WOSonOs 2012 Blog

Friday 12th October


This is my first day for blogging. Looking forward to three insightful days.

Thought for the day: Potential wants to emerge.

First observation. Adorning the walls are the “principles” of Open Space. Note “Wherever it happens is the right place”. There is also “Be prepared to be surprised”. I’m very intrigued to know how one prepares to be surprised. There is also something called “The Law of Mobility” which I assume is a new or different version of the law of Two Feet rather than something to do with “Whatever smartphone you have is the right smartphone”. But I’m glad to see people playing with the rules, taking permission to self-organise even unto the law.

This is going to be a big Open Space in a stirring venue decorated with a sense of party and celebration. The people are arriving…

A big circle focused on the central point directly below a huge disco ball. Cards, pens, and a single bottle of still mineral water, warning of the impending arrival of a facilitator with a soon to be dry throat.


The Open Space starts at the right time. (1023am)

Someone picks up a microphone. We sit and listen…

The event is located in a spirit of community support. The microphone is passed to Phelim from Improbable Theatre who will open the circle. He is going to walk the circle. Interesting challenge as the more important circle lies in another realm that transcends and connects with this one. Still, walking it in front of us, may invoke it in our imaginations. The bells, the bells…

I want to make a plea for the human voice without the analogue or digital interference of a microphone. It would make such a difference and it’s more than possible in a space of this size.


A heated, vibrant and enjoyable discussion about whether one less thing to do at an Open Space is facilitation.

How does a facilitator “hold” the space and is that their rightful role at all?

Do we over-facilitate? What would a one minute opening circle look and sound like?

Doesn’t the facilitator have the vital role of creating a safe space for self organisation ?

Kerry Napuk: “Not all groups can self organise.”

Such a wide range of views were expressed, and we heard a story that concluded that a facilitator sometimes needs to be the role of leader at an open space.

We discussed what it means to be truly emergent as a facilitator. Do we need to be as emergent as the emergent event we are facilitating ? What happens if the structure of open space becomes too dogmatic ?

Who is the real client ? I say at it is the potential that lies latent in the room.

Others talked of the reality of having to deliver results to a paying client. They expect outcomes. But does that limit the potential in the room.

Who creates the circle? The facilitator ? The participants ? The latent potential wanting to be realised ?

Does the facilitator always need to give a 20-60 minute introduction when opening the circle? One firm answer: Yes! A few, no! There is a possibility that the facilitator’s own well intentioned polemic can stifle the group, leading them into a mode of conformance, rather than free spontaneous self organising.


Open Space and Love

Is an Open Space too “above the shoulders”, in the head, too fixed in words, words, words.

My word ! This group went on a journey together ! Was our dialogue different when we met in silence ? And when we held hands ? And when we sat closer, more intimately together ? Oh, yes indeed!

Some said: “Open Space is love. Love is open space”.

Is Open Space a place of acceptance, a prerequisite for love ?

Even when we are hating, we are loving to hate. Love is always there, waiting to bloom. But many people in today’s world mistrust, have experienced pain, and find it hard to “surrender”, to accept, to let go, to take hold!

Love is connection. And Open Space allows the possibility of connection – it can be dangerous, unpredictable, joyful and through a group connecting emergently, synergy can happen.

Open Space itself could be seen as a gesture of love to, and within a community – a process that allows connection, exploration, coming together. One person said Open Space had come into their lives and transformed it, just at the right moment.

Someone else reminded us that Open Space reminds us that, in some connections, we need to accept “When it is over, it is over”. Then move on.


What is self-organisation ?

Do we have an inner driving force to self-organise? As simple as swallowing food properly, as complex of setting up and running our own organisation ? What drives us to self-organise ?

Do we particularly like to self-organise under the radar of hierarchical control ?

Self organisation can be very bound up with selfishness and self interest.

Self organisation works more effectively where outcomes and required skill sets aren’t clear or show uncertain or even chaotic properties. Where an outcome is clear and one person has the required and only skillet, imposed or hierarchical organisation may develop. This sounds correct to me but for some reason doesn’t ring wholly true!

