The Law of Two Feet

You might be hearing a lot about “The Law Of Two Feet.” The idea comes from Open Space, a meeting format composed by Harrison Owen and friends.

The Law is very simple:

“If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.”

The Law of Two Feet speaks to the idea of OPT IN PARTICIPATION. This idea has applicability far beyond Open Space meetings. The reality is that we all are “opting in” or “opting out” of various choices and opportunities, every single hour of every single day. You can get out of bed, or not. You can help a friend get something done, or not. You can quit your job, or not. You can choose this job, or that one.

You can continue to examine this blog post, or opt-out. So simple right?

My friend and the originator of Open Space is Harrison Owen. He often says that the Law of Two Feet is “always active”, meaning that it is applicable everywhere, not just inside the Open Space meeting format. As an example. consider your meetings at work. Almost all the time, you are REQUIRED to attend these meetings. But what if you could opt-out?

The reality is, when “you are you are neither learning nor contributing” you do in fact CHECK OUT mentally and psychologically. Your body is there– your head is not. This is DISENGAGEMENT. It’s death to you, and your meetings, and your organization. So the Law Of Two Feet actually is active, even if you “must” be there. You use the “virtual Law Of Two Feet”– by DIS engaging your mind, and leaving your body in the room. Your body is present, your head is not. Disengagement. “Embodied disengagement” if you will. The virtual Law of Two Feet.

Remember– the Law Of Two Feet is always active. People want to be free.

So. Imagine if you could opt-out and ELECT to not attend. Imagine if every meeting was optional to attend. Imagine that…

…now, with every meeting optional….are you still attending every meeting? Probably not. Why? Because, in your view, it is unlikely you will either learn much or contribute much.

The new workplace authorizes you to allocate your time and attention to the activities that can do the most good for your organization. The new workplace trusts you to do the right thing. The new workplace admits that the Law Of Two Feet is always active.

The new workplace  admits that mandating and imposing attendance at meetings is dumb.


Mandating and imposing attendance (or any other activity) kills engagement. The remedy is INVITATION. Invite people to meetings, and make attendance optional. Engagement is what happens when the passionate, responsible people are all in the same space, focused on an issue that connects them.

And that is what the Law Of Two Feet (and the Open Space meeting format) is all about.


Related Links:

Open Space Explained (link)

The Problem With Mandated & Imposed Agile Adoptions (link)

Open Agile Adoption Explained (link)

Contact Me To Discuss The Law Of Two Feet (link)


Principle 4: Apply Self-regulation & Accept feedback

This is one is a series of post on the application of the 12 principles of Permaculture [2] to organizations, and other social systems.  The posts are being generated by members of the Organizational Permaculture [1] group on Facebook. If you like this post, consider joining the group and adding to the  conversation with your own blog post on 1 or more of the 12 Principles of Permaculture [2]

Principle #4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

Principle #4, “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback” speaks to self-discipline, psychological safety and being open. It is important to note that these personal and system-level properties are a means to an and, not an end in and of themselves. The principle “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback” mean in part that we intend to tune and tailor our social systems to be highly receptive to feedback. It means we intend for our social systems to be aware.

It also means we work to actively create and then maintain the ability of the entire system to rapidly identify and respond to change.

This is the essence of organizational agility. The agile world uses the slogan “inspect and adapt” to express the importance of accepting feedback and applying self-regulation.

Self Discipline

Collecting observations is essential to responding to change. Observations can be proactive or reactive, active or passive. Reactive observing is what happens after taking an action, such as introducing an experiment.

Proactive observations are observations of the system as it is, without introducing anything new except your own presence.

Feedback as a Resource

Responding to change can be formal or informal, and frequent or infrequent. As a norm, it can even be absent entirely. There is no adapting without inspecting, observing or otherwise experiencing the environment. This plays out in social systems by using any practice that operationalizes the proactive and reactive styles of observation.

