The Unplanned Organization: Learning from Nature’s Emergent Creativity – Meg WheatleyAxiom News: Generative Journalism for a New Narrative

[I would love to be able to spend more time trying to understand Margaret Wheatley’s work, because I have never found it ‘worked’ for me. Perhaps this was because, after a big build-up, the one and only time so far that I met her wasn’t so inspiring – it was depressing and it didn’t work for me. Perhaps it’s because so many people in this systems universe love her and her work so deeply, and I identify with that universe, so I feel somehow inadequate or out of the club because every encounter with the work leaves me thinking it is somehow incoherent, simplistic, mechanistic. Perhaps it is my natural conflict with the guru personality. Anyway, she has popped up again on a Human Current podcast – I’ll link here when it is fully published – – and this article (alberit from 1995) has just been republished. So I’ll leave this here for potential comments or future study.]
Full article in link at bottom.

The Unplanned Organization: Learning from Nature’s Emergent Creativity

Curator’s Note: Axiom News is honoured to repost this article, with permission from, which offers some compelling insights on the work to be done within our organizations and systems today.

The largest known living organism on the planet is a grove of aspen trees covering thousands of acres. Photo Credit: Stock/Pixabay.

In my work with large organizations, one of the questions we often ask is, “How would we work differently if we really understood that we are truly self-organizing?” The first thing we recognize is that, just like individuals, the organizations we create have a natural tendency to change, to develop. This is completely counter to the current mantra of organizational life: “People resist change. People fear change. People hate change.” Instead, in a self-organizing world, we see change as a power, a presence, a capacity, that is available. It’s part of the way the world works — a spontaneous movement toward new forms of order, new patterns of creativity.

We live in a world that is self-organizing. Life is capable of creating patterns and structures and organization all the time, without conscious rational direction, planning, or control, all of the things that many of us have grown up loving. This realization is having a profound impact on our beliefs about the nature of process in interpersonal relations, in business organizations, as well as in nature itself. In this article, I will focus on some of the recent shifts in our understanding of the way things change.

Three images have changed my life — one, a picture of a chemical reaction, another, a termite tower in Australia, and a third, an aspen grove in my new home state of Utah. Each image in its own way represents a profound shift in my understanding about the nature of change in organizations. I will explain their significance later, but first I want to discuss eight tenets of what I call “unplanned organization”, inspired by these images.

[The eight tenets are listed here – see the full article for the explanations]
We live in a world in which life wants to happen.
Organizations are living systems, or at least the people in them are living systems.
We live in a universe that is alive, creative, and experimenting all the time to discover what’s possible.
Life uses messes to get to well-ordered solutions.
Life is intent on finding what works, not what’s right.
Life creates more possibilities as it engages with opportunities.
Life organizes around identity.

This article was adapted from a talk by Margaret Wheatley, “The Heart of Organization”, at IONS’ fourth annual conference, “Open Heart, Open Mind” in San Diego, California, July 1995.

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