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Bruce Holland

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I am really pleased that so many of you have written back, made comments and asked questions about my earlier Snippet on self-organisation ... or as the scientists call it Emergence.

Why is it important?

Until Galileo there were many different theories about how the world worked. Some thought the world was flat. Some theories involved spheres on spheres all sitting on a turtle's back. Each theory was more complex than the last in order to satisfy observations that did not fit. Then Galileo discovered gravity. So simple, so graceful, so beautiful. And suddenly it all made sense. It led directly to a whole new period of enlightenment.

Well, current management theory is pre-Galileon. To make sense of the world managers see, they have created theory after theory, fad after fad until it's become unbelievably complex. Then along comes Emergence ... a whole new way of looking at the world of management. Bingo!! Simplicity, grace and beauty.

There may be nothing more important in the 21st century than the understanding of Emergence.

The study of emergence is already a key part of twenty-first-century science. It started with Alan Turing who also helped to invent the digital computer. The great mathematician Warren Weaver has divided all scientific enquiries into three broad camps:

  1. The study of simple systems (two or three variable problems)

  2. The study of 'disorganised complexity' by probability theory, and

  3. The study of emergence and 'organised complexity'.

Its impact on business is slower to be taken up, but taken up it will be because the rewards are just too big to be ignored.

So what is it?

Emergence is what happens when an interconnected system of relatively simple elements self-organise to form more intelligent, more adaptive higher-level behaviour.

Systems that at first glance seem vastly different (ant colonies, human brains, cities, immune systems, the internet, the market economy and SOME commercial organisations) all turn out to follow the rules of emergence. When you become aware of emergence you start to see it everywhere - in fact all living systems are emergent. In each of these systems, agents residing on one scale start producing behaviour that lies a scale above them: ants create colonies, urbanities create neighbourhoods, peoplecreate organisations. In all cases the whole is significantly smarter than the sum of the parts. They have the distinctive quality of growing smarter over time and of responding to the specific and changing needs of their environment.

It's a bottom-up model; rather than being engineered by a general or a master planner, emergence begins at the ground level. LOCAL turns out to be a key term in the understanding of emergent behaviour.

Birds, ants, brains, people in cities pay attention to their immediate neighbours rather than wait for orders from on high. They think local and act local, but their collective action produces a global behaviour. Emergence is about giving up top down control, letting the system govern itself as much as possible, letting it learn from its footprints.

Emergence is a natural feature of all open adaptive systems. We do not need to build it in .... Nature did that for us. It's through Emergence that new software programs create an intelligent World Wide Web. It's how SOME commercial organisation takes on a life significantly greater than the individuals in it. It's through Emergence that lively a neighbourhood evolves out of a disconnected association of shopkeepers, bartenders, and real estate developers. This week I have been working with a group of Big Thinkers in Porirua City helping them revitalise the city centre. Emergence has been a key concept in how they should go forward.

You may have noticed that earlier I said SOME commercial organisations benefit from Emergence. Emergence depends on openness, trust, and feedback. Unfortunately many of our commercial organisations lack these qualities and are about as adaptive as the Dodo.

If, like me, you think Emergence could help your business become more simple, graceful and beautiful, GIVE ME A CALL on Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland and I'll tell you about some of our experience with Emergence in Virtual Group Business Consultants Limited. We have found that in practice some parts of the theory work and others don't. Over the last 8 years we are considerably closer than most people in understanding, which is which.

So I may be able to save you 8 years!!

Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development. One of NZs most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work
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