owen at tmn.com
Mon Dec 21 08:32:45 PST 1998
>>>Harrison, just told us why he never sold any open space. But at the same
>>>time he is a heck of a salesman.
>>>He told us the secret, which makes him hot -- the customers wants an
>>>outcome and is usually unimpressed by the process. But that is only
>>>it -- the customer wants an outcome that offers some benefit to
>>>Most do not willingly pay to be harmed in some way.
>>>And this is where Harrison the super star shines -- he gets people to buy
>>>even though they don't know that it won't necessarily not harm them. (how
>>>many negatives is that ??) Super. I guess however there is some value
>>>providing customers with infomation of what might be harming their
>>>businesses but that has not surfaced or the customers have not yet
>>>John Naisbett in the original Megatrends (1983) said words to the effect:
>>>"Even Ronald Reagan, both as B-movie cowboy and as President knew that it
>>>was easier to ride the horse in the direction it wants to go". Knowing
>>>direction is probably of considerable value especially if you think you
>>>to go in another direction. And it could just be that OS will do just
>>>for your would-be customers.
>>>I guess if I would offer any advice it would be to discern some desired
>>>beneficial outcomes and work on your 'open' manager in the vein of "well
>>>you'll find out what is your likelihood of success", as the horse is
>>>and carrying you with it.
>>>The list of 'promises' do not in themselves constitute beneficial outcomes,
>>>though their content might. Here we are faced with the important
>>>between 'form' (or framework) and 'content'. They do not tell you what the
>>>real outcome will be and have very high potential to lead an organisation
>>>far from its managers' strategic intent.
>>>Taking one view that could be terrific because it might save the enterprise
>>>from disastrous mistakes, but the other side is also possible. The
>>>approach has been shown often to be completely incorrect.
>>>I share your concern with sales strategy
>>There is, as we all know, good news and bad news about Open Space. The good
>>news is that it works. The bad news is that it works. But sometimes (you
>>are quite right) the outcomes may not be quite what you expected (always)
>>or wanted (sometimes). But either way, I have never found them to be
>>non-useful, although in the moment some folks will have a very different
>>view. My favorite story along this line is about a client I once worked
>>with. It was a small consulting firm in a northeast city, and they had
>>invited me to do an Open Space around their future. By 1pm on the first
>>day, it was apparent to all that they (as an organization) had no future,
>>and by the end of the afternoon, the organization had been radically
>>re-configured, and to a certain extent, disbanded. All of this was done
>>without rancor and with a great sense of relief. These were good folks,
>>doing good work. But they had all been there and done that -- and now it
>>was time to move on. Problem had been that nobody had put the Dead Moose on
>>the table. But when they did, everything smelled an awful lot better.
>>So there are risks, and some folks are very risk averse. Those folks,
>>sooner or later, tend to go out of business.
>When I was CEO of the Union at RMIT, Brian Bainbridge was one of my Board
>members. We had mostly elected members, he often told me in my deepest
>frustrations that: "popularity does not equate to competency (or even
>The major difficulty I perceive is that the popular prevails. I see that
>"Whoever is present is the right people" but if they simply lack competency
>then all the chat, enthusiasm, energy etc will not help since they will
>attempt to solve the problem with what Howard Gardner calls 'the
>five-year-old mind": that is, from something like first principles.
>My story(s) is different. I went to OZ OS on OS, and the topic arose that
>all were interested in: "How to market OST" Now with the exception of me
>(a former Australasian Marketing Manager for the Computer Group of Hewlett
>Packard) all had no formal knowledge of marketing and few had more than the
>fleeting experience of brochures and flyers. At that point I had two
>choices, in my view both bad, because if I told them what really appears to
>happen they wouldn't understand; and if I let them embark on yet another
>brochure without following the well established practical rules, they would
>waste their time like the three times before.
>The problem is that to do things well you in fact need a deep knowledge of
>the domain. And we are suggesting to people that a superficial, popular
>view may suffice.
