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Margaret J. Wheatley: Using Emergence to Take Social Innovations to Scale

Posted on by Brandon Klein

In spite of 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.