OS on OS and the Dead Moose

Larry Peterson lpasoc at inforamp.net
Sun Nov 29 08:04:06 PST 1998

Larry Peterson

This is a rather long story about Open Space on Open Space VI where some of
the "Dead Moose" got on the table, some of it didn't but Spirit still
soared. I am writing for three audiences: the OSI Canada network because I
told Judy (our Editor for the next Newsletter) I would, and the Dead Moose
Society because they want a Dead Moose Story and the ListServe. I was a
knowledgeable participant but I, like others there, also helped to hold the
space in some ways. There were in fact two open space "events"--one called
OS on OS and the other was a smaller event of those who wanted to work on
the Open Space Institutes. The dead moose(s) arose in the first event. I
will begin with my mind set going into the event because it shaped my
perspective and actions.

A few days before travelling to OS on OS I had an internal dialogue about
what I might want to learn from this year's event, since I could be a full
participant and not the one Opening the Space. I found myself wanting to
learn more about Appreciative Inquiry and its possible links to Open Space.
I also felt the need to re-read Ken Wilbur, The Marriage of Sense and Soul.
I don't know why, but I trusted the intuition and re-read much of the book
on my journey. I also have a continuing interest in "research" and the OSI's
and I knew those would be on the agenda.

I knew this would be a different event for me from last year's for another
reason.  Becky, my life partner and occasional Open Space colleague decided
to use her conference budget to come. We came early to spend some time at
Big Sur Lodge in the Coastal Redwoods so I came to the event with positive
energy and already active in relationship.

After some brief introduction by Peg Holman and Linda Olson, some US OSI
folks, Father Brian Bainbridge, from Australia, began the Saturday evening's
storytelling.  I was not surprised at the storytelling, as Birgitt had done
that at OS on OS V. I was not surprised that there was a leadership team as
I had opened and held the space in Toronto with Linda Stevenson (OSI USA)
and it had gone well. I was a bit surprised that Fr. Brian had been asked to
both facilitate the evening's discussion and the next morning to Open the
Space. I thought it was a real indication of Pacific Ocean solidarity.

I was however sad to hear that Harrison Owen would not be joining us,
because he had the "Berlin Flu". I sensed this was certainly interesting if
not providential turn of events, but I have come to expect those in Open
Space. I expressed my sense of loss to him by e-mail and still wish he could
have been there.

On Sunday morning, Fr. Brian opened the space and there was both energy and
a good range of topics. I was attracted to my first Open Space session
because it had Appreciative Inquiry in the title. However, imagine my shock
when the session convener began with his new application of Ken Wilbur'si
analysis to organizations, teams and leadership and how that related to an
Appreciative Inquiry approach. He was wondering were Open Space fit. I was
amazed at the links to my own preparation.

Later in the day, I attended two sessions where the story of a 1000 person
Open Space led by Chris Schoch in France emerged. Chris was surprised by
what had happened in this mega-Open Space. It was the centerpiece of a
vision building change process in a large manufacturing multi-national. I
have led numerous 600-person events but I was really impressed by the size
(sometimes size matters) and by the nature of the preparation and follow-up.
For more on this, also see the end of this report.ii

I enjoyed the connections I made or deepened and the new learning at OS on
OS. I also saw some patterns to the Open Space sessions. There were usually
2-5 very experienced practitioners who were from a variety of countries.
There was a small group of those who were new, but had opened the space at
least once. I also began to see that more than half of most groups had not
experienced Open Space before. In the groups I attended, the initial
conversations were largely between the more experienced folks with newer
folks asking good questions to unpack this or that point. Fortunately, I did
not have Birgitt's experience of people who where trying to get detailed
training for free at the sessions I attended.

I did sense a "dead moose" emerging at the evening news on the first day. I
saw some people, who I would normally expect to be spirited, acting wounded
and saying so in some fairly obtuse ways. I connected to one to find out
what was up and got a perspective on tensions that appeared to be behind the
scenes. That dead moose did not get on the table.

The one that got on the table came up the next morning.  One of the people
new to Open Space stated her experience of "the dark cloud of not being
welcomed by the group". Birgitt stated her frustrations that there were many
newcomers and that some were demanding what felt like "training" in the
sessions. This led to quite a discussion between newcomers and the "inner
circle". This discussion went on for a good hour and a half. Many of us
stated our feelings and perceptions about the event, Harrison's absence and
the "inners" and "outers". The whole group held the space open to continue
the conversation even when "premature healing" was tried.

A critical point for me was when Ralph symbolically removed Harrison from
the center of the circle. A larger letter to him had been in the center of
the Open Space circle since the beginning taking up a third of the space.
Ralph moved Harrison over by the bar.  I think this helped us to clearly
realize that we were here in body as well as spirit and the right people to
work this one out.  We did not need to "walk around" Harrison to connect to
each other even though we missed him.

