An idea worth sharing: Radical Openness

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RADICAL OPENNESS. OPEN sign on the historic route 66 at Seligman / Arizona / USA.

Photo by: loop_oh (CC-BY)

Don’t say yes. Be Yes.
Anne Herbert

A few nights ago two smart women confirmed a principle that I hold seriously dear. The same night two stupid kids tried to challenge it. The principle I am talking about is what I call radical openness.

Let’s start with the challenge: the kids used a social trick to try to steal my smartphone, exploiting kindness and compassion for profit. They failed in the end, the story had me go through some rough moments. It this was one of those polarizing moments that challenge your beliefs.

The confirmation of my principle was the chance meeting with two tourists on their way to my new hometown Berlin. They were all occupied with maps, guides and printouts & I enjoyed helping them in wrapping their heads around their upcoming 4 days of visit. I was happy to give up my quiet plane time, even my nap, because I had the occasion to do something simple and beautiful: be of service to other people and make them start their journey with a smile on their face.

In both cases what counted for me was trying to stay open to the occasion. Fighting in a dark basement or chatting on a low cost plane seat, I was dealing with giving some strangers something. Hopefully not a 700 euro smartphone that I still haven’t finished to pay, but something even more valuable: access.

Radical openness is trying not to say no.  “No” is precious and I hold it dear, but by trying to get out of my mould I have found that “yes” is way more powerful and interesting. Being radically open doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everything, but giving it a higher value than “no”. My criteria is to allow people in my vicinity to influence my choices, to allow them to invite me places, propose new stuff.

It is more than just that. To me it is trying to go beyond appearances and try to really know who is in front of me. Radical openness is trying to figure out the “what” before you figure out the “who”. Is trying not to use prejudice in our judgment of others, is listening to the idea before you look at the resume, trying to know the person beyond their clothing, trying to truly encounter another human being.

But knowing other people is not a static process, it requires involvement and the best way to get involved is to share. Radical openness is sharing. Be it sharing your impressions, your ideas on a blog, an intuition of yours. It is commonly thought that our most precious ideas should be garded and not be told to anyone. Radical openness predicates the opposite: our most precious thoughts and ideas should be allowed to travel, to find new hosts and live in the world outside of ourselves as much as possible.

Radical openness is sharing your surroundings. Your home, the objects you “own”, your life, your time. Is opening up and connecting with other human beings, be it for a weekend abroad or a night at your place. Sharing a meal, a drink and even a bed.

Sharing is no simple talk especially because it requires to be honest about a lot of things. Radical openness is transparency. That’s the ability to connect profoundly with other people, without censoring ourselves. Letting other people “see through” until they can gaze your inner core. This way they will know you better and thus be able to give you what you need and nurture you in the best possible way.

This attitude creates change all around you. Radical openness is creating your own opportunities, spreading and attracting good fortune and big smiles. Is thinking in an optimistic way. Is the thought that by giving something away it will come back to you multiplied many times.

This concept is powerful. I have applied it to myself and I encourage you to find your own way to practise it in your own life. You can apply it to your person, to your organization, you can also use it in a specific project or even in an area of your life. Infact this concept was not born as a personal device, rather as the mantra of an organization.

TED has made radical openness popular by applying it to their own organization.  TED, by opening up, has grown from an elite conference to a household name and multiplied from one small event a year to hundreds of yearly conferences, from one country to more than 100. Radical openness is also the theme of the upcoming TED Global in Edinburgh.

For TED opening up has been the core of a powerful change. What they are now doing is trying to spread this concept to the whole world, because they have a hint of how beautiful our future would be if everyone was open, eager to share, honest, transparent.

But let’s go back to my story. I was challenged by those thugs to revise my principle of openness, to restrict access. But I hold this principle too dear and no revision is possibile. I learned more than one lesson dealing with those criminals and won’t make the same mistake again. But nonetheless I’m still available to be exploited by human stupidity if that gives me the chance to be open for someone smart, to be able to give someone access to what they truly need, to share something valuable.