The law of two feet

If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing – use your two feet and move to some place more to your liking.

law of two feet

The idea comes from the “Open Space” approach to meetings pioneered by Harrison Owen in the 80s.  Informed by the thinking on self-organising systems and teams, Open Space meetings have no formal agendas and principles such as “Whoever comes is the right people” and “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have“.

Fascinating stuff. Many of the ideas are used in unconferences today. Do check it out in Owen’s own words (Warning: no white space or pictures here).

The law is stated explicitly to meeting attendees at the beginning of a session. How does it work?

The law simply acknowledges what people are going to do anyhow. If there is any substantive contribution derived from either principles or law, it is merely to eliminate all the guilt. After all, people are going to exercise the law of two feet, mentally if not physically, but now they do not have to feel badly about it.

How grown up and insightful.

The law places the responsibility for maximising learning and contribution with us, the individual. Funny how we seem to need permission to do this. Social conditioning perhaps?

…such a place might be another group, or even outside into the sunshine. No matter what, don’t sit there feeling miserable. The law, as stated, may sound like rank hedonism, but even hedonism has its place, reminding us that unhappy people are unlikely to be productive people.

So the next time you find yourself not learning or contributing in a meeting (or elsewhere) think about the law of two feet. What’s the worst that could happen?