Despite current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world and creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.
But networks aren’t the whole story. As networks grow and transform into active, working communities of practice, we discover how Life truly changes, which is through emergence. When separate, local efforts connect with each other as networks, then strengthen as communities of practice, suddenly and surprisingly a new system emerges at a greater level of scale. This system of influence possesses qualities and capacities that were unknown in the individuals. It isn’t that they were hidden; they simply don’t exist until the system emerges. They are properties of the system, not the individual, but once there, individuals possess them. And the system that emerges always possesses greater power and influence than is possible through planned, incremental change. Emergence is how Life creates radical change and takes things to scale.
Since its inception in 1992, The Berkana Institute has been experimenting with the lifecycle of emergence: how living systems begin as networks, shift to intentional communities of practice, and evolve into powerful systems capable of global influence. Through our work with communities in many different nations, we are learning what’s possible when we connect people across difference and distance. By applying the lessons of living systems and working intentionally with emergence and its lifecycle, we are demonstrating how local social innovation can be taken to scale and provide solutions to many of the world’s most intractable issues—such as community health, ecological sustainability and economic self-reliance.
Researchers and social activists are beginning to discover the power of networks and networking. And there is a growing recognition that networks are the new form of organizing. Evidence of self-organized networks is everywhere: social activists, terrorist groups, drug cartels, street gangs, web-based interest groups. While we now see these everywhere, it is not because they’re a new form of organizing. It’s because we’ve removed our old paradigm blinders that look for hierarchy and control mechanisms in the belief that organization only happens through human will and intervention.
Networks are the only form of organization used by living systems on this planet. These networks result from self-organization, where individuals or species recognize their interdependence and organize in ways that support the diversity and viability of all. Networks create the conditions for emergence, which is how Life changes. Because networks are the first stage in emergence, it is essential that we understand their dynamics and how they develop into communities and then systems.
Yet much of the current work on networks displays old paradigm bias. In social network analysis, physical representations of the network are created by mapping relationships. This is useful for convincing people that networks exist, and people are often fascinated to see the network made visible. Other network analysts name roles played by members of the network or make distinctions between different parts of the network, such as core and periphery. It may not be the intent of these researchers, but their work is often used by leaders to find ways to manipulate the network, to use it in a traditional and controlling way.
* What’s missing in these analyses is an exploration of the dynamics of networks:
* Why do networks form? What are the conditions that support their creation?
* What keeps a network alive and growing? What keeps members connected?
* What type of leadership is required? Why do people become leaders?
* What type of leadership interferes with or destroys the network?
* What happens after a healthy network forms? What’s next?
If we understand these dynamics and the lifecycle of emergence, what can we do as leaders, activists and social entrepreneurs to intentionally foster emergence?
Emergence violates so many of our Western assumptions of how change happens that it often takes quite a while to understand it. In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas. If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale. However, when they become connected, local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global or comprehensive level. (Global here means a larger scale, not necessarily the entire planet.)
This article originally appeared in The Berkana Institute and is republished with permission. The Berkana Institute and its partners share the clarity that whatever the problem, community is the answer. They prepare for an unknown future by creating strong and sustainable relationships, by wisely stewarding the earth's resources and by building resilient communities.
On Apr 22, 2015 Theodora wrote:
Intrinsically connected to any concept that is emerging is looking to what stands in the way and blocks the new from arising. This is why ignorance and arrogance are both self and collectively-defeating; they prevent the respect and freedom that is necessary for true innovation and evolutionary knowledge to emerge. Attempting to control, intending results, and consciously or unconsciously forcing inherently blocks the movement of the larger "spirit", which is bringing healing, and new growth. Clinging and insisting upon former paradigms that are no longer working, meaningful, appropriate, and are even dangerous to persist in doing is counter-productive to advancement. It requires courage to turn and face what was good in the past, but is now detrimental in the present and for the future, and remain open and generous to the newly emerging. Fear of the unknown and close-mindedness keep ignorance and arrogance brokering for leverage to sway all things to the former, to the known, to controlling, to continuing to force antiquated ways of thinking and doing. And yet, we cannot manipulate our way into revelation. We can only step aside, and with open generosity step aside, and allow "the spirit", which moves all things and all of life to pass through us, both as individuals and as a collective humanity. Ground-breaking art and revolutionary innovation do not arise from predetermination, but seek revelation from higher forms of knowing. Only surrender to freedom can free us, or reveal new and emerging ways of being and knowing. We cannot truly "fight" our way to attaining freedom, anymore than we can "fight" our way to achieving love or respect. Love and respect require that they be freely bestowed and freely received.
