What Is Emergence?

What if we were able to tip the balance and create the right conditions for positive solutions to emerge?

The way a majority of leaders take action is by the exertion of force, usually exerted as positional power, in reaction to whatever circumstances a leader wishes to change. Because our history is dominated by this "command and control" leadership style, it is tempting to think that this is the best -or only- way to lead. But if you consider the consequences of leadership decisions, especially long-term, to the human family, to marginalized people, to the environment, you might ask, "Is this really the best we can do?"

Recent discoveries suggest that the phenomenon of Emergence holds the keys to a new way of being and making change in the world, by embracing the systems and science that exist all around us:

When wind interacts with billions of grains of sand, ripple patterns emerge in sand dunes:


Another example of emergence is how drops of water freeze in just the right way for water's hexagonal molecular structure to express itself as... snowflakes.


And when each bird in a flock of starlings follows three simple instincts, an incredible murmuration emerges that seems to have a form, an identity, a life all its own.

In each of the above examples, the conditions in each system are just right for something whole and completely new to arise out of complexity, something with qualities that would be unpredictable if you only looked at only a grain of sand, the drop of water, or a lone starling on its perch.

Examples of Emergence abound in our human systems as well, when seemingly insignificant occurrences or decisions have vast and unpredictable consequences. For example, the inventors of the internal combustion engine never dreamed the role their inventions would play in climate change! Could any of us have predicted that Facebook, a lively web platform built around the concept of friendship could become a primary catalyst for polarization and enmity in the United States? Who would have thought that reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone National Forest would cascade such changes as to change the course of rivers? Massive surprises like these are what we are talking about when we speak of Emergence.

So, how can we "tip the balance" to and work with emergence within our teams, organizations, communities and ecosystems to seed positive change?

We believe that Emergence Leadership must start with the Self. Emergence doesn’t always come easily or quickly: it is by its nature unpredictable, it can feel messy, uncomfortable and chaotic. However, by transcending our reactions, limited viewpoints, and indoctrinations, we can grow into more resilient, responsive, expanded, and integrated agents of change. This leads organically to a greater capacity for wisdom, compassion, and a deeper connection with all life.