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Managing Emergence

  1. Managing Emergence Marc Rettig Fit Associates LLC 8 May 2014 UX Summit
  2. Managing Emergence Marc Rettig | Fit Associates, LLC Presented 8 May 2014 at Idean UX Summit Austin See for more information. © 2014, Fit Associates LLC This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You can copy and redistribute it, so long as you attribute credit to its authors, do it only for non-commercial purposes, and don’t alter it or create derivative works based on it. To view a copy of this license, visit ” or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.
  3. Marc Rettig Principal, Fit Associates LLC @mrettig (check our news section for other talks and books and such, including our course syllabus and a student-made book, Fundamentals of Design for Social Innovation)
  4. We do this through… Short or long-term project work Training and capacity development Working alongside your team: moving a difficult situation quickly forward through facilitated studios, or collaborating through an extended program of exploration & transformation Courses and learn-by-doing programs: equipping teams with the methods of system sensing, design, facilitating co-creation, and managing emergence We help teams, companies, and institutions create effectively in complex social situations.
  5. This is a work in progress.
  6. I was frustrated by business as usual. So I looked for ways to positively disrupt it. And now I’m excited!
  7. Story 1: Internet, phone, & TV provider Deep research which uncovered strategic opportunities that also would have really helped people. But there were no ears to hear.
  8. Story 3: Home medical products company Six years of patient influence by design leaders… brought better products and brand consistency, but no strategic shift. They’re working on the same question now that they were ten years ago.
  9. products services decisions methods research communications budgets plans strategies
  10. purpose values relationships connection alignment boundaries language care
  11. STORYwe are homo narrans
  12. Those are social systems situations. I’d always flinched away from tackling something like organizational culture. The thought gave me only fear and a sense of inadequacy.
  13. My question became… How do we create intentionally when our materials are not physical or digital, but social? What does our work look like when the results are not technical or business systems, but human systems – communities?
  14. My question became… How do we shift the story that underlies our organizations, our communities, our work, our acts of creation and care?
  15. the way things are: business as usual the way things could be, or want to be The gap
  16. (Peter Senge) The typical change effort… This is because of what Peter Drucker calls organizational inertia. The system resists change to “The way we do things around here.” As Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The way things are Back to the way things are
  17. The tools in our hand mostly evolved from the world of manufacturing and consumer products. Research Expertise (good & best practices) Decision-making Planning & implementation Iteration This all basically adds up to “experts” who “decide.”
  18. Social systems aren’t just complicated, they are truly, fundamentally complex. They are complex adaptive systems. a. They are not causal, they are dispositional. Cause and effect can only be seen in retrospect, and you cannot reliably predict the affect of an intervention. b. The goal is not to make something, but to shift the system from State A to a more preferable State B. And there’s two things to say about State B: •  It will mostly be made of the same people who are living State A •  The important differences – the ones that will make State B a living, resilient, persistent state – will be mostly invisible: beliefs, identity, care, relationships, conversations, values, and the way those things are expressed in structures, processes, and policies.
  19. Technical challenges can be defined clearly, solutions and best practices often already exist; they can be planned, managed, and often predicted. Complex challenges (like the ones whose outcomes are mostly made of people) are fuzzy, hard to understand, and often have multiple kinds of complexity. Tip o’ the hat to Adam Kahane Why is it hard?
  20. Actors have diverse perspectives and interests Tip o’ the hat to Adam Kahane Three kinds of complexity To understand it, you must understand it through time; cause and effect are far apart in space and time Future is unfamiliar and undetermined
  21. Dynamically complex cause and effect are independent and far apart in space and time Socially complex the people involved have different perspectives and interests; relationships affect their behavior Generatively complex the future is fundamentally unfamiliar and undetermined Systemic cannot be addressed piece by piece, but only by seeing the system as a whole Participatory cannot be addressed by experts or authorities, but only with the engagement of the people living in the situation Emergent cannot be addressed by applying “best practice” solutions from the past, but only by growing new, “next practice” solutions This kind of complexity… …means our approach must be… Adam Kahane, Power and Love
  22. Tip o’ the hat to Adam Kahane Approaches for creating in complexity Be Participatory" Bring all stakeholders into the creative & decision-making process Be Systemic" Address root causes of problems, and give innovations healthy roots Build capacity to deal with emergence" Improve abilities to adjust to constantly changing reality as it unfolds
