Author: Adrienne Brown
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds Adrienne Maree Brown 2017
The success of existence, or what we should learn from mushrooms and dandelions (Emergent Strategy)
Emergent Strategy: Often we use our unique gift of thinking to control the processes that occur in nature. This is wrong, the result is a crisis of values and catastrophes on a planetary scale.
“Emerging Strategy” is how we change the world, not only our own but also other people. We need to rethink our approach to existence (vertical hierarchy, competitiveness, etc.) and turn to nature for guidance. The author of the book, Adrienne Brown, noticed that the self-proclaimed kings of the jungle, such as lions, tigers, and bears, are gradually dying out, while tiny creatures – mushrooms, dandelions, cockroaches, squirrels – successfully continue to exist thanks to a collective, non-competitive lifestyle.
There is something to think about here. If instead of competing with each other, we unite in the fight against our own weaknesses, we will not disappear as a species and will continue to thrive. This is what all living beings do to adapt to a changing world. Perhaps we should be like a school of fish and go with the flow in harmony with the universe.
Emergence Strategy is a book that helps you look at the world of which we are a part, looking for worthy examples of collaborative efforts. The author departs from the generally accepted understanding of strategy and gives it a more flexible, modern definition. Adrienne Brown divides the strategy into six elements, each of which is based on the wisdom of nature and is confirmed by the author’s personal experience. (goal) The emergence strategy is designed to help us get back on the evolutionary path and return to the existence we once knew but have forgotten.
“Strategy” + “emergence” = ?
When we hear the word “strategy” we associate it with military strategic planning. In general, strategy means an applied plan of action to achieve the ultimate goal. The emergence strategy, however, differs from the military strategy :
- is not limited to one plan and one goal;
During her work as a coordinator, Adrienne often faced a situation where a group of people built a plan of action from many points, which in one way or another reflected the opinion of everyone, and then someone from the group uttered a fatal phrase:Emergent Strategy
– We need to choose one thing / only a few. Let’s vote!Emergent Strategy
As a result, the results achieved in a friendly atmosphere of collective creativity came down to a common denominator and the opinion of many remained unaccounted for. People left the meeting disappointed.Emergent Strategy
- moves away from strategic planning in favor of strategic intentions (supported by a collective vision);
During group meetings, Adrienne always tries to get the message across: the military is planning for contingencies, hoping there won’t actually be any. Activists must plan, knowing that change is inevitable. Elections, sponsors – they cannot be controlled. Only by accepting this and relaxing can we effortlessly move towards our goals as a single group.Emergent Strategy
The evolution of the emergence strategy
So what is the emergence strategy and where did it come from? Emergence (from the English. emergence) is how complex systems and models appear from a set of relatively simple interactions.
Improving the emergence strategy is still ongoing:
- originally, the strategy of emergence described the adaptive, relational approach of Afrofuturism to leadership (it was often found in their work, especially in the work of Octavia Butler);
- then this strategy turned into algorithms of actions, personal practices, and collective management methods, which take into account the constancy of change and which contribute to strengthening ties for further adaptation (based on the ideas of biomimicry and permaculture);
- after the emergence strategy evolved into a set of tactics for organizers coordinating movements for justice and liberation;
- now it is a way of right relationship with our home (the universe) and with each other through relatively simple interactions; it is how we consciously change ourselves and develop our abilities in order to be able to accept the just and free world that we aspire to.
Everyone can have their own understanding of the emergence strategy. For some, this is the philosophy of harmonious coexistence with the world in which we live. For others, it means coming to a completely new view of reality, as in the scene of the film The Matrix, when the main character Neo begins to see everything in black and green and understands the true structure of the universe.
Elements of a strategy
You can learn a lot from nature. If we are to survive all the various crises that await us in the future, we need to understand why the kings of the jungle (lions, tigers, bears) are gradually dying out, while small creatures (mushrooms, squirrels, dandelions, cockroaches, etc.) continue to successfully exist.
The survival of each individual ant depends on the successful completion of a task by many, so an ant colony is built primarily on trust. They tell each other where food is, but do not compete for it as larger creatures do. Ants operate on the principle that the more members go to forage, the more food the whole community will receive.Emergent Strategy
One ant can only stay afloat for a few minutes, but an ant colony weighs enough to overcome the resistance of the water. If the anthill is flooded, each member will gather with hundreds of others into a raft-like formation. This method helps to postpone swimming for several months. Even if most of the ants drown in the process, some will still survive and the colony will continue to exist.Emergent Strategy
Emergence strategy is based on the lessons of mother nature and consists of six elements:
- decentralized interdependence;
- intentional adaptability;
- indirect cyclicity;
- resilience and transformative justice;
- the ability to create new opportunities.
