Elements of Emergent Strategy

Elements — pulled directly from Emergent Strategy

  • Mycelium: part of the fungus that grows underground. Connects roots to one another and breaks down plant material to create healthier ecosystems. Interconnectedness. Remediation. Detoxification
  • Ants: function through individual aunts acting collectively in accord with simple, local information to carry on all of their survival activities. Every ant relies on the work of clothes in producing their own work. Cooperative work. Collective sustainability.
  • Ferns: form of fractal. Fractal is an object or quantity that displays self-similarity. Small scale solutions impact the whole system. Use similar principles to build at all scales.
  • Wavicle: wave-particle duality suggests that all objects exhibit both wave and particle properties. Between observations, as it evolves on its own, it behaves like a wave; distributed across space, exploring different intermixing paths to all possible destinations. When its location or speed is measured, it appears definite and concrete, like a particle. Its wave nature gives this measurement a curious property: the more certain we are about either speed or position, the more uncertain we become about the other. Uncertainty/doubt. Valuing both process and outcome.
  • Starlings: starling murmurations can react to their environment as a group without a central leader orchestrating their choices; in an instant, any part of the flock can transform the movement of the whole flock. Collective leadership/partnership. Adaptability.
  • Dandelions. Resilience. Resistance. Regeneration. Decentralization.


adrienne maree brown noted in this section that we are trained for individual success. We don't know how to work collaboratively or let others speak. And this way of thinking, brown says, is not only isolating, it leads to extinction. “We learn that tests and deadlines are the reasons to take action. This puts those with good short-term memories and a positive response to pressure in leadership positions, leading to urgency-based thinking, regardless of the circumstance.”

In order to grow beyond capitalist, hierarchical structures we must decentralize. Remove obligation and decision making from a single authority figure and instead collaboratively expand our ideas of what can be. Divorce ourselves from community projects led by privileged partners instead of impacted communities. Restrictive funding mechanisms limit the impact of organizations. As a result, we are conditioned to seek as much funding as possible, often forgoing impactful for well-funded just to ensure the survival of the organization. Too often, brown says, impacted communities are put in the role of performing the action, but most of the background organizing is still done by privileged partners at organizations that will not be in the community longterm. The result? Lack of sustainable, solutions-driven change. In short: continued social injustice.

In order to fight against this, brown suggests the study of fractals, a self-replicating structure that resembles the larger manifestation of the object at its smallest layer.

“ What we practice at the small scale sets the pattern for the whole system,” brown says. It means that the strength of our national movements is only as strong as our regional movements, which are only as strong as our statewide movements, which are only as strong as our community movements, which are only as strong as our relationships, which are only as strong as our individual relationships with ourselves. (And, if you’re science-y, check out how these patterns show up in quantum material too).

Returning focus to the individual and our relationships with ourselves, and acknowledging the ways in which humans are born to interact (collective, nomadic, spiritual) we realize that these are not new discoveries, they are a return to ancient ways. brown says: “We are already emergent beings, just by our very existence. But we’ve been tricked away from it.”

Intentional Adaptation

The section on intentional adaptation resonated with me deeply. As noted in earlier posts, I am a Type A perfectionist and a self-declared recovering chaos addict. I thrive on chaos and deadlines, leaning into the capitalist mantra of productivity above pleasure. Change and unexpected hiccups in my own personal life disrupted and bothered me. I could respond to change in my work life because I internally classified them as “challenges” that allowed me to prove my worth, “Look at me, there was this challenge that should have disrupted me but I still overperformed.” Change in my personal life was catastrophic. I had routines for everything.

It seems as though adrienne maree brown was similar to me in this regard. But, as we can all guess, this lifestyle was not sustainable for either of us.

brown speaks extensively about murmurations, shoals, and swarms, natural adaptive formations of living creatures in our world that are not led by leaders, but instead by group intention. brown notes:

It is no surprise that more and more renditions of these types of interactions are finding their ways into collective movement building and art.

I don’t need to remind anyone that the election is still very much underway. After instituting strict boundaries for myself, I found myself creeping towards Twitter Friday morning just to check real quick if anything had changed in the Twittersphere. I came across @ReproJobs’ tweet linking to Justseeds, a decentralized art network.

Lo and behold, I found the following picture:


A murmuration. A swarm. A mobilization.

And there may be no greater example of swarming than Georgia turning blue in the middle of the 2020 election. Through the collective movement and power building efforts of Black folks and communities of color, voters turned out to vote despite voter suppression still thriving and Covid numbers exploding. This is the definition of swarming on the local level and seeing those results reflected nationally.

It’s also why local mutual aid groups and restorative justice projects are so powerful — communities are attuned to community needs. Are the Red Cross and FEMA needed? Yes. But do they respond with local and cultural context, with relevant supplies and understanding of what brings comfort to the impacted communities? Not usually.

In New Orleans, following an onslaught of storms, evictions, and job loss, communities started installing Community Fridges in a city-wide effort to provide for our community. Were these fridges supplied with pantry staples like rice and canned goods? Absolutely. Did folks put in water, juice, and Lunchables? You bet. Could you also sometimes find gumbo and local coffee products and an occasional beignet mix? Without a doubt. These refrigerators, placed outside of homes with multiple extension cords duct-taped together and handpainted signs, are examples of individuals responding to micro-movements of the community.

Intentional adaptation and seeking fractals in our movements are interconnected. By allowing ourselves the ability to grow by nurturing ourselves, we are adapting against the existing current in social justice and development. Rejecting the idea that it must be big to be good (it doesn’t need to be perfect to be good) or over-funded to be impactful. Rethinking the ways we interact in the world, and the ways we interact with ourselves will help guide a new radical way of being, doing, and growing.



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Morgan Moone

Attorney, Reproductive Health Advocate, and Community Journalism Editor Working at the Intersection of Law and Public Health