EMERGENCE – seeing the opportunities of a VUCA world and tuning them to a compelling future

Turbulence and relevance

Two key challenges that face organisations in all sectors these days are; dealing with turbulence and staying relevant in a rapidly changing world.  Several recent conversations with clients have led to my growing awareness of the topic of Emergence and that it should become a focus for all senior leaders. After all, some of the world’s most notable leaders are already thinking that way.

Emergence itself isn’t a new concept but it is one that doesn’t seem to get the attention it probably deserves, loitering in the background behind more popular topics such as complexity and futurism.  Thought leaders that do discuss the topic include Otto Scharmer and Frederic Laloux.

In his best-selling book Theory-U, and the follow up Leading from the Emerging Future (co-authored with Katrin Kaufer), Scharmer talks about leaders needing to be aware of the future that is emerging for them within the wider system they exist in.  In his book Reinventing Organizations, Laloux describes the most evolved organizations as places where the purpose is honoured as having a life of its own and the duty of leaders is to serve that purpose without constraining it.  He asserts that purpose needs to evolve as things emerge within the relevant context. These insights and many more point to the importance of Emergence as a topic.

Emergence in a VUCA world

Understanding Emergence also contributes to a leader’s ability to succeed in the VUCA world, a term which has certainly received attention in the last few years.  Commentators describe the modern world as “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous”.  However, it seems that more attention is paid to VUCA as a challenge rather than exploring ways of understanding it and making progress. Focusing on and leveraging Emergence could easily be seen as a more forward-thinking focus.

What fascinates me about Emergence is that, despite the pace of change, there are many things we can predict about the future.  We know that technology is advancing rapidly; automation and artificial intelligence are combining to serve humanity as never before.  The developing world is advancing nation by nation with the ability to leapfrog the steps taken by previous leading countries.  Just look at India’s journey! Mobile technology and distributed energy systems are just two huge examples.  The proportion of young people around the world with good education is rising, as is the proportion of highly educated women, albeit slowly.  Climate change is being tackled (and will become an increasing priority) and new clean energy and transport systems will transform our cities and landscapes.

Let the present fade away

To me this suggests a future that is trying to emerge, and with it, a ‘present’ that is trying hard to fade to history.  Leaders such as Unilever’s Paul Polman and Tesla’s Elon Musk are taking steps today and aligning their organisations to an emerging future, whilst the majority cling to the old ways. I believe the latter will sadly become irrelevant, taking their organisations with them to an early grave.

A cry for distributed leadership and an empowered workforce

The rate of Emergence is accelerating, making it virtually impossible for any leader or even senior leadership team to keep pace alone.  Emergence therefore cries out for distributed leadership and a more empowered workforce who are just as tuned in to the purpose of their organisations as their formally appointed leaders. They know that they too must be aware of and tuned into advancements in their specialisms enabling them to co-create the future collaboratively with their colleagues and stakeholders.

Staying firmly in control while keeping an eye on the future

Focus on trying to ‘manage’ and ‘contain’ the VUCA world has perhaps lulled some into short-termism.  The truth is that now, more than ever before, a longer-term view is essential.   In periods of relative global stability, it was relatively easy to catch up with progress if an organisation was slow to evolve.  Now, once organisations start to fall behind, they can be overtaken by both events and other players who are not so stuck in the ways of the past.

There is good news…

There is an immense amount of good news amongst all of this.  In the past few years, I have had the privilege of working with thousands of people at conferences and workshops.  With them we have ‘visited’ and taken stock of the world in 2030.  The positivity and consistency of their views is remarkable.  You would think they would all see very different Futurescapes – the opposite appears to be true and I have found it inspiring.

If you’d like to envision the future for yourselves, don’t hesitate to get in touch.  We’d be very happy to facilitate a “Leadership 2030” (or other time horizon) workshop for your organisation or professional group, customised to focus on the work you do.