  23. I’d love to tell you about some examples….
  24. Some of our sources •  Positive Deviance (Sternin) •  Theory U (Scharmer, Senge, et al) •  Social Labs, aka Change Labs (Kahane, Hassan, et al) •  Transformative Scenario Planning (Kahane) •  Cynefin, Distributed Ethnography, Safe-to-Fail portfolio, SenseMaker software (Dave Snowden) •  Facilitation (e.g. Skilled Facilitator Approach) •  Dialog methods (World Café, Open Space Technology) •  Theater-based methods (e.g. Theater of the Oppressed, generative improv) •  Gaming and simulation •  Models of change and transformation (e.g., addiction)
  25. Introducing Positive deviance
  26. The term “Positive Deviance” initially appeared in nutrition research literature with the publication of a book entitled “Positive Deviance in Nutrition” by Tufts University nutrition professor, Marian Zeitlin, in the 1990s, where she compiled a dozen surveys that documented the existence of “Positive Deviant” children in poor communities who were better nourished than others. In this book, Zeitlin and her colleagues advocated for the use of this concept to address childhood malnutrition issues at the community level by identifying what was going right in the community in order to amplify it, as opposed to focusing on what was going wrong in the community and fixing it. In the early 1990’s, Jerry Sternin, a visiting scholar at Tufts University, and his wife, Monique, experimented with Zeitlin’s ideas and operationalized the PD concept as a tool to promote behavior and social change to organize various PD-centered social change interventions around the world. Where positive deviance came from
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  31. Lots of case studies and stories! Learn more…
  32. Introducing Theory U & Social Labs
  33. A chain of people’s work building on past work, from Chris Argyris and Donald Schön through Peter Senge (Fifth Discipline), Joseph Jaworski, and most visibly and productively, Otto Scharmer (MIT, Presencing Institute). Scharmer nterviewed 25 people with wisdom on leadership and change, among them: Brian Arthur, Henri Bortoft, Arie de Geus, Joseph Jaworski, John Kao, Rupert Sheldrake, Francisco Varela Adam Kahane at Shell Oil (part of the Scenario Planning days there, and facilitator in South Africa after the end of apartheid) & others founded Reos Partners, which has embodied Theory U in their “change labs” or “social labs.” Where Theory U came from
  34. Form tools, results, what people say & do Structure & process how you do your work, command & control, incentives Identity & purpose who you really are, what you care about, your core purposes An underlying insight
  35. The U is a creative journey taken together by a representative microcosm of the system
  36. What we do, say, make, use What we understand, think & believe Who we are: identity, relationship, sense of place and power, care, purpose,… our highest Self The territory of that journey
  37. Seetogether Createtogether Do, say, " make, use Understand, " think, " believe Who we are: " our highest Self We see our way down, and create our way back up
  38. Together, see what’s really going on. See through many points of view Reflect together; let go of “knowing” what should be, turn your attention inward." Open to “the future that wants to be born.” Convene " the system Together, prototype, " catalyze, iterate Establish " the new
  39. Social Labs, or Change Labs, are Reos Partner’s adaptation of Theory U as a repeatable way for them to engage with complex social challenges.
