I like to call the fellows program a "leadership accelerator," but lately the journalist-wordsmith in me is struggling with the common definition of leadership. If it's only "the act of leading a group of people or an organization," with accepted synonyms such as "control," "management" and "supervision," then we need to come up with something else.
Sometimes I'm fortunate enough to share what we're doing at the d.school with people around the world, in the hope that our learning can be a resource for them as they tackle their own challenges. When talking about my favorite topics of organizational behavior and design, the ideas go something like this:
• The way we work together directly impacts what we produce.
• The nature of leadership is evolving from a hierarchical model to an emergent one. In a hierarchical model, you articulate a vision, assemble a team and direct them efficiently toward your predetermined outcome. In an emergent model, you gather experts from different disciplines and help them find the space between their expertise — where unimagined outcomes can emerge.
• Predetermined outcomes more likely lead to incremental solutions. Unimagined outcomes, by definition, can lead to disruptive ones.
• Disruptive solutions are increasingly important to solving complex problems, and are more accessible than ever thanks to the individual empowerment and connectivity of digital technology.
I was first turned on to this new leadership by my friend George Kembel, a co-founder of the d.school and its global director. George talked to the fellows about emergence, using communities from the natural world as examples. Observe, for instance, fish in a school: How do they know where to go? Who's in charge?
As George experimented with applying an emergent approach at the d.school, he learned to pay attention to a few key strategies:
1) Break things up.
2) Look for scale independent patterns.
3) Identify local behaviors.
4) Amplify what works.
Let's take the school of fish as an example. It consists of many small elements (1) and works at all scales (2) — with just a few fish, or with hundreds or thousands. Each fish operates by following simple behaviors (3), such as "Swim close to your neighbor," "Look for food," and "Avoid predators."
That's it. That's how fish move as one, amorphous body with no individual fish telling the others what to do.
The d.school has developed in a similar way. The early team started from scratch (1), by bringing together three- to five- person multidisciplinary teams of grad students and teachers (2), who use a human-centered process called design thinking (3), to discover unique solutions to complex challenges. And on and on it grows (4), with a speed and scale beyond the capacity of what an outcome-oriented, hierarchical model would bring.
I talked about emergence a few days ago in our weekly #dchat (join us on Twitter every Tuesday at 6 pm PST), which is excerpted below. My questions for you: What should we call this new leadership? And how might you enable the people in your environment to discover unimagined outcomes together?
Before we even got started, Angeliki Kapoglou, who has studied emergence extensively, shared her thoughts:
Then, a few hours later, we got started: