at Work:

A Personal
and Public
Invitation to
Open Space

Michael Herman

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Questions to:

[email protected]

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Opening the Space: A Sample Script


This script is something I first distilled from Harrison Owen's Open Space User's Guide (available at any good bookstore). Over the years I've added my own notes. It helps me remember what really needs to be said in the opening of the space, and what really does not. I don't think I've ever opened the space without a copy of this in my back pocket, but that's just me. I HIGHLY recommend getting the User's Guide and working out your own process. In the meantime, here are my notes...




  • Look around circle/bounding the space
  • What do we know about who's here?

State the theme

  • Summarize comments by host/sponsor/client organizer

A Little History

  • 15 years, 5 continents, no marketing budget or advertising department
  • African villages, American boardrooms, ATT, Honeywell, Old St. Patrick's, Peace Corps, Pentagon, World Bank, Sage Hospital, Presbyterian Church
  • 5 to 1000 people at a time
  • Outstanding results -- it will work here, too

Descibe the Process - How this is going to work today

  • Invite those who want to, and nobody has to
  • Identify some issue/opportunity related to our theme
  • Something you have real passion for and will take personal responsibility for starting the conversation about it
  • Don't have to be an expert with answers, need to care enough to ask the question and start the conversation
  • If nothing occurs to you, fine -- if more than one, post them on separate pages
  • In a minute, ask to come forward, grab the paper and markers
  • Write your topic and you name
  • Read it out -- "my name is ... and my issue is...."
  • Post it on the wall so everyone who shares your interest can find your conversation

The Four Principles

  • Whoever comes are the right people don't need 100 people and the ceo to do good work...need the people who care if nobody comes, might be a bad idea, or just bad timing you might be the only one who knows enough to deal with it or see its importance take it as just another piece of information, spend time on it yourself or move on
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have be prepared to be surprised, be very dull if everything always went as expected forget coulda, woulda and shoulda and go with the flow of what is here and now
  • Whenever it starts is the right time -- spirit and creativity don't run on the clock
  • When it's over it's over if you finish in ten minutes, don't rehash for another 50...move on when it's not over, it's not over...so you might have to move, but don't have to end

The Law of Two Feet

  • You have the right and the responsibility to use your two feet to go wherever you need to in order to maximize your own learning and contributing today.
  • If you're not learning or contributing...go someplace else -- don't waste time.
  • Means if you aren't enjoying where you are, it's totally your choice to stay or move on
  • Law is death to egotists and speechmakers
  • Creates bumblebees who cross-pollinate and butterflies who create space to just be

Veteran Strategies
(some suggestions sometimes offered for shorter spaces, with thanks to OST veteran Giles Hopkins)

  • Be a bumble bee, butterfly
  • Ask a provocative question
  • Convene a consulting group
  • Save time to ask for conclusions/recommendations
  • Pass a sign-up sheet to gather participant names
  • Convene a sequel
  • Limit attendance and do it twice
  • Issue "special" invitations
  • Find a co-conspirator (co-convener)
  • Type the notes from butterfly conversations
  • Capture notes on flipchart paper
  • Convene lunch/dinner sessions
  • Hold your session in whatever language works
  • (to be continued...)

Jumping In

  • Can't learn to swim from the side of the pool -- time to jump in
  • Identify an issue or opportunity for which you have some real passion
  • Think of a short title and write it with your name
  • Read it out -- my name is... my issue is..... -- no speeches required or allowed
  • Post it and come back to circle


  • Clear a path to get to the wall
  • Sign up for everything that interests you, even if more than one during the same session
  • Conflicts...can combine, move or bumblebee, but conveners have final word on it
  • Veteran strategies for short sessions
  • On your own, take responsibility for your own meetings/times, bells don't ring until closing


  • talking stick, passed or in center of circle
  • medicine wheel
  • written footprints




  • hero's journey
  • treasure hunt, nobody knows
  • blowing bubbles
  • bubbling cauldron
  • creeping ivy
  • space to work

Guiding Intentions

  • be with, be open, be space
  • expanding our now, nobody knows
  • what if it all really works?
  • open invitation, unconditional offering
  • room/right to make own choices
  • less is more
  • have fun, play

Answers to every question

  • what do you want to do?
  • great, why don't you take care of it?

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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]