at Work:

A Personal
and Public
Invitation to
Open Space

Michael Herman

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Questions to:

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Blowing Bubbles in Open Space

(difficulties in open space calls forth some metaphorical musing in a letter to a client...)


january, 1998


dear (client, friend, executive director, open space challenge),

today i am thinking about blowing bubbles and opening space...not 'doing open space' but actually opening space for people and organizations to catch their breath and be ready for what's coming next...

when it starts, the soap seems totally incapable of becoming anything more distinguished than a puddle...but we introduce a circle, add breath and give it direction...and then must let it go where it will. there is no such thing as bubble editing. and even though the opener concentrates on the soap in the center of the circle, the reality is that the center soap is not different from the rest of the soap. it just happens to be in the center, at this moment. as far as the bubble is concerned, the soap in the center has no more, and no less, responsibility for leading and holding the bubble together than does the rest of the soap.

to cling to a bubble is to pop it. we know this. to take responsibility for it's path is a waste of time. at best, there is only some brief chance to remove obstacles, but to expect it to follow the path we clear is nonsense. and so it is with open space in organizations...it can't be designed or boxed, used as a tool or managed as a path. there is only the breath of spirit and the direction given by the openers. after that, all we can do is stand back and watch the flight, knowing that bubbles, circles and meetings...all of us and all the rest... come and go -- but add to the story.

and the story is the spirit of soap, in which we dip and from which all bubbles come. so keep your eye on the bottle, pay attention to the soap, and keep working to understand the largest story. the attached (bottle of bubbles) can be used for testing and practice.

best for now,



(...becomes conversation with colleagues in open space...)


A few months later, I raised this bubble-blowing metaphor at a conference on Organization Learning, held in Open Space in Washington DC. The participants came from all over corporate America. Here is a taste of what we did with my questions about bubbles, etc.

ISSUE #10: structure, impermanence and blowing bubbles in organization

Convener: michael herman

Participants: bob van hook, patti kaufman, pam burke, rob creekmore, paul gergen, judy cannon, william ashton, maddie hunter, roger breisch, martha temple, jack hirschfeld, carol gorelick, ruthann prange, nancy barger, denise matirri, peter gordon



how is your work like blowing bubbles with soap???
-mechanisms take some orientation, then easy to make lots of standardized bubbles
-streams of work
-spinning in circles, getting dizzy, but producing a lot
-the beauty of the chaos of it all
-symbols of play
-play AND work...others have used juggling, non-dominant-side movement to loosen up
CONCLUSION: should benchmark kids in school to understand how work and play really should go together


what happens when we try to blow single large bubbles, put more of ourselves into each piece of work???
-takes balance of internal and external focus
-big bubbles capture group's attention, like big, meaningful, pieces of work
-initial assumption: bubbles don't last, aren't replicating... "i have to keep making more"
-realization: one person's large bubbles (big successes) caused others to try, raised standards, cause other bubbles to appear elsewhere in the circle
CONCLUSION: need to focus on learning, emerging process, not just finished, physical products
CONCLUSION: the kind and quality of the conversation DOES MATTER


so what about people cutting lettuce, entering data, doing other work that just doesn't qualify as "play"????
-why do we work? -- possibility of creating something new
-we teach people to do technical task, don't teach how to create meaningfulness in work
CONCLUSION (after more than we could capture here): big challenge for leadership is to help more people see (and make) choices, for changing work or changing the way we do it


are we now in a new renaissance age, making the leap from the printing press (moveable type) to computers? if so, what does the new renaissance organization look like?
-space to reflect
-more time in silence together
-time for learning
-many diverse people at table
-conversations, salons
-relax mentally and physically


does information flow/technology make conscious evolution possible???
would we/could we edit our organizations' DNA???


(...and eventually becomes open space invitation
-- or was it invitation all along?????)


The question is often asked about open space technology and other meeting processes: How does it get to action? Well, the honest answer is that no process can guarantee action. We didn't plan action in the session documented on the previous pages, but a few months later I sent out the following invitation and several of the original participants responded. When the time was right, the conversation and action did go on. My own lesson? Evolution is hard to do by yourself, and almost impossible to stop.

MHA Home | MHA Conferences | Global Chicago Calendar | [email protected]

You are invited to join us for a Working Conversation...

Intentional Evolution in Organization:
Toward More of What Works at Work

When: Friday, September 18, 1998 -- 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Where: Carleton Hotel, Oak Park, IL (one block from Chicago trains)

Cost: $35 to $95, according to your ability to pay and expected benefit -- as determined by YOU. Includes meeting costs, lunch and breaks, and a copy of the proceedings report.

