A system can display properties (or qualities) which are not inherent in its co-producing parts. This is called emergence.
For example, water displays the qualities of wetness, liquidity and viscosity. They arise in the interaction of, but are not inherent in, the oxygen and hydrogen atoms. During team work, new ideas emerge that none of the team members had before. Through its interacting parts a car drives, while none of its parts can drive.
The interaction of different and changing co-factors from the outer environment, inner environment and the system itself can give rise to different emerging properties. For example, the co-production of hydrogen and oxygen atoms from the inner environment and temperature and pressure from the outer environment gives rise to the different states of water, ice or steam, each of which is associated with different emergent qualities (e.g. liquid, solid or gaseous). Likewise, internal and external influences can change the interaction of two social systems from hate to love.
Emergence can be desirable (synergistic) or undesirable (dissynergistic or problematic).
For example, the same team can produce harmony and creative output (synergy) or conflict and chaos (dissynergy), depending on the nature of the interaction of its members.
Emergence is a key concept of systems thinking. It is the reason why ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.
relevance for the change manager
Systemic change management aims to produce desirable emergence in the system it wants to change.
Achieving this requires a shift in worldview (towards systems thinking) and a systemic methodology.