The Beauty of Open Space

I often hear Open Space practitioners calling Open Space Technology, “beautiful”.

That’s a big word to attach to a “technology”.

Nature is often beautiful because of its simplicity. When our lives feel overcomplicated, and our brows are furrowed, a walk in the woods, in the “clear air” can also clear our own inner air. Sitting in the sunshine can make us feel better. A fresh breeze can stir us into action.

A lot of people have lost touch with these simple things. We can end up “Living life with a gaze that stops at the eyes” (to Quote Goethe) when we get too used to the complexity and sheer barrage of moment to moment decisions that urban living can bring.

Often Open Space is experienced by participants as a breath of fresh air. When space opens in an organisation or community trying to cope with chaos and complexity, it can feel like a vista has opened up right in front of, and around us. We can see clearly once again, or perhaps for the first time, to the horizon of possibility, and nothing is in the way but our own limited view or understanding. It can also feel daunting as we begin to feel and imagine what is really possible. At other times, the space opens and, there before us, is the simple answer to a tough question, and it has action written all over it!

Open Space is beautiful because it opens up that vista with the minimum of fuss.

Open the space as simply as possible and step back as the circle self-organises as much as possible.

There’s a relative kind of beauty here that many experience and name as beautiful, where success is framed in relation to past attempts at meeting where little if any space opened. Where little emerged or was achieved. The Open Space Event is often contrasted with these historical, more closed “failures”. And then it can’t help but look good. Even stale bread is better than no bread. Compared to the “tedious, overstructured conference we had last year”, Open Space can do no wrong. Sometimes Open Space is seen as beautiful because so much of what preceded it was not beautiful.

But see past that – indeed see yourself IN the situation you are looking at and you may also experience a finer, more subtle, often more powerful and useful beauty – the beauty of unplanned, self-organised emergence. Here, what escapes into the world escapes out of the space that has opened. This beauty where much emerges that can lead to real action on the world, often eludes an Open Space Conference that has been too much designed (and over designed) around the more cosmetic nature of relative beauty. The Open Space simply becomes a thing trying to prove itself in relation to other and previously competing approaches to meeting and managing. There then becomes an anxiousness to “make it work” and some people start to role play positivity. They try to talk beauty into the room, and beauty often flees from that, leaving caked make up and Pierrot eyes.

Another kind of strange (even a parody of) beauty arises out of the “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened” principle being interpreted in a kind of “hippy” way as “it’s all beautiful, even the ugly stuff” – it’ll all perfect because the space opened and hey! It happened. This is the kind of self-referencing that is beyond argument and discussion, and any critique of it is, of course, simply beautiful as well… When “everything is beautiful”, our gaze blurs and broadens. The single rose disappears from view.

Open Space is authentically beautiful for a number of reasons. As already mentioned, it’s a very eloquent “minimal intervention” in personal, business, organisational or social dialogue and interaction. Eloquence is an element of the Beauty of the Word. When space opens, energy is always released, often lots of it, and the feeling is uplifting. Often a full Open Space Programme looks like a vista, and can take the breath away momentarily, just as a vista in nature can. That’s because self-organisation is nature at work! Did we really create ALL THAT together in just half an hour? Wow! Co-creation is beautiful, when it focuses on common ground and community.

Open Space creates flow, and all kinds of different types of flow can be beautiful – the flow of ideas, the flow of conversation,the flow of people working and moving together, the flow of people using their two feet freely. Draw it all from above, map it onto paper, and you’ll find some beautiful patterns of human movement and interaction over time. Open Space often is the occasion for dreams to turn into resolution and even action. Watching things build and develop can be beautiful. Open Space can be a place of deep listening and conscious sharing and there can be a wonderfully beautiful dance of word and silence during the process. Open Space is emergent dance.

Open Space is a place for a community to self-organise, and the sense of community, of responsibility for each other, of sharing and of, yes, caring, engenders emotional beauty and hints at how we can live and collaborate in peace together. Synergy is usually beautiful.

The form of the circle itself is beautiful – simple as a ring, and many photographs of Opening and Closing Circles show the connection growing or established between human souls. The circle itself suggests “we are more together than we are in individual separation”. The circle looks inwards to the common ground of the central point, which paradoxically also represents the horizon of possibility stretching out into the ever-expanding universe. The circle can feel strong and supportive and this is also a form of beauty.

The Open Space contains the beauty of beginning and ending, of opening and closing. Special attention is given to these moments, as well as moments during the process where common ground and newness “breaks through” into the space in the form of “breaking news”. The Opening Circle is the moment when the community physically forms itself in space-time, in a single, shared place. The Closing Circle is a harvesting, a loving goodbye and an “onwards” into the world.

The Open Space principles are beautiful in their simplicity, their eloquence, their hint of humour and irreverence in combining words like “Law” and “Two Feet”. They are beautiful because they are of their time, and because they are a warm invitation in the way they are worded and an offer of the minimal structure needed to self-organise. The Principles feel to me as if they have an angelic quality – a benevolent attempt to offer you just what you need, no more and no less, to do what you need to do, or what the world needs of you. The outcome? Real action in the world.

Open Space Technology is a little bit of genius that Nature allowed to escape, just when we needed it. It offers the possibility for us to naturally self-organise around something we collectively feel is important to our community. It offers the tiniest, sturdiest framework, hardly visible when we are in flow, to allow the possibility for us to “play” form onto matter. What is Quicker than Light? asked Goethe. Conversation. Open Space opens up the possibility of a free conversation of our thought, feeling and will.

Beautiful Open Space.


Dive even deeper!

Visit the Open Space Realm.

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