Fractality (relationship between big and small)
There are forms and patterns that are fundamental in the universe.
Our fingerprints are similar to the structures found under the earth’s crust, and the shell pattern follows the curves of galaxies.Emergent Strategy
Even the smallest act sets the direction of the largest scale. Therefore, if the big is a reflection of the small and vice versa, then we need to start by changing ourselves before transforming the world around us.
Adrienne served as the CEO of The Ruckus Society for four and a half years. She thought she was doing her job well. However, multitasking was too tough for her. It seemed that Adrienne was constantly thinking about work: at meetings with friends, with family. Without realizing it, she began to seek solace in food, at the bottom of a bottle, in casual relationships, and even working overtime. Anything to drown out your emotions.Emergent Strategy
Gradually, through the influence of family members, relatives and the comments of colleagues, Adrienne began to notice the problem. She took a sabbatical and radically revised her view of the world. If it is part of the system of the universe, then, therefore, everything that it does is reflected on a universal scale. Adrienne realized that she, like any other person, is able to influence this system solely by her way of being. Now every new day for her is 24 hours filled with meaning.Emergent Strategy
Decentralized interdependence (who we are and how we cooperate)
In the world, and especially in capitalist America, citizens are used to striving for independence, not as a group, but rather as an individual. People are unique beings. We compete even when it’s not really necessary, for example, to satisfy our ego. If we hope to survive future crises (economic, and environmental), we will need joint efforts, which must be carried out in the form of interdependence and trust in each other. As Lao Tzu said, “I believe the sincere, and I also believe the insincere,” or, in other words, if you trust people, they begin to justify the trust.
When flocks of geese fly south, they fly in a V-shaped wedge like an arrow. They don’t fly too fast, otherwise some birds might get separated from the flock. The geese do not move too far from each other in order to feel the neighbors hovering nearby and, in which case, have time to rebuild in time, for example, to correct for the wind.Emergent Strategy
If one of the flock is hurt, two other geese land with him and wait for him to recover or die, and then catch up with the flock. The most remarkable thing about the behavior of geese is that, although they fly in a wedge, they do not have a single leader who would be ahead of everyone. The level of trust in the flock is so great that the geese take turns at the head of the wedge.Emergent Strategy
Intentional adaptability (how we change)
Those who practice the emergence strategy from the beginning must understand that change is constant. The main thing is the intention with which we meet them: with fear, anticipation, and experience. If there are no dreams, or goals that we want to strive for, we simply react to every turn of fate at the very last moment. To take control of the situation, we need to become like a flow. It flows, changes, and always reaches its goal. Bruce Lee said: “Become amorphous, formless, like water. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend. Don’t think – feel!
Adrienne was late for the first meeting with the new group. She typed the address into Google Maps and her phone gave her a fifteen-minute itinerary. There were 45 minutes left before the meeting. Adjusted for traffic, Adrienne arrived with 15 minutes to spare, but it wasn’t the right place. It just so happened that there were two West Streets in Boston, and the second was now half an hour away from Adrienne.Emergent Strategy
Then she made the right decision: to adapt to the changes. First of all, she gave a good shout, releasing all the stress accumulated during the day. Then, in a joyful, slightly hoarse voice, she told the organizers by phone that she would be late. They said they understood that traffic jams in Boston are common. She then got into her car, put on her favorite song, and headed towards her destination. She knew for sure that she would be late, but she no longer worked herself up. Adrienne made a conscious choice to quickly adjust to change. When she arrived at the meeting, it turned out that at least half of the people were also late.Emergent Strategy
Indirect cyclicity (rate and trajectory of change)
Changes do not occur one after the other in a linear sequence. Even if they have some kind of order, then we do not know it, since we cannot track it. We only know that our life is a cycle, an inexplicable series of repetitions. One day, we may have a completely logical question: if any failure is a lesson for us, then how can we learn it and change something in the process?
Adrienne is a sugar addict with thirty years of experience. She ate stress and thereby harmed her health. The result is obesity and diabetes. If not for the support of loved ones, Adrienne would have continued this destructive cycle: experience – consumption of sweets – experience. However, she realized that it was time for a change.Emergent Strategy
At first, Adrienne accepted her versatility: on the one hand, she honestly wanted to stop destroying her body, on the other, she sincerely realized that she simply could not live without sweets. Recognition of the internal inconsistency prompted her to create a Facebook support group for women suffering from the same problem as her. In a confidential group chat with several friends in misfortune, Adrienne defied their shared affliction. She may not have been able to break the chain of events, but she certainly managed to influence their overall course.Emergent Strategy
Resilience and transformative justice (how we recover and change)
Difficult trials await us at every turn. This is not pessimism – this is a fact. Our ability to recover from the hardships of life determines whether we can change the situation in our favor. The idea of transformative justice just implies that people are able to consciously turn conflicts and other adversities into solutions.
