Marketplace of Ideas (Open Space Technology)

Group Photo

On October 29, 2019, we convened our first “Meeting (extra)Ordinary Leaders” conference at the Ware Center in Lancaster, PA.  One of the purposes of this event was to allow for leaders from diverse fields to expand their networks in a meaningful way.  Many networking events fall short of expectations because throwing people into a room and expecting them to meet others seldom delivers the desired results.

In planning for this conference, I was in conversation with my friend, Curtis Watkins, who suggested using “Open Space” Technology – a facilitation approach created by Harrison Owen that allows participants to identify topics of interest around a theme, and then self-select in which topics they want to participate.  The entire process is defined and facilitated by the participants.

While both Curtis and I had experience in facilitating with Open Space, Curtis identified a colleague, Lisa Kollisch, who was trained by Harrison Owen and agreed to facilitate this for our attendees.  What follows is a summary of the approach and the participants’ topics and notes from their sessions.

Open Space (Lisa Kollisch , assisted by Curtis Watkins)


  • The Topic: Leadership – Opportunities and Challenges
  • Five Principles
    • Whoever comes are the right people
    • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
    • Whenever it starts is the right time
    • When it’s over, it’s over
    • Wherever it happens is the right place
  • Be prepared to be surprised
  • The Law of Two Feet – if your interest wanes in a topic, go somewhere else
  • Butterflies and Bumblebees – two kinds of participants; fluttering vs. pollenating
  • Background on Open Space:
  • How to use:

Participant-Defined Topics:


What would be at the top of mind for leaders on October 29, 2019?  The topics were far-ranging:

  • Leveraging my past to impact my future
  • Collaboration without entitlement
  • Fostering a culture for and of change
  • What is the purpose of Lancaster County?
  • Feedback – giving and receiving
  • Authentic leadership and the “impostor syndrome”
  • Gaining clarity amidst chaos
  • Deep organization change and buy-in
  • Jazz vs. classical – when is a roadmap better than a script?
  • How to know when to end a project or employment
  • Cultivating trust and risk-taking
  • Direction in life and business – and all that jazz
  • Love in diversity

Notes and Facilitators of Each Topic


The participants who named the topics became the conveners of their topics and others could self-select which ones were of personal interest.  Here’s what emerged:

