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Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity

4.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1605095219
ISBN-10: 1605095214
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Peggy Holman is a management and training consultant for business, non-profit, and governmental organizations. She is a co-founder and board member of the Open Space Institute, which supports learning and practices for self-organization in our social systems. She collaborated in creating “Journalism that Matters,” a network of conversations among journalists that is generating new roles and organizational forms for today’s emerging information-sharing, open source society. She also developed a theory of emergence in social systems that describes how diversity and dissonance can bring forth emergent insights, deep community, and coherent action. Peggy Holman is a co-author of the first and second editions of The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (September 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605095214
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605095219
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #407,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephanie Nestlerode on August 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
From my perspective, what distinguishes Peggy Holman's work and makes it invaluable is the expanse that it covers ..... to understand any system, you need to look at the system above and the system below ... her books do that so beautifully .... for instance with The Change Handbook, it's not just a listing of tools ... but the context above and the decisions related to design ... and then the details of the tools ....

Once again in Engaging Emergence, she gives us guidance on what we can hang onto and what we need to let go of .... both big picture and little picture perspectives for staying grounded in turbulent times .... listening for what is emerging even as we work to maintain a solid container for our efforts .... native americans say that wisdom is knowing how to APPLY knowledge - weaving together just the right strands .... to serve the needs of the whole community ....Peggy has a gift for this!
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This is the sort of easy-to-read book that you want to leave lying around so others will find it accidentally. Maybe they'll recognise, as Peggy hopes, that modern life is not a predictable, steady state that is occasionally and annoyingly disrupted. Rather, life should be celebrated as an evolution of surprises, change and adaptation. Peggy provides us with a straightforward roadmap about how to constructively steward positive change.

But it won't be easy because we have to toss aside some culturally-engrained habits of thought. For example, uncertainty and being "out of control" should be accepted as relatively normal instead of as definitively bad. And "change management" is just an oxymoron.

She begins by describing emergent complexity, which I'll short-hand as the self-reconfiguration of a system in response to evolving needs. For the past quarter century, the narrative around human social complexity has gained public currency. But the apparent inevitability of complex change, perceived from the deterministic paradigm, still leaves people feeling victimised.

Peggy's book invites us to advance our thinking beyond merely coping with the unpredictable states that emerge out of complexity. We can construct our futures, but it requires an approach that differs from the simple cause-and-effect model with which we are most familiar. Peggy outlines the benefits, characteristics, dynamics and principles of engaging emergence.

The book is aimed particularly at people who are in a position to affect change in organisations or institutions. At the heart of the book is a moral and prescriptive five-step practice for engaging emergence.
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One of the most important books I read this year was by Peggy Holman: Engaging Emergence; Turning Upheaval into Opportunity. As Peggy says in her blog, emergence is a process "through which order arises from chaos as the existing order is disrupted, differences appear, and a new coherence coalesces. By engaging emergence, you can help yourself and your organization or community to successfully face disruption and emerge stronger than ever." She advises: "Step up by taking responsibility for what you love as an act of service. Prepare to embrace mystery, choose possibility, and follow life-energy. Host others by clarifying intentions, welcoming disturbance, and inviting diversity. Engage by inquiring appreciatively, opening, and reflecting. Then do it again!"

At some point within the past 40 years or so, the Christian world embarked on an immense and historic reconfiguration that called into question the doctrinal and institutional assumptions that had held sway for hundreds of years. And by now, we are right smack in the middle of epochal changes. The struggles of a century ago between liberals and conservatives that led to the creation of modern fundamentalism after World War I are no longer relevant to the conversations that now resonate most powerfully for Christians. Dry arguments about dogma no longer compel desperate arguments or inspire movements. The United States is no longer a "Christian nation," and fortunately for Christianity, it never was. A new generation of Christians is asserting that the core teachings of Jesus are inherently universal and transnational, and can never--and should never--be owned or identified as the characteristic of any nation-state.
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From running a meeting to creating a revolution, Holman cites numerous examples of harnessing disruption, working through it to something more inclusive, easier on the environment, and more likely to create the world we want—even if getting to this wonderful destination can be painful. She encourages us to “embrace mystery: seek the gifts hidden in what we don’t know,” “choose possibility: call forth ‘what could be,’” and “follow life energy: trust deeper sources of direction.”

Change, she says, will be 10 times as rapid in the 21st century as it was in the 20th (which was in turn the fastest-changing period in history). This means recognizing that big change often starts with tiny steps…viewing problems not as something to fix, but as doorways to new opportunities…understanding that when we make space for divergent viewpoints and time not only to act but to contemplate, the whole group can go much deeper.

When we do move to action, she tells us to
• Compassionately disrupt, by asking possibility-oriented questions that lead to “a virtuous cycle of creativity and renewal”
• Creatively engage with people of different viewpoints and experience; get out of our own comfort zones
• Foster “wise renewal,” remembering that answers and solutions are likely to be nuanced rather than absolutes

Here’s a possibility-oriented question about asking questions: “How do we shape inquiries so compelling that they focus us on the best of what we can imagine, attract others, and connect us to realize what we most desire?” (p. 80).

Holman is a co-founder of Journalism that Matters, a group that seeks to keep journalism relevant and focused on the wider world.
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