Musings on the Law of Two Feet

koos de heer koosdhr at
Tue Aug 3 01:43:56 PDT 1999

Hi All,

I have been thinking about the Law of Two Feet.
In the book it says that "When you feel that you
are neither learning nor contributing, you go
elsewhere." Maybe it has to do with my Dutch
Reformed upbringing that I like to examine rules
and laws closely. In this case, it made me think
that the Law might benefit from a small addition.

I know that Open Space generally benefits from
less rather than more - I will get to that too.

It occured to me that it is rather serious - as
long as I am learning and contributing, or even
if I am doing only one of those two, it is OK.
Strictly taken, this would mean that there are
two valid excuses to bash the ego of the speaker
or the convener: I am not learning and I am not
contributing. But how about: I don't think it is
fun here? Even though I may be learning a very
important lesson here, or I may have a great
contribution to make to the group, if I don't
want to learn that lesson or if I am sick of
discussing the topic that I have been teaching
about all my life - I can also be very miserable
and the best thing for me to do could be to go.

And of course, in the spirit of Open Space, I
would encourage anybody in that situation to
go elsewhere. I have seen people exercise the
Law of Two Feet in situations where I had the
strong impression there was a lessen for them
to learn, but if the person would rather not
be there, learning will hardly be effective.

On the other hand, I can be in a situation
where I am not learning and not contributing
but having a great time. Does that mean that
I should leave and make myself useful? This
certainly appeals to my Calvinist upbringing
mentioned earlier!
Of course, in my vision of OS, there is nothing
wrong with having a good time and I will stay.

So that made me think of making an addition to
the Law: if you are neither learning nor
contributing or if you are not having a good time,
go somewhere else. This could work for me: I can
be contributing and even though there maybe things
that I'd rather do, making this contribution here
and now is important so I stay. Same for learning.
In the ideal situation I will be doing all three,
but if not, two out of three ain't bad and I could
even do with one.

But this led me to another question. Do I have to
have a reason for leaving? I think this is not the
idea of the Law of Two Feet. The idea is that I
could be in a situation where I find myself
starting to feel miserable and really not wanting
to be there. The Law is there to remind me of the
fact that I have a choice. Not the reasons why are
important, but the fact that I have a choice and
that I am the only one responsible for the
situation that I am in. Even staying and feeling
miserable is perfectly OK. The only thing that is
not OK is blaming someone else for it.

So now back to the Less is More thing. Maybe we
need not an addition to the Law, but simply a more
general version: whenever I find myself in a
situation I don't want to be in, I can go. And if
I am explaining it to someone, I can use all sorts
of examples about learning, contributing, having a
good time, being too lazy to get up (or too afraid),
or whatever, to stay or not to stay.

When I started writing this, I did not think
it would turn out this long... Anyway, I am very
interested in your thoughts on this.


koos de heer
auryn management advies
utrecht, netherlands
mailto:koosdhr at

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