EMERGENT MEANING in GROUPS

Last week I had the disturbing experience of being attacked by a mob of kids, a human flock if you will;

(https://plexity.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/just-back-from-that-london-where-i-very/) what I didn’t mention was that I was on my way down Tuffnell Park Road to visit Mark McKergow, who posted this interesting piece on complexity and emergence in conversations a few days later, coincidentally I should point out. ( http://www.synthesisips.net/blog/working-with-complexity-not-against-it-emergence-in-real-life-and-everyday-conversations/ ) All this is by way of introduction to this piece I wrote in reply to him, which describes some of the ways that I think and talk about conversation when I’m working with groups. I really ought to write this up properly.

 

EMERGENT MEANING IN GROUP CONVERSATION:  

flocking ideas in human flocking

For myself, I realise that I’m more interested in how meaning emerges than in how conversation is emergent – almost certainly because emergent conversation is an idea I have lived and worked with for a long time.

Whenever I work with a group to facilitate the conversation (aka ‘dialogue’ in the sense popularised by Senge and Isaacs from Bohm) I’m always struck by how meaning, consensus, purpose, action, plan and so on, emerge as ‘a whole thing’ from the interactions.

As you know I compare this emergence (glibly) to the emergence of swarming in flocks of birds and the like. I still find myself exhorting groups to tolerate the feelings of uncertainty for as long as they can, to delay moving to summary or action, to hold off advocating and keep inquiring (to quote Senge’s source, Chris Argyris), to let the thing emerge from our very focussed LISTENING to the conversation, whilst being PART of the conversation.

Like other practitioners, in OpenSpace and the like, I ask people to trust that emergence will happen.

I use the term the ‘cloud of contradiction’ and describe the cloud as ‘cracking’ like a rain cloud. Haven’t particularly articulated this before, but the analogy is to a super-saturated solution – like when boiling saturated copper sulphate cools and the solution cracks and suddenly crystals ‘all appear at once’. It’s this ‘all’ and ‘at once’ which characterises the sudden emergence of the ‘whole thing’ (we could chose to call it a ‘holothingon’, except that I don’t think reification is helpful – we need to stay in the realm of plain language. Shades of David Grove’s ‘clean language’).

Cracking isn’t quite right (although people seem to like it) because the emergence is much smoother than the term ‘crack’ implies. The flocking metaphor is better, because as we observe a flock (which I never tire of doing, the paradigm being urban starlings in an open space in a town centre approaching dusk) we can sense that the individuals are falling under the spell of the Langton rules at the same time as seeing the self-directedness of the individuals, then suddenly, yet quietly and unnoticeably there is a flock, glittering in the air.

Reviewing what you said, after writing this just now, I realise that I’m describing a more general aspect of interactions between entities, which is, I believe useful to us, inasmuch as it needs to be captured in description (oh yes, I’m trying not to explain, merely describe, or as I prefer ‘point to’).

Ways of seeing, ways of observing, expectations and trust.

(I’ll see if I can dig out what I’ve written on this, I think it is from internal briefing documents I produced for an MBC back in 2001.)

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