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Engaging Emergence

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Emerging Clarity: The Power of Engaging Emergence

Emergence, as a concept, has its roots deeply embedded in the realms of complexity science, systems thinking, and the study of spontaneous order. It refers to the process through which novel, coherent structures, patterns, and properties spontaneously arise within a system. When applied to the organizational context, Engaging Emergence is the conscious and deliberate process of embracing and harnessing this spontaneous order to foster innovation, adaptation, and resilience.


The idea of emergence has been explored in various scientific domains, from biology to physics to sociology. In organizational contexts, Engaging Emergence has been significantly influenced by the works of thinkers like Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. They advocate for the recognition and leveraging of emergent processes, suggesting that organizations, like living systems, have an inherent capability to self-organize, adapt, and evolve.

Modern-Day Relevance

In today's volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, the capacity to adapt and evolve is critical for organizational survival and success. As organizations grapple with rapid technological shifts, fluctuating markets, and evolving societal expectations, the ability to tap into emergent processes becomes an invaluable asset. Engaging Emergence offers organizations a framework to navigate these complexities, fostering environments that are conducive to innovation, adaptation, and resilient growth.

Guiding Principles

Engaging Emergence is underpinned by several guiding principles:

  1. Welcoming Disruption: Viewing disruption as an opportunity, not a threat, and recognizing it as a catalyst for emergence.

  2. Embracing Uncertainty: Accepting that the future is unpredictable and focusing on adaptability and resilience.

  3. Fostering Connectivity: Creating networks and environments that allow information to flow freely, fostering conditions for emergence.

Operational Description

Engaging Emergence, in an organizational context, involves:

  1. Sensing: Actively observing and listening to understand the patterns, trends, and shifts within the environment.

  2. Hosting Conversations: Creating spaces for open dialogue, where diverse perspectives can intermingle, leading to novel insights.

  3. Prototyping: Rapidly testing and iterating on new ideas, allowing for quick adaptation and learning.

As we delve deeper into the intricacies of Engaging Emergence, we invite you to embark on a journey of exploration, understanding, and transformative potential.


Engaging Emergence offers a myriad of benefits to organizations:

  • Adaptive Capacity: Enhances the organization's ability to adapt to changing conditions swiftly.

  • Innovation: Fosters an environment conducive to the birth of novel ideas and solutions.

  • Resilience: Builds an organizational resilience that can withstand and thrive amidst disruptions.

    • Enhanced Collaboration: By emphasizing connectivity and open dialogue, Engaging Emergence promotes cross-functional collaboration.

    • Empowerment: Empowers individuals at all levels, fostering a sense of ownership and agency.

    • Holistic Understanding: Encourages a systems-thinking approach, leading to a holistic understanding of organizational dynamics.

When to Use

Engaging Emergence is especially valuable in the face of specific organizational challenges and opportunities:

  1. Complex Problem Solving: When traditional linear problem-solving approaches fall short, Engaging Emergence offers a framework to navigate complexity.

  2. Strategic Planning in VUCA Contexts: In volatile and uncertain environments, this approach offers a way to develop adaptive strategies.

  3. Culture Transformation: When aiming for a cultural shift towards more openness, adaptability, and innovation.

  4. Mergers and Acquisitions: Engaging Emergence can assist in integrating diverse organizational cultures, harnessing the best of both.

  5. Product Development in Rapidly Evolving Markets: For products where user needs and market conditions are rapidly changing, this approach can guide adaptive product development.

In each of these contexts, Engaging Emergence provides a lens through which complexity can be viewed not as a challenge but as an opportunity. By fostering conditions that promote self-organization, connectivity, and open dialogue, organizations can tap into their inherent wisdom and potential, co-creating solutions that are both innovative and adaptive.

Case Examples

Healthcare: Embracing Complexity in Patient Care

Title: Transforming Patient Care Through Emergent Practices

In a leading hospital, patient satisfaction scores were dwindling, and interdisciplinary tensions were on the rise. Recognizing the intricate and interconnected nature of patient care, the hospital decided to approach the challenge through the lens of Engaging Emergence.

Challenge: Interdisciplinary tensions, declining patient satisfaction, and increasing operational inefficiencies.

