”

The roadtrip that emerged ended with Wosonos 2012 (World Open Space on Open Space practitioners’ conference) last year. This year they also did a mini roadshow so in all D&D Roadshow has done over 30 different open spaces nationwide in the last year and a half! Over 800 individual intertagged breakout session reports about theatre issues are posted online.

This particular video pulled together footage from three events, plus WOSonOS, but it’s more about Open Space than about theatre. This sort of open space roadshow could be replicated on any issue, in any sector or community, anywhere.

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.

The Limits of the Microphone?

Friend and colleague Koos de Heer shared this video on Facebook today, and sparked a small chain reaction for me.

First, at its climax, last 30 or 45 seconds, Chaplin cries: “let us fight…!” Yes, to fulfill promise, to free the world, to end barriers, greed, injustice and so on… but it’s still all FIGHTING! Then, it occurs to me that the rallying cry for science and rationality to deliver humankind must have been heard by many of Chaplin’s original viewers. Decades later we would seem to have made science and rationality the new dictators, perhaps more dangerous because more distributed, more deeply embedded in human culture. Even an old community organizer like Barack Obama rises on the strength of a cool, rational, technology-enhanced campaigning.

I think Chaplin was onto something with his bits early in the video about kindness, and what all humans want. Wish I could here a crescendo built on that view, before he slipped back into “fight fight fight!” The big paradox… How does one person make this sort of empassioned rallying cry for neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers, parents, teachers, partners, fellow travelers and other strangers?

For me, something of the answer might unfold next week. I am looking forward to spending four days in a CJYI training course, with an old friend who just happens to be the guy who hired Obama into Chicago and introduced him to organizing. We — he’s a student in the course, not the teacher — will be learning a person-to-person approach to something called restorative justice, what a practitioner/journalist friend has called “get a rock and talk.” Not especially rational or technical or scientific. Not any sort of fighting or rallying. Just a quietly personal and increasingly effective movement, reflecting on responsibility, redefining justice, and ultimately reallocating power, in real community.

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.

Out of the Sewer

Found this archived bit of wisdom today in the Esquire politics blog. Reflecting on the nature of hope and absurdity, Vaclav Havel tells a tale of his falling into a sewer hole full of shit then somehow finds his way out of that telling to explain:

…history is not something that takes place elsewhere; it takes place here. We all contribute to making it. If bringing back some human dimension to the world depends on anything, it depends on how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.

The kind of hope I often think about (especially in hopeless situations like prison or sewer) is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t. Hope is not a prognostication — it’s an orientation of the spirit. Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

History, yes, but also “organization culture” and most all of the real work that gets done in the world, it seems to me, depends on “how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.” Some talk of “culture change” but culture is what we all create together, what we all agree and reinforce with each decision, what is good and right. We can make grand plans and designs, but it’s the absurdity of taking immediate next steps, into those designs, that depends on hope, stepping into the absurdity of doing this one little thing in the face of the great need or plan or vision.

This reminds me of opening space in organizations. It’s not about some theory of how things work, or some conviction that open space is some sort of magic. It’s about inviting and leveraging our innate ability to come together, hope together, and do the first things, the most important things, even if we only have a couple days or hours. We make a beginning, purposefully not pointlessly.


Apple chief Tim Cook had an interesting line about the velocity of change in his earnings call last week:

…through the last quarter, I should say, which is just 2 years after we shipped the initial iPad, we’ve sold 67 million. And to put that in some context, it took us 24 years to sell that many Macs and 5 years for that many iPods and over 3 years for that many iPhones. And we were extremely happy with the trajectory on all of those products. And so I think iPad, it’s a profound product.


Generosity Without Wealth

Giving material goods is one form of generosity, but one can extend an attitude of generosity into all one’s behavior. Being kind, attentive, and honest in dealing with others, offering praise where it is due, giving comfort and advice where they are needed, and simply sharing one’s time with someone – all these are forms of generosity, and they do not require any particular level of material wealth.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama


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?

Open Space Happens

Noticed this bit recently in the NYTimes, by an MD expert reflecting on the edge at not knowing. Sounds a lot like open space occuring naturally in the wild of everyday living and working:

While I was able to reel off statistics on the latest treatments and medications, I found I had little to offer when it came to issues most pressing to them. I wasn’t sure of the best way to organize and remember the dozens of medications they were required to take. I didn’t know the most efficient way for them to schedule follow-up visits with me or my colleagues. I had no suggestions other than more pills for dealing with the nausea induced by their anti-rejection drugs. And I could only listen, speechless, to stories about co-workers who continued to discriminate against them by treating them like “sick people.”

I watched as the audience spontaneously broke out into smaller groups, people’s faces lighting up as they recognized their own travails in the stories of others.

The event organizer, a transplant patient herself who regularly coordinated lectures like this, approached me. To my surprise, instead of being upset with me, she bubbled over with praise.

“What you’ve done tonight is to help each of these people begin talking with someone who has been through the exact same experience,” she said. She looked out at the audience and smiled. “This,” she said, pointing to the clusters of conversations, “means more than you realize.”

The story also relates a study in which diabetes patients were given added physician support, monetary rewards, OR peer mentoring support. After six months, only the peer-supported group had significantly lowered blood sugar levels.

I’m continually surprised by how much we have to learn from each other and how often important learning (working, creating, connecting) happens in spite of, rather than because of, the way we usually structure our work and relations.

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.

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