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Emergent leadership in volatile times

April 12, 2013

Create the conditions conducive for co-creation and it will naturally flourish.

change aheadPositive virtuous cycles start to unlock as people find the optimal pathways for their own value-creation potential, with the desire to overcome challenges, learn, help and share experiences feeding it.  Less energy is siphoned from value-creation activities to management overhead, leaving more available to move forward with the vision of the organisation and innovate.  Self-empowerment and collective orientation overcome challenges with opportunities; the leaders refocus their attention from management to empowerment – encouragement through coaching, rather than management through fear.

nature spiders web

All biological systems have an emergent quality, as all living structures (including social and organisational) are emergent structures. Emergence has a self-generating quality, where individual parts of an ecosystem interact to provide an emergent order (an unfolding of events that are self-fuelled by the actions and interactions of the parts). Emergence is when an organised, complex and/or cohesive pattern or result arises – often unpredictably – from a series of individually simple component interactions. This is the nature of nature.


Emergent leadership (as referred to by Fritjof Capra) encourages an environment of continual questioning and new approaches to problems. This culture of emergence needs to spread beyond the organisation to the stakeholder community, hence encouraging emergence across the business ecosystem, thus improving resilience of the whole and the parts. jungle4


Increasingly as the organisation is required to become more emergent so leadership is more about empowering, empathising and encouraging interconnections, innovation, local attunement and an active network of feedback.  As organisations and business ecosystems become more self-organising and self-empowering, the working environment and culture becomes more emotionally and mentally healthy, where business goals are met without sacrificing personal values and integrity – in fact quite the contrary, where work acts to reinforce personal integrity in providing a rich emergent experience for individual and collective learning and ethical growth.

group leader

It is up to us to unlock our creative potential, to evolve and utilise our talents to our best endeavours, and it is also up to us to help others to unlock their creative potential in their time of need, and in so doing helping them help themselves and others.  The more we open up to our environment, the more we tune in to the interconnected nature of business life, sensing and responding in the most optimal way.


For more on leadership inspired by nature see Giles Hutchins blogs for The Guardian Sustainable Business or join the facebook community here

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2013 7:43 am

    Hi Giles, this sounds like nirvana – but is there any evidence that this really is the case? I am certain there are times that an emergent biological system is a reasonable metaphor for a business – but is it really the same? And given individuals are “reasoning” beings (there will be exceptions!), will we naturally operate in the same way as such a system? Finally, if so – what proves that will end up in innovation that is positive for everyone?
    I am not trying too be over-critical – but perhaps some evidence would better demonstrate your point. Simon

    • April 12, 2013 8:22 am

      Thanks for the comment Simon – the good news is there is good evidence now emerging (pardon the pun) and more by the day in the business arena as organisations are learning to adapt to increasingly volatile conditions. Probably the best place to look for hard evidence and examples in a business environment would be ‘The Nature of Business’ written by me, which you can purchase on Amazon in most countries globally – it is an easy read and accessible for business people, covering your concerns in detail. Many CEOs, Chairmen, Operating executives, etc. have read it and feedback sstrongly and positively – some companies are now seeking to embed core principles into their strategy and operations.
      Here is a short link on it:

      also look at the ‘About The Book’ tab on this website for more information.

      Also you can visit

      Warm regards and have a lovely weekend ahead. Giles

  2. April 12, 2013 8:43 am

    In a post I wrote earlier about emergent strategies (, I used the example of the way ants work as a metaphor:

    “When certain ants need to find a new nest, a few scouts will head out in various directions to search for a new home. When a scout finds a suitable nest, it will spend some time evaluating it. The better the nest, the shorter the time the ant will take. Once the ant has accepted the site, it returns to the main group, where it tries to recruit another ant, whom it then leads to the site. The recruited ant forms its own evaluation, and if the site is acceptable, it will then recruit others in turn. More and more ants are recruited, in an escalating commitment to the site, until the number of ants at the new site reaches a tipping point, which triggers a new behavior. The scouts stop recruiting and begin transporting other ants until the entire colony has moved.

    In this manner, an ant colony, working only with local information and without any centralized decision authority, can find the best new site and move the entire colony there in a few hours.”

    As for some proof that emergent strategy actually works, in innovative and creative cultures, emergency has been adapted as a strategy for over quite some time now. Google, Apple, 37Signals,… all use emergent strategies to some extent. I think this video of Ideo is pretty inspiring. You can see parts of an emergent strategy (that is put to the test), as well as how innovation work. The most remarkable thing however (in my opinion), is that this video was made in 1999 already.

    Thanks for the post,


  3. April 12, 2013 11:11 am

    thanks Jan : – ) ant, termites and bees are great examples

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