Which pool would you swim in?

Rob put up a great post the other day making a whole load of challenging points about how see the world. I want to pick a couple of his images to make a slightly narrower point about meetings and how we play them.

Here´s exhibit A:


This is a conventional swimming pool and a particularly attractive one I´d say. It´s what we´ve been trained to think of as a nice safe place to swim… and in many ways it is if you don´t mind the chlorine. But for reasons elaborated by Rob in his post, this pool has a lot of downsides: it´s expensive, hard to sustain, uses lots of energy and chemicals, and if the maintenance fails even a little, it quite quickly becomes a pretty nasty place to be. it´s a very artificial space, sterile if you will.

Then there´s Exhibit B:


This is also a swimming pool, Jim, but not as most of us know it. No chlorine. As Rob puts it:

If designed to work with nature, Nature becomes your pool service. Not a chemical in sight! No scum on the way and if you have the right surrounding environment with the right birds and insects then no mossies either. As each year passes this pool gets easier to run and gets more attractive.

This one looks a bit messy in comparison, and if you´re not used to it you might feel less safe stepping into it. But it´s more sustainable.

So here´s my point: too many meetings are like the conventional pool – they´re safe but a bit smelly, comfortable in a way but at the price of being sterile. Where the pool has chlorine, maintenance men and ugly cleaning machines the conventional meeting has keynotes, powerpoint and often overbearing chairmen and, er, facilitators.

The second pool is more like open space and other conversational formats: intially intimidating and messy looking but more sustainable and, at least in a sense, natural.

I know which I´d rather jump into…


6 thoughts on “Which pool would you swim in?

  1. Robert Poynton

    In theory this looks and sounds great. But in practise it is a little more difficult. With our neighbours we had a built rather like the second one built, but neither the people that built it, nor we ourselves knew enough about keeping the right balance of plant life and water circulation so that the pool stayed clean. It required a whole new set of knowledge (as well as considerable attention) that we just didn’t have. I am not advocating the chlorine pool (or its meeting equivalent) but I do think that a lot of work has to be done and a lot has to be learned for the alternatives like this pool (and the same for meetings) to work well.

  2. Viv McWaters

    This is a great metaphor and I really like the link to the types of meetings we have. And Rob’s point about a whole swag of new learning required for the second pool/meeting option to work is well made. Which brings me to suggest that it really is time for sustainability to become part of the way we think about people and how we interact, as well as the environment. Explicitly. We already have a lot of the tools, as Johnnie mentioned. We can also explore across disciplines and continue to play and learn in that messy, chaotic sandpit most of us live in.

  3. Robert Paterson

    Yes of course the latter pool and the good open space meeting do require a lot of skill – about the dynamics of relationships. The regular pool and the standard meeting need only the application of power.

    This is the germ of the idea that is bubbling around in me right now.

    That every process we use tens to rely only on power – which might mean money, oil or the simple use of “position”

    That nearly every process that we use works against Nature. Either our human Nature or Nature itself.

    Not an opponent we tend to win against medium term.

    So because we organize people as if in a machine, they act out or get ill. Because we farm like this, we have to work very very hard and in the end, there will be collapse – Think Babylon or the Roman Food System in North Africa.

    As Johnnie will attest, the amazing thing about Open Space is that there is almost no preparation required except in the spirit of the host. There is very little work during the meeting for anyone – all seems easy.

    Permaculture folks will say the same. They can replicate the yields of agriculture with almost no work.

    Those that run real networked organizations also find the same ROI.

    But there is a deep set of skills behind all of this. Most of which I think reside in character and in experience rather than in some mechanistic rote replication.

    It is going to take a very long time for this to become normal. But just as the two pools show us the difference, so does Open Space. Open Space is an easy to experience event that gives us all the new experience of how to use our Human Nature in groups to find what we need in a natural and “easy” way

  4. Kim

    I like the idea of the natural pool (and that you don’t have to use chemicals to keep it clean), but when I look at the pictures, the traditional blue pool really makes me want to dive on in.


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