Solution: The hospital initiated a series of interdisciplinary dialogues, inviting staff from various departments to share their perspectives, challenges, and aspirations. These dialogues unearthed systemic issues and also highlighted the potential for collaborative solutions. New care protocols were co-created, leveraging the collective intelligence of the interdisciplinary teams.

Outcome: Enhanced patient satisfaction, reduced operational inefficiencies, and a renewed sense of collaboration and trust among the staff.

Technology: Navigating the Shifting Sands of Tech Evolution

Title: Harnessing Emergence in Product Development

A tech startup in the AI domain, while having a robust product, was struggling to adapt to the rapidly evolving AI landscape. Engaging Emergence became their guiding light.

Challenge: Rapid technological evolution, shifting customer preferences, and internal silos hindering adaptive product development.

Solution: The startup initiated 'Innovation Pods' - cross-functional teams given the autonomy to experiment, learn, and iterate. Open dialogues, rapid prototyping, and a culture of experimentation became the norm.

Outcome: The startup not only adapted its product to the changing landscape but also pioneered several innovative features, placing it ahead of its competitors.

Non-Profit: Amplifying Impact Through Emergent Strategies

Title: Co-Creating Solutions in Community Development

A non-profit, focused on community development, was facing challenges in driving impactful interventions. They turned to Engaging Emergence to co-create solutions with the communities they served.

Challenge: Traditional top-down interventions falling short in driving sustainable impact.

Solution: The non-profit initiated community dialogues, fostering an environment where community members could voice their challenges, aspirations, and potential solutions. Programs were co-designed, leveraging the local wisdom and ensuring ownership.

Outcome: Sustainable and impactful community development interventions, driven by local ownership and adaptability.

How to Introduce Engaging Emergence

The journey of introducing Engaging Emergence into an organization requires a blend of sensitivity, strategic acumen, and a genuine appreciation for the power of collective wisdom. It's essential to recognize that Engaging Emergence is not merely a set of tools or techniques but a paradigm shift, a fundamentally different way of viewing organizations, challenges, and solutions.

  1. Setting the Context: Begin by articulating the rationale and the potential of Engaging Emergence. Ground it in real organizational challenges and opportunities.

  2. Leadership Alignment: Secure buy-in from the leadership team. Their support and active participation can catalyze the broader organizational embrace of Engaging Emergence.

  3. Training and Capacity Building: Equip potential champions and facilitators with the knowledge, skills, and mindset to lead Engaging Emergence initiatives.

  4. Pilot Initiatives: Start small, with pilot projects, allowing the organization to experience the power of Engaging Emergence firsthand.

  5. Feedback and Iteration: Continuously gather feedback, learn from the experiences, and iterate on the approach to better suit the organizational context.

Sample Introduction Script

Engaging Emergence is more than a methodology; it's a journey into the heart of complexity, where innovation, adaptation, and resilience thrive. As we step into this exploration, let's keep our minds open, our curiosity alive, and our spirits willing to embrace the unknown. Together, we can navigate the complexities of our organizational reality, unveil the transformative potential of emergence, and co-create a future that resonates with our collective aspirations, values, and contextual realities.

Helpful Facilitator Questions

  1. What patterns are you noticing in the challenges we are facing?

  2. How might our understanding of the issue shift if we view it as a complex, emergent phenomenon?

  3. In what ways can we foster connectivity and open dialogue to navigate this complexity?

  4. How can we create a safe space for diverse perspectives to be shared and valued?

  5. What assumptions might we need to let go of to fully engage with the emergent process?

  6. How can we leverage the collective wisdom present in this room?

  7. What small experiment can we try to learn more about the emergent possibilities?

  8. How might we embrace uncertainty as a catalyst for innovation and adaptation?

  9. In what ways can we ensure that the learnings from this process are captured and integrated into our organizational practices?

  10. How can we continue to foster a culture of Engaging Emergence, beyond this workshop?

Challenges you may Face

Introducing Engaging Emergence can evoke a range of reactions, from enthusiasm to skepticism, and everything in between. Here are some challenges you might encounter and suggestions on how to navigate them:

  • Resistance to Change: Engaging Emergence requires a willingness to view challenges and opportunities from a new lens, which can be unsettling for some.

