Space Invaders

I had dinner with Nancy White and some friends on Saturday. I picked up a nice bit of jargon from Nancy who (like me) is a big practitioner of Open Space facilitation. Open Space is an approach to meetings that puts the agenda firmly in the hands of participants on an equal basis.

This concept freaks some people out. Often in the run-up to an Open Space these folks try to suggest little “improvements” to the process (eg “to make sure actions happen”) which nearly always are ways to remove time from participants and replace openness with predicatability. They claim they are introducing more structure but really they are preventing the emergence of organic structure. This is usually on the unconscious assumption that they know better than everyone else what should happen.

Nancy’s term for these folks is “space invaders”. Having a name for them feels like a good thing.

5 thoughts on “Space Invaders

  1. Adriana

    Excellent term for those people who do seem to come out of woodwork when it comes to Open Space. Actually, there was a term for them – control freaks – but space invaders is much better.

    The good news is that once you beat the space invaders down, there is no turning back as everyone realises how marvellous open space approach is. Rock on, as they say. 🙂

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Johnnie –

    When we met briefly in Philadelphia last year, just before one of your Open Space gigs, (and prior to a surreal evening spent with Doc Searls at a bowling disco…) you mentioned that the key to being a successful facilitator is to simply get out of the way, be quiet and let things happen.

    I think that’s sound advice and definitely harder than it seems. As you say, many people do seem to have an “unconscious assumption that they know better than everyone else what should happen”.

    Being able to relax and let things flow is a skill which clearly benefits your work as a facilitator – I’m just wondering if it helps you identify Space Invaders in other situations…


    Hi Rich, yes I remember our meeting and the surreal bowling/disco/eaterie.

    To be honest, sometimes the most important Space Invader to watch for is… me. I was at a tapas restaurant the other night, and caught myself anxiously trying to organise how people would order. As soon as I realised what I was doing, I reminded myself not to try to organise others, relax and just see if things worked out. Which, of course, they did.

    After a while, I think Open Space fans start to apply the philosophy well outside official OS events. And as my pal, Chris Corrigan, says, OS is a practice that you need to keep practicing.

  3. Adriana

    Johnnie, interesting you mention the seating order at the dinner last Thursday. Your concern was not misplaced as all of us wanted to talk to everybody at some point. And sure enough, once we relaxed an implicit rule – once seated you are stuck with that seat – we all got to have great conversations collectively and individually. It took Hugh to start swapping his seat – rely on him to disrupt the old structures. 🙂

  4. Jon Husband

    Old wine, new skins ? There are space invader types in every group and OD process, as well as in most organized activities and in organizations.

    In organizations they’re often the ones sanctioned to do so by the org chart or pay grade 😉

    Swapping seats or boxes on the org chart has oftened been used to offer new perspectives. It’s one of the things that can be observed from time to time as an outcome or impact of blogging’s collisions with institutionalized structures and organizations.

    They always offer interesting challenges in the course of an Open Space process.

  5. Nancy White

    Hey Johnnie, thanks for coming to the dinner Sat. By the way, I can’t claim to have thought up the name. It is an old OS name. I learned it from the community!


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