The Company of the Future

Harold Shinsato sent this to the OSLIST after last year’s Open Space on Open Space practitioners conference:

I’ve just finished uploading a 50 minute video of the highly interactive discussion held at the Berlin WOSonOS – “What is the company of the future?” which was convened by Deborah Maarek. I found it packed with really great experiential reports of how to build a company around a much more sustainable, participatory, and light weight model.

Berlin WOSonOS – Company of the Future from Harold Shinsato on Vimeo.

There is a place for interactive notes for the session here – I put the link to the video also in this site, in case you want to find the video in the future.

On Keeping it Simple

Harrison Owen shared this a while back on the OSLIST:

…regardless of the venue or the means I have found it useful to ask a basic question: What is the simplest approach to yield the maximum result? Which usually goes right along with: “Thinking of one more thing not to do.” The elegance of simplicity is a personal preference, but it is also a very practical approach. The simpler something is the less there is to go wrong. This is not simply a matter of “annoyance avoidance” but also a way to create more space. The best part about Open Space Technology, so far as I am concerned is that it is so simple it can’t break. Which also means that it is robust enough to allow for very rambunctious behavior — just what we need for dynamic conflicted situations. As a facilitator I need a laser like focus on the present moment in order to hold space. The more I have to worry about something not going “right” the more difficult my task. KISS (Keep it simple stupid) may not be an elegant expression, but it surely has kept me out of a world of hurt.

Being Ourselves Together

Recently, Doug Germann made a comment on the OSLIST, suggesting that after some few days in Open Space, people might begin to “internalize” the Four Principles and One Law. Harrison Owen offered an evocative reply:

Good wonderings, Doug. But I might suggest that you turn things around, or possibly upside down. Rather than internalizing The Law of Two Feet (and we might also add the 4 Principles), I suspect that it is more a matter of remembering what we already know and for one reason or another have chosen to repress. All of this goes with the idea that Open Space is truly not something new and radically different. In fact it is a forceful confrontation with a pre-existing condition.

We are already in Open Space by virtue of the fact that we have forever been in a self organizing world (the usual 13.7 billion years stuff). The Law and the Principles are descriptive of normative behavior in a self organizing world, and therefore Open Space, I think. In short, we do all of the above all the time — unfortunately we usually feel guilty about it, and because of this, we tend to do it/them badly, or at least awkwardly and grudgingly.

Thus with the Law: when faced with a nonproductive situation (no learning, no contribution) we always leave (hearts and mind out the window) — but the body remains feeling miserable, and making others miserable as well. Once we get the picture, things work better, and we feel a lot better. But it is not about doing something new, or internalizing some new truth — but rather remembering what we already knew and doing what we should/could have been doing in the first place.

Why bother with all this? Well if nothing else, I think it makes our job as consultants and facilitators a lot easier. First of all we are not inviting our clients to engage in risky behavior. Quite the opposite, we are opening a space in which they can really be themselves. And the real risk is to continue with the non-productive, guilt inducing, dependant behavior. The old Marxist Battle Cry might have some application here (with modification): People of the World Unite — You have nothing to lose but your chains.” In a word — Be yourself.

(…which points to another dimension of the both/and nature of Open Space: People can be united and unique, at the same time. The “marketplace” we make for “individual” passions, skills, interests, responsibility — and initiatives — is its own sort of “united” collective. In this way, the realization of Open Space can begin to erode traditional political and idealogical fault lines, in largely peaceful and powerfully practical ways.)

Paris Réunion

Philippe Slioussarenko reports that four french executives will exchange on their OS practices in Paris on November 5th. If you happen to be in Paris then you are invited and welcome. You will find hereunder the details of the event and how to confirm your participation.

MHG Europe a le plaisir de vous inviter à la réunion sur le thème:


Une démarche de conduite de réunion en petit ou grand groupe ou une nouvelle façon d’organiser conférences, conventions, sessions de planification ou séminaires en passionnant et responsabilisant les participants.

