Don’t watch the clock, watch whatever you’re doing
(First published in The Innovation on Medium here)
Last time I baked, I burned the bread. Such a stupid mistake to make, and yet it’s so common. Watch the clock instead of the thing you’re doing, and things will often go wrong. I was paying attention to the wrong kind of time…
If only I’d stuck to the principles of Open Space, it would all have worked out fine.
Open Space started out as a “simple way to run productive meetings, for five to 2000+ people” which we quickly learned also turns out to be a “powerful approach to leadership”. I fell in love with the method 15 years ago, finding it so useful that besides using it to facilitate work, I regularly call on it’s wisdom in everyday life.
There are just 4 principles and one ‘law’ in Open Space, and you don’t need to learn anything new or have any training to put them into practice straight away. Do bear in mind these are a rough translation — I’m not phrasing them quite as I would to run a proper Open Space process.
Here’s how the four principles look for day-to-day use.
1 Whoever comes is the right people — don’t fret about who doesn’t show up. The ones who do are the most interested and they’re bringing the energy — so work with whoever you get. If nobody shows, treat it as bonus time to think about the issue a bit more yourself.
2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have — let go of what might have been. Don’t get bogged down thinking about what could or should have happened, focus on NOW because that’s where you are.
3. When it starts is the right time — Seize the moment whenever it arrives. Our creative spirits are independent and won’t always turn up on schedule. Put other things aside when inspiration comes if you can.
4. When it’s over, it’s over — don’t watch the clock, watch whatever you’re doing. If you’ve done what needed to be done, or the ideas and energy start draining away, then stop. It doesn’t matter if you’d allocated more time, it’s best to give it a break.
..and then there’s the law — known as The Law of Two Feet. In essence, it says ‘be responsible for what you care about’. If you’re feeling restless because you’re not getting anything from what you’re doing, and you can’t see a way of contributing, then it’s OK to leave. It’s not about judging whatever you’re leaving, it’s about being useful where you can.
I’m not suggesting you apply all these ideas all the time, they’re not always appropriate— just use the one that seems helpful when required.
When I see others getting stressed because things don’t seem to be going their way, it’s amazing how often a brief chat about one or other of these principles helps people to relax. Overall I find them incredibly useful for helping me manage my own expectations and making the most of whatever is going on.
To find out more about how to properly run an Open Space Technology process, visit OpenSpaceWorld where you’ll find all you’d ever need to know — and it’s all free. The fact that the site has been translated into 23 languages speaks volumes about what a fantastic thing it is. Of all the kinds of facilitation I’ve done over the past 25 years, this one is my favourite by far.
It’s such a strong format that it works well in the hands of beginners. The few times I’ve seen it under-perform it’s been down to the confidence of the facilitators, and even then there have been reasonable results. You want your facilitator to have enough confidence to avoid doubt and uncertainty, but not so much confidence that you get a slapdash set up. Either way, the key thing is to read the brief users guide properly.
Back to my burnt bread — why did I make such a dumb mistake when I’ve been cooking for at least 40 years and I knew all this?
I think I can trace the problem all the way back to my nursery schooling. We’re taught how to read a clock at a very young age, and that’s all we’re really taught about time. But for at least 2500 years, we’ve known better than that. The ancient Greeks had two words for time — Chronos is clock time, but Kairos is the right time — the moment of opportunity.
I don’t know when or how it was that our teachers lost sight of the quality of time, but I think that’s the key message I carry with me thanks to my love of Open Space Technology.
Quality time comes when the inspiration flows and you’re in the right place for you, with people who care, doing the things that matter. I hope this little article helps you find your way to more of that kind of quality time.
For my part? I’ll be cool about that burnt bread — after all, it’s the only thing that could have happened. That was then, and this is now…