We have defined “Stoosian” to be about learning networks. The Stoos Stampede organizers also aimed to learn. Donald Reinertsen described in his latest book that learning is maximized when people do experiments. That's what we did. We ran an experiment with the format of the conference.
Some would have felt more comfortable with "a known approach" of either a normal open space or a regular conference, which would have been safer either way. But we already know where those approaches succeed and where they fail. Where's the learning if we do things only the safe way?
What I miss in some people’s pleas for unconferences is that people are different. Maybe open space is a perfect format for you. But it's not perfect for everyone. (It's certainly not for me.) Another Stoosian principle is diverse people. Well, this means taking into account that what works for you might not work for other people.
When you announce an unconference as purely open space you usually only get the people who already believe in the value of open space. When you announce an event as a regular conference, you only get people who believe in the value of standard conferences. I hear open space fans say, "I'm not going to standard conferences anymore." And I hear other people say, "I'm not going to an event without knowing what will be discussed." Where's the diversity in that? Why not invite both kinds of people and resolve the inevitable conflicts?
Management and Leadership
Deborah Hartmann-Preuss points out that empowerment needs leadership and facilitation. True! But that doesn't have to be the same people. In fact, with my Management 3.0 hat I always claim that managers don't have to be leaders themselves. They have to create the constraints in which leadership can easily emerge.
As event organizers (I think) we were primarily managers. But we didenable leaders to step forward and help others. This is exactly what Management 3.0 advocates, and I'm glad several people did what I hoped would happen. As organizers we invited leaders and followers, and let them self-organize. Although we could not predict what kind of leadership would emerge, we did allow and invite leadership to happen.
Self-organization only happens within boundaries. It is up to managers to experiment with the boundaries in the hope that something beautiful will emerge. Our constraints were a venue, a mailing list, and an initial version of the program. And then we let things go.
True, our experiment was not perfect. But we succeeded, and we learned.