Use Emergence to counter Emergency

When we deal with the non-linear nature of systems and complexity, we are in for surprises. These systems are dynamic and adaptive so they produce unexpected effects (read more here about using the right tools to deal with complex non linear systems).

These surprises can be positive or catastrophic. Many times the choice is ours, especially when we are leading the system or are placed in a position of decision making, consulting or change management.

Systems develop their internal order through emergence of surprising new patterns or new properties that are emerging out of local interactions between its parts (read more here). Emergency is an unexpected, surprising crisis which suddenly puts shock into the system and to which a response is urgent.

Thus, emergency creates an obvious, urgent need for change, while emergence is an organic change process, most often undetectable. Emergency demands from us a reactive mindset and a position of risk aversion and preparedness while emergence requires us to be pro-active and acquire an adaptive approach to problem solving.

Could we use emergence as a tool for resilience to a possible emergency?

This means we will have to embrace surprises coming out of emergence so that the system becomes more resilient to shocks and emergency crisis. 

The spread of epidemics and diseases or the eruption of urban violent riots could both be seen as emergencies. Surprising the system and demanding their total and urgent response. But both can also be seen as emerging patterns created out of specific local interactions.

Baltimore riots compared

The 1968 violent riots in Baltimore followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who advocated for an emergence of a new system of interactions in the US. One that is based on equality and human rights. The riots in the same city in 2015 erupted after the death of Freddie Gray Jr. supposedly caused by police brutality during his arrest process. Exposing violent patterns of interactions between the police forces and young black suspects. In 2015 the city had a black mayor, something unheard of in the times of MLK Jr.. This time around the riots where contained faster especially due to quickly involving local gang members who calmed the streets and advocated for a stop to the violence.

The outbreak of the Ebola epidemic in 2013-2014 devastated the fabric of life in several states in Western Africa. It was not detected on time and was spreading fast through human to human contact before it was acknowledged as a global crisis. Its quick spread in poor and unprepared countries exposed the failures of the overly strained health systems in these countries. Even though it was the deadliest break of Ebola recorded in history, it was contained by controlling the local chain of contamination and through simple hygiene measures.

Over 11,000 people have died from Ebola since the epidemic erupted in 2014

In your organization or business you have surely seen similar kinds of outbreaks and crisis eruptions creating emergencies which demand the total energy and attention of everyone in the company to stop the bleeding. 

This is why it is important to see how emergence and emergency are tightly related and deeply connected. Even though they are prescribing us with two different sets of demands.

We should be asking ourselves, how can we counter emergency by supporting an emergence of adaptive order. And also how we can response to emergency in a way that creates the conditions for new emerging sustainable patterns?

This approach should include design of feedback structures (read more here) so that the existing landscape in which you operate can be transformed (read more here). We at CompleX have developed the process to help you think about these questions and to identify and deliver the right solution for your needs.

If you are interested to learn more about using the right tools when dealing with complex problems come join the emerging order and receive more ideas and skills.

To know more about the CompleX-to-Change approach visit my website at


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