A Beginning

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Thoughts II:
The Next Step: A Calling

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Thoughts III:
Creating The Container

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Herb Stevenson
Developing Your Natural Talent
To Lead

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Emergent Change

Emergent Change Emergent Change

Emergent Change can bring about meaningful change and powerful cultural shifts to an entire organization - including new understanding and cooperation, strengthening an organization as a unified team. It typically involves the whole organization, meeting and working together in one place, at the same time. Our consultants are trained and certified in a wide range of methods to address Emergent Change. We make change actually happen, and last. When you work with us, we develop a customized program together based on these methods:

► Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology is a powerful but simple way to run more productive meetings, for 5 to 2,000+ people, and a effective way to lead any kind of organization, in everyday practice and through complex change.

Developed by organizational consultant Harrison Owen when he discovered people attending conferences were most effective during informal sessions versus formal presentations. "The normative experience is that groups, large and small (from five to thousands members), self-organize to effectively deal with hugely complex issues in a very short period of time. Overt facilitation is minimal to nonexistent, and preplanning, so far as the agenda is concerned, never happens". (Owen, 1997)

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► Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is a way of being and seeing which facilitates groups to be positively oriented towards "what works" and on enjoying the small and/or individual success of each day.

It provides leaders with a way to focus on the positive - the glass is half full, instead of the negative - the glass Is half empty. It can help transform your organization and bring out the best in your people.

Strong leaders who recognize the value of employee involvement in the change process embrace appreciative inquiry.

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► Future Search

Future Search is an interactive large group planning meeting, with shared leadership, that enables large, diverse groups of stakeholders to discover in just a few days desired futures and to make action plans that often live for years. It explores the whole before seeking to fix any part, and focuses on the future and common ground rather than problems and conflicts.

It is used around the world to transform systems' capability for cooperative action. Its popularity is due its remarkably effective and flexible methodology. It overcomes barriers by bringing together people with information, authority, resources and passion, helps them find common ground and purpose to quickly create a shared vision and devise an implementation strategy.

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"Emergent change processes engage the diverse people of a system in focused yet open interactions that lead to unexpected and lasting shifts in perspective and behavior."
—Peggy Holman

Planned Versus Emergent Change

To provide perspective, change often is deliberate, a product of conscious reasoning and actions which is commonly referred to as planned change. In contrast, change sometimes unfolds in an apparently spontaneous and unplanned way. This type of change is known as emergent change.

Planned Change

  • Controllable
  • There is a clear beginning, middle, and end
  • Driven by management
  • Promise success and draw a line under the past
  • Slow
  • Time-consuming
  • Often resistance
  • Out-of-date by time implemented

Emergent Change

  • Continual process of experimentation and adaptation
  • Multi-level and cross-organizational change (messy)
  • Interation
  • Manager's role is to keep culture so that good change can occur
  • Messy, sometimes inefficient
  • Need to let go of management's controlling behavior
  • Effects often unpredictable

Besides the above characteristics, there is a deeper distinction that bears revealing. Change can be emergent rather than planned in two ways:

  • Managers make a number of decisions commonly unrelated to the change that emerges. The change is therefore not planned. However, these decisions may be based on unspoken, and sometimes unconscious, assumptions about the organization, its environment and the future (Mintzberg, 1989) and are, therefore, not as unrelated as they first seem. Such implicit assumptions dictate the direction of the seemingly disparate and unrelated decisions, thereby shaping the change process by 'drift' rather than by design.
  • External factors (such as the economy, competitors' behavior, and political climate) or internal features (such as the relative power of different interest groups, distribution of knowledge, and uncertainty) influence the change in directions outside the control of managers. Even the most carefully planned and executed change program will have some emergent impacts. This highlights two important aspects of managing change.

This highlights two important aspects of managing change.

