This is one of the four principles of Open Space Technology that was “discovered”, as he likes to say, by Harrison Owen almost 40 years ago. Whenever it starts is the right time.
I was aware of many things, but this was not a concept I was familiar with in my working environment. My introduction to this principle came in a four-day training in 2002. It was “Working with Open Space Technology” with Birgitt Williams who had co-created a program called Genuine Contact.
Leading up to this training, in 2000, I was working in Halifax for a high tech company based in the United States. The satellite office in Halifax sent me to work on a project in New York City the year before the twin towers fell. The project was canceled and I returned to Nova Scotia to begin another project. The next project I was assigned was an HMO project with clients all over the US. As a result, I was in Halifax when 9-11 occurred. In that moment, I remember feeling that “everything” was about to change.
At the same time, my life was also going through a lot of pressure. A father who was ill, a marriage on life support and, and, and…
Of course, I was a high achiever, a meditator, a singer, a leader at work, in my church and always looking to learn and improve. When an acquaintance suggested a leadership training that she felt might benefit me, I eagerly signed up and went.
Whenever it starts is the right time…long, long ago…
The four days of training were revelatory. I remember thinking that it somehow felt both familiar and unfamiliar all at once. In te workshop, I encountered ways of working with others which were oddly freeing and unsettling at the same time. I also remember thinking at one point in the four days, “how did I not know this way of working before?!” From that moment, I became invested. I saw a way out of the highly competitive, hierarchical and unproductive working models that thrived on the Peter Principle. I recognized that this was a way which, while not being entirely easy, might provide the kind of work environment on a daily basis that I and (I like to imagine) others would want to work in.
It was the beginning of my own journey, at just the right time, with Open Space and Genuine Contact.
Whenever it starts is the right time…in the present day…
Fast forward to 2020. I am in a meeting with facilitators who have been working with these processes for many years. In these years,they have acquired a great deal of traction on what works and what doesn’t, both in and out of organizations. This includes the online environment as organizations have increased across borders to become more international in scope. In this meeting is Suzanne Daigle, who has been at the forefront of Open Space Technology work for many years. She was part of the organizing team for the World Open Space on Open Space in Maryland in 2019. She decided to take the four-day Genuine Contact program training in on Working with Open Space Technology, led by two of my colleagues, Thomas Hermann and Anna Caroline Turk. Suzanne is at this meeting, in conversation with fellow GC practitioners, for the first time.
We had a great meeting and her comment to us about this training, expressed with a little regret, was: “I thought I knew all there was to know about Open Space Technology. How did I not know about Genuine Contact all this time too?” I laughed.
Drawing on the 4 principles of Open Space, Rachel Bolton remarked: “well, whenever it starts is the right time!” And it seems that now is the right time to get started.
It’s always the right time…
After 20 years of working with and for Genuine Contact as a facilitator, having retired from Information Technology, dealing with family and health challenges, I am still so amazed at the work being done by our organization. Genuine Contact’s broad reach, working in all sectors and all levels of organizations, always with the goal to make our world a healthy and wholesome place to live in, in ways that remain vibrant and current. Working with simple processes that enable groups to work with complex systems continues to delight and challenge me after more than 20 years.
I am grateful and curious to see what will come next. And to see who else will show up to begin their own learning about Genuine Contact – always knowing that whenever it starts is the right time…for everyone.