  40. Taken from
  41. Large-scale example: Reos Global Food Lab
  42. Learn more…
  43. One day, at a global consumer products company,… See the story, “Collaboration and the elephant that sat on it” on the Fit Associates site:
  44. We learned to see & listen without judgment. I’ve omitted some slides from the distribution version of this talk, because the photos show people who didn’t give permission for this use of their image. The story in a nutshell People gathered from across the quality function of the company: design, usability, engineering, sales, technical sales support, quality management. The organization wanted to get better at learning from visits to customers’ homes, better at knowing which customer stories were most important, and better at communicating internally so that the resulting insights actually led to improved products. We: - gave them some training on listening and seeing without judgment - visited customer homes and watched as they put products to use - watched videos of the visits and harvested observations onto stickies - clustered the stickies to find patterns and themes Here’s the thing: for two days, this group of people stepped out of “the way things are,” stopped looking at each other, stopped talking about internal processes and problems, and paid full attention to customers, together. This shared experience completely changed the conversation. As groups shared their insights with one another, there was a point where the room got quiet and two important things happened. 1. They remembered that they all cared most about the same thing – they all very much want the customer to like and value the product. They all care about quality. 2. Someone found the courage to name the elephant in the room. He said, “I don’t feel trusted.” There was an issue of trust among these folks, and they would not have been able to proceed creatively unless they talked about it. This led to a change in the agenda: they spent the last half day co-creating a new organizational structure and process for the company’s quality function. They presented it to an executive right then and there, who gave it the thumbs-up and set in motion the work needed to begin evolving the way they had been working. I tell this story because the facilitation plan is directly drawn from Theory U. It can be applied at large and small scales, in long and short term.
  45. Introducing Dave Snowden, Cynefin, Cognitive Edge, and SenseMaker
  46. How to organize a children’s party
  47. Distributed ethnography using SenseMaker software
  48. For an example, see:
  49. 1. Listen, synthesize, make connections with community 2. Design a portfolio of safe-to-fail experiments 3. Manage the portfolio, using strategies to amplify or dampen 4. As evidence grows and spreads in the organization, move some into the business units and/or community for development 5. Some of those will become operational While it is still maturing as a practice and a set of tools, the exciting thing about this work is that it marries data with narrative in a principled way, provides both software and facilitation tools, and is one of the very few approaches out there for “managing emergence.” Portfolio of safe-to-fail experiments
  50. If you’re seriously interested, it is worth joining as a member of the network to get access to the library of methods, articles, etc. One place to start with Snowden on YouTube: Combining Complexity Theory with Narrative Research Learn more…
  51. Managing emergence Over the longer term… The shift from State A to State B – from business as usual to what wants to be – doesn’t happen in a “project.” We are working with two models for managing emergence inside organizations and in communities: Social labs Snowden and Cognitive Edge’s approach
  52. An example A hospital network asks, “How can we increase population health in our region?”
  53. 3 months 1 year ongoing lab & capacity building Immerse Listen Form invitation Convene Categorize situations (Cynefin) Conceive first group of experiments / social prototypes Manage the experiments Regular sensing Amplify & dampen per strategy Move to pilot, design & development as appropriate Convene as appropriate New experiments as appropriate Build community & organizational capacity to create together & manage emergence U-journey with leadership to help them shift “business as usual”
  54. Key ingredients in these approaches 1.  Convene diversity and influence (convening is a major step!) 2.  Create space: not “business as usual,” open, safe 3.  Facilitate experience + reflection: open, let go, reframe,… 4.  Manage portfolios of experiments Bold & diverse, managed, monitored, amplify and dampen 5.  Iterate, remaining grounded in “the deep” and open to what emerges 6.  Cultivate the community’s creative and adaptive capacity, nurture the conditions for it to develop and adapt on its own
  55. Key characteristics New community story rather than “solution” Design with rather than for Catalyze rather than solve Facilitator-partner rather than expert Emergence rather than plan-and-execute Invisible materials Approach must give us dance steps for uncertainty, which will never go away – social systems are inherently uncertain, non-causal Your whole Self is required, not just your brain & hands
  56. I believe a new practice is being born – the practice of creating intentionally in and with the complexity of human communities. Personally, I feel my work is to advance that practice. If you feel excited and scared by these ideas,… Evidence of this practice can be found in: - university programs like and CMU Design’s new curriculum. - firms like Reos Partners and Cognitive Edge - the blooming trend in social entrepreneurship - management conversations such as Moonshots for Management - trends in human development practices, from positive deviance to Paul Polack to shifts in the ways foundations are managing their investments - the way design, social innovation, dialog facilitation, living systems, management, development, and many other practices are in a conversation that did not exist five years ago.
  57. Welcome to the frontier.
  58. Thank you. @mrettig