Open space technology, principle 1: “Whoever comes is the right people”

What's the use of a crowd?

Open space technology, principle 1: “Whoever comes is the right people”
Photo by Ryoji Iwata / Unsplash
"Whoever comes is the right people."

I love the slight grammatical awkwardness of this sentence. It describes what happens when people (plural) come together and become a people (singular). Becoming. Peopleing. People as a process, not as a shuffling, muttering crowd.

I can think of only two contexts where I’ve experienced this “peopleing”—

First, I’ve experienced it in open space technology.

What is open space, anyways? It’s a lightly facilitated, carefully organized format for a gathering. Open space meetings focus on a question/challenge so puzzling that the (right) people are compelled to show up to work and listen. Open space is the most direct, beautiful, and accessible format for group self-organization I’ve ever encountered. It’s either a chapel or a chainsaw.

And second, I’ve experienced it in the Buddhist sangha, in its various permutations.

I have a mailing list of 75 of us who sat weekly in a freezing cold room before COVID sent everybody underground. Over time, I learned the ‘basic’ biographical details (occupation, class, family composition, neighborhood, etc.) about maybe 15 of these 75. But in terms of the topic at hand—styles of meditation, preferred traditions, favorite teachers, etc.—I still recall where each person was and where they were headed, even though we haven’t met for 2 ½ years. Similarly, I sat on a week-length retreat with ~50 people recently and felt like I came to know them so deeply, and shared something so precious, even though we were merely faces and names in a Zoom grid. These groups are no less important for being somewhat transient or ‘incomplete’ in a social sense.

I think we’d all benefit from more spaces where two people, or two hundred, could gather and say, “I don’t know anything about you, and you don’t know anything about me, but we both know everything we need to to get this sorted.”

It seems a powerful antidote to the social atomization that defines so much of our lives under capital.

And until we get there, it’s a hell of a way to organize a meeting.

That’s “Whoever comes is the right people.”
Next up: “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.”