Last week I helped to host an Open Space in Melbourne alongside Chris Corrigan, Viv McWaters, Geoff Brown and Anne Pattillo. This was the Show Me The Change conference, and a stonking list of conversation topics emerged.

Chris took the opportunity to add “Be Prepared to be Surprised” to the list of guiding principles for Open Space. This brings back a fond memory for me of the largest OS I’ve yet to run, several years ago now in Washington.

We had around 250 people in the room and for various reasons we were running a bit late. I had got to the end of my introductions to Open Space, explained all the principles, the marketplace etc and reached the juicy bit where you get to say,portentously, “the space is open”. At this point you leave the circle open and wait for the tide of conversation offers to pour in. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

Instead, someone opened the doors to the room and everyone started to leave. It seemed as though my offer had been taken as a cue for a toilet break and everyone streamed out. I panicked inside – we were already running late, there weren’t that many toilets available, this could take forever…. At this point, I noticed the sign I’d stuck up earlier on one of the pillars – the one that said “Be Prepared to be Surprised” – and started to laugh inside.

This was supposed to happen. The audience figured out a pee was needed before discussions, and intelligently organised to take one.

A while later we got under way, and the timing thing sorted itself out anyway. And we had an awesome meeting over the next two days.

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