Emergent Organisations

Chris Corrigan orginally pointed me to Peggy Holman and Anne Stadler‘s thinking on Emergent Organisations. This is rich material, and Chris provides a good summary as a way in.

In their paper Peggy and Anne look at three case studies and then draw some conclusions about the practices that support emergent form and leadership coming out of spirited large scale change events.

Essentially the practices that support emergent form are:

*Center in the organization’s higher purpose by bringing it consistently into the daily work of the organization

*Open the circle — the organization’s boundaries — for all the diversity to flourish via a self-organizing marketplace (involve all stakeholders)

*Open system-wide avenues for communication and reflection (Practicing transparency).

Practices that enable emergent leadership are

*Make it easy for individuals to take responsibility for what they care about (unleashing the power of individuals to contribute).

*Invoke spirit by creating shared vision and values, opening unanticipated possibilities.

*Stand for “yes” and reflect regularly on what is being learned: individually and collectively.

*Steward: Care for the whole community of life (sustainable, systematic).

*Design simply from natural, universal patterns

Their paper goes on to give three practical examples of organisations that follow these sorts of principles.

My own interest in this is in seeing brands as emergent. Traditionally, “experts” claim to know how to build brands, following “proven” formulae, as if a brand can be made to happen according to a preconceived plan. Needless to say, the construction of such a plan generates a lot of income for such experts. Having worked in the business a long time, I realise that a lot of these experts paint a very flattering view of how they have made brands happen in the past.

More and more, I see brands as things that don’t follow these plans. If that is so, the real skills are not in the planning but in the ability to respond creatively to shifting circumstances. That’s what “opening the circle” means to me.

Peggy also shared with me a presentation: “Whole Systems Change” which you can download if you like (pdf file). Regular readers know how phobic I am to diagrams and there are a few in here; but I think this document is rich in meaning and it’s worth persevering. It argues for a much more fluid approach that allows participants to create their own meanings.

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