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Facilitating Emergence?


by Victoria Wenzelmann
I have recently thought a lot about emergence again, and invite you all to a discussion - I will bring some input, and I hope you will have some too!

In systems theory, emergence describes a property at the macro level of a system, which comes about through the interaction of system elements at the micro-level. The emergent whole is, as physics Nobel Prize winner Philip Anderson wrote as early as 1972, "not only more, but something quite different from the sum of its parts". A vivid example is memory: the properties of nerve cells in the brain have been well researched neurologically, but it is unclear how exactly the connection of cells leads to properties of the brain, for example, memory.

With regard to social change, systems thinker Margaret Wheatley states that this does not require a critical mass of individuals, but a critical mass of meaningful connections between individuals, in the form of networks and communities.

The Agile Manifesto states that "The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams". Some argue that the aim of agile is the facilitation of this emergence - given a shared vision and clear underlying structures.

What can this mean for our work within and beyond our teams and organizations? Maybe even: While the world is facing a multitude of systemic problems - can agile practices help solve them, and if so: which and how?