Growing Your Work in Open Space


I shared some of this at WOSonOS2012 – the world Open Space on Open Space which took place in London in October.

At the core was the notion of moving away from pushing, selling, marketing Open Space in favour of simply responding to the questions of the times in which we live and describing OS and, more importantly, self-organisation as a valuable response.

I’d like to offer some new themes that, I believe, capture some of the “Zeitgeist” in organisational life. This zeitgeist “spirit of the times”, represents some of the pain being articulated in business and public organisations and, our response as facilitators of self-organisation and emergence creates new opportunities for us. We need only respond in emergent ways. Personally, I write about these things in a blog and people read it and sometimes contact me. The blog is a kind of gentle invitation to anyone who wants to respond. No “offer” is involved.

These are not the same old, same old themes that consultants, trainers and facilitators continue to offer (though you may be finding these more or less relevant) – certainly I am meeting many colleagues whose work has dried up, less because of the recession, and far more to do with their own dogmatic and fearful attachment to the old, to tired, now discredited themes, to pure repetition. They also buy into the initial collusive conversation with potential clients who often articulate safety (expressed as tired old themes and “needs”) and don’t realise that most organisations are secretly crying out for some inspiration. These days if you confirm you can deliver what many managers tentatively ask for, you actually are failing their often subconscious plea of “please, whatever you do, don’t buy this bullshit – I’m just lost and scared!”.
Lack of work in Open Space is often down to a failure of imagination, an over-detachment from the worlds’s pain. .
So, here’s my own gold and precious gems shared with you all (you may seem them sparkling or you may see them as something less lustrous!).
Theme 1 – The Collusion of mediocrity
– organisations wishing to explore ways to encounter reality and deep honesty and to move beyond the revelation of this into real action. They want to shift into zones of discomfort where the trainer risks being thrown out for their efforts to facilitate authentic dialogue. Here the applied improv is a more or less controlled explosion, a levelling of the ground, a deep dig to shaky foundations. This is about organisatioinal revolution, self-identity shattering and many consultants and facilitators haven’t a clue where to begin. If you are an addict of insipid, collusive positivity, the steer clear of this exorcism ,confrontational, critical incident type of work. But, for many organisations in big trouble, this is a BIG need.
The Open Space possibility: using Open Spaces as places of reality checking, honest dialogue creation, places to open up and deal with wounded people and organisations; conscious play with the darker side of change
Theme 2 – Aftermath
What the *** was that all about? Many organisations now contain recession-survivors or are still going through times associated with all of their original managerial models falling away and seeking to find new paths, new thinking, new imagination. Products are not selling, costs are too high, there have been job losses. Survivors seek help in making sense of what they have been through, are going through. According to John Cremer, much of the profound and challenging improv work he did with clients in good times are being used now in the bad times as tools for change and survival. Aftermath is all about recovery, reflection, gathering in, moving on, harvesting, learning deep lessons, turning past fear into future excitement, debriefing and new imagination
The Open Space possibility: Wonderful opportunities hear to help people and organisations heal through play, to help futures exploration, reflection and harvesting of learning
Theme 3 – The Digital Workplace
How do we relate as individuals and organisations to new forms of connection and communication? Is the digital workplace a place where people “enter” as avatars and self-versions or is it a place where content connects but we remain outside as puppeteers? What is play, creativity and connection in the virtual, digital work place? How do we sell online? Where is the borderland? Are intranets dead, to be replaced by spaces without firewalls? How do we share ideas without leaving our physical desks? Who are Generation Y and even Generation Z?
The Open Space possibility: to help organisations explore the always emerging and develop world of online commerce, virtual play and collaboration, “wiki”-creativity, avatar existence etc
Theme 4 – Cynicism and Trust
Do people believe what business managers and leaders say any more? Have we all become jaded by buzzwords and change-overload? Are Generation Y interested in older forms of management theory? How do organisations ensure consistent behaviour of shared values are perceived to be tools of senior managers to gain more personal bonuses for themselves whilst restricting staff to 0%? Where do values truly sit in the post-meltdown world?
The Open Space Possibility: To help individuals, groups, organisations and communities find authentic new ways to share values and behaviour, to help boards of directors reconnect with the missions and values of their organisations; to play “through” issues such as cynicism, to help make the business world a better place
Theme 5 – Grown Up Sustainability
This is about helping organisations to create new models and theories of work that ensure they do not fall into repetition. Emergent methods have so much to offer here – it isn’t about “green” sustainability (though that’s a big, relevant theme in itself), it’s about preventing organisational “death”, about imagining futures, about new forms of employment that are emerging including mobile and virtual working, and virtuous freelancing, and looking at the dangers of dogma and fixedness. It’s linking play and self organisation not just to ideas generation but also to direct innovation and experimentation. What n open spa event that might be!
The Open Space: To explore how and creativity aren’t just about problem solving but also about extending horizons, visioning scenarios, asking questions and engaging flow – Flow becomes a key content here: sustainable flow
Theme 6 – The Failure of Change Management
Many organisations and business bought it all – the change models, the team building events, the creativity tools workshops, the performances matrices, the leadership “experiences”, and they are now surfacing wondering why they are still in the ****. Wasn’t this stuff supposed to prepare us for this? Many feel jaded and even conned by the consultants who happily billed them for, at best, personally beneficial, organisationally-indifferent, feel-good events. (If you are finding me to be a misery guts, please stop reading and go find a group to play a guessing game with). Organisations are now seeking help with de-cluttering themselves from institutionalised bullshit and want some space to just explore and imagine some new stuff, and to harvest any good from what they learned in the past. And the challenge to develop new approaches that won’t land us back in the same hole.
The Open Space: this is now all about emergence, about honest reflection, and about going back to the original palette and finding spaces for freshness. Applied Improvisers can really help here with simplicity, with the proof that less in more, and that it is possible to work with cliche as ONE tool and not the only one, and to find our own originality. This is what many small business are doing in the new media sector.
Theme 7 – Fingertip Communication – the challenges of texting, tweeting and instant messaging
At its best mobile phone texting and instant messaging has transformed short-time communication, often to the point of an immediacy that is akin to a copy of a psychic gift. Instantaneous communication allows of chunking of information as well as fast-turnaround action and decision-making. It has led to new kinds of intimacy, a world of emotional expression via image and sound that is delivered by emoticon, animation and ringtone. Online messaging has taken texting into the realm of conversation and some have become so expert that they are texting inside their pockets whilst holding simulatanous face to face verbal conversations. Some are delighted, come are horrified, and nearly everyone is doing it.
Many years back, leaders talked of the need for email training and email etiquette and mostly have failed to engender either successfully. Instead, governance has been all about limitation and prevention. And yet these technologies are here, not only to stay, but also explode. The realms of Twitter and Linkedin, of Yammer and Facebook open up both possibilities and new problems – there are new challenges to face, new possibilities to tap into, new problems to solve.
The Open Space Challenge: We’ll need to open up this emerging field – in fact I think we have some catching up to do – what are the virtues and vices of instant connection. How do fingertip technologies differ from the spoken word, and the physically written word? How do we cope with quick turnaround, sentence for sentence communication. How do we “emote” ? What new forms of play emerge via these platforms? Which products are better for which kinds of communication? How can we improvise “virtually”? Virtual open space may come into play here.
More to follow, if anyone is interested.
Best wishes

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