>In Harrison's case, being consultant's (though unspecified ones) the
>outcomes suggest that there were some underlying competencies in the
>strategic planning arena, because without them the Dead Moose would not have
>I work with two quasi Government agencies in the welfare arena. Until this
>year they were block funded, that is, they received a grant from the
>Government and eked it out through the year. Their clients were referred to
>them from other Government agencies. Accordingly there was no need to
>understand marketing or selling, and fifteen years or more experience of not
>needing these things was installed.
>The BIG Day arrived and the Govennment announced that they had to find their
>own clients and they would only be paid for the ones they "captured".
>No amount of 'brainstorming', appreciative inquiry, or other techniques
>would help because quite simply they did not have the models to follow. In
>one case their CEO had completed a respected MBA; but of course, had no
>experience. He could quote text books, but had no idea how to string
>together a cohesive plan. In fact, he couldn't even work out a new purpose
>for the organisation. I don't think that is a fit for OST. No doubt they
>would have had a great time and they might have constructed a plan of sorts,
>but without the necessary underpinning of a real knowledge of business they
>might just have well never have started.
>They needed to learn before starting on a process. They needed the start of
>a deep knowledge of the business domain before anything made sense to them,
>but they could have been 'sold' OST as a 'saviour' on the basis of
>The question is not that it works in either direction, but how do you
>provide psychological safety (to use Ed Schein's words) to the customer. Ed
>believes that change is inhibited by two opposing forces which he calls
>'survival anxiety' and 'learning anxiety'. OST appears to me to address
>these simultaneously and therefore could easily be one of the most
>important things in the world.
>But you still have to sell it. And in this case we are not talking about
>techniques but the over-riding principle of meeting the customer's need.
>This requires discernment of the need and indication of a strong likelihood
>that they will receive a beneficial outcome.
>It is not a question of writing them off as 'risk averse', they should be
>regarded as prudent, because you can't assure them that you won't harm their
>business, including their own livelihoods and that of their staff and other
>The question is "How do you characterise OST so that you can qualify the
>Lists of what might happen and 'it depends on' are not sufficent and suffer
>from the very lack that I suggest is inherent in most spaces, that is, lack
>of depth of domain, and, unless real capability is present, lack of depth of
Good stuff! On the question of competency, there is little question that
neither Open Space, nor anything else I know of, will magically cure the
lack there off. As the old saying has it, you can never make a silk purse
out of a sow's ear. True. But also true is that perceived competencies
often limit the range of options. Experts, after all know by experience
what can and cannot be done -- and everything else is off limits. If it
then turns out that the mode of solution is also the source of the problem,
it is quite likely that we can't get there from here. Enter the non-expert
with the "dumb" question. Sometimes it is simply dumb, but in my
experieince the simple act of visiting old territory often turns up new
possibilities. What I love about Open Space is that there is room for all
sorts of dumb questions in addition to "expert opinion" After all, you were
there in OZ, and presumably something useful came out from you and all the
But how do you promise that the answers will never harm the client? I guess
the truth is you can't. Not with Open Space, and not with any other
approach I know of. The sad truth of this life are that there are no
guarantees, at least in terms of methods and approaches. Sometimes they
work, and sometimes they don't -- and of course when "work" is a moving
target, everything gets a lot more interesting. From my point of view, the
method or approach is of infinitely less importance than the integrity and
presence of the consultant/facilitator. And here, it seems to me, is where
some real promises can be made. Promises to be present with integrity
through whatever is coming down. If this promise is accepted, trust is
established, and trust, it seems to me, is the coin of the realm. So when
it comes to selling Open Space, I don't. Open Space will take care of
itself. What is being sold is me -- although I don't really like the sounds
of those words, but I think they are true. I may offer a number of ways to
skin the cat, or only one way. And people will either trust me or not. In a
word, i think it is a lot more about being than doing anything -- including
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