What makes complex systems around us existing for a long time is the fact that they are always emerging and adapting to their environment. The same applies to any organization that wants to survive and thrive in ever-growing business and environment complexity.
Emergence can be defined as simply as possible: order arising out of chaos. A more nuanced definition is higher-order complexity arising out of chaos in which novel, coherent structures coalesce through interactions among the diverse entities of a system. Emergence occurs when these interactions disrupt, causing the system to differentiate and ultimately coalesce into something novel (by Peggy Holman). This definition of emergence is my preferred one.
In my previous post on chaos and order in business, I discussed the pendulum between order and chaos that each business is going through (whether it recognize it or not). Emergence is critical for organizations to get out of chaos state back to a different order.
There are two challenges to emergence when implemented in organizations. First it will increase the system complexity by adding interactions or entities, but on the other hand, it will create a new order. Second, it required a change that we as people don’t like or promote. Resistance for a change is why, in my own opinion, many organizations are stuck in order until they die.
Practically, to overcome the second challenge organizations need to make sure that every group has a function that is dedicated and accountable for continuous emergence (and evolvement) of each group. Based on our experience if this function doesn’t exist and perform emergence won’t happen, and the entire organization will be stuck in equilibrium.