How To Think Differently

"Put your anger in a teacup," the monk tells the red-faced student sitting cross-legged before him. 

"How in the hell does one put one's anger in a teacup"? The student is perplexed, so he shrugs his shoulders and promptly receives a playful whack on his shoulder from the teacher's bamboo walking stick. 

"Of course, you cannot put anger in a cup!" the monk scolds. "You cannot reduce a thing that is made of many parts into one solid thing. Anger is many things, and has its roots and causes in the mind which itself is a complex thing. Wake up! 

You can’t reduce anger any more than you can reduce a cloud to one single explanation because both are dynamic systems. Just like a Zen monk studies his own mind for the root causes of anger and its networked effects, a cloud can only be studied as a whole as related to meteorology and its constituents—condensation, wind, chemistry and overall bio-atmospheric conditions.

You can only understand a cloud by understanding all of the other things that comprise a cloud, (or, as we might say in Zen, "cloudness"), and how the parts interrelate. Further, other conditions and more complex states arise from that one cloud: storms, patterns, tornados and hurricanes, and massive tempests at sea all emerge from that simple system, creating complex and sometimes unexpected network results.

So, what is emergence anyway?

In  philosophy  systems theory  science , and  art , emergence is conceived as a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties. In philosophy, almost all accounts of emergence include a form of irreducibility (either epistemic or ontological) to the lower levels.[1]  Also, emergence is central in theories of integrative levels  and of  complex systems .* Wikipedia

Emergence theorists concern themselves with macro-systemic change and paradigm shifts. Emergent theory addresses everything from organizational change management, emergent economic systems and currency, and "resilient" self-governing systems to emergent corporate strategy, community systems and even hive technology. Here are some major areas of conflict and trends that I believe emergent thinkers can tackle better than the traditional solution providers and strategists. Each one corresponds not only to an area of societal concern, but to the entire reframing of the question and answer, that is truly emergent.

  • What is Knowledge? Management and the globalization of technology. Thinkers can begin to forecast and visualize technology as a generalized force and catalyst for massive societal change and how we can leverage its growth with human needs and demand.
  • What is Economy? Striking a balance in new economic paradigms and countering the corresponding centralization of wealth with vested interest, an increased of polity, and people power.
  • What is Value? Managing new currencies and financial networks as value transitions from tangible to intangible, and as culture becomes digitized and capital is redistributed.
  • What is Communication? Measuring human communication, namely the acceleration of information and messaging itself, and an exponential expansion of networking in social media and social enterprise.
  • What is Truly Human? Encouraging corporate humanism. Teaching corporations how to begin to transition out of a resource-wasting mindset into a fully sustainable one.

For the purposes of this article and acquainting the reader with this new way of thinking about problems, I will direct the reader's attention to the following problems which tend to increase structural violence and social unrest. These are the primary causes of war, famine, and religious violence against women and children. 18 million people die a year directly from these causes, generating a vast range of systemic detriments such as behavioral, emotional and physical disorders, and pose a very serious threat to our survival as a species.

Resource Availability: Given that the market economy requires consumption in order to maintain demand for human employment and further economic growth.  

What structural incentive can be devised to reduce resource use, biodiversity loss, the global pollution footprint, thereby assisting the ever-increasing need for improved ecological sustainability in the world today?

Human Obsolescence:  Given the the economic system breeds companies seek to limit their production costs (“cost efficiency”) in order to maximize profits and remain competitive against other producers, 

What structural incentive exists to keep human beings employed in the wake of an emerging technological condition where the majority of jobs can now be done more cheaply and effectively by machine automation?

Wage Inequity: We now live in an economic system that inherently generates class stratification and overall inequity, creating enormous potential for social unrest. 

How can individuals and corporations be incentivized to see the value of wage equality in the workplace?

You can learn more about emergent thinking on these websites:

Holonomics: Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes (Simon wrote the introduction to my book ‘What is Social?’)

Organizational change management: Harold Jarche

Economic systems: Bernard Lietaer

Resilient systems: Jennifer SertlHelene Finidiori

Community systems and hive tech: Kai Pata


Your readership is extraordinary. Please reach out and share your thoughts, comments, considerations and criticisms or say hello @big_thought. You can receive updates and information on my book An Emergent Ethos: Leadership in the Connected Marketplace  due to be published in 2016. 

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