    • Solution: Build a compelling narrative around the potential of Engaging Emergence, ground it in real organizational challenges, and create safe spaces for people to explore and express their concerns.

  • Perceived Lack of Control: The emergent process, by its very nature, is unpredictable, which can evoke anxiety and a perceived loss of control.

    • Solution: Foster a culture of trust, transparency, and continuous learning. Emphasize the adaptive advantages of Engaging Emergence.

  • Silos and Hierarchies: Existing organizational silos and hierarchies can hinder the free flow of information and ideas, critical for Engaging Emergence.

    • Solution: Create cross-functional teams, host interdisciplinary dialogues, and encourage open communication across levels.

Related Theories

Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) (John H. Holland)

Originating from the field of Complexity Science, the theory of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) offers a rich understanding of how systems, including organizations, adapt and evolve over time. CAS theory posits that systems are composed of interconnected agents, whose interactions give rise to emergent properties, behaviors, and structures. Engaging Emergence draws heavily from CAS theory, aligning with the view of organizations as living, evolving entities.

Systems Thinking (Peter Senge)

Originating from the field of System Dynamics, Systems Thinking offers a holistic lens through which to view organizational challenges and opportunities. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of parts and the patterns of behavior that emerge over time. Engaging Emergence aligns with Systems Thinking by promoting a holistic understanding of organizational dynamics and fostering conditions conducive to systemic insight and innovation.

Dialogic Organization Development (Gervase R. Bushe & Robert J. Marshak)

Originating from the field of Organization Development, Dialogic Organization Development (OD) theory emphasizes the power of dialogue, inquiry, and narrative in fostering organizational change. Engaging Emergence shares with Dialogic OD a deep appreciation for the transformative potential of open dialogue, collective inquiry, and the co-creation of new narratives.


  1. What assumptions underlie the traditional approaches to organizational change, and how do they differ from the assumptions of Engaging Emergence?

  2. In what ways might the principles of Engaging Emergence challenge our existing organizational practices and culture?

  3. How might our leadership practices need to evolve to effectively engage with emergent processes?

  4. How does our understanding of success and failure shift when viewed from the lens of Engaging Emergence?

  5. What might be the implications of Engaging Emergence for our approaches to strategy development, problem-solving, and decision-making?


  1. How does the efficacy of Engaging Emergence vary across different organizational contexts and cultures?

  2. What are the critical success factors for effectively engaging emergent processes in organizations?

  3. How does Engaging Emergence impact organizational innovation, adaptability, and resilience over time?

  4. What are the experiences and learnings of organizations that have successfully adopted Engaging Emergence?

  5. How might the principles of Engaging Emergence be integrated with existing organizational development models and methodologies?


  1. Title: "Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World" by Margaret J. Wheatley

    • This book delves into the profound implications of modern science for the art of leadership, offering rich insights into the nature of change, relationships, and collective intelligence.

  2. Title: "Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software" by Steven Johnson

    • Johnson explores the concept of emergence from a multidisciplinary perspective, unraveling its significance for understanding complex systems.

  3. Title: "Inviting Everyone to the Party: Engaging all the voices in the room" by Christina Baldwin

    • Baldwin offers practical guidance on how to host conversations that matter, a critical aspect of Engaging Emergence, and foster collective wisdom.

The journey of exploring Engaging Emergence unveils a rich landscape of collective wisdom, collaborative innovation, and transformative potential. By embracing the ethos of open communication, mutual respect, and participatory leadership, we can foster a culture of collaborative excellence, navigate the complexities of our organizational landscapes, and co-create a visionary future that resonates with our collective aspirations, values, and contextual realities.

As you delve deeper into the practice of Engaging Emergence, engage with the related theories, reflect on the profound questions, and explore the recommended readings, may you be inspired to embark on a journey of collaborative exploration, continuous learning, and transformative action. The horizon of Engaging Emergence beckons, offering a vessel to navigate the turbulent waters of organizational complexity, foster a culture of collaborative excellence, and unveil the transformative potential of collective wisdom and action.