Group coordinators must behave like fungi, converting toxins in the soil into nutrients. Do not avoid constructive criticism, perceiving it as attacks by haters. Very often, people who slow down the decision-making process need only a good explanation of the situation. Then they may even become group leaders who will understand better than most the task assigned to the team. Consequently, the problem is transformed into a constructive solution. If you pay attention to something, it will blossom.Emergent Strategy
The ability to create new possibilities (the emergence of life)
Each of us has advantages, but uniqueness should not prevent us from working in partnership with others. We are a single, well-functioning mechanism. Traditional groupthink often leads to the worst possible outcome by limiting the opinions of individuals. However, by applying the collective mind and feeling the contribution of everyone, we achieve the success that team members would never achieve alone. In the process of joint intellectual efforts, new connections are born and further opportunities for growth appear. As the Zapatistas said, “We want a world that can accommodate many worlds.”
The Ruckus Society is a non-governmental organization founded in 1996 based on the example of Greenpeace’s civil disobedience campaigns. However, the Ruckus Society reflected a masculine culture: its members carried out stunning high-profile campaigns instead of building long-term ties with the population. As a result, the organization left a mark in history, but not in the hearts of people. Even the members of the Ruckus Society did not feel involved in their own group activities.Emergent Strategy
This could not continue, and in 2006 the leadership and approach of the Ruckus Society underwent a major overhaul. Minorities (including gay people) were now in the top positions, which went against the previous tradition of fair-skinned straight men in leadership positions. In addition, the IP3 Indigenous Support Project was created. Now the Ruckus Society has evolved into something its founders never imagined: a non-governmental organization that educates future community leaders and teaches them how to fight for their rights and create their own societies. Sometimes even one step is enough to move from good intentions to the right practices.Emergent Strategy
Adopting an internal strategist
Elements of the emergence strategy are useful not only for individuals but also for entire groups and organizations. Realizing that we are part of a rapidly changing world, we will be able to take a critical look at it, rethink our place in it, and achieve harmony with ourselves and the environment.
With an emergence strategy, we can help not only ourselves but also others, but are we competent enough? Therefore, it is worth taking a couple of minutes and answering the following questions:
- Do you value small growth and small changes?
- Is it easy for you to adapt to unusual conditions?
- Are you comfortable with growth and transformation being inconsistent (non-linear)?
- Do you view conflicts at home and/or at work as productive?
- Are you in human society in a relationship with someone who can make you responsible for your actions and periodically does this?
- Do you think there is an opportunity for change?
- Do you see yourself as part of the natural world?
Tips for Personal Growth
The emergence strategy is not the ultimate truth. It’s one thing to be inspired by someone else’s ideas, and another thing to go your own way. This strategy does not provide ready-made answers, but rather generates new questions. Everyone decides for himself how to answer them, but it is better to use the following recommendations:
- If you answered yes to each of the questions, you are a true strategist. Bring knowledge to the masses!
- If you answered yes to most of the questions, work on the problematic points.
- You can also choose “I don’t know”. If you choose this option, you need to review the six elements of the emergence strategy again to understand.
- If you are learning the emergence strategy on your own, it is worth keeping a diary of feelings where you write down your impressions, and if you are working with a group, then first use the diary individually, and then discuss the thoughts you recorded with the others.
- Questions can be the starting point of your introduction to the emergence strategy – read the questions first, and then learn all the nuances of the strategy.
As futurist Octavia Butler wrote, “The success of existence lies in adaptability, spontaneity, vitality, interconnectedness, fertility…”. Add to this the philosophy of fractality, and you have the perfect recipe for self-improvement, successful group coordination, and changing the world for the better.
Top 10 Thoughts
1. Tiny creatures (mushrooms, dandelions, cockroaches, etc.) successfully continue to exist due to the collective way of life, while the kings of the jungle (lions, tigers, bears) are gradually dying out.
2. Nature holds the secrets of a successful existence, which we can apply for our further survival.
3. Big is a reflection of small, and vice versa.
4. Change is constant, so the main thing is the intention with which we meet them.
5. If you trust people, they justify the trust.
6. Any failure is a lesson for us.
7. If you pay attention to something, it will blossom.
8. Sometimes one step is enough to move from good intentions to good practices.
9. By applying the emergence strategy, we can help not only ourselves but also others.
10. It’s one thing to be inspired by someone else’s ideas, and another thing to go your own way.