Saturday, September 02, 2006

Harrison Owen, Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, 1997.

I’ve been meaning to blog about this book since I read it back in May. It sat at my desk at work all summer, waiting for me to write about it. Of course, I’d been meaning to read the book for two years before I got around to it—ever since I heard the idea of Open Space mentioned by my friend Stephen, quite a space back now.

Put simply, open space technology is designed to get the people who care about particular ideas talking to one another with the goal of action. It’s quite a simple idea, really, and is quite profound as many simple ideas really are.

Basically, one has a theme. The theme is shared in a large open space, and people create sessions, and move between the sessions as they feel called. The organizing principle is that the right people show up to the right sessions at the right times. It's called the Law of Two Feet: if you're not contributing to a discussion, or getting something out of it, you're in the wrong discussion, and should move to another. Four ideas come from that:

  • Each person who comes to a discussion is one of the right people to be there

  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened

  • Whenever it starts, it starts at the right time

  • When it's over, it's over

If people thought like that more of the time, I'd have fewer painful meetings to sit through! Owen goes into detail about how to run such a conference, and offers some intriguing guidance, mostly in the form of stories about a variety of experiences in such a setting.

The idea of open space is fascinating, and I very much want to see it in an effective setting. The book impressed me enough that I mentioned it to my boss’s boss in my exit interview, as we were talking about how to get a group of people to move forward with ideas. Open space is really about taking responsibility to articulate ideas, and then to implement them: Owen’s book is well worth a read. I’m glad I bought it.