You know those times when you pick up a word, turn it over in your mind, and then find it’s everywhere?

Emergence is that word for me right now. As I look back over this week’s musings it has been there as an underlying narrative.

And as I write – on the train back from London – I’ve even found it so beautifully expressed in the writings of others.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What is emergence?

Essentially it’s revealing things that were once hidden or concealed. It’s also the process of coming into existence from disparate parts in a novel way.

It is more than the sum of its parts. You can’t simply trace it backwards. But it’s always in the context of some level of complexity.

Emergence has origins

The thing about emergence is that whilst it’s unexpected, it’s not ‘magic’. It doesn’t appear out of nothing. It comes from something.

But that ‘something’ has never been revealed in this way before. It might be the unique formation of a snowflake or the way that a conversation can produce something fresh and alive.

In its hidden sense, it has always been there. Just never seen.

Our voice is like that. It’s not about finding something new – we haven’t lost it – but it’s the courage of ownership. Of taking the risk of revealing to a world that may, or may not, be ready.

And part of this is recognising that what we have to say – in whatever form that might take – might be the creativity of improvisation. Offering what we have, what has formed us, and putting it together completely differently.

Emergence has context

However, this process of emergence only makes sense if it is embedded in a wider context. Indeed it can only be seen as part of a whole.

The act of emergence is the ‘becoming visible of something previously not seen’. And we can only see the new against a broader backdrop.

Often it’s as we stand back and observe from the edges that the pattern emerges. We can’t see the whole – and therefore the new – if we are too close.

So we need to create space.

I love this excerpt from Steve Marshall’s recent post, Clocks:

True conversation and connection, deep thinking and creativity are emergent and have their own qualitative rhythm rather than the tick-tock of mechanistic predictability and control.

And, if we choose to work carefully, consciously and together, there is always enough time.

Isn’t that a wonderful invitation?

Emergence is organic

Steve’s words – and please do read the rest of his post – reminds me that there are aspects of emergence that we can promote. And things we can’t touch.

We can embrace diversity, honouring difference and having the courage to look beyond our boundaries. These are fertile places for emergence.

But we can’t plan for it. Give it a timetable or agenda. It will emerge when it’s ready. Like the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis.

And the process of emergence doesn’t conform to precisely determined rules. They might come later as we try to understand or replicate what we are seeing.

So we have to let go of control. Wait. Be prepared to go with the flow. Bending and flexing, prising off our fingers and having open hands.

But it’s worth it!

Why wouldn’t we want to see the new emerging or uncover the depths of our contribution to the ongoing creation of the world?

Thanks for reading, especially as this is my emergent thinking… and I suspect there is more


This week

Has emerged…