OD Application

Engaging Emergence Model: Harnessing Change for Well-being and Prosperity

In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, organizations are constantly confronted with the challenge of adapting to change. Traditional models of change often emphasize control, predictability, and linear progression. However, as the complexity of challenges increases, the necessity for approaches that can harness emergent patterns and self-organizing dynamics becomes apparent. The Engaging Emergence Model stands out in this context as a beacon for those seeking a deeper, more holistic approach to change management and organizational development.

The Engaging Emergence Model as a Change Intervention

The Engaging Emergence Model embraces the unpredictable nature of change and focuses on creating conditions for new patterns, ideas, and behaviors to naturally arise. It is rooted in the understanding that change is not something to be managed, but rather something to be facilitated.

Well-being Impacts:

  1. Organizational Culture: The model fosters a culture of openness, adaptability, and resilience. By emphasizing the value of every voice and the potential within chaos, it nurtures a culture where individuals feel valued and heard.

  2. Social Psychology: Engaging Emergence acknowledges the social dynamics at play in any organization. By allowing space for dialogue and reflection, it addresses issues of groupthink, resistance, and polarization, leading to more harmonious social interactions and collective decision-making.

  3. Ethical Decision Making: The model encourages transparency and inclusivity, ensuring that decisions are made ethically and with consideration for all stakeholders.

  4. DE&I: By valuing every voice and perspective, Engaging Emergence naturally promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. It recognizes that diverse voices lead to richer insights and more innovative solutions.

Prosperity Impacts:

  1. Organizational Design: Engaging Emergence supports adaptive and flexible organizational designs. It encourages structures that are fluid, responsive, and able to evolve as circumstances change.

  2. Organizational Strategy: In the face of unpredictability, strategy becomes about setting direction and intentions rather than rigid plans. The model facilitates the development of adaptive strategies that can respond to emerging challenges and opportunities.

  3. Organizational Performance: By tapping into the collective intelligence of the organization and allowing for emergent solutions, performance is enhanced. Teams become more agile, innovative, and aligned with the organization's purpose.

Guidelines for Determining the Right Fit

For OD consultants contemplating the Engaging Emergence Model as a potential intervention, consider the following:

  1. Nature of the Challenge: Is the challenge complex and multifaceted? Does it lack a clear solution? Engaging Emergence is particularly suited for such situations.

  2. Organizational Readiness: Is the organization open to exploring new approaches? Is there a willingness to embrace uncertainty and engage in deep dialogue?

  3. Leadership Alignment: Are leaders supportive of a more emergent, less controlled approach to change? Their buy-in is crucial.

Presenting Challenges Indicating the Model's Suitability

  1. Recurring Problems: If an organization faces recurring challenges despite multiple interventions, it indicates underlying patterns that need to be addressed.

  2. Resistance to Change: High levels of resistance suggest that traditional change methods may not be working, and a more emergent approach is needed.

  3. Diverse Stakeholders: When an issue involves multiple stakeholders with varied perspectives, Engaging Emergence can help harness this diversity for collective insights.

Tailoring and Facilitating for Sustainable Change

  1. Co-Design: Involve stakeholders in designing the change process. This fosters ownership and commitment.

  2. Facilitate Dialogue: Create safe spaces for open dialogue, where every voice is valued.

  3. Focus on Conditions: Rather than driving specific outcomes, focus on creating conditions for emergence. This might involve building trust, ensuring transparency, or fostering connections among team members.

Observing Impact at Various Levels

  1. Individual Level: Look for increased engagement, creativity, and collaboration among employees. Individuals should feel empowered and valued.

  2. Team Level: Teams should exhibit improved dynamics, with enhanced communication, reduced conflicts, and more innovative solutions.

  3. Organizational Level: The organization as a whole should display greater adaptability, with a more inclusive culture and strategies that are responsive to the changing environment.

Harnessing the power of emergence requires a paradigm shift. It's about letting go of the need for control and trusting in the collective intelligence of the organization. For those willing to embrace this approach, the Engaging Emergence Model offers a path to both well-being and prosperity, ensuring that organizations are not just surviving but thriving in the face of change. The journey of engaging emergence is not always easy or predictable, but it is always rich in learning and growth. As OD consultants, our role is to guide organizations through this journey, holding space for the magic of emergence to unfold.

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