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A review of Harrison Owen’s Open Space Technology 3rd Edition

17 September, 2008 (03:52) | branding | By: Shannon Clark

I first encountered Open Space as a meeting format in the mid-1990’s in Chicago. I was a member of the Company of Friends, a group of readers of the magazine Fast Company which gathered together on a monthly basis. In Chicago the monthly meetings were held as Open Space meetings.

Since that time I have facilitated and opened many Open Space meetings and helped with seemingly countless other Open Space events or events held in the spirit of Open Space, if not always in the most formal of manners.

I highly recommend that everyone interested in Open Space visit Harrison Owen’s site Open Space World (.com) and the sister site Open Space World (.org) , a site managed in part by my good friend Michael Herman. And of course, I’ll cut to the chase in this review and also suggest that you buy the book (hint the image above is a link to Amazon and yes, I’ll get a very small affiliate fee if you click that link and buy it)

So what is Open Space and how does it apply to Slow Brands?

The short answer is that Open Space is a methodology for holding meetings which is incrediably powerful, seemingly simple, and yet also somewhat counterintuative. The meetings start without any formal agenda, instead the participants set the agenda, usually there are no speakers and little formal structure yet a lot can and does happen.

Harrison Owen’s book goes into great detail about all aspects of opening and holding an Open Space, his focus is generally on a fairly formal process which starts from an assumption that the space is opened by an inviation sent to a group of people who share a common and usually pressing interest.

Here in Silicon Valley, however, a hybrid type of meeting started a few years ago and has spread rapidly all over the world. These BarCamps while structurely often very similar to Open Space’s usually involve a large group of people with some shared interested, but usually from many different organizations and often brought together without a large specific or pressing purpose. As a result BarCamps tend to be held in a somewhat less formal manner than an Open Space as Harrison Owen describes them.

In my own practice I also generally modifty the formal aspects of Open Space in a few key areas.

But getting back to Slow Brands, what lessons can be learned from Open Space?

A key part of Open Space is the Four Principles and One Law.

The Four Principles

Whoever comes is the right people

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

Whenver it starts is the right time

When it’s over it’s over

The One Law

The Law of Two Feet

All that may sound a bit cryptic, even contradictory for a method of holding a meeting (how do you schedule such a meeting if discussions will take however long they have to take and that’s defined as being just fine?)

But underlying all of the principles and the law is a respect for others and a appreciation of quality over quantity or formal process. A lesson all brands, but especially smart, Slow Brands, would be wise to learn and ponder.

How can you think about your brand, your corporate identity and messaging, not just as something formal and sent down from above (i.e from the company to customers) but as part of an ongoing process?

If you get the chance to participate in an Open Space I encourage you to do so, if you find yourself planning a meeting, especially a meeting around a pressing and important topic and find that you are bogged down in agendas, schduling, and formal structure, consider the seemingly slower (but actually often faster) option of an Open Space.

And yes, though it is not my primary¬† service, I am occasionally available as a facilitator for Open Spaces (or can if I’m not available suggest fantastic facilitators).

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