Ideas and Insights


Emerge – Emergency – Emergence

Origins

The 3 words in the title of this short paper, have floated through many conversations and dialogues of which I have been part over the last month.  They have lodged in my mind, and helped me in my thinking about my work, personal, community and global futures.

The root word emerge, originated in Middle French (mid 16thC) – émerger, and came directly from Latin, emergere – bring forth, bring to light.

 When I consulted the OED, the definitions included,

“move out of or away from something and become visible”

“recover from a difficult situation”.

Both these aptly describe the current situation of a Coronavirus emerging around the world – moving away from its original host species and becoming visible to the human species. Talk has also focused very much on ‘recovery from a difficult situation’ – how will we emerge?

From emerge comes the word emergency – a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action”.  Clearly again an appropriate word to describe the COVID-19 events.

Emergence: a useful concept for leaders

It is the words emergence or emergent that are of most interest. These words and the concept associated with them find a home in the field of complexity science. Emergence describes,

the way complex systems and patterns arise out of multiplicity of relatively simple interactions’  Lewin & Regine (2000) The Soul at Work

In a recent paper Paul O’Neill and Tim Dalmau described the OODA loop, a practical application of this concept – that is in an iterative process – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. As more information and understanding unfolds, and we absorb and reflect on it we decide what is the best step to take based on what we know in the moment. Then we step back and observe again to see the impact of our small step and decide based on this the next actions or steps to be taken.

In times of emergency, when the situation is complex, rather than immediately jumping to problem-solving or creating a plan to address the situation, a more effective approach is to create conditions for emergence and allow the future or solutions to emerge.

As D’Auria & DeSmet of Mc Kinsey say

What leaders require in a crisis is not a pre-defined response plan but behaviors and mindsets that will prevent them from over reacting to yesterday’s developments and help them look ahead

To me, one of the most important applications of an understanding of emergence is to allow solutions to unfold rather than push for answers too quickly.

We know that in any crisis or catastrophe 12 different aspects come into the foreground and drive a social system’s response. These are well documented in a recent article by Tim Dalmau. They are an apt description of emergence in action, and they will arise whether intended or not. But knowing they will emerge is different form creating the conditions for them to emerge and fostering them once they do.

In the words of Roger Lewin and Birute Regine (2000) we need to create conditions for constructive emergence rather than try to plan in detail our way out of the emergency.

They identify the 3 key conditions as

  1. nurturing the formation and creativity of teams
  2. evolving solutions to problems – not designing them
  3. moving from command and control to distributed influence and flat organizational structure

To what might leaders pay attention?

What one pays attention to is determined by so many factors too numerous to list, but is expressed in what types of decisions we make, what we focus upon in making those decisions and what we believe to be a priority.

To foster emergence in a time of crisis, first and most important, is the nurturance, formation and creativity of teams to develop a shared purpose.

“In order to be adaptable, people need freedom for maximum flexibility, but with freedom comes a need for an even stronger sense of direction” (Lewin & Regine, 2000 p273). 

Building on this leaders might also give priority to,

  • developing and maintaining a strong sense of mutuality, urgency and care
  • encouraging and improving the diversity within teams of both people and ideas
  • creating a sense of openness and providing opportunities for people to learn and participate
  • fertilizing connections between people and parts of the system (other teams, resources, external groups etc)
  • creating a safe space for people to express opinions and pursue their goals
  • encouraging, supporting and showing appreciation.

I and my colleagues have been part of number of weekly conversations for the last 8 weeks with individuals from across the globe. These gatherings share many of the characteristics described above, and the creativity, work and actions that have arisen from these are simply astounding.

You cannot create such emergence (and the consequent results) without listening attentively, being authentic, speaking from the heart – not just the mind and being prepared to put on the table and discuss things that had previously been taboo. It is a very sad but unfortunate fact that for some, such behaviors will be new.

Time and time again in these global meetings we are finding the more information is both available and shared the more focused, practical. relevant and realistic are the actions that follow – at first glance this may seem like a paradox, but the availability and sharing of all information (facts, data, assumptions, feelings and beliefs) is critical in times of crisis or catastrophe.

In fact, in so called normal times, they are equally valuable and the leader who acknowledges and values the behavior of others, who shares information openly, who fosters self-organizing, connecting and collaborating along with accountability will thrive in times of crisis. Not without its challenges it requires they too are accountable for their organization or team and its results. At the same time they must be able to live with paradox, ambiguity, contradictions and uncertainties, encourage experimentation, and value failures and mistakes: no small order but a profoundly satisfying and useful one.

What can leaders actually do to foster emergence?

Leaders can operate at 4 different levels or domains in order to be more effective in an emergency or crisis. These are

  • whole organization
  • across teams within the organization (network or ‘team of teams’)
  • within a team
  • the individual (one-on-one)

Organization prioroties:

  • Leaders simply cannot share enough information and provide enough background context frequently and freely – fostering whole-of-organization transparency will reap huge gains in times of emergency: video broadcasts, town hall meetings, email and “Microsoft Teams” publications, etc
  • Create central rapid response teams that assist in implementing the networking of teams, the “team of teams” approach
  • Ensure and rearticulate time and time again purpose and goals that are understood and shared across the organization
  • Promote psychological safety – where anyone can speak up and say what is on their mind without fear or retribution

Networking and connecting teams across the organization:

