OS principles through the eyes of improvisers


July 30th, 2008

At ¬†OSonOS in San Francisco, Yeal Schy and I co-convened a session to explore the Open Space principles using improv games. We were ‘encouraged’ (!) by Michelle Howard, and joined by Becky Peterson, Anne Feehan and Fabulous James.

We wanted to explore the principles of Open Space: Whoever comes are the right people, Whatever happens is the only thing that could have, Whenever it starts is the right time, and When it’s over it’s over. Plus, The Law of Two Feet (taking responsibility for your own experience and learning) and passion and responsibility, and ‘be prepared to be surprised’.

We played a few warm-up games then Yael suggested ‘Yes Let’s’. This one game seems to embody all of the above. Brilliant!

Folk mill around until somebody calls out ‘let’s (any activity)’, for example ‘let’s fly a kite’ – then everybody mimes that action, until somebody else makes another offer, for example ‘let’s roll on the floor’. The game continues in this fashion until it’s over. In Keith Johnstone’s version of this game, you can choose to NOT accept an offer and sit out the rest of the game when something is called that is not to your liking. We modified that slightly by saying you could sit something out AND you could come back in when something that is to your liking is called.

So – this game provides a rich way to debrief all of the elements of open space described above, especially the Law of two Feet, and in a fun way it replicates the ‘offers’ made in an open space opening when the agenda is created, and the choices made about where to go, when to leave, when to join in again. We also talked about surprising ourselves with the offers we made and/or accepted/rejected.

While that particular game was over, the session wasn’t. We wanted a way to bring our learnings together in a fun way. We played ‘True for You’ and then Anne introduced us to a closing game that I’ll call ‘Wisdom’ (not sure what the real name is).

In this closing game we stood in a circle with our hands in the prayer position in front of us. Then using one word at a time we made up simple statements about what we had learned. Anyone could start.When each statement was completed (over) we would bow and whisper yes, yes, yes. It was so much FUN! Very Open Space.

Thanks to my improv buddies for playing with open space – literally and figuratively.

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