Convened by: Michael Herman, Leslie D'Agostino, Kathy Schroeder, Julie Benesh, Steve Proudman, Sheila Isakson, Kay Vogt, Gretchen Neve, Ann Darda, Linda Easley, Joanna Slaybaugh, Debbie Drake, Gary Cuneen...

For: Leaders at every level, of all kinds of organizations, to work on challenges we all share, toward solutions we all need...
Purpose Program Registration Practicalities

What you can see, is what you can get...

What if you could edit the DNA of your organization? Would you do it or does that sound too radical? What if you could alter your organization's genetic code, to have more of what works and fewer problems? Isn't that what you're already trying to do? As we learn to see the subtler realities of organizational life, we are fast approaching an age of intentional evolution in our organizations.

All around us, the world as we've known it is dissolving -- jobs into projects, communication into computers, corporate offices into homes and copy centers, and even national sovereignty into international corporate strategy. Once a rather abstract theory, the process of evolution has become our personal and professional life experience. In many cases, the lifecycles of jobs, products, strategies, and even whole organizations have been crashed from decades to months. In the chaos of these times, it's easy to see things coming apart.

The challenge for leaders everywhere is to see that things are also coming together in powerful new ways -- and to act in ways that help (rather than hinder) the emergence of new possibilities.

Insightful leadership is about seeing the possibilities for wholeness in conflict, order in complexity, learning in crisis, and power in diversity. Inspired performance is what happens when people see these possibilities becoming realities in their work. To evolve more intentionally is to create conditions for higher and higher levels of insight and performance, everywhere in the organization.

What are the issues and opportunities for evolving our organizations more intentionally -- to create more of what works at work? This is what we want to find out!

Our quality of life, as individuals and organizations, depends on shared stories of what has succeeded and failed in the past, practical stories of what's working now (and why), and clearer stories of the role that everyone will play in what comes next. Please join us as we renew our energy, work on our stories, and build our capacity for a new kind of work and immediate next steps.

Show up, bring friends, add spirit...

If you know other people who would want to be invited to this gathering, please pass this invitation (address) along. Consider this an opportunity to let friends and colleagues know something more about your passion and responsibility for your work and your organization(s).

If you absolutely can't make this date, we'd still appreciate your spreading the word, sending your good wishes, and letting us know how we can include you in whatever futures might flow from this gathering...but we really hope you will join us in September!

This gathering is an opportunity to...

1. Explore a simple framework designed to help people everywhere in our organizations begin to see and act as their own local organization development experts.
2. Learn about what's working in our organizations -- why it's working, how it can work in other places, and how we can follow it up with something that works even more...
3. Connect with insightful people, from all kinds of organizations, to grow working relationships and conversations that can support our personal and organizational evolution.
4. Experience Open Space Technology, a simple, powerful approach to work, that has enabled people in all kinds of organizations, on all seven continents (really), to make rapid progress on their most challenging strategic and tactical issues, in highly productive meetings of as few as 5 and as many as 1200 active participants.
5. Create new knowledge, new ideas, new capabilities, and new energy for action, for every person present and every organization represented.

The format will work as follows...

1. An opening presentation connecting the possibilities for intentional evolution to the realities of our everyday experience in organizations.
2. An introduction to the Open Space Technology process and principles
3. An almost-all-day open space, for identifying and addressing the issues and opportunities that are most important to our organizations, and us in them!
4. A conversation about how we might sustain and build on the energy, insight and activity that will surely emerge during the course of this day.


Advance registration is required for this program. If you want to come at the last minute, we're glad to take a payment at the door, as long as we still have room for you -- so please call or email first.

The cost for the program is $35 to $95, on a sliding scale according to your ability to pay and expected benefit -- as determined by YOU. Your payment will cover meeting costs, lunch and breaks, and a copy of the proceedings report.

To register, send a check made payable to:

Michael Herman Associates
300 West North Avenue #1105
Chicago, IL 60610

Be sure to include all of your contact information (address, phones, emails, etc.) with your check. And, if you need an invoice or receipt, just let us know.


(Lodging, parking and other important, but not very interesting, details omitted here.)

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Evolution at Work: A Personal Journey and Public Invitation to Open Space, by Michael Herman (www.michaelherman.com)
© Copyright 1998-2000 Michael Herman. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reprint or distribute without permission and full attribution, including web address and copyright notice. Permission will be granted gladly if you'll just say what you'd like to copy and where you'd like to share it. [email protected]