Emergence in Systemic Approach

Mar 8, 2021

The concept of emergence has suddenly emerged as a tending meme with multiple interpretations and attributes. In simple terms, the philosophical meaning of emergence as originally defined by philosopher Lewes in 1875 was that unlike in the case of resultant entities, in emergent entities the outcome is unlike the component elements.

Lewes used the example that oxygen and hydrogen molecules when merging in some proportion emerging as water. This concept has been traced back to Aristotle in how he viewed the emergence of humans from distinctly different constituent factors.

Truth be told, 5000 years ago, philosophers in India and China postulated that the life force emerged from five elements. Fire, Earth, and Water were common to both traditions, with air and space added in the Indian traditions, and wood and metal in the Chinese. This was perhaps the earliest demonstration of the concept of emergence in which the emergent entities had qualities far removed from individual constituents, and more importantly, under different circumstances emerge very differently, both as species of life forms and within species as well.

Simply put, there is no certainty as to what results, only a probability, when individual entities combine into collectives. This concept is fundamental to eastern philosophy, yet alien to the western mind that craves answers and solutions when none exist. Left-brained logic cannot help, perhaps right-brained pattern recognition can, as neurosciences and quantum sciences reveal today.

Enter coaching in this emergent space.

Coaching is not a logical, analytical progression of what is heard verbally and understood rationally. It is a holistic interpretation of emerging patterns of client perceptions said and unsaid, emerging in tonal, and nontonal body movements and expressions, with integrated cognitive, emotional, somatic, and ontological undertones. A coach needs to extract order out of seeming chaos.

Enter systemic coaching in this chaotic coaching space.

When coaching itself is not merely individual, but collective, whether when working with one person, or multiple, the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the chaos expands logarithmically. We now enter the space of systemic coaching for accelerating change. This space is no longer a prediction. It’s the current reality.

A result of this unpredictable emergence of individual perceptions, beliefs, and values exploding into unmanageable collective movements of behavior is being witnessed more and more often, more and more regularly. Some of these affect the environment as in climate change, though most affect the way we mistreat one another individually and collectively.

I know of research in trying to figure out why and how movements such as Black Lives Matter or ISI or Proud Boys start. In my humble opinion, these are emergent phenomena, in which individual reactions each with some logical explanation come together and detonate with enormous force and unpredictable results. The response and solution cannot be logical. They need to be emergent too.

A systemic coaching approach with groups can be an approach worth considering. What causes the fusion and detonation when individuals interact or unpredictably explode?

We do not need scientific theories and hypotheses that do not make sense to even those who advance them. What we need is empathy to relate and understand humans, emotionally, cognitively, somatically, and ontologically with their individual and collective perceptions of values and beliefs.

This concept was once called democracy. When democracy became political, manipulative, demeaning, and disrespectful, we stopped understanding each other and treating each other humanely. Can we again?

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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