Psychological Safety

Technically, Jay Forrester describes social systems as “1st order nonlinear feedback systems” in his paper, Designing the Future. [3] . For an entire social system to become adept at responding to change, a high level of what Amy Edmondson calls ‘psychological safety’ [4] which is the willingness to take ‘interpersonal risk’ during interactions with individuals, in front of the group. Psychological safety in social systems is important for individuals. When the level of psychological safety is low, levels of self-regulation and acceptance of feedback at the level of individual and group will also be low.


I’ve written on Openness previously when discussing the Five Scrum Values [5]. Openness includes accepting the best idea, regardless of source. Discussing ideas is a way to express the identification of changes, and also a way to discuss a rational and well-reasoned set of possible responses to that change.

Practical Steps

Any activities that formalize frequent generation  and inspection of feedback are directly supporting Principle #4 of Permaculture: “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback.” Scrum [7] and Open Space [8] both define feedback systems with formal structures. Scrum is a complete framework, while Open Space is a meeting format. Both feature explicit loops of feedback with specific guidance on how to best process the feedback generated.









Figure 1. Small Session In Open Space.


Practical patterns and processes that can support this principle have certain common characteristics.

First, they share a formalization of frequent feedback loops. Scrum is a good example; it has a daily feedback loop (the Daily Scrum) and feedback loop (the Sprint Review) at the end of each iteration of work.

Second, they have an opt-in aspect, the people in the system choose to participate in using the pattern or process, and are not compelled to use it. Open Space is a good example; everything about it from the beginning to the end is an exercise in opting in or out.

Another good example is the Core Protocols. The Core Protocols [9] are structured interactions that have mechanisms for sending and collecting feedback. (Perfection Game and Investigate protocols respectively). Open Space is a 100% opt-in meeting. Scrum defined the Daily Scrum and Sprint Review as formal observe & inspect points.



To be self-regulating, there must be feedback. The more frequent, the better. The frequency of sampling the environment for feedback by observing in social systems can be monthly, weekly, daily or continuous. Teams and organizations that focus on identifying sources of feedback (and who also become adept at processing it) are in position to learn much faster than organizations that do not [6]. This learning in social systems is essential if we are to Obtain a Yield [10].



[1] Organizational Permaculture Group on Facebook. (link)

[2] 12 Principles of Permaculture on Wikipedia (link)

[3] Forrester, Jay. Designing the Future at Universidad de Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain 1999 (link)

[4] Edmondson Amy, Harvard University. Paper: Psychological Safety in Work Teams” (link)

[5] Mezick, Daniel J., “Scrum Values”, blog post (link)

[6] Mezick, Daniel J. , “Culture That Learn are Superior”, blog post. (link)

[7] Schwaber Ken and Sutherland, Jeff. The Scrum Guide (link)

[8] Herman, Michael. Essay: About Open Space. (link)

[9] Core Protocols explained (link)

[10] Lloyd, Andreas. “Principle 3, Obtain a Yield”, explained. (link)




Management is a Function, not a Role

Self organizing teams are self managing teams. They govern themselves. They are self governing.

Some folks new to Agile think that when you go Agile, that management goes “out the window”, is a bad word, is evil, is something that imposes prescriptions, issues commands, and is controlling, and something to be avoided.

The reality is that the need for planning, measuring, and observing does not go away in Agile.

Far from it! Rather, the function of management is handled by the team, instead being handled by a single person in a role like the “project management” role.

Moral of the story: the need for management does not disappear in Agile. On the contrary. We actually do more planning in Agile. We do it as needed, continuously, and just in time. The function of management does not go away. Instead, the function of management shifts from a person (in a role) to a self managing team.

The Core Idea: In self managing teams, management is a function, not a role. The team handles the function of managing itself.

Self management aligns with this principle, found in the  Agile Manifesto:

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

Agile BS: The Productization of Agile

There is a preponderance of BS in and around the Agile community right now. Scrum has become productized, and ‘agile enablement’ firms touting that ‘agile is all we do’ are selling one or another variety of snake oil. Boston is a place where this is especially acute.

David Anderson, a guy who wrote a book called Kanban, is calling this out, and he is not alone. He spells it out here:

There is an initial assessment or appraisal…then some proposed future state envisaged…the new future state process is designed and it becomes the target outcome for the transition that is introduced and managed through the change management process.

