Five Reasons NOT to GRUE

Recently a friend who was considering running a GRUE wrote me apologizing because he’d decided not to do it after all. There was no apology necessary – the GRUE is about doing what you’re passionate about, after all, so obviously if you don’t want to do it, you shouldn’t. It made me realize that perhaps I should issue some warning labels of sorts for people who are considering a GRUE in their town.

  1. You are a trainspotter. No, I’m not talking about the movie-I’m talking about actual trainspotters, the kind of people who love schedules and timetables and watching things arrive and depart exactly on time. The Open Space time structure of a GRUE is very fluid; things take as long as they need to take, no longer, no shorter. The closest thing we have is a label marked “NOW-ish” that gradually moves down the timeline of classes – and this has been known to cause some stress for the more OCD inclined.
  2. You prefer bento to buffet. Do you prefer that your conferences be neatly divided into specific classrooms, where the presentations/discussions happen in isolation from the other things going on around? The Law of Two Feet empowers people to wander from class to class, or even just stand somewhere they can be part of both. Occasionally classes have morphed into each other, or spawned entirely new classes that are added to the schedule after-the-fact. If you want a high-school model of a conference, the GRUE is not for you.
  3. You want to see [insert presenter] teach that [insert class]. One of the saddest things for me to hear from people is “I came to the GRUE because I heard your classes are great!” Not that I don’t appreciate the compliment…it’s just that I usually try not to teach at GRUEs. The job of an Open Space Facilitator is to be as invisible as possible; I fail miserably at that, but in an ideal situation I spend most of my time picking up coffee cups that people are too busy to take care of themselves. The only things that should be taught at GRUEs are things people are passionate about; that means even if World Class Presenter is there, they are under no obligation to teach anything. Especially not that class that they are asked to teach at every other con; rather, the GRUE is the chance for them to teach the class they’ve been wanting to teach for ages (because they’re passionate about it) but no con has asked them for it (because it’s new, and who knows if people will like it?).
  4. You insist on pedigree for ideas. One of the most common criticisms of GRUEs is “What if someone teaches something that is wrong?” The interesting thing about this is that it is predicated on the idea that there is a “right” way to teach – in other words, a “one true way.” Sure, someone could get up and teach something that was different than the common wisdom – but it’s been my experience that in a GRUE, the Common Wisdom is much more likely to speak up with a “whoa, there, hoss – are you sure?” than in a traditional conference setting with Selected Presenters. There is at least one case where a conversation at a GRUE has resulted in correcting misinformation that a Big Name was teaching at regular cons. The ideas and discussions presented at GRUEs are put through the crucible of the Law of Two Feet, and if someone is saying something that is wrong they usually end up saying it to nobody in particular.
  5. You want your kink handed to you. It’s wonderfully relaxing to go to a con and see a class grid and know exactly where you’re going to be at what time, who’s going to be teaching, and even (usually) a good idea of exactly what’s going to be taught. GRUEs aren’t like that; you have to seek out (or create) the classes and discussions you want to have, and you are responsible for your own learning. Nobody tells you when you have to leave a class, or where you should go next; hell, we don’t even tell you when to eat, we just let you know that there’s food around. This is work, and while it’s vastly rewarding, it’s true that you are paying money to go and do stuff yourself, as opposed to having it done for you.

Before someone flames out, please note that at no point do I say there is anything wrong with any of these five ideas. I love conferences, both as attendee and teacher, and the GRUE (or the Ropenspace or the TWU) are not designed to replace anything. But Open Space is a very different experience than most cons, and I believe, if you want a GRUE, you should know what you’re getting into.

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