Emergent change and the importance of self-reflection

It has been ten weeks since I started my new life.

I planned this change.

Changes are happening that were organised, incremental and rolled out over time.

In some cases, I had to react quickly to an unseen circumstance (recall the standpipe debacle from my last post!). Even so, it has all been part of the bigger picture.

But what about those aspects of change that were not obvious when I started out on my new life? The change that is unfolding around me.

That got me thinking about ’emergent change’. What is it? How might it be part of my settling in the Surrey Hills?

I describe emergent change as:
• Unplanned.
• Unpredictable.
• Open-ended.
• Complex and untidy.

Put succinctly:

‘change calls for the resolution of not so much great single issues, but rather of interwoven problems.’
(Pettigrew and Whipp, 1991)

To make sense of this complexity and uncertainty requires more than just good planning and resolve. Especially if you are trying to achieve tangible change. A holistic approach, that takes into account the interrelatedness of all aspects of the situation is what is needed.

Phew! Take a deep breath and let us talk about the power of reflection.

Reflection is a pause in the frenetic whirlwind of doing. It creates a space that allows for the new. Reflection feeds curiosity to help dissect an issue. By doing this we can learn about ourselves and the situations we are in. This learning creates the opportunity to see things differently, take calculated risks and tread a new path. In short, it is change.

‘This is beginning to sound like hard work’ I hear you say.

Well, the way I developed my reflection was through ‘Action Learning’. This is a simple, but powerful form of self-managed learning developed by Professor Reg Revans. Not only a scientist, but an Olympian to boot.

It is a passion of mine, which has been instrumental in me taking the plunge and starting my life afresh. Action Learning is a big area to cover, but in short it is based on this cycle of learning:

Action Learning Cycle pen drawing
Image from transformation-education.net



For me to handle emergent change, I need to stop reacting to situations in the same ways that I always have. By considering open and penetrating questions, with the counsel of others, it allows me to:
• Analyse what has happened.
• Identify my part in it.
• Decide what I can do differently as I go forward.

Perfect pint at Wotton Hatch

I have found this approach a perfect partner to making sense of the unpredictable and untidiness of unfolding change. Well that, and the occasional beer whilst contemplating things. Cheers!


If you want to find out more about Action Learning take a look at the International Foundation for Action Learning

So, while in reflective mood how do you find the space to think things through?

Before I dash off, it is a completely different topic for the next post. Remind me to introduce you to my chickens!


  1. Hi there, another insightful post 🙂 I absolutely love planned change but emergent change? Not so much – I struggle with it and I find what you write about reflection and then taking a calculated risk very interesting. Like you, I am a huge fan of action learning and it has helped me enormously over the past few years. Looking forward to hearing about those chickens!! 🙂 xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean. My natural tendency is to plan and act forgetting to reflect. The Action Learning though was a revelation. I’ll be doing some specific posts on it. Although the chickens are getting their post first x

      Liked by 1 person

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