"The impossible has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks."
Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
Last week I wrote about creating a "See What Happens Day". This idea emerged out of a group conversation where members were exploring tipping point events and other happenings that occurred between 2056 and 2006. 150 people in teams of six were remembering those events that solidified a new paradigm -- one based on living systems, design science, complex, adaptive systems ... the elements of complex systems. This new paradigm enabled a healthier, more democratic and sustainable world to form.
Nora Bateson, an ISSS participant, gave the report for her team and spoke of the See What Happens Day. When I asked her to recount where the idea came from, this was her response: "You created the birthing structure through your challenge of backcasting. This created the challenge giving our group permission to generate and play within a larger context. It was me that suggested "see what happens day" to the group, but clearly it came forth from our conversation like "the house that jack built"...
Nora's idea got lots of applause and for me, a clear sense of "Yes!" This is a viable, valuable idea. Of course it would be a challenge and one that might take a few years to form and unfold... but it seems so logical. My mind raced back through time to the New York black out when strangers became community. It reminded me of Katrina and despite the warnings and simulations that gave clear instructions for how to evacuate and what to watch out for, most of all the reports and warnings went unheeded. And after 911 a model has been established to create simulations for protecting cities and regions. See What Happens Days can bring home the reality of our global environmental crisis.
The future is rational only in hindsight. –MG Taylor axiom, 1983
To me, emergence is one of the most wonderful happenings in the Universe. One of the dictionary definitions is "the act of coming out; becoming apparent." Emergence happens through conversation and dialogue. It comes from seeing differently, from asking new questions. The wonder of emergence is that it is not apparent a moment before it shows up. It is not anticipated or suspected. It happens when ideas come together in a new way. And yet, suddenly there it is, a new idea! It seems so rational, so appropriate once it has appeared ... the impossible made simple! Like Nora says... as in the house that Jack built ... everything falls into a perfect order.
I have watched so many organizations pass over the emergence of an idea because it was not "what they were looking for." Often emergent ideas - beautiful ones- show up in a good design process. People are excited, intrigued ... and then most often, emergent ideas are dropped. It was outside the bandwidth of the scale and scope of the problem they were trying to solve. Where is the young mind, the curiosity factor? So often, emergent ideas are genuine solutions to what is being sought ... What then is it that blocks emergence? Perhaps an unwillingness by the experts to be surprised as that is what emergence is? Maybe, emergence is too much like play and play is a waste of time when problems are serious.
All phase transitions emerge and resolve themselves in a higher order. An individual, community, organization, or team explores a world of possibility... Phase transitions create a foundation of stable and unstable perturbations. They send out runners of ideas, and then iterate making multiple tries over time combining and recombining thoughts and elements of an idea. Communication and in-formation exchanges are intense, failure is a part of success. Then suddenly, emergence! Beautiful! So often it simplifies giving everything a new order, a new frame.
It is difficult for individuals, a community or organization to transit through phase transitions on their own. It often takes a partner working to create the field of possibility and to recognize emergence when it happens and to hold feet to the fire to bring this new "impossible idea made rational" into being. To Tomorrow Makers, emergence and phase transitions are the highest form of play and the shortest route to a good plan. We create good fields and processes for group genius to come alive with fresh, new emergent possibilities.