We grasped at this topic and never quite got hold. Important subject though !


A ride on an old Routemaster London Bus to the South Bank. A rousing cheer for the beauty of the Thames and the London skyline – and is it really a surprise that even at a world Open Space on append Space that some of the most interesting and useful conversations are taking place during the breaks ?

I think the danger of a self-created programme – even over just two days – is that it becomes too fixed, too programmed with only incremental changes and additions subsequently made. So the breaks then carry their own sacred, emergent qualities – even at an Open Space ! And that’s a fine thing too !

Off to bed full of reflections on the day and Phelim’s advice to “have a conversation with our dreams”.

Quote of the day from Harrison Owen: “Go on, take a nap.”

Saturday 13th October


A conversation with my dreams.

The microphone is a powerful thing and, when set much louder than a normal loud voice, confers an authority on the one opening the circle. I felt a bit devoted but disgruntled about it. The natural human voice is a beautiful thing and the room was of a size where a projected voice would have been a gift to the community.

That said, the spirit of warmth behind the microphone transcended the hardware. He can also do a Tibetan bell with his voice better than a real one.

The human voice. What is quicker than light? Asked Goethe. Conversation, said the very same!

Yesterday I released that the quality of a voice can be as vital as the words. There was much leaning into the small group circles, not only to catch the meaning of words spoken, but also to savour the uniqueness of the speaker. Still with me is the suggestion to hold hands while speaking and finding ways to allow other forms of connection to occur at an Open Space. I think the wish to get out of our heads is very prevalent today. I am starting to feel the need for more butterflies, more music, more movement and speaking from the feet planted firmly on the earth, or from places of subtler light. But these are wishes, not new methods for facilitation!

What’s one less thing to do today, on this Saturday at WOSonOS?


Cafe Open Space

The Reveraunt will potentially be a cafe for emergent conversation. You might pay to be part or there might be another way of asking it work financially. A cafe for the kind of conversation that used to be had in Prague, Paris, London and elsewhere.

We heard tales of Likemind and The Seal Project which are both cafe based.

Is a facilitated process needed or is emergent conversation enough ? Will people pay to talk?


The Nightingale’s cage

Organisational life can be experienced as being trapped in a box. Open Space can feel like the freedom of a universe. It’s a relative thing and can lead to a lack of real free flight into emergence. For the cover prescribed open space where the principles are lived as rules can just be a bigger cage for participants – not a space of possibility, but a cage of limited freedom. It can even be a cage with an open door, but a door that the bird never flies through to wider freedom.

When a facilitator introduces Open Space in a prescribed way, then what can emerge is not self organisation but conformance. Sessions can be too intellectual if the facilitator lectures too much at the start, especially in a prescriptive way.

We also discussed the lack of credible research into OS and also how the default of “niceness” tends to bar criticism from the circle. How can we innovate if we don’t learn, and how can we learn if we only talk things up?

Potential can be infinite and imagined as such. Not so if the cage bars are confused for the every expanding possibility of the universe. Open Space is so much freer than what if often supplants, yet it can also still be a cage – beautiful and gilded, yet still limited.

As I have said before, the facilitator does not hold the space’ potential does, in silent collaboration with the higher circle.

Red-gold glowing fires have been brought in to warm the room – they remind me of the warmth of Christmas and also the fires of Hell.


The Limits of Open Space

A major insight here. A deliberately vague open space invite creates a lot of organisational permission to explore broadly on the day but also the potential for going off beam. Key that happen, say some. That can spell disaster in terms of action afterwards, say others.

If an invite is untruthful it can also frustrate post-event. If the invite implies permission and budget for action and then all action is thwarted immediately afterwards, it creates cynicism.

An invitation to an Open Space must be born out of truthfulness.

Another insight:
A facilitator needs to be able to walk away from an Open Space, even on the day itself is circumstances prevent them bring able to “hold the space” – which could include the dysfunctional behaviour of the sponsor. Much is down to the preparation.

Thought for the day: What if the “one less thing to do” is … An Open Space ?


Open Space and Flow

Potential wants to be realised. Potential tends to respond to self-organisation with flow. Flow takes the form of revelation.

