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Emergence: What I am becoming

What am I becoming on the back the continuing professional development (CPD) I engage in as a leadership and development coach? Simple really, I am becoming a different coach, influenced in some way by each and every part of the CPD. That makes for a short essay doesn’t it! You can concentrate on your tea now and get on with your day, as can I!

And yet……….!

I do feel the need to break down that answer because I sense something more subtle shifting in my development. Subtle, yet significant in its impact. I invite you to follow this exploration and see what comes to the surface at the same time as I notice what is emerging for me, possibly for the first time. What’s that TS Eliot quote? ‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at the place we started, and know that place for the first time’. Yep, there may well be a bit of that going on here!

I am going to start with some pairs of words that have significance for me and my development. They are science/ art; evidence/ emergence; fixed/ adaptive; expert/ novice; clear/ opaque. You might think of these as being opposites. Some might call them paradoxes, perhaps polarities. I understand all of this terminology, yet my thinking about these terms was really energised by recognising them as interdependent pairs.

I came across interdependent pairs through the Human Systems Dynamics Institute (HSDi), an organisation I have come to enjoy the company of in the last few years. They talk about how complexity arises from the interaction between the interdependent pairs that describe the complexity in any and all systems. It does not get much more complex than trying to understand ourselves and how we interact with our environment!

Let’s think of my development as a coach as ‘the system’ being studied. The interdependent pairs mentioned above are just some of those that play out in my system. Life would be simple (really?!) if I always operated at one or other end of these pairs. In reality, all of us will be somewhere on the spectrum defined by the words associated with each pair, how close we are to one end or the other being influenced by our context, and our position will will change as the context changes. As if that is not enough our interdependent pairs all interact with each other. My position in relation to one interdependent pair will be influenced by a change within another.

I think I will return to the specifics of my interdependent pairs in another post. In this one I am going to focus on just one, the extremes of which are characterised by two incredible works of art.

At the one end of this artistically defined interdependent pair there is Double Tent by Anthony Caro.

Double Tent represents what I have previously called the learning I engage with during ‘scheduled CPD’, meaning the time I spend on courses about this or that model, or framework, or way of thinking. I come away from every one of these experiences with tools that have substance, and learning that has value. Like Double Tent they feel tangible, and in my mind’s eye they have shape and texture. They have edges. You can see and feel them clearly.

Double Tent by Anthony Caro, at the New Art Centre, Roche Court. Photograph by Jeremy Hinks

For me, their substance is their value and their weakness. For all their clarity, and the learning it supports, I experience a fixedness which I find curiously uncomfortable. I don’t feel a sense of freedom in the prospect of using the learning, more a sense of constraint. Even so, I am aware that I am drawn to some models and not others, in the same way that I am attracted to some art, and not by others.

Whether drawn to a particular model or not, the sense of constraint plays out quite strongly. Recently I was on a