Dare you engage with “emergence”?

Marcella Bremer Reflection 1 Comment

Engage EmergenceWhat happens if you engage with emergence – instead of imposing your pre-designed plans onto reality? (Emergence?! You know what that is: anything that happens while you are making other plans, as John Lennon defined life).

Interesting question. Anything could happen if you engage emergence. Whatever the outcome, you could not have predicted it.

Emergence evolves organically, and you can choose to suppress it, ignore it, or engage with it – aware or not. Those are the responses that Peggy Holman identifies in her book “Engaging Emergence – Turning upheaval into opportunity”. Let’s look at this change approach from a personal point of view. What is your default attitude toward emergence?

When I reflect on my life to date, I can identify all three kinds of responses to emergence.

Suppressed

When I was 23, I suppressed what inspired me because I had to make a living. I settled for a job that wasn’t too bad. Nothing bad happened either – I just wasn’t tapping into my full potential (yet). I took a detour that finally helped me understand that I couldn’t take my job any longer – whether I would make money or not. My job had begun to feel meaningless –, and I dreaded dying one day with regrets of not having lived my life fully. It led to one of my most courageous actions: I quit when I was 30 with no perspective of guaranteed income while owning a house and having small children (and no big savings). I became an entrepreneur, experimenting with ways to make money. I could not have predicted nor planned this move – nor everything else that happened afterward.

Ignored

I have also ignored many emergent requests and opportunities for various reasons. My life would have developed differently if I had engaged with everything that crossed my path like “a yes-man”.
Instead, I declined or ignored what was trying to nudge me. I did not become a real-estate broker though my then-employer insisted on paying my education and offered me half his business because he saw my potential. I was not interested in real estate.
I didn’t go to China for research because I didn’t want to leave my boyfriend for so long (in the pre-Internet age). I refused to fly from Europe to the USA for one press conference because it seemed a waste of money and time. What could I learn onsite that I couldn’t hear afterward, by phone or press release?
I declined change projects, not because they didn’t meet my criteria for working with them, but because they didn’t fit my schedule or my energy level. Sometimes my health interfered, and I had to calm down my always curious and enthusiastic state and slow down to avoid exhaustion or burnout.
It’s fascinating to fantasize what could have happened if I had engaged with these emergences.

What if I had engaged?

3 responses to #change: ignore, suppress or engage with it. What’s yours? Click To Tweet I could have led a real estate imperium. Or I could have died of boredom in one of the mansions I was selling.
I could have done groundbreaking research while immersed in Chinese culture – which would have led to working with Hofstede on culture research and so on and so forth. Or I could have cried over my boyfriend all the time and delivered mediocre research while suffering from homesickness.
I could have met that millionaire on the plane to the USA to fund any plan I could think of. Or I could have wasted kerosene and a few days of jet lag and bland boredom taking notes at that pre-cooked press conference.
Just a few scenarios from a zillion.

Engaged!

Engage EmergenceI did engage with other things that emerged, though. I could not have predicted nor did I plan to run a worldwide online business from my provincial European town. I love it! I didn’t intend to become an expert in working with the organizational culture assessment instrument – but it happened because I wanted to see more results in my organizational consulting and training work. I followed my flow and published books. I met great people and learned a lot along this journey.

The difference between engaging, or ignoring and suppressing emergence? For me it is following the flow of my energy and intuition, with rational thinking added! Ultimately, for me, it’s the difference between thriving and merely surviving.

Management thinking entails: to control and define the possible outcomes of a project within specified boundaries.
Leadership and entrepreneurship are: let’s see what happens when you do things, and follow the energy while you keep using your rational mind. That’s more my style.

Ask yourself these questions and see if you derive any new insights:

  • When and why did I engage, ignore and suppress emergence?
  • How do I balance thinking and feeling?
  • Do I like what I discover? Or do I want to change my default response toward emergence? How can I practice this?

Engaging Emergence (the book by Peggy Holman) is important for all leaders, change makers and professionals. Let’s change the way of change and let it emerge instead of forcing and planning it. Let’s help organizations engage with change…

Read my summary and review of “Engaging Emergence” by Peggy Holman here.

Copyright © Marcella Bremer 2015. All rights reserved.

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Marcella Bremer co-founded this Leadership & Change Blog and OCAI-online.com. She’s an author and culture & change consultant.


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