“Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” ~Nick Obolensky

adrienne maree brown is a powerhouse leader with a new battle cry. Let’s follow her. Let’s allow ourselves to follow organic patterns that are emerging rather than a tired old script that was written by those who are not living in these times, who do not share our values, who did not understand how life works and thrives, who saw nature as enemy and something to be conquered and tamed. We now know it is better to understand ourselves as embedded in nature: we are that, and to allow ourselves to once again become that so that we seamlessly flow with the currents arising and move effortlessly toward the future that is calling us. Yes, let’s find a way to follow this emergent strategy.

Emergence is a concept that was popularized by chaos theory in mathematics, then adopted by systems theorists and applied to organizations and organizational development by Margaret Wheatley, subsequently adopted by many other movements and thinkers into an applied idea. In this book, adrienne maree brown encourages us to use it as a strategy for life, living, and organizing.

Emergence  is a complex mathematical concept but in the context of this book it boils down to letting things emerge rather than chasing or hunting down an outcome. Maybe we don’t know the outcome. Maybe other things want to emerge. It’s about letting go of control, and the art of allowing, allowing things, ideas and movements, to arise organically from a ground level up rather than imposing our own ideas and demands on them from above.

It’s about redefining our ideas and concepts of success. Maybe success isn’t non-stop growth. It’s a different way to go about changing the world, a different way to approach social justice and social action, learning how to adapt and become better at change. Emergence aligns with how natural systems work, emulating interconnectedness and cooperation, over the more popular mechanistic based approaches.

(Read another post inspired by this book, “Emergent Ambition”, by Theresa C. Dintino here.)

“Many of us have been socialized to understand that constant growth, violent competition, and critical mass are the ways to create change. But emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical, deep and authentic connections, a thread that can be tugged for support and resilience. The quality of connection between the nodes in the patterns”(14).

“…emergence notices the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies….Emergence emphasizes critical connections over critical mass, building authentic relationships, listening with all the senses of the body and the mind”(3).

adrienne maree brown is a Detroit based writer, doula, social justice activist and organizer, facilitator, queer, black multiracial feminist revolutionary.

This book was born out of years of working in organizations for change and social transformation, hitting similar roadblocks and frustrations and wanting to find  another way. The experience of having these organizations, created and motivated by change, fall “back into modeling the oppressive tendencies against which we claim to be pushing. Some of those tendencies are seeking to assert one right way or one right strategy. Many align with the capitalistic belief that constant growth and critical mass is the only way to create change, even if they don’t use that language”(8).

adrienne explains that she “began to realize how important emergent strategy, strategy for building complex patterns and systems of change through relatively small interactions, is to me—the potential scale of transformation that could come from movements intentionally practicing this adaptive, relational way of being, on our own and with others”(2).

She names patterns she sees over and over in the “movements” that have the intention of working toward social change.

  • Burn out, overwork, underpay, unrealistic expectations
  • Organizational and movement splitting
  • Personal drama disrupting movements
  • Mission drift, specifically in direction of money
  • Stagnation—an inability to make decisions(53).

adrienne organizes the book primarily through the following Elements of Emergent Strategy:

  • Fractals: the relationship between small and large
  • Intentional adaptation: how we change
  • Interdependent and decentralization: who we are and how we share
  • Nonlinear and iterative: the pace and pathways of change
  • Resilience: how we recover and transform
  • Creating more possibilities: how we move towards life(11).

This book can and should be used as a workbook to understand and absorb these concepts into our bodies and ways of thinking. The book is best to read over, muse over, discuss and even play with in groups.

We live in a culture whose beliefs and systems override emergent strategies, because they are subtle, tender, receptive and intuitional. We want to get ourselves back to a place where we can listen again. We want to shut down the noise of how we are told things should be and listen to how things actually are, how creation arises, how change takes hold in a sustainable way, making way for life to thrive.

It is not a linear book, it is emergent. In that way it is effective. It feels new, liberating and fresh. Allow this book to challenge you, to change you, to make you think and wonder and look at life and your work through a new lens.

“We would understand that the strength of our movement is the strength of our relationships, which could only be measured by their depth. Scaling up would mean going deeper, being more vulnerable and more empathetic”(10).

adrienne articulates her new motto in the book:

I am living a life I don’t regret

A life that will resonate with my ancestors

And with as many generations forward as I can imagine

I am attending to the crises of my time with my best self

I am of communities that are doing our collective best

To honor our ancestors and all humans to come(55).

adrienne maree brown is a #Nastywomanwriter and activist.


©Theresa C. Dintino 2019