Emergence — It Takes A Commitment

I’m enjoying writing this week, inspired in part by my friend and colleague (frolleague) Kinde Nebeker. We’ve been thinking together about emergence. Putting words to it. Getting to the heart of it. Growing our understanding. Understanding and working with emergence is a key part of the series we are offering again this fall in Salt Lake City, The Inner and Outer of Evolutionary Leadership.

Here’s a teaser from the three-page thought paper I wrote. The full piece is here.

In the 1990s I was part of several leadership conferences offered in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains at Sundance Utah, where there are a lot of Aspens. Sundance is the resort that Robert Redford built and was original host to the Sundance Film Festival. Those conferences were on “Self-Organizing Systems,” lead by my friends (and bosses at the time) Margaret Wheatley and Myron Rogers. They were three-day gatherings with up to sixty people who wanted to learn of this self-organizing paradigm. Some were consultants. Some were internal leadership. Some were community leaders. Some were C-level in corporations. It was a beautiful place to learn, and that brought out the beauty of those people together.

One of the guest presenters at those conferences was Fritjof Capra, the Austrian Physicist, renowned for his writings (including The Tao of Physics, The Turning Point) and his work at Berkeley’s Center for Ecoliteracy. Fritjof, like Meg and Myron, like many of us that have continued this work, was studying the qualities of living systems, including emergence, and applying those learnings and principles to human systems — teams, organizations, communities. 

I remember Fritjof describing an example of sugar in one of his teachings — though he seemed to be thinking it out loud and coming up with the example in the moment. “Sugar is a mix of three elements: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, none of which are sweet.” He continued, “the sweetness,” he paused to peer out into that beautiful forested Sundance setting, “is in, the relationship. It is not in the parts.” In making that statement, his peering outside came back to those of us inside. He’d made a discovery, which got a good chuckle from all of us — in the way that in-the-moment simplicity does.

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