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Invitation to a cool event (later known as #Stoos)

So began our efforts to bring together an interesting group of people. Now that the Stoos Gathering is history, the Stoos Network is getting started, and many people have questions about Stoos, the network and what is behind it, I thought I would offer some insight as to how it came to pass and how we, the initiators, perceived the event.

Can I really say "we"? I hate to say "I" because this was a team effort. Without all four of us, Jurgen, Franz, Steve and myself, Stoos would not have happened. And it's not about us. It's about catalyzing a change. (In chemistry, a catalyst is not changed by the reaction it enables). So I will write "we" as as a 'Team we' because this was a team success. I will use "I" when I am very specifically referring to my own opinion. Having said that, this is the story as I experienced it and as I remember it.

Here is the invitation-template that the four initiators used as a basis to invite people: 
Invitation to a Thought Leaders Weekend on Leadership,
Agile and Realizing Human Potential

Ten years ago, a group of 17 thought leaders met in Utah with a simple idea: “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” This collection of simple ideas became known as the “Agile Manifesto” and changed forever software development and the relationship between Business and IT.

This search also revealed the need for better ways to manage organizations and unfold human potential.

Steve Denning, Jurgen Appelo, Franz Röösli and Peter Stevens are pleased to personally invite you to a spontaneous weekend in the mountains. Our goal is to bring together a group of (no more than) 20 (thought) leaders from around the world in business, IT, and human development. We have a nice hotel, ski slopes, a spa, and a conference room. 20 cool people and 2 days. What will come out of it? I hope you will join us to create something wonderful (or just have a good time)!

About us:
  • Steve Denning is the author of The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management
  • Jurgen Appelo is the author of Management 3.0 and initiator of the Agile Lean Europe Network
  • Franz Röösli is Professor for Management at the FHNW, Director of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table and Co-author of ‘The Leader’s Dilemma’
  • Peter Stevens is an independent Scrum Trainer and Coach and Initiator of the Lean Agile Scrum SIG of the SwissICT
Who are we inviting?

In general, we are trying to get a diverse group of people from many countries, who have substantial influence in their context and who understand agility and its relationship to business. Some are researchers and authors of books that are considered to be in the vanguard of their fields. Some are pioneering practitioners, i.e. active or former C-Level managers or coaches and trainers. Twelve countries are represented in the list of invitees at the moment. In general it will be a group that all of us will be proud to be associated with.

And... if you think there is someone we should invite, please let us know! In particular, we would like to invite some people from the Asia/Pacific region.
How did we choose the people we invited? A rather random process of identifying people we knew, had enough stature, and who we thought or hoped would be intrigued enough to decide to come. We wanted people not just from North America, but from around the world. We wanted a mixture of men and women. We wanted not just IT people, but people from other fields who are doing compatible work. Above all, we wanted people with passion!

Why 20 people? It seemed like the right number. Big enough to get the necessary diversity yet small enough so that everyone could get to know each other and come to a conclusion effectively. That the hotel was willing to block 20 rooms for us was probably an important factor as well. We actually had acceptances from 24 people, but a few had to change their minds for various reasons, and the final number was 21.

What did we expect to come out of the event? We had no idea! Not quite true. We thought if we got the right group of people together, something wonderful might happen. Or maybe not. There have been counterexamples, and the Snowbird Lodge gathering which produced the Agile Manifesto was actually the second meeting of group which had known each other since much longer.

In particular, we did not say, 'we want to produce a manifesto'. In fact, at least one of us felt that we should most definitely not produce a manifesto. My own wish was that 10 years from now, people would look back on this event a catalyzing moment which triggered a substantial improvement in how companies are run. (#myview, as we later used in twitter to qualify personal opinions).

As we got closer to the event, we thought that a good result would be for the group to come together and commit to working together in the future. A "concrete result" would be too much to ask for given the short time and that people didn't know each other.

What unexpected things happened? Lots of things:
  • People decided to come! The event was scheduled on very short notice at the edge of Christmas vacation. Many people would have vacations or time with their family high on their agenda. It's not a cheap time of year to travel. There were a lot reasons for saying no. But when we had 12 confirmations, including ourselves, we realized this was really going to happen.
  • The shift from would-you-please-come mode to I'm-really-sorry-but-we-can't-invite-anyone-else mode. We had a soft limit of 20 and a hard limit of 24 people. We had to turn down some people who asked to come or did not invite people who we would have loved to have present. Very painful, at least for me. (And I am *very* thankful for the understanding that affected people have shown!)
  • A wind and snow storm on Thursday before the event. Many of us had very turbulent arrivals in Zurich. Fortunately only one person had to delay his arrival til Friday morning.
  • That some people wanted us to fail. It's been evident in some recent tweets and one of the participants even received an email with the exact words "I hope you fail." I don't understand this.
  • The tension between doing work in the room, building a team (or perhaps a tribe) and communicating to the great wide world. This would have been easier had we already known each other, trusted each other, and known the constraints that each of us has - particularly the those present from top management or under non-disclosure agreements have to be very careful about what they say in public, especially when a camera is running. There were many issues and we decided to limit communications to the outside world so we could establish safety in the room and move on to talking about the "real stuff".
Most importantly, people left their egos at home. My nightmare scenario was a room full of big egos. But there was no pontificating, no-one trying to dominate the podium, and respectful conversation at all times. Really my best case scenario! I think I speak for everyone when I say, it was truly a pleasure to work with you these few days!

My goal is to provide some more background about the gathering in another article or two. In real life, I am moving to Washington DC in 14 days, so I hope I can do this before I leave (between the boxes).


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