Dealing with Emergence

These days, organizational change isn’t what it used to be. We can’t predict change in the same way, and we can’t plan for change in the same way.  In fact, when we apply a traditional change management approach, we find ourselves stuck.

Why?  Because we are dealing with Emergence.

According to Glenda Eoyang (, the nature of change possesses:

  • Increased complexity
  • Increased confusion
  • Increased overwhelm
  • Less control
  • Less agreement amongst those involved in the change
  • Many moving parts
  • Little stability
  • Little predictability

So how does one lead and manage through this kind of organizational change?

  1. Seek patterns  in what appears as chaos to organize the change elements
  2. Identify what’s the same (even in a significant change, there are always aspects that stay constant) and what’s different
  3. Hone in on one element of the change as opposed to focusing on the whole system change which can be overwhelming (Glenda calls this “tightening your container”)
  4. Use Adaptive Action by asking these 3 questions regularly,
    • What?
    • So What?
    • Now What?

and if your “Now What” doesn’t quite work, revisit, adapt and try again!

This is the future of how we must approach organizational change ensuring the conversations and the questions we ask are grounded in the principles of Emergence.

2 Responses

  1. Erica,
    I have noticed a trend towards honing in on one element of change instead of ‘biting off more than you can chew’ by taking the whole system approach. I think the “now what?” question is: “Now what element of the change should we focus on first to get some real momentum started?”
    Like the website very much!


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