Emergent by Design

Designing for emergent properties enables creative people to balance fiercely independent personalities with the benefits of team collaboration.

Bonnitta Roy
3 min readSep 2, 2019

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Over the past year I have had the privilege of working with a group of highly creative individuals who are trying to navigate a tremendously complex landscape. They were originally drawn to the notion of an OPO (Open Participatory Organization), but their situation pushes well beyond the boundaries and constraints that make an OPO workable. The OPO is, afterall, a structural approach that is designed to enable self-organization and catalyze emergence in complex situations.

For this group of creatives, however, the structures fail to do the work they were designed to do. For them, structures do not function as enabling constraints that help capture the work in a manageable form. Rather for them, structures function more like affordances that can be used according to the needs at the moment. In other words, for creatives, the structures themselves are already part of the toolkit, but here new tools are also being invented for new purposes.

This of course, hugely increases the complexity of the work, because the structures themselves are always changing; and people are always experimenting with new ways of construing what the organization is at any and every given moment. What is holding this particular group of people together, is the incredible sense of purpose and ethos they share, and their commitment to not working as “hired guns” for conventional, capitalist, extractionist organizations. That, and the mutual recognition of their amazing talents! In their own words, they are looking for organizational design for creative liberation!

What if, in this case, we turned the relationship between process and structure on its head? What if we thought of the organization not as if it existed in space (that is the OPO’s approach with the notion of locations) but as if an organization was a rhythm across time. Here the rhythm would be defined as the creative process, from inception to realization. The rhythmic pattern would be composed of various durations that had unique signatures. In complex systems terms, we can think of the durations as phase-states, and as transitions between them…

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Bonnitta Roy

Releasing complexity, source code solutions, training post-formal actors, next generation leadership, sensemaking, open participatory organizations