It’s revelation becomes the potential has been super sensible.

Often we feel it, or even see it with the heart.

Is potential’s latent state chaotic, or does it wait in archetypal form ? I’d suggest that when chaos takes on archetypal form, it becomes potential.

I’d also suggest that human potential is perpetually in archetypal form.

Many organisations (and managers) suppress the realisation of potential by blocking flow through overstructure. Self-organisation via Open Space offers the minimal structure necessary to optimise self organisation and thus flow and the revelation of potential into physical realisation.

Today has been a rich, deeper day than day one. I’ve tended towards to more esoteric and philosophical sessions because they are, paradoxically, for me, the most practical!

Thought for the day: An Open Space gives birth to far more intentions than realisable actions because the potential sometimes shoots out in all directions from the mysterious and gorgeous unrevealed invisible.

Second thought for the day: In a community that isn’t used to criticism, any criticism – no matter how small – is felt to be devastating #WOSONOS

Third thought for the day: An invitation always has golden qualities, whereas offers are often made of bronze, even tin

Sunday 14th October


Growing your Open Space work

I added this session only this morning as I’ve heard quite a few people ask the question over the last couple of days.

Some believe you should never sell Open Space, that you should never push it. Don’t offer Open Space unless it has been asked for – you can inform people of its existence, talk passionate about it, but don’t push it. That’s one view.

Yet I am sure you can do this: invite, but don’t offer.

In my own work I never invite people to consider an open space. But I do invite people to think deeply about self-organisation. I’ve even offered to facilitate self-organisation. Open Space is one of many processes of self-organisation.

Where are the organisational world and communities currently restless and seeking new forms of organisation, unaware of the potential to address that restlessness through self-organisation?

Try to articulate the zeitgeist in your unique, eloquent way. Let me use some artistic licence and translate zeitgeist as this: The pain of the age or the ache of the age.

Zeitgeist Marketing is when you respond to the pain of the age in the form of a golden invitation.

Some current themes of restlessness I have picked up over the last two years on our recessionary world are:

– finding vision in uncertainty and realising the vision quickly in a way that improves survival

– Aftermath – moving on practically from devastating and major change

– Turnaround – moving out of crisis, staying above water, finding healthful opportunity in lean times

It is possible to grow your work in Open Space without using either push-propulsion or manipulative attraction. Open Space exists here in a physical form but is also a positive egregore – an archetypal, attractive metaphysical reality. It shimmers in a way and people often re-cognise it. When they do it often leads to an acceptance of an invitation that is “out there” in the world.

What does that mean in practice ? A web site rich in stories, an eloquent invitation on a homepage. Some freely shared resources that are rich in description of what Open Space can look and feel like. Most of all, regular, humble and conscious attempts to respond and address your own restlessness to the zeitgeist. Your response, your reaction, your attempt at pointing to space where potential wants to manifest through self organisation.

Think and imagine the True
Feel and inspire the Beautiful
Do and intuit the Good.

Websites need to avoid being pushy offers. stories of Open Space need to be truthful, warts and all, and not vain self-celebrations or fundamentalist recruitment adverts created by zealots and missionaries. Our zeal should be reserved for self-organisation, not for Open Space per se.

Blogs are better than ads.
Responses are better than proposals and pitches.
Invitations are better than offers.


Final reflections.

Open Space is continuing to attract an international community of interest and passion. Generations mixed here and wisdom is being passed on or beautifully laid to rest. Groups such as Devoted and Disgruntled carry the torch for self-organisation and bring Open Space into places such as theatre, even not rehearsals ! Harrison Owen is taking more naps these days and reminding us all of spacelessness. I think it’s a smiling nod to he fact that self organisation is at a beginning and that core and periphery meet in the freedom of the self-aware.

I had to leave when the invitation to future conferences began. Heading home to Brighton via a family open space lunch. What if the one less thing to do was another conference ? Beware of turning WOSOnOs into the very thing that led Harrison Owen to discover Open Space…

Thanks to all who made this unconference happen and that, I guess, is each and every one of us

Wending my way happily back to the place called home and the person called Love..

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