Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

Everything is emergent

Posted in self-organization by Bas Reus on May 21, 2010

In a world that changes increasingly faster and faster, the perceived complexity increases with it. It becomes harder to predict the status quo even on the short-term, perhaps even that of tomorrow. The attempts to make predictions become useless. An obsolete approach.

We need to stop acting like we have control over what will happen in the future. We just don’t know. Often we are not even close. What’s the point of making predictions of the future anyway, and then trying to control what happens?

Organizations are the best example of future predictors. They keep trying to figure out the most likely scenario’s to occur based on what happened in the past. Organizations have difficulties in accepting the fact that these predictions are not only a waste of time, it’s even worse than that. They even try to understand what happened in the past based on the present situation. What happened in the past was just one of the possible outcomes. There are no parallel pasts that occurred at the same time and that have led to where we are now. Rationalizing what happened then, is like denying what could have occurred. Sometimes it helps to understand phenomena, but using that for future predictions means that the same mistakes are being made over and over again.

Again, we have to stop predicting, and start nurturing the current situation in a way that good outcomes will flourish, independent of what that outcome can be. It’s not the outcome that matters most, it’s the road to it. The road to it (where ever it will lead) is an emergent path. So many influences are on the lurk, so many that no one knows how many and what they are, that they should be dealt with along the way. They both can be positive or negative, both will have influence on the emergence.

Dealing with matter like I described above is so different then how we are used to, and not only different, but scary as well. To accept and be comfortable with uncertain paths is not suitable for most organizations nowadays. And it won’t be for the years to come probably. However, we see more and more organizations that operate in a networked environment, where many stakeholders play a role. In these situations, long-term strategies are being replaced by emergent strategies, where control does not have a place.

Coming back to the title of the post, maybe it is somewhat exaggerated at the moment, maybe it is more realistic to speak of a change from long-term goals to short-term goals. Dealing with short-term goals combined with iterative processes is a good first step towards completely letting go of control and accepting that everything is emergent. We are humans with brains that can think ahead in time, let’s not forget that important aspect of us.


12 Responses

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  1. John Tropea said, on May 22, 2010 at 01:01

    Great post Bas…Snowden’s blog is all about this stuff.

    John Bordeaux talks about anticipatory awareness, rather than prediction

    Ron Ashkenas has a great post on controls for future events based on past events.

    And Margaret Wheatley’s has many great articles…here’s one on change…“Self-organizing systems have what all leaders crave: the capacity to respond continuously to change. In these systems, change is the organizing force, not a problematic intrusion.

  2. […] ) says we need to stop acting like we have control over what will happen in the future in his post Everything is Emergent. Outcomes are unpredictable.  No-one can know what the influences will be from one day to the […]

  3. […] On his blog, Bas Reus suggests that we stop predicting, and embrace emergence instead. But, to be fruitful, this supposes that emergence leads to convergence (to a common view, or, at least, to a common action plan), and that negative outcomes are quickly enough identified to allow for new orientations. It supposes that decision making takes place somewhere. Absolute self-organization is not an option for organizations, and so is total failure. Workers need to be sufficiently individually empowered to be able to take their own decisions, according to their skills and competencies, without been entangled by a manager’s or a leader’s view, but they still need guidance. We can watch today the effects of such self-organization and independent decision making in the financial realm. While banks and trading companies pursue a quite clear strategy, traders are left alone in their tactical decisions making. Big profits, erratic losses, as, among others, in the exemplary Kerviel affair… Empowering both customers and knowledge workers by providing all information needed for correct analysis, facilitating individual decision making according to one’s competencies and learning abilities, providing guidance across internal and hybrid clusters and communities, fostering autonomy, those are the new skills needed inside organizations to unleash the power of networked environments. To reach the next step, companies dipping their toes into Social Business will need people who combine HR skills with high analysis-synthesis competencies. Empowerers? 2 Comments RSS Filed under: As seen, heard or read, English Tags: behavior, business design, complexity, enterprise 20, governance, management, strategy. Share thisDiggdel.icio.usFacebookMa.gnoliaStumbleUponTechnorati Social Business, prise de décision et avenir du management » […]

  4. […] Sur son blog, Bas Reus nous suggère d’arrêter de chercher à prévoir, et au contraire de surfer sur l’émergence. Cependant, pour être fructueuse, cette approche suppose que l’émergence débouche sur la convergence (sur une vision commune, sur un plan d’action commun), et que les effets négatifs soient identifiés suffisamment tôt pour permettre les corrections. Cela suppose donc que des décisions soient prises quelque part. L’auto-organisation absolue n’est pas une option acceptable pour une entreprise, l’échec absolu non plus. Les employés ont besoin d’être suffisamment mis en mesure de prendre leurs propres décisions, en accord avec leurs talents et compétences propres, sans être contraints par l’influence d’un manager ou d’un leader, mais ils ont besoin d’être orientés. Nous pouvons voir tous les jours dans le secteur financier les effets produits par une telle auto-organisation et une prise de décision indépendante. Tandis que banques et agences financières poursuivent une stratégie plutôt claire, les décisions tactiques sont laissées à la discrétion absolue des traders. Gros profits, et pertes erratiques, comme dans, parmi tant d’autres, l’affaire Kerviel… […]

  5. Bas Reus said, on May 31, 2010 at 13:56

    John, thanks for sharing these links. So related, so actual and not even all from the last year, even from 1996. What does that say? Are we unable to cope with emergent events at all? Do we still think that everything can be lairaged in a process? Can’t we accept that past events can happen in so many possible variations that they can’t all be controlled?

  6. RalfLippold said, on June 12, 2010 at 08:13

    A great inspirational article that resonates directly with my reflection of the ongoing conversations of the core team around how to follow through the making of a new creative collaboration workspace.

    @Bas, people are (and I can’t put myself out of this) unable to anticipate the emerging change. Only letting an “outsider” have a look and say about it and trusting him makes a difference. Once you open your heart trusting the other and that he really tries to help you in understanding what is going on will make you aware of the change to come.

    And, due to the natural exponential growth function, that is true in all aspects of life, the beginning of an emerging trend, change or even product will be tiny and almost unseeable under a “microscope” 😉

    Thanks so much for your inspiring blog and really looking forward to have more enjoyable times to read through.


  7. […] talk about the opportunities. Dave Snowden understands this very well. Like I’ve said before regarding emergence, I’d like to say the same about complexity. It’s time to accept and embrace complexity, […]

  8. […] talk about the opportunities. Dave Snowden understands this very well. Like I’ve said before regarding emergence, I’d like to say the same about complexity. It’s time to accept and embrace complexity, and to […]

  9. […] It’s not the outcome that matters most, it’s the road to it. Read more at […]

  10. leanne crow naked said, on March 5, 2014 at 20:35

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up plus the
    rest of the website is also very good.

  11. Bishnu said, on October 9, 2015 at 14:56

    Hello, In this post there is a reference to: The Primary Core Task Project, also known as Ramping Up the Read Aloud. When I did a secarh for these titles, I did not find much. Can you please direct me so that I may find more information on this project. Thank you, Mia Hyde

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