how to change the world

What if nobody joins in?

You aren't rejected until you accept rejection. If you stay calm, and unperturbed, you can bide your time until you see a chance to link to somebody.
— Keith Johnstone

By John-Paul Flintoff

I admit it: my legs were shaking as I stood in front of 350 people and asked, “How do I make a film of The Rejection Game?”

Why was I shaking? I’ve spoken in public often enough. I’ve been to events like this before. I’d even run events like this, using Open Space – essentially, a loose structure, enabling anybody to discuss anything, with anybody who is interested.

But this was the first time I’d tabled a discussion myself, at an event where I hardly knew anybody, about something I passionately cared about – still care about – and really want to happen.

I looked around the room, saw that dozens of others were calling sessions, and wondered if I was wasting my time. Had anybody even heard me?

There’s only one law in open space: the law of mobility. If at any time you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, the law of mobility commands that you simply take yourself where your time will be better spent (only you know where that is).

As a result, everybody in any discussion truly wants to be there. Nobody’s lingering, resentful or bored. Sessions are charged with a thrilling sense of possibility.

At least, that’s the theory.

But would anybody join my session? When the time came, 20 other sessions sprung up in different parts of the room. Some attracted huge groups of people. Not mine. I was alone, sitting on the floor with a big piece of paper and too many coloured pens.

I remembered something the host had said, at the start of the day. The law of mobility is a great check on ego: if people aren’t interested in your topic, they won’t join your session. And that’s OK, he added, because it gives you a great opportunity, alone with no interruptions, to do some really creative thinking about the thing that matters to you.

So I did that for a while: I doodled, wrote notes, and pretended that I wasn’t feeling rejected.

Then after about ten minutes a young man with blonde hair joined me. (Bless him!) I told him what I was working on:


Rejection Game: The Movie

In The Rejection Game, devised by Keith Johnstone, there are four players on stage. One must be rejected by the other three, and it mustn’t be you. You don’t have to be an actor to play it. Whoever you are, playing the game teaches you a lot about how we exclude – and include – other people in everyday life. My idea, dreamed up with my friend Steve Chapman, is to play the game again and again and again, and to capture it all on film, with a camera on each player, so the audience can watch what players do well, and not so well – and see what gets them rejected.


A woman joined us, and I explained it all over again. Then two more joined. My explanation got much shorter.

Then, rather than just talk about it, I suggested we try actually playing the game. We did. We used a variety of different scenarios. Every so often we paused to see where players were in danger, and what might save them.

Over an hour and a half, about 12 people joined the group, and played the game. Some also left the group, to join discussions elsewhere, but that was fine by me – in fact, I smiled and waved goodbye as they went – because I had known in advance that they might leave. It wasn’t personal. And it really did feel better to know that everybody in the group really wanted to be there.

As well as the one law, there are also five principles in open space events:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people.
  2. Wherever it happens is the right place.
  3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  4. Whenever it starts is the right time.
  5. When it is over, it is over.

When it was over, I looked back on a great 90 minutes: insightful, motivating and often funny. My new friends had come up with some brilliant suggestions for how to enrich my film – technical solutions, ideas to include audience interaction, ways to apply the insights to everyday experience. Several also gave me their contact details, because they wanted to be a part of the film when it happens.

I left the event with new allies, a clear plan, and an incredible feeling of satisfaction that I had gone to an open space event – and dared to call my own session.

Posted: March 10, 2015