  • Create a robust network of crisis response teams that is empowered to operate outside the current hierarchy and bureaucratic structures of the organization
  • These teams need to be creative and adaptable, united by a common purpose – where they use the OODA loop and act fast
  • Promote understanding across all in the organization but especially in the and between teams of the new decision-making architecture and where new accountabilities lie
  • Refer to Chris Fussell’s, One Mission: how leaders build a team of teamfor many more practical suggestions and examples of how to make this happen

Within a team:

  • Ensure each leader of a team has strong personal abilities to be optimistic, remain calm, inspire confidence, has the quality of humility and knows how to frame good questions (not jump to solutions)
  • Promote multi-disciplinary groupings that are collaborative and where expertise is fostered
  • Once the team is established and is clear on its purpose and goals get out of the way and let them get on with the work
  • Allow teams to re-organize and self-organize as they go. In other words, your task is to let go, be hands off and create the bowl in which they can self-organize

With individuals:

  • Listen attentively and seek to understand
  • Offer assistance, support and guide – don’t direct
  • Demonstrate empathy
  • Re-assert context frequently

Jill Tideman

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Where to from here?

It’s been several months since the world first heard of coronavirus and a lot has happened since then.  Throughout this period, many of us have been through a few recognizable phases. Stages of concern, alarm, denial, anxiety, living in a fog, and possibly even depression, before moving forward to acceptance.  All of these states are completely normal ways of coming to comprehend and appreciate the current situation both mentally and emotionally.    

Read more…
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Reframing

Many people are reconfiguring or reinventing themselves and their business in the wake of Coronavirus.  Deciding how you can re-conceive yourself, your business and your assets to make the most of the new normal requires creative thinking and often a new perspective.  This is where NLP’s (Neurolinguistic Programming’s) reframing technique can help.

In life, from a NLP perspective, things just happen. There is no inherent meaning linked to events or behaviors.  Any meaning linked to those situations and experiences arises from  what we ourselves assign to them,  and is usually determined by our unconscious mind and our beliefs.   This explains how we can all experience the same thing yet assign different meanings to the event. A focus on reframing allows us to understand how we unconsciously hold limiting beliefs that may prevent us from thinking or acting in ways that benefits us.

Read more…
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Responding to catastrophe

In times of crisis or catastrophe there are some among us who expect leaders to act quickly with informed decisive action and one simple stable message. This primitive expectation ignores the complex reality of chaos caused by the event at hand and totally ignores fluid and moment to moment changes in reality.

Tim has prepared a short paper on what we know from how social systems behave in a time of crisis. Click here to download your copy

Tim Dalmau

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The leader as a source of contagious destruction

Much has happened in the last two decades to re-shape our understanding of the effect we have on one another. There was a time when we used to think we were independent, autonomous agents who chose to react (or not) to another’s behavior. Those days are well and truly gone.

Read more…

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Breathing 101

Often it is the simple things that make the most difference…and breathing is one of those things.

Breathing is something we do not need to learn – from the moment we are born to the moment we leave this life, it is for most of us, an unconscious part of our lives.

Breathing and communication

In addition to the fundamental purpose of taking air into our lungs and exhaling carbon dioxide from our lungs thereby allowing for oxygenation of our blood to keep us alive and removing the ‘waste’ gases from respiration from our body, breathing is also fundamental to communication.

Breathing allows us to communicate through speech, and allows us to enhance our communication skills and to influence others enormously.

So… there are definitely things about breathing that we can learn, practice and deliberately use to improve our communication skills. Read more…

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Go visual! – the most important tool to improve communication

The guru of non-verbal communication, Michael Grinder says that “go visual” is the most important non-verbal tool you can use to be an effective communicator

Efficient and effective communication of messages and improved ability to influence is vital. Often as communicators if we just give information verbally we need to repeat the message, or the message is not heard or lost. For example, this is especially the case, when medical practitioners communicate with patients. The doctor who shows the patient the result on a computer screen, draws a diagram on a whiteboard, or notes a few words on a scrap of paper will produce much higher comprehension and retention of that information in the patient. The patient whose doctor simply tells or explains the diagnosis will retain at best about 10% of the information. Read more…

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The key – knowing what outcomes you want

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In framing work with an individual, team or meeting it is always critical to know your outcomes first. This is especially important if you are engaged in repetitive social activity with a purpose in which the sheer repetition can, at times, cause you to lose sight of fundamental purpose. Realizing that the majority of work we do in organizations is with, and through, people it is important to recognize that there are three broad types of outcomes: rational, emotional and social.

Read more…

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Checklist Manifesto: getting it right!

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All of us are working in a world of ever-increasing complexity and information overload. Technology and know-how is evolving to help us better manage this complexity, but we continue to be plagued by avoidable failures.

 

Atul Gawande, a surgeon, in his book of 2009, The Checklist Manifesto, describes a remarkably low-tech approach – the checklist – to manage the complexity of decision-making – consistently, correctly and safely. He developed this approach in the high stakes world of surgery. His very readable book tells the story of how he explored how the construction industry and airline pilots  use checklists to make better decisions particularly when under time pressure. At the behest of the World Health Organization he refined and tailored the approaches he had uncovered, tested and improved them until finally he came up with a version for surgical teams. Read more…

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Stepping up to the plate – tackling the un-discussables

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Stepping up to the plate – surfacing an “un-discussable”

There is one way of stepping up to the plate, that isn’t for everyone, yet reaps huge rewards. It’s by exposing the silent taboo subject, the ghost issue that is impacting and hindering an individual, a group or perhaps an entire organization.     Read more…

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