  • The need to identify, explore and if necessary challenge the assumptions that underlie managerial decisions.
  • Understanding that organizational change is a process that can be facilitated by perceptive and insightful planning and analysis and well crafted, sensitive implementation phases, while acknowledging that it can never be fully isolated from the effects of serendipity, uncertainty and chance (Dawson, 1996). An important message of change management literature is that organization change is not fixed or linear in nature but contains an important emergent element as identified in complexity theory.

Not for the faint hearted.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. —Albert Einstein

Emergence as a process is order arising out of chaos. For many organizations, to even acknowledge that they have a hidden chaos that seems to be preventing them from being more effective is taboo. Emergent change tests the executive maturity level of the organization to even consider that higher-order complexity arising out of chaos in which novel, coherent structures coalesce through interactions among the diverse entities of a system is a worthwhile pursuit. For them, emergent change resembles insanity. Yet, how many executives continue to practice the very definition of insanity by using the same behavior and logic over and over again while expecting a different outcome. Emergence occurs when the individual, team, and organization interactions disrupt, causing the system to differentiate and ultimately coalesce into something new and dierent.

Evolution of Emergent Change

Through the revolutionary approaches by Social scientists Fred Emery and Eric Trist who created a "Search Conference" and Consultants Kathleen Dannemiller, Chuck Tyson, Alan Davenport, and Bruce Gibb who created Large Scale Change they laid the groundwork to a completely different approach to change. Emergent change became a critical aspect of organization change and development by (1) working with the whole system, and (2) involving the people of that system in finding their own answers. In short, it became a means for harnessing the emergent capacity of the organization to reveal itself sufficiently to become a higher functioning organization.

Need for Emergent Change

Emergent change is needed when an organization senses it is out of sync with itself. Nothing clear or visceral, yet a sense of something missing. Often this sense of something missing can occur when the organization has grown quickly, lost significant people through attrition or lay-off or experienced losses. The common symptoms are that people talk more about surviving and less about thriving, or how far behind they are instead of the bright outlook ahead. The impact is that the organization is not aligned with itself. Individuals have difficulty getting on the same page, so misunderstandings can abound and result in unnecessary mistakes.

The Impact

Through Emergent Change, people develop a better understanding of the roles, responsibilities and realities of others throughout the organization. Separate departments and groups connect and strengthen their interactions and interdependencies creating powerful awareness and cultural shifts that positively influence behavior. People are empowered through the knowledge of the complete organization and make better decisions when they understand cross functional interchanges within the context of the whole organization.

Dawson, S.J.N.D. (1996) Analysing Organisations. Hampshire, Macmillan. Mintzberg, H. (1989) Mintzberg on Management: inside our strange world of organisations, Chicago, Free Press.

Complexity Theory

For those seeking a more indepth view of emergent change, here is a brief look at how emergent change occurs through the lens of complexity theory:

  • Emergent change takes place in an "open" complex system. In this context, "open" means that the system receives a regular supply of energy, information, or matter from its environment. The system is complex because of its number of components and their non-trivial and purposeful interaction, which results in a coordinated behavior.
  • The non-trivial interaction in this system is challenged by internal constraints leading to the breakdown of current behavior between the individual components. This creates a disruption in the system.
  • The system then goes through a process of differentiation in which innovation and distinction among its parts takes place. Higher complexity can be achieved through this differentiation.
  • When the system achieves a new state of coherence, it is more organized than before. This new order is achieved without a director or any explicit mandates. The parts in the system are self-organized.
  • The changed system then expresses new patterns of interaction, which emerge as new behaviors. The changed system also exhibits radical novelty (such as new properties or coherence); stable system interactions; dynamic wholeness that is always changing; and downward causation as the system shapes the behavior of its parts.
  • Once coherence is reached at the higher level of complexity, adaptation is set into motion. When adaptation occurs across generations in the system, the system evolves. The evolution of the entire system gives rise to large-scale effects. Once evolution is achieved, the change is irreversible.

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