#13 Emergent Impact in action

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In my first Blog for 2016 I am writing to share what the RSA are referring to as their ‘modus operandi’ and what I later describe as STRADDLE™.

Mathew Taylor (RSA CEO) most eloquently summarises this modus operandi by using the term ‘emergent impact’. The emergent impact phrase has recently evolved as a result of the RSA’S ongoing discussions on enlightenment to enrich society through rich thinking and powerful action – the power to create!

Most recently the RSA has launched their commitment to the power to create through three aspirations (check out the YouTube):

  1. Public services and communities
  2. Creative learning & development
  3. Economy, enterprise and manufacturing

For any social transformation or foundation for innovation the above three aspirations along with many others require an emergent impact setting to thrive. So what is meant by emergent impact you may be asking:

“Emergent impact involves setting out with a clear mission and set of goals but then being able to shift focus and method as the project develops” Mathew Taylor 2015.

The skills required in emergent impact form the bedrock of any systemic change. If Australia is a country getting ready to embrace innovation then systemic change becomes an essential ingredient.

Almost in parallel to this line of thinking I have developed STRADDLE™, building on the three discoveries of my PhD analysis (key principle Blog 6; missing link Blog 7 and confounding factor Blog 8). These three discoveries have become integral building blocks to what I describe as ‘Emergent Impact in Action (EIA).

STRADDLE™ is all about being able to balance the tensions between structure and spontaneity. EIA mobilises these tensions demanding adequate resources to enable leadership for collaborative advantage that can successfully navigate fragmentation and emergence. Later in the year I plan to publish an EBook on some of my life experiences of these STRADDLE™ moments and my experience of balancing tensions both personal and professional.

In the mean time and in assisting the RSA mission to bring emergent impact to life I am a proud member and Fellow of RSA (please contact www.rsaanz.org.au or myself should you wish to learn more about RSA). I especially enjoy being linked with like-minded futurists. As members of civil society we all are responsible for spreading good practice and new ways of working, which is exactly what the RSA is all about. The RSA take the approach that if a research report generates interest, they develop on line content to deepen that engagement. Likewise if an idea mobilises people in one place, the RSA push it out into other places through their network of Fellows. At a local, national and global level if something topical requires the persuading of a minister or official line (particularly the need of a shift in policy), the RSA swiftly scans their network and can pull together an expert round table to refine the idea and cement support. Finally if an idea needs to be proven practically, they develop collaborations to test on the ground innovations. Something here for everybody!

So in the beginning of a new year and in an age that is demanding new ways of working I ask what emergent impact are you involved in? This dialogue is not new as at the turn of the millennium and in a 2001 paper McKelvey suggested that such a new way of working demanded a form of ‘distributed intelligence’.

In his paper this new form was operationalized by encouraging leaders in organisations to speed their appreciation rate for innovation, steering it in strategically important directions, whilst negating emergent bureaucracy (McKelvey 2001). The kind of leadership to enable emergent impact is the kind that creates conditions that enable productive but largely unspecified states such as the form of distributed intelligence.

McKelvey offered a great example of distributed intelligence using a metaphor of two balls in a pin-ball machine being released separately with careful positioning and spring tensing. The two balls follow different trajectories because of minute, logically inconsequential differences in initial conditions, which change the dynamics or interaction with various curved surfaces. In exact positioning of initial conditions, however small, plus failure to consider interaction with other systems leads to significant errors of prediction. The same is true of social systems as the system is shifting and placing any energy around predictions is futile.

Marion and Uhl-Bien (2001) supported this miss place of energy through their argument around enabling:

“Thus, leadership effectiveness cannot be built exclusively around controlling the future: rather it depends on being able to foster interactive conditions that enable a productive future”

So with a clear message around needing to be an ‘enabler’ how can STRADDLE™ and EIA assist our endeavours to enable a productive future? Being most timely I am excited to introduce the podcast section on my website (https://dr-jmt.com). On a regular basis I will be interviewing key Australian leaders on their experience of STRADDLE™.

These interviews are about STRADDLE™ showing how distributed intelligence has been applied resulting in a successful EIA outcome. If you have an interest or are in a career dealing with such systemic change for complex social issues then you are in good company!

The quick fix podcasts show how these leaders have taken a complex situation and balanced the tension between structure and spontaneity. The discussion that is shared in these interviews reveals how the leaders being interviewed have set out with a clear mission and set goals but have then been able to shift focus and method as the project developed. (This is delivered in a podcast of bite size chunks that even the most time poor can find time for!).

The podcasts are a powerful burst of wisdom and I very much welcome your questions at https://dr-jmt.com for any future content suggestions and other great leaders we need to hear from. The first one is with Peter Shergold (Chancellor Western Sydney University) and I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed chatting with Peter.

As the year emerges I plan to share more about my experiences of STRADDLE™ and EIA and how they can assist with many of the great opportunities we have in Australia to lead new ways of working to enable long lasting social change.

Happy New Year!


Marion, R. and Uhl-Bien, M. (2001) “Leadership in Complex Organisations” The Leadership Quarterly 12:4 pp 389-418
Mathew Taylor 2015 – New Year, Emergent Impact: www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/Mathew-taylor-blog/2015/12/new-year-emergent-impact/

McKelvey, B. 2001. “Energizing Order Creating Networks of Distributed Intelligence”. International Journal of Innovation Management, 5: 181-212

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