  1. Love in diversity (Kevin Brown and Ray Hutchison)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Being committed/willing as leaders to say “I love you” on the several different levels of diversity
      2. We don’t know what we don’t know
      3. Relationships first
      4. We must know ourselves/our biases/be culturally humble
      5. Every day is a new day/fresh start/forgiveness
      6. It’s okay to lead with love
      7. Foundation of trust is necessary
      8. All safe spaces for real feelings/experiences
    2. Our Questions
      1. How do we love our competitors?
      2. How can we [undecipherable] diversity to the presenters of this conference?
      3. Can we bring more diversity to attendees?
  2. What is the purpose of Lancaster County? (Dan)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Collaborative
      2. Generous (Extra Give)
      3. Microcosm of many places
      4. Prosperity/problems
      5. Model
      6. Welcome
      7. Freedom
      8. Acceptance
      9. Work ethic
    2. Our Questions
      1. Are we losing our uniqueness?
      2. How do we preserve what’s special?
  3. Feedback – Giving and Receiving (Anna Kennedy)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Matrix – challenge/support
      2. Guidelines – Conditions
      3. Pro/con
      4. Focus groups
      5. Short postcard – prepaid mail
      6. “Know your customer”
      7. HR – teams
      8. Rating service – individual and supervisor
      9. Best places to work
      10. Town hall style
      11. 360 evaluation
      12. EOS
      13. Level 10 meeting
      14. Two options to change feedback to positive and negative online reviews
      15. Glassdoor, Podium
    2. Our Questions
      1. Negative feedback?
      2. Survey – purpose – respond
      3. Developing people – attention
      4. Forum – 20 minutes – employee picks frequency and duration
      5. Culture
      6. “Start, stop, continue”
  4. Direction in Life and Business (Jacques)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Life and business coach
      2. Self-reflections
      3. Keep separate what you do with who are with balance
    2. Our Questions
      1. What does work/life balance mean specifically?
      2. How to decipher direction that benefits everyone?
  5. Clarity Amidst Chaos (Pete Kontra)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Celebrate the good – each step; set personal boundaries
      2. Storyboard choices
      3. How to be more proactive
      4. Diversity of needs
      5. Dealing with transition – constant change
      6. Set specific goals for meetings
      7. Clarity on who makes decisions
      8. Experiment
    2. Our Questions
      1. How do we lift our head up out of chaos?
      2. What is the vision? – Clarity of purpose/goal – Executive team guides decisions
      3. What are the boundaries?
      4. How do we communicate? Follow-up? Listen?
      5. Is our structure effective?
      6. How do we move from conversation to action?
      7. How do we equip leadership?
      8. How do we ground our assessments?
      9. How do we maintain relationships? Trust?
      10. How do we be still?
      11. Can we deal with a little pain to achieve change?
  6. When to End a Project or Employment (Ronald M.)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Review assumptions
      2. Do what you know; what you are best at
      3. Book: “Necessary Losses”
      4. Critical evaluation the first 30 days
      5. “EQ Interview” book
    2. Our Questions
      1. What has changed?
      2. Do we still have competitive advantage?
  7. Authentic Leadership and “Impostor Syndrome” (Christine Holmes)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Platinum rule – treat people as they need to be treated
      2. What you’re known for – personal brand
      3. Same message but take the person into account
      4. Prepare to be wrong
      5. Vulnerability
      6. What is authentic leadership?
        1. Self-awareness
        2. Knowing Strengths and Weaknesses
        3. Being a listener
        4. Believe in the message
        5. Transparency
        6. Being real
        7. Able to accept criticism
      7. 70% of leaders get stuck in the “reactive” mode (defined by what they think other people think they should be and do)
      8. Authentic leadership – “creative” (self-authoring)
      9. Impostor Syndrome
        1. Don’t own the successes, only failures
        2. People we are leading stuck in ego-centric and reactive
        3. Chess players in a checkers world
        4. Ego get in the way of admitting we don’t have the answers
      10. There is no answer book; its your experience and experiments
      11. Not about being a leader but how to get followers
    2. Additional Ideas
      1. Be good at what we do and great at who we are
      2. Consistency, vulnerability, reaching out for assistance, being you
      3. Understand your purpose, your values
      4. “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown
      5. Confidence
      6. People expect us to know everything and be the expert. Organizations don’t help us grow Leadership Skills
      7. Consider where criticism is coming from
      8. Respected vs. Liked – explain “why” if not popular decision; have to have relationship with people
  8. Cultivating Trust and Risk-Taking in Organizations (Chris Adams)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Modeling mutual regard and trust
      2. Entrance conversations (cares and concerns)
      3. Intentional onboarding to include feedback gathering
      4. Extreme ownership modeled by top-tier leadership
  9. Leveraging Our Past to Impact Our Future (Lyndon Risser)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Use your network to set yourself out there
      2. Articulating your failures
      3. Sharing lessons learned
      4. Use your stories
      5. Seek your passion in/through things outside your “job”
      6. Think in shorter intervals (1 yr/5 yrs/10 yrs)
      7. Volunteer
    2. Our Questions
      1. Have we lost respect for those with “experience?”
      2. How can I leverage my experiences to improve my kids’/next generation’s lives?
      3. What do you do when you have lost your voice?
      4. When is time to move on?
      5. I’m ready to dig in and make a 20-year commitment. How do I decide what that career should look like?
  10. Jazz vs. Classical – When is a Roadmap Better Than a Script? (Stuart Heisey)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Script – predictable; efficiency; rigid
      2. Roadmap – flexibility
      3. Book “Checklist Manifesto” (Atul Gawande)
      4. Compliance drives the boundaries
      5. Agile vs. Waterfall (iterative vs. complete solutions)
      6. Training/equipping team for roadmap use
      7. Measure the impact of the script/checklist
    2. Our Questions
      1. How do you script for discovery?
      2. How does script vs. roadmap influence communication?
      3. How to create ownership of the script?
  11. Fostering a Culture of and for Change (Stuart Savin)
    1. Our Ideas
      1. Data
      2. Empathy
      3. Employee buy-in/involvement/trust
      4. Have a vision; the “why”
      5. Simplify change; ambassadors of change
      6. Shared ownership
      7. Celebrate success!
    2. Our Questions
      1. How much change?
      2. Pulse of change?
      3. Motivation?
      4. How to sustain change?


After 1 1/2 hours of conversation, with people staying, moving, or just engaging in other conversations with others, we reconvened and people were asked to share what their big “takeaways” were – from the Open Space to the rest of the day.  People were overwhelmingly positive about the experience.

© Geoff Davis 11/15/19

2 thoughts on “Marketplace of Ideas (Open Space Technology)

  1. Exceptional conversations for a first time event. I am certain each event will build on the next and the conversations will only become more meaningful 🙂 #GreoffGoesLive

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