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Emergence – How Change Really Happens

This month’s Gifted Leaders e-Newsletter features an article by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze from The Berkana Institute. Berkana was founded in 1991 to create communities of support and inquiry for those working to create a future of promise and possibility that benefits all people.

Highlights from the Article

In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

We’ve removed our old paradigm blinders that look for hierarchy and control mechanisms in the belief that organization only happens through human will and intervention. No matter what other change strategies we have learned or favored, emergence is the only way change really happens on this planet.

Networks are the new form of organizing. Networks are the only form of organization used by living systems on this planet. These networks result from self-organization, where individuals or species recognize their interdependence and organize in ways that support the diversity and viability of all. Networks create the conditions for emergence, which is how Life

changes. Because networks are the first stage in emergence, it is essential that we understand their dynamics and how they develop into communities and then systems.

Emergence violates so many of our Western assumptions of how change happens that it often takes quite a while to understand it. In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas. If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale. However, when they become connected, local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global (i.e. larger scale) or comprehensive level.

This aspect of emergence has profound implications for social entrepreneurs. Instead of developing them individually as leaders and skillful practitioners, we would do better to connect them to like-minded others and create the conditions for emergence. The skills and capacities needed by them will be found in the system that emerges, not in better training programs.

Because emergence only happens through connections, Berkana has developed a four stage model that catalyzes connections as the means to achieve global level change:

  1. Name: We focus on discovering pioneering efforts and naming them as such.

  2. Connect: We then connect these efforts to other similar work globally.

  3. Nourish: We nourish this network in many ways, but most essentially through creating opportunities for learning and sharing experiences and shifting into communities of practice.

  4. Illuminate: We also illuminate these pioneering efforts so that many more people will learn from them.

Read the article here.

The Gifted Perspective

It’s time to rethink our traditional assumptions about change management. These often include, either implicitly or explicitly, that change is top-down and requires top-level support, that it requires careful planning and good controls, and that rewards and punishment motivate people to change.

Change doesn’t happen the way most of us are conditioned to think it does. This month’s article challenges us to look at how change really happens … through emergence. It begins with small local actions that coalesce through the forging of connections, committed relationships, and communities of practice.

Recently, I (Jeff) have been increasingly frustrated with the stranglehold that the old “system of influence” (i.e. paternalistic approaches to leadership and organizational development) has on individual leaders and organizations in today’s workplace. This article is a reminder that our work at Gifted Leaders is about “being the change we want to see” and then connecting and encouraging people who long for workplaces that engage people, that utilize each person’s unique gifts, and that satisfy their need for meaning and community.

Thanks for being part of our “network!”

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