Avec la participation de dirigeants ayant pratiqué l’Open Space :
§ M. Georges AUGUSTE, Exécutive Vice Président, Directeur Qualité, Education et Développement durable, ST MICROELECTRONICS
§ M. Jean-François COLIN, Directeur Général de Multimedia Business Services filiale d’ORANGE BUSINESS SERVICES
§ M. Thierry JAMES, Directeur du Pôle Parcs et Evènementiel, ELIANCE

Cette réunion aura lieu: le 5 novembre 2009 de 18 h 30 à 20 h

45, Boulevard Raspail,
75006 Paris
(Parking Sèvres Babylone)

Nous poursuivrons ensuite nos échanges autour d’un cocktail dînatoire. Dans l’attente de vous recevoir, je vous adresse mes plus sincères salutations.

Ideas into Action in Ontario’s Social Housing Sector

Earlier this year, Larry Peterson opened space for 150 on future of the Ontario Social Housing Sector, and shared this report:

We started with 150 from across the province with two days to be together. The planning committee of the sponsor struggled to decide – OST for 1.5 days then convergence or begin convergence on [the morning of] day 2. It was decided to go for 1 Day in OST to explore ideas and 1 day (in effect in OST) to explore action: Ideas to Action was the overall theme Eh? Shifting Gears beyond Survival was the theme in the OS question.

Great self-organizing discussions on Day 1 but the “breakthroughs” to a new sector paradigm were not there quite yet. The planning group wanted some sector priorities (the sponsor was not the sector, but a key coordination organization in it.) so we did that first thing on day 2, then Opened the Space again for more sector leadership to emerge and take ideas toward action strategies.

In morning news [beginning of Day 2] a brave soul finally stated what was real – the whole had not shifted to a new understanding yet. This was reinforced as we opened the space for action strategies. Not many action strategy sessions emerged, but those who cared were there and were ready to shift. The sessions all went to another level, with some leading the way – even talking about breaking the law to get new directions noticed.

The closing was a mutual love feast – sector leadership from various forms of social housing – co-op, non-profit, municipal, small town, big town now felt they were on the same page, ready to work together on some key change strategies with a sponsor who had decided to provide resources to some of the key efforts.

Great fun to hold such a space.

I’ve used something like this “serial Open Space” a number of times, including one 4-day session on peaceful development in Nepal, where we merged with Appreciative Inquiry practice. The four themes, on four consecutive days, were the 4-Ds of AI: Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver. In every case I can remember, it seems to work as Larry says. The sub-themes suggest a path, invite a direction. They’re never going to fit perfectly into the movement of the group, but then the group takes them by the horns and steers them to what fits. It’s just another dimension of ownership and responsibility and the crafting of the process by and for the people involved.

Education Technology and Self-Organization

Steve Hargadon is intrigued by what’s happening in ed-tech:

One element to these meetings that intrigues me, and which I’m still trying to quantify, is the ability for an engaged and devoted group to succeed in producing from their own experiences material and learning which not only meet what a single expert might bring, but often exceed traditional expertise. Darren Draper and I have been struggling to find a easy phrase for this, what he calls “Hargadon’s Law,” but which surely has been expressed somewhere else by someone more eloquent. It’s the literal equivalent of 1 + 1 = 3, which does not invalidate the value of an expert, but which demonstrates or draws out the wisdom of a group, showing it to be significantly more powerful than typically manifest in more traditional teaching environments. Again, arguably not founded on the technologies of the Web, but enhanced and focused, perhaps, by using them.

He has a long list of ideas (at the end of his post) for enhancing or supporting self-organization. Some I’d call kindred to (some are actually already embedded in) an open space approach. Others, like bringing people in by video or audio conferencing, might just get in the way. Generally, though, he’s got a broad inventory of where various sorts of new meetings are happening and a good list of suggestions for supporting self-organization.