This is a traditional 20th Century approach to change. It offers the reassurance of a defined outcome, and the outcome is envisaged either using a prescription from a text book, or by utilizing a model and designing a solution. The issue with this is that it assumes the problem exists in the complicated domain…

…It is ironic that the approach to Agile transitions has been a very non- Agile, big design up-front, make and follow a plan, approach. The fact that many Agile transitions are challenged and underperforming (and I’ve been saying this for at least 5 years now) may be that the approach being used is inappropriate to the domain of the problem. What we need is an Agile approach to change – an approach that incorporates feedback loops and evolves as new information emerges.

(See the full blog post here)

Andy Singleton, a friend of mine in Boston who makes great tools for distributed teams, is also on to something also, when he writes:

Pair programming:  Great for vendors, bad for customers.  Pair programming is like those girls that go to the restaurant bathroom together.  What are they doing?  If you are a vendor selling “pairs”, you have an awesome situation where you can charge twice as much, and you can easily churn guys on and off the pairs, one at a time, to steal talent for turnover or new projects.  If you are customer, you pay twice as much and you get churn.

(See the full blog post here.)

These writing from these two gentlemen are pointing to the productization of Agile. It’s a sad state of affairs that appears to be encouraged by the Scrum Alliance and the Agile Alliance.

Organizations need to think for themselves and be responsible for their own learning. Each firm must create a custom solution from practices that are based on solid principles. David Anderson and Andy Singleton are on to something. One size does not fit all.

The productization of Agile is happening now. The message is: one size fits all.

And it’s all BS.



The Intentional Learning Organization

There is absolutely nothing automatic where group learning is concerned.

As a group, we either intend it, or we don’t. Look no further than the current (low) learning levels of typical groups: teams and organizations; and local, state and federal government. Look no further than how nations act and behave with respect to learning.

If learning in groups was automatic, we would already:

  • Be colonizing Mars;
  • Be creating Genius Organizations at will;
  • Be curing cancer;
  • Be electing leaders that actually help us evolve as a species;
  • Be routinely processing conflict without war;
  • Be routinely managing population growth.

AND SO ON. See? Very little of these achievements are actually within reach. Getting all of this kind of stuff done requires people who agree. People who are aligned. No one person can pull any of this off alone.

No, group learning or what I call Tribal Learning, is a highly intentional and uncomfortable act. If it was easy, we’d be colonizing Mars by now. Cancer would be cured. See? You have to intend it.

In a business setting, Tribal Learning requires that we do at least some of the following:

  • Be Purposeful
  • Facilitate Our Meetings
  • Examine Our Norms
  • Be Punctual
  • Structure Our Interactions
  • Announce Our Intent
  • Game Our Meetings
  • Conduct Frequent Experiments
  • Manage Visually
  • Inspect Frequently
  • Get Coached
  • Manage Your Boundaries
  • Socialize Books
  • Pay Explicit Attention
  • Open The Space
  • Be Playful

These are the exact patterns and topics that The CultureGame book addresses. Most of these group-level behaviors are very uncomfortable.

That is because learning is uncomfortable.

That is because learning is change, and change is uncomfortable.

To learn as a group, everyone has to want to do it. Or, they have to at least tolerate the new patterns of behavior (see above) that encourage group learning.

Is it really this simple? Yes, it is really this simple.

Tribal Learning: If nobody wants to, it ain’t gonna happen.

Leaders have a role to play in helping people to ‘want to’. I plan to explain that one soon.


Attend the Self-Management Symposium Online!

Here is a brief video welcoming attendees and speakers to the SELF MANAGEMENT SYMPOSIUM.

This invite-only event May 20-22 promises to be very great !

I am presenting the session GAMING HAPPINESS AT WORK from my book THE CULTURE GAME. The book went to production this week !

I am very grateful to the Self-Management Institute for this opportunity! My book THE CULTURE GAME debuts at this event !!

Become a member of the SELF MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE here.

Learn more about watching the LIVE STREAM here !