Designing for Emergence

Towards the end of the St. Louis Collaboratory workshop this past Wednesday, I said something about designing for emergence. Dave Gray thought enough about the point to note it in his own special way:    (LBW)    (LBX)

(Full size picture at Flickr.)    (LBY)

It’s not an exact quote, and his sketch is a bit stingy on the hair, but it captures the essence of the point. A more verbose version of what I said goes something like this:    (LBZ)

Designing for emergence is scary. I’ve facilitated several of these types of gatherings, and I’ve attended several more, and they always work. But they always stress me out, because you never know what’s going to happen. And that’s exactly the point.    (LC0)

What prevents me from going completely nuts is complete and utter faith in the following principle: If you get great people together and get out of their way, great things will happen. Good processes ultimately get out of people’s ways.    (LC1)

If you have great people, and if you trust your process, you have nothing to worry about. But I still get stressed.    (LC2)

I said something similar, but more general, at the first “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” workshop. The gist of it was:    (LC3)

You can’t organize self-organization. You can’t control emergence.    (LC4)

The biggest mistake that people make is that they point to Wikipedia or to MoveOn, and they say, “I want that.” Then they install a tool or spend a lot of money, and they expect some grand end state to emerge. That’s not how things work.    (LC5)

You can create conditions and space, and you can facilitate and catalyze what happens in that space, but you can’t control it. As soon as you try, you break your conditions, and you will fail.    (LC6)

On a similar vein, Kellee Sikes passed along one of Marcia Conner‘s sayings: “Stay on course, not on target.”    (LC7)

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