If we truly seek a new and emerging better world, we should first look to getting out of the way, and permitting it to manifest. All true seemingly-miraclous knowledge and events, magical understanding and wonder are never forced or capped, which is exactly why they are so capable of bringing delight and joy. There is more to life than intention and force, which limit us to only knowing and also existing in the past. The new is always waiting for us; it never arises from our force or deliberate suppression. It is free, or we cause it to wither and vanish. The new would joyfully emerge if we weren't always holding it back, disallowing it from arising, or dictating to it, telling it who to be and how to be, manipulating it from the start to suit us and our limited views or selfish desires. So often, we stand in the way from all our actual and true wealth of healing that knowledge and wisdom have to graciously offer. If we learn nothing else in life, we would benefit the most from learning respect, for oneself, for all other human beings, for all animals, birds, fish, insects, plants, trees, forests, natural seeds, soil, water, rivers, oceans, air, all of creation, and natural forces and energies.
We continue to reject the essential deep and abiding respect for nature, the wisdom of natural processes and natural abundant energies, which are contained within and by our planet earth home, and are freely bestowed by our good universe to all inhabitants of earth. Nature, and knowledge contained in nature and natural processes and energies, is our most trustworthy and life-sustaining teacher that we have available to us, and right under our noses. Free energy devices do not create or store energy; they tap into existing, unlimited, zero-emmission, natural supplies provided by the universe. In rejecting and suppressing the breakthrough, ambient, free energy technological gifts of nature and natural processes, we gamble that our archaic, explosive, and lethal energy manipulations of nature and the (inflated and disappearing-unto-dust) money and power gleaned from them can and will increase our status over others, and also somehow save us and a future for the next generation and beyond. Yet, the reality is that the marketplace is no longer a viable answer to either our energy needs, environmental concerns, or even in providing true and lasting wealth. Nature is aligned with respect, health, freedom, abundance, inclusion, and continuing life. Sole reliance on trade within global monetary systems, which are ever-inflated even unto nothingness, are intrinsically anti-cooperative, and dependent upon competition that involve force, scarcity, fear, limitations, manipulations, profiteering, engineering of nature and natural processes, suffering, violence, and destruction of our natural (and cultural) world.
This competing mentality that continues to demand financial competition over, and monetary compensation from, the natural world, even though only global suffering and death is now the only possible outcome, also spiritually robs both individuals and collective human civilization of common decency, benevolence, and even sanity. We bankrupt more than just our grossly-inflated monetary currencies. Even more tragically, we bankrupt our true and lasting wealth in the natural abundance of our planet earth, and the spiritual soul of our own humanness. It is not just the physical lives of human beings, creatures, plants, crops, seeds, trees, forests, soils, rivers, oceans, and all waters that we are irrevocably losing, we are throwing away and trampling the heart and soul of our own humanity, and at grave risk of renouncing all respect for others, for love and for life. Ultimately, we will lose self-respect and dignity, and be consumed with collective and self loathing, or even worse, lose more and more conscience, open ourselves to the callous and violent harding of the heart and numbness of soul that accompanies the predatory devaluing of love and life, which can no longer feel empathy, connection, unity, or oneness with others, or even with or for oneself. These spiritual loses are preceding, and already foretell that we quickly losing the last bastion against the darkness of mounting despair that will trap all the living, both rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless in ever-increasing and spiraling-downward decadence, violence, physical and spiritual deterioration, degradation, destruction, suffering, mayhem, and death.
We cannot add to the bounty of nature; we can only limit and destroy the bountiful and abundant generosity of the universe when we are unconscious, or disregard deliberately the destructive travesties that we are doing on a global scale to our true and lasting wealth - life and love, health and vitality, our shared humanity, all of creation on our planet home, and all future generations. The natural world is capable of supplying all of our needs, while sustaining and enhancing our lives, if we allow the new, free and freeing, and truly saving power of natural, cosmic energy technologies to emerge.
Nature scatters their secrets and knowledge throughout all diverse human classifications, within all creatures and in every possible direction, even unto the cosmos. There is more to learn from studying nature right here on planet earth than many lifetimes could ever reveal. And yet, we choose everything that destroys nature and costs us, and now tragically and perhaps even irreversibly robs and costs us, our most precious and priceless gifts - love and life itself on on one shared planet earth home. All newly emerging knowledge, life and love are intrinsically dependent upon respect and generosity of spirit. We clearly don't have all the answers, but someone, some Universal One, both out there and within, might if we finally, and for the first time in human history, stepped aside and with due respect and awe, let them emerge and be revealed.[Hide Full Comment]
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