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October 18, 2005

The takeover of all human conversation 

I was going to say when, but I had better say if (because sustainability is now odds against our species) the history of the early 21st C is written doubtless it will be writ: those were the days that all human conversation was taken over by the brand:
with its day after recall in people's conversations, its sporting proxies, its nagging at people's lack of confidence (feel the pain buy me)

Back in 1990 I wrote a book World Class brands; it made a plea if we have to have global brands with billion dollar ad budgets in tow, please could they focus on great inspiring purposes of organisations not on nagging propositioning. Clearly not enough marketers heard my plea. Nor was it their fault because the accountants and big ad agencies had already cooked the books: brand valuation algorithms go up the more ad spend you message the brand with; they go down the greater you invest in organisational purpose because that compounds value exponentially over the future, and who cares whether that is on an upward or downwards trajectory -not something the accountant who wants to report the last 90 days performance bothers with (even when it downs one of their own big 5) as long as it monpoloises the boardrooms analysis. Blinder than bats sail we into a collapsing world of flying plagues and katrina's that need grassroots up distribution of intelligence to act on not a superpower cocooned in a white house. When the once head of FEMA said of some poor folk from N.O.: we didnt know people like this existed, that's the final irony of image-making so the top has become so remote that all its immense power couldnt ever reach to the bottom-up anyway

All of this is a preamble for quite a long mail on an antidote. I wish we had lots of antidotes- long worded or short provided they are as simple and simpol as this one. But there is a catch you need to play your collaborative part in restoring trust-flow as do I as does every CEO in every land as do the teachers of his school-kids.

Now some of you may feel that open space is not about brand at all. I can assure you trust-flow is all about living and learning and listening and co-working purpose.Its all about giving the people back conversation, and boy does the world of 2005 need the people to stand up, like the scene in the Jack Lemmon film, put your head out of the window and shout back I have had enough of conversations being taken over by image-makers rather than progressing the reality-making of life

I sincerely belief this bold statement from my 2nd open space on

I also realise that the Rolls Royce open space of 3 days - much needed if the invitation connects people in deep conflict - is a handicap to getting widespread awareness of what open space is and how natural its practice is

This is another reason why I believe we in 80 countries who mentor open space around Harrison Owen 25 years and 50000 stagings should look for opportunities to do 60-90 minute open spaces qualifying that they are not the whole thing but letting people see how lively communications processes involve everyone's flow

Here are just 3 situations that I would love to see 60 minute experiments; the first can be done anywhere you are with friends, the second and third I'd love to hear if you find an inaugural stage

1 when you meet friends over coffee; why not bring a set of postits and play the game of gravity pursuit: instead of small talk, what's the biggest issue we could all enjoy talking about today; make the market of what people see that as involving with the postits stuck on the table in front of you; go round the table choosing one postits perspective of the issue; if the coffee hour ends without all topics discussed-ask those who post them whether something's been left out so people can pick up the conversation next time or 1:1

2 I feel it's particular crime that open space isnt used frequently if at all in schools; at least twice a year near the start and near the end would be a good time to get a students open briefing ; probably for every age group up from 9; again apart from the longer period needed to explain this for the very first time, a class could spend an hour getting out the topics of concern to the age group; and at least peers would see how many joint concerns they had; and thoughtful teachers might see that there are life issues that the schools curriculum has siloised, and needs to do better next time. How these issues trended across age groups or over time at a school would be fascinating. What these issues are should also be front page news wherever parents are concerned about their children's upbringing. Why do we do market research but not people development research? This theme is getting the more vital, the more teaching is taught by multichoice standard books. I really dislike this parroted facts format that my nine year old is going through at the moment compared with the way I was taught at 9

3 And what about a company. Why couldnt the start of each working week start with an agenda half hour. OK no time to converse there and then but at least the issues concerning people would be continuously flagged up and transparent management would use this as their input rather than play guessing games. I wrote a book in 1995 about how companies that were serious about leading with an unique purpose and culture and values that supported this would permit interdisciplinary Q&A - as well as custom questions, our research showed 10 that would always be useful to permit people to debate- eg what would the world uniquely miss if our organisation ceased to exist tomorrow-probe by stakeholder, segment, perspective and get all the view out there. This methodology had a surprising sting in the tail. The questions that a particular management group would let everyone converse round told us more about the organisation's purposeful health than I would ever have imagined. There is something similar about not letting employees start the week -or any week of their working life - with a half hour of agendas they want to see open posting.

There are probably zillions of other ways open space's molecular freedoms could be brought to the public without having to start with a 3-day event. Any suggestions anyone?

We have a London open space blog that looks at these extended methods - we often call these collaboration cafes; and over the 2 years that I have been talking this way hundreds of Londoners have experienced a cafe who might not have ever got to an open space; and through our clubofcity blog that co-syndicates ideas between citizens across all hemispheres collaboration cafes have become one of the ongoing discussion topics. So much so that London now googles as the number 1 knowledge collaboration city - not that intercity collaborators are competing as long as the awareness of the value of open collaboration is on an upward exponential everywhere.
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