Grassroots Collaboration, Integral and Open Space

Reporting from inside the EU Commission, Integral Yeshe points to three different grassroots sorts of things happening in open space and makes connections to the Integral story articulated by Ken Wilber and others…

I just found out about Transitions – a grass-roots model adopted to respond to the twin challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change. I am particularly impressed that their website is a wiki. What first caught my attention was the fact that they used Open Space Technology to host their annual conference. Not coincidentally, from the same source, I learned of a gathering of cultural creatives to be held in France, also to be hosted in Open Space format.

Across the Atlantic, the Food and Society movement, sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation, also held its 2008 conference using Open Space – among other techniques gathered under the banner of the art of hosting meaningful conversations. This was a very big gathering (600+ participants), bringing together people from the whole spectrum of food and society – as the name suggests. Since some of my friends were involved in the design and facilitation of the event, I followed with some interest and was impressed by the depth and breadth of the insights that emerged from the collective alchemy as these participative processes metabolised and presenced the system present in the room.

She goes on to suggest that “These are just three examples of mushrooming grass-roots practices that I read as symptomatic of the integral, peer-to-peer age that is emerging on our planet today.” more

Holy Grail of Open Space Discovered in Romania

Open Space Romania was a pleasant surprise today. There is a record (in english) of open space events in Romania and a photo-album. Thanks to Janina-Diana Pasaniuc in Oradea, Transilvania, Romania, for pointing to the (new?) site and for her discovery of the Holy Grail of Open Space.

After the Open Space

Jack Martin Leith, Bristol UK, shares this post on what to do after Opening Space. How to keep all those projects going?

When planning your Open Space meeting, you’ll need to think about how you’ll ensure that ideas emerging from the meeting will be brought to fruition, and how the issues identified by participants will be resolved effectively once everyone is back at their workplace. Please be fully aware that this is a very big challenge. More…

It’s a great and detailed post. And Jack’s always got great diagrams to go with the explanations.

Believing in Open Space

Gerard Muller shared this a while back on the OSLIST, notes from a session at the OSonOS practitioner conference he hosted earlier this year:

Issue: Beliefs: What beliefs are important to attract OST clients? What beliefs do the organizations need for successfull OST? What are important beliefs for good OST Facilitators?

We attract our experience based on beliefs held especially at the subconscious mind. It is important to consider what limiting beliefs or fears we have in doing and attracting OST and then create new empowering beliefs of what we want instead. These new beliefs attract a new reality/experience.

Some Beliefs:
I am open enough to hold space.
I have the energy I need to facilitate.
I have the courage to say no when the conditions are not right for OST.
I know when the conditions are right for OST.
I believe that groups find the energy to come to action.
I easily communicate the principles of OST & they get it.
I attract people that live the principles of OST.
I trust the process of OST and it works for me.
I am open to the outcome in OST.
OST always works and I trust it.
I create the space for people to be engaged and responsible when I
I know how to invite and I attract the right people that are needed.
When I make mistakes, I open the space for myself and others to learn.
I believe in the responsibility of all the people involved.
Wisdom leads to harmony.
The wisdom is always in the room.
I am Open Space.
I hold the attitude and essence of Open Space.

What’s the least possible structure that gets the job done?

HawaiiBreeze writes:

OST is a gem, embodying the concept of minimal structure — just enough to get what’s ready to happen, out and into life. Kinda like a baby being born. Mostly you just want to allow it to happen smoothly without making too many requirments on baby or mom.

OST changing form in the Russian-speaking world?

On Runet (the Russian language Internet) Various online forums also report having experiences with OST as people run meetings called OST, but not really run on OST principles.

Might this be a familiar refrain which brings us back to the age-old question of how do we guarantee quality of OST meetings run around the world?

In one example, in an OST meeting, a “training: Our children: child-rearing issues” one participants writes that she “didn’t like” OST.

Others on the forum share other, more positive experiences of OST and invite her to further explore the method.

In another intriguing development, a Moscow coaching program offers training in the “Open Space model,” listing Harrison Owen and Birgitt Williams as co-authors. The material further refers to the role of the Creative Person in this model. Some might wonder, are Harrison Owen and Birgitt Williams teaching something in Russia that the rest of the OST community is not aware of?!

Conversation as Work writes about Open Space Technology and more:

What struck me as one who has facilitated meetings—I hate this word so can we just say made communications and problem solving possible until we can come up with something more human—was this by Michael Herman: “Open Space Technology is a simple, powerful way to catalyze effective working conversations and truly inviting organizations — to thrive in times of swirling change.” Herman further defines the process as conversations being work. How true. What everyone I know has observed and experienced is that often the conversations outside the retreats, offsites, regularly and impromptu meetings are the most meaningful and productive. Why? Because they’re the most honest, open and genuine and because people feel empowered to say what they really think and feel.

Open Source and Change through Improvisation

Open Space is mentioned in this post: Evolving Ideas: Open Source and Change through Improvisation which also says:

The image of organization built around improvisation is one in which variable inputs to self-organizing groups of actors induce continuing modification of work practices and ways of relating.

OST in Russia and the near-abroad: some recent developments

Gabdulla Hamitov facilitates meeting on youth development

Youth development OST meeting. Ufa, Russia. September 2006

Gabdulla Hamitov facilitates conference on youth leadership development, “Path to the Future”
Ufa, Bashkortostan (Russia)
photos courtesy of Bashtorg, a major regional wholesaler in Russia

Since the 14th annual international Open Space on Open Space conference in Moscow in August 2006, OST has continued to be applied in many different kinds of organizations, especially in companies.

Recent applications include a meeting on personal safety and responsibility with RusAl, one of the largest aluminum producers in the world.

The sponsor, Elena Sochkina, responsible for corporate culture, noted “my most pleasant discoveries with the Open Space method were:

*the number of participants is limited only by the size of the physical meeting space.

*the conditions are created where formal boundaries are erased (status, hierarchical, and professional)

* the participants create the agenda (which is the guarantee of success).”

(Direktor po Personalu magazine)

OST has also been used recently with major Russian political parties, at marketing conferences, training conferences, at a coaching conference (co-sponsored by Open Space Institute-Russia), with Russia’s Central Bank, with cellular phone service provider Beeline, and with a major pharmaceutical company.

Note: PROMT offers a free and relatively good quality Russian to English webpage translation service.


From The Campaign Company Blog:

As the facilitator gathered us in a circle (everyone is equal in OS) and asked us to close our eyes as she explained the principles behind it, I did wonder whether I should take the opportunity to scarper there and then and save myself from this hippy nonsense.

First impressions are great, aren’t they?

What Makes an Opening Open?

Sharon Quarrington shared this, via the OSLIST, on the Toronto Transit event previously reported here:

A group in Toronto held a “camp” for the Toronto Transit System – and
their opening is posted on YouTube:

I found it very interesting – how it was similar to and yet different it was from the OS openings I am most familiar with. I found I missed many of the “traditional” elements that were skipped – and yet wonder if perhaps that is just me being stuck in a rut!

I think not a rut at all. The “camp” and “unconference” movement and language is flourishing in the info tech world, which has embraced “open space”, but seems to have lost some of the “traditional” elements Sharon refers to. I, too, think something is lost without some of these elements, a certain elegance and ease in the opening process and story.

Opening can be easier than it sounds here, I think… and And AND… it obviously still worked. I’m glad to see opening practices seeping into the management of urban transit and other community institutions. I’m glad to see real work getting done with circles, invitations, marketplaces, and references to The Law of Two feet. I’m glad to see people making and sharing videos like this, that show real people practicing in this way. So props for opening practices and public sharing!

See (hear) also our podcasts archive for two (audio) recordings of more “traditional” openings by Chris Corrigan and Harrison Owen.

What do you think? What does it take to make an opening open?

step out of the way

Jevon MacDonald writes in his Manifesto for an Emerging Consultant Counter Culture writes about Johnnie Moore and Open Space Technology:

[T]he law of emergence means that those of us who work on a project, and invest heavily in it, must most often step out of the way at the last minute, because by then we have our own ideas, and we have to trust the people involved to come to the truth themselves.

Nobody’s in Charge

Sometimes people hear about Open Space and wonder how it can work, with nobody “in charge” of what’s going on. But then again…

…The economy is non-linear, and no one is in charge. There was a famous statement by a Soviet official during Glasnost in the 1970’s. The Soviets were beginning to tour the United States and couldn’t believe that the houses were real, that the workers actually had cars. The Soviet official who was in charge of bread production for Moscow was said to have asked the mayor of New York where the man was who was in charge of bread production for the city of New York. The mayor responded, “No one is in charge of bread production for the city of New York.” The key thing about our Western economy is that nobody is in charge of it, no one giving orders, no one planning, and so far things have mainly been OK.

From Gregg Easterbrook as reported at, in response to the question about what our most important tool might be for creating bright green cities.

unconventional and bold?

I’m not sure how unconventional OST is anymore, but Stephen Citron writes in his rant Conferences without the Conferring are a Con:

Similarly, conferences could raise their game by allowing all present to participate, contribute, express themselves and be listened to. Some have already taken this delegate focus to extremes, with unconventional and bold “unconferences” and “open space technology”. These are group sessions that run without prior agenda or speakers, and look to the delegates to create content on the fly.

Face to Face or Online?

Steve Pashley has a great post Engaging with Local Communities about using Open Space Technology, including Open Space Online. He notes that the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service?) has used face to face OST meetings “engage with stakeholders” in a one-off way without democratizing the organization. He proposes the online version as a possible on-going tool to push change further.

Opening Space for Peace

This from Harrison Owen today on the OSLIST

You may remember that last year Michael Pannwitz and I had the privilege of Opening Space for the Congress of Imams and Rabbis in Seville. The occasion, as I reported, was more than a little exciting and definitely not according to whatever “Plan” I might have had. That said, the gathering was also profoundly moving and powerful for the two of us and, we believed, the participants as well – at least that is what we saw, and they said. Now almost a year later it was very nice to receive a note from an advisor to the King of Jordan and sometime Ambassador to the UN, which said in part,” It was wonderful in Seville and the great role you played changed the entire atmosphere, into what turned out lively, warm and cordial.”

Had the event been only another community/corporate gathering, the words would have seemed nice but not particularly significant. But that event was filled with virtually every conflict and tension imaginable – and at points seemed quite ready to fly into a million pieces. The shift from catastrophe (as some were calling it) into “lively, warm and cordial” was, to put it mildly, mind blowing, and confirmed once again, if confirmation was needed that opening space for peace can be very effective. And of course, the real heroes were not Michael, me or Open Space. The people did it all by themselves, as usual. Once they had the space to become what they already were – a vibrant self-organizing system searching for peace with themselves and their world, nothing else was needed.

As we sit at the edge of 2007 watching the so called “world powers/leaders” going in circles, seeking to control events and the lives of others with disastrous results, I find the experience of Seville to be nothing short of uplifting. To be sure we could all blow it this time around, but there is an alternative. It is also true, I think, that we in this funny little online community have a lot of work to do.

For the longer story of what happened in Seville, see here and here.

The Tao of Holding Space: an e-book

Chris Corrigan offers the heart of years of practicing and listening and living in Open Space, in the form of a book he has written that expresses the wisdom of the Taoist classic, the Tao Te Ching, in the language and sensibility of Open Space.

In some ways this book chronicles the essence of my own emergent practice of Open Space. In looking over it one more time, I realized that almost everything I know about Open Space is somehow distilled into these chapters.

Using a Creative Commons license, Chris is making this loving gift of deep insight freely available for download, here.