I think that morning news conversation was a true "dialogue". I felt that
truth was spoken and discovered, clarity emerged and we were more of a
community at the end of it, even with our real differences.

The closing of the space was almost anti-climatic after that discussion.
However, it was still moving to me and was a time of expressing
appreciation. It was also a time to acknowledge a stranger who had appeared,
with all kinds of connections to the UN and a newcomer to boot. He had
participated in the morning news and stayed. He then got actively involved
in the discussions about the future of Open Space Institutes in one group
discussion. I was also pleased that Becky had made some great links and that
her group had decided to Open the Space to save the planet. Her Faculty of
Environmental Studies is a great place for pursuing this.

I was in a good mood, but the following day focused on the Open Space
Institutes was still quite amazing to me. There were plenty of positive
"signs". During our first set of Open Space discussions a double rainbow
appeared right outside our widow and just the length of the hotel. It was
beautiful and we all stopped and experienced wonder together.

Soon after this, we were in discussion as to how to relate OSI's across the
globe. We explored possible words because we knew "global" would not work.
Birgitt and Michael, who were involved in the OS on OS discussion, then
proposed "World Wide Open Space", not "institute" but just as it is, to
symbolize our connections. I then realized and stated that we had just
"formed it". In fact we had just come to consciousness of what was already
there at another level. It was awe-inspiring for all of us and we sat
stunned for a moment. Soon thereafter, the phone rang and our stranger with
the UN links informed us that he had contacted the UN. He came to lunch to
tell us how he had been paving the way for the formation of World Wide Open
Space as a registered NGO related to the UN.

The importance of the UN connection and consciousness is that no one country
owns our worldwide intention. We acknowledged that the UN is not seen
positively everywhere, but is as good a vehicle as we currently have to
ground World Wide Open Space.

Other discussions during that day also helped us address the "newcomer" dead
moose by enabling us to be clearer what we and OS on OS are about. The
report from Peg Holman will soon provide the details, but I want to
emphasize a couple of points.

* A possible purpose for World Wide Open Space or the Country OSI's emerged
from Sheila's topic --  "Hold the Space for Open Space". We also developed
some possible guiding values and explored a few assumptions.

* In another discussion, a subgroup of us agreed that the purpose and
invitation to OS on OS must be clearer. We agreed that the invitation to OS
on OS should focus on those who have had at least experienced one Open
Space. It is not meant to be a first experience of Open Space for most of
the participants. We know that strangers and others will appear and we were
open to that possibility and need act accordingly when it happens. We also
agreed that positioning OS on OS before an OS training event was a mistake.
It needs to be clear that OS on OS is not training but is a place for
furthering our learning as to how to Open Space.

As for furthering that learning, I also want to reflect on the dead moose
that did not get on the table. Since I was not party to the discussions, I
can only speak in generalities. I do believe that there are differences in
the way all of us organize an event, set the context and then open space.
The differences relate to who we are as people and to our life journeys.
Some of us have found rituals and approaches to setting context that seem to
work over time and that include some elements that we think are critical to
a powerful event.

Given that a different individual or group is now opening the space at OS on
OS each year, it is a marvelous opportunity to learn from our corporate
experience. I think we need to be intentional about this and do it in an
appreciative way no matter how substantial the differences.  If not,
critical comments can easily be experienced as hurtful power plays where the
"inner circle" tries to impose the right answer. I believe strong opinions
are great learning opportunities, if both the giver and the receiver own
them as such. This could be done as the space is being closed at OS on OS,
but it would require the sponsoring group to clearly state this learning
objective as part of context setting before the space is opened. It is
something for Sheila and Michael to consider next year.iii

When a dead moose gets on the table, the truth about "dis-ease" and
unhealthy actions can be addressed. As a voluntary group of people learning
how to Open Space in ourselves and our organizations, I believe we will have
the assertion of personal power and "dis-ease" as part of our experience.
Our ability to sustain spirited connection will depend on the extent to
which we can keep the space open for the dead moose to get on the table and
for our own learning and healing.

1 For those who do not know Ken Wilbur's work, he is a philosopher who
integrates objective science, including systems, with subjective personal
and cultural experience in illuminating ways, ultimately "resolving" the
conflict between science and religion like nobody else has.

1 Further notes on the 1000 person Open Space:
The planning team booked a large arena and had to have special consideration
for fire preparedness, security and health issues. Everyone did sit in a
circle and the wall was huge. There were two "sub-groups" of 250 people or
more that worked well. The union led one. The talking stick did not go to
all 1000, but he did pass it around the center ring before going up and down
the isles to see if others wanted to say something. There was a lot of
preparation throughout the organization before the event, including a Future
Search. After the event, the conveners of Open Space groups met to reflect
on the event, to set priorities and to pursue the ongoing follow-up. They
developed an Open Space room where the progress of various groups has been
tracked. The room has become a location for putting up other topics and the
formation of new groups.

1 Thanks to Michelle, Pat, Virginia and Birgitt for some reflection on this.

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