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The Four Practices of Open Space

This page is some early work on OpenSpacePractices, March-ish 2005. Much of my work since then can be scanned in [the InvitingLeadership category of my weblog]. It's been quite an journey, exploring and refining.

Still refining these four practices of OpenSpaceTechnology that ChrisCorrigan? got me thinking about again. Christopher's additions... ...and updated briefs with an eye to teaching in workshop form, based on our continuing conversations, .

Opening / Resting - Willingness, Expanding, Appreciating, Connecting and Embracing More of Current Reality

The first practice is Opening or Expanding. The primary tool for this is our Passion, those things we really care about, are curious about, and especially (going back to the etymology of Passion) those things that cause us suffering, that bother us, that we want to be different. These are the things that stretch or tease or even break us Open. The spirit or necessary condition of Opening is Willingness, a Welcoming of what is, as opposed to denial, avoidance, or even indifference. The effect is Embrace, Contact or Connection, the ability to be with, to be open, without grabbing for what is wanted and without contracting away from real suffering, real healing, the inclination toward wholeness. This is the Heart of Life, the juice. In Open Space, it's the Circles, of interest, influence, invitation and ultimately, participants. The action/nature of this practice that we return to again and again is Resting, relaxing to open embrace of more and more of what is.

This is resting in the sense of letting down our guard, letting others in, or into the work, considering the odd possibility that "those people" (choose your favorite "other guys") might have something to add to the work. This takes guts, courage, the latter derived from the french word coeur for heart. So this is practice is all about opening heart, addressing core issues, opening the circle of people allowed to touch the issues and do the work. It's not so much about making ourselves more willing. It's enough to notice and work with the edges where we already are willing, even if our willingness has arisen only because we've already been pushed by circumstances beyond our control. Willingness and Opening are the practice of not defending against the push of what is, not creating illusions, distractions and denials, It's the practice of embracing and connecting its energy to the (equally real) work that must be done now.

Alignment with healing and the fundamental practice of freedom. When we ask what has heart and meaning for us, what makes us more whole and alive, we invite ourselves to open to the fullest expression of our intention, to connect with what is alive in us, as Marshall Rosenberg would say. As an inner practice it requires conversation and interpretation to understand, personal inquiry into one's self, it's about resting and noticing oneself and being open to more of what wants to be born. It is an appreciative and compasionate inquiry into one's intention.

Being Open-Hearted… not just the act of opening, but the practice of being that way, resting in that state. The tool here is experience, our own life experience. The workshop conversation is about the life experiences that have opened our hearts, in gentle or devastating ways — and how we’ve managed to maintain various states of openness, in spite of everything. The vehicle here is Body, and the product is Passion.

Inviting / Focusing - Clearing, Aligning, Choosing, Naming, Inviting into New Levels or Directions

The second practice is Inviting, with the primary tool being Goodness, benefits to self and others. Nobody wants to really show up to anything unless they think it's going to be Good. The invitation names the Good and Invites people to make more of it. The spirit or condition required here is Truth. The Good, the benefits, have to be real and true, not just spin. The effect then is Good Story or Vision which provides True Direction, the way forward. This the Brain of Life, eyes, ears, voice. In Open Space, it's the Invitation and the Bulletin Board that holds next-level invites. The action/nature of this practice that we return to again and again is focusing, finding the words to name and describe the opening that is the way forward, what's working and how it can be extended, the stories that invite because they help people see a way forward into the new opening.

[tentatively... This is naming in the sense fitting and forming the story of our work and plan and strategy from what clearly is happening now, and what is needed next. It relies on some sort of shared language, does its work in the language of those "other guys" whose importance we have accepted in the process of Opening. This is looking, listening and speaking... seeking clarity through others and then offering clarity to others. And to the extent that we succeed in seeing and hearing and saying what is really happening, and needed now, the people we need will receive the invitation and respond. It's not about advertising, selling and certainly not about gathering a cast of thousands or efforting to make something good happen. It's enough to watch and listen, then speak and invite the people we already know. It's enough to name the movement that is, even and especially if it is not what we want, not what we're used to, or not what we expected or yet fully understand. Inviting and Naming are the practice of not being willing to accept just any old story, not being open to any odd direction. It's the practice of focusing and choosing, finding the common good, the shared benefits, the mutual victories, the global tasks and naming them in words that "the people" in our Circle can hear and recognize as their own calling and direction. In this way, alignment is discovered not manufactured, clarity and vision are simply named and invited out from within.]

Invitation arises from conversation, deeply connected conversation which follows on the openess of vulnerable intention, intention that wants to reach into the world. What lives here is the appreciative view that our world is formed socially and that good actions follow from good visions. THis is about a social construction of a vision of the world, a dream of goodness and truth that changes everything. Vaclav Havel, Gandhi, inspiration and invitation to be good. The practice of the inviter is the smae as the visionary, and it involves seeing ans sensing skills, a conversation with the world that shapes the invitation and the shared meaning.

Telling Visionary Stories… not just any storytelling, but the practice of speaking of our visions, of putting words and giving voice to the scattered data, fuzzy patterns, and blurry sensations we have of what we want and what might now be possible. The tools here are maps and languages. Every department, team, family and function has its own set of words and pictures to hold them together. The more languages we know, the bigger and broader the story we can spin, the more people we can invite. The workshop conversation here is about Inviting Organization, a map and language for maps and languages. The vehicle is Invitation, and the product is Organization, in the sense of Order and Direction.

Holding / Sitting - Hosting, Cradling, Organizing Structures that Support Movement

The third practice is Holding, with the primary tool being structure, that is, the rules, agreements, boundaries, levels, boxes, buckets, hierarchies, webservers, conference rooms, town halls, curricula and everything else we use to make order. The necessary spirit and condition here is that of Hosting or Holding, in every sense from hosting parties, to conferences, visitors from out of town, even websites. The effect is supporting, some might say safe, Space... for movement and activity, for learning and development, for play and production. This is the Pelvis, the bowl that hosts and holds our Guts, on which Heart and Brain depend and stack. In Open Space, it's the Marketplace, the Law of Two Feet, the room to move and make the individual decisions that maximize learning and contribution. The action/nature of this practice that we return to again and again is supporting structure, the tools and conditions on which movement and decision-making depend and from which people and organizations spring forward in those inviting (invited) directions.

This is holding, hosting, supporting in the sense of cradling, helping new work hold itself together until it can hold its own shape for itself. In this practice, less is more. Every decision we make for people, every tool, resource and boundary we provide is something they can't do for themselves. Conversely, everything we leave open, unstructured, unscripted is something they will learn and create for themselves, as soon as they really need it. And everything they create for themselves, they will fully understand, fully support, fully own and accept. The practice is about offering space, flexibility, room to grow, ways to stay connected, to make and hold the shape of new work, and to keep letting it go, letting it move, and move on without any dependence at all on us. It's the practice of not inviting, suggesting, or directing... but simply making and holding the space for a group to do what it needs to do. It's about setting the Circle of chairs, briefly introducting the work, and picking up the empty tea cups as the energy already invited shows up and starts to move and work.

Otto Scharmer and Senge et. al. call this "letting come" it lies on the pther side of presence from letting go. We have emptied ourselves and now we open ourselves to what might be born and by holding space we let it come. We form the channel and the tide rushes into us. It's chaotic and rushing but is more described as chaordic - chaos in which structure snd order is implied. And we simply hold and allow and stay with the thing that wants to be born. This is where the midwife's patience comes in, supporting the birthing mother and trusting that she can birth the child. And trusting that the child knows how to be born.

There is another thing here, and that is a practice of letting go. Bringing an invitation into the world requires the letting go of control and ownership. It is the preparation for something new by emptying one's thoughts and speech into the world, expecting it to come back in the form of others responding with passion and responsibility. If we cannot let go of ourselves and our invitations, we will not have any space for holding and nothing will come. Making and invitation into the world and holding open the space that it creates inside of us is a generous practice.

Offering (and Holding) Space… the offering is important, no push, no grab, just letting what we have, our attention and our space, be there for the taking, for the use and support of what wants to happen in front of us, and all around us, within the circle of space that we circle and name as “us” and “our time together.” The tool(s) here are structures, but specifically those structures that support movement, rather than restrict it. Rules, if you will, that say what we can do, rather than what we must or must not do. Shapes of organization that create, and offer, choices. The workshop conversation is about space and support for movement. The vehicle is Organization, and the product is Invitation, in the sense of real Space and Support for Movement.

Embodying / Standing - Generating, Leading, Grounding, Defending, Stabilizing, Practicing and Sustaining by Taking Steps and Making Footprints

[tentatively... The fourth practice is Embodying, whose primary tool is Position, location. Leaders take a stand and takes steps, makes moves and does it first, as a model and way for others. The necessary condition and spirit is that of Responsibility, for oneself. The effect of Embodying is Grounding, accountability, traction, reality, results, production, making real, leaving footprints and paying the bills. This is the Legs and Feet of Life, that we extend to and into the world, to get things done, and walk our talk. In Open Space, it's Breathing, ongoing practice, opening and reopening, and documentation, wherein the proceedings from one meeting become the invitation to the next one(s). The action/nature here that we return to again and again is realizing, as in making real, taking action and documenting results with the effect of marking position and establishing what we then call reality.]

This kind of leading and making is a generative process. It makes a stand, takes positions. These aren't always bold new positions, but rather the positions, steps and actions that are supported by the social and technical structures that Cradle all of us. It's humble and humbling service, to show up and work from and for the support of an organization, community or society, to generate the energy to do what needs to be done, as supported by the existing structures and supports, to defend the Cradle. This practice is about the vigilance, accountability, and durability that sustain us and the systems we live in. Rogue warriors are condemned and attacked as criminals or cast off as crazies, so everything new must extend, connect, and spring from everything that's been. This practice teases the future from the jaws of the beast of unknowing. Be careful, stable, keep your feet on the ground, stay in the fight, but stay alive. The battle is won, the practice perfected, and all of life sustained in the fierceness of our commitment to small steps, not in any one stunning achievement. We take action one next step at a time, as we move away from the systems that Cradle us, defend our own actions, generate our own life, and choose our own work... until we are ready and Willing to Open again to something more than what we can recognize and control as our own.

This kind of action tends towards the unconscious competent, whereby we master our technique and simply act in the world without thinking. It is the kind of action which does not require decisions, because it is in service of emergence. We don't have to decide how to breathe. It is fundamental to life. Making our work fundamental life is the grounding practice that means that we act without thinking, in flow to make ripples, not to struggle (that's next door in Purpose/Opening?) but to act effortlessly, at the beck and call of life and emergence itself.

Grounding… making it real. making it touch, as impact, and imprint, a difference. and making touchdowns. score! making tracks, traction, and action. taking the steps, in the space, aligned with the vision, as guided by an open heart. showing up. on the ground. The tools are actions, steps, or perhaps gifts. The workshop conversation might be about gifts and giving. Assets and Exchange. Self and Others. Ground. Ground that is bigger, less theoretical, more sensational than Common Ground. More like Ground of Being. Which brings us back to the first practice, and how we are being… Aaaahhhhh….. The vehicle here is direct and personal responsibility, for our own learning and contribution, experiences, actions and reactions. The product is Peace. room for struggling and efforting anywhere, chris, not even in purpose/opening. stretching perhaps, but still without effort or push or grab.

some comments to integrate into the above...

Dynamics of the halves

The upper quads are the quads of warriorship, the lower quads are the quads of midwifery. And there is a beatiful and elegent asymmetry to all of this:

Purpose is passive warriorship, Action is active warriorship
Story is active midwifery, Structure is passive midwifery

So this translates into the dynamics of left and right too, the left being the quads of work inside and the right being quads of work outside:

Purpose is passive inner work, Story is active inner work
Action is active outer work, Structure is passive outer work.

AshleyCooper?... i'm a little late in responding and reading... but after your first post, michael, i got all excited about these practices and began playing with them in my own language... and in regards to the work i do. i've only dipped, but i'll share what i came up with:

practice of opening: resting in what is and allowing flow to move through. Being Available and Receptive. Following the depths of curiosity, giving attention to wonder and awe. Freeing up blocked energy, honoring and moving through contractions.

Practice of inviting: Accentuating openings and requesting engagement through curiosity and exploration of passion and interest. Extending opportunity for connection. (and a side note. i've been reflecting that Dreaming (during awake time) is Invitation without expectation.)

for leadership... i think that an important aspect is following. Following Guidance and attention with courage and presence. inviting connection and participation in following passion and purpose. Riding the growing edge while staying connected to and aware of environment. Surrendering to power that moves through and honoring the power in all (as a means of transcending the myth of control and power over).

some flavors to add to the soup.


Last edited August 22, 2006 8:42 pm CentralTimeUSA? by MichaelHerman

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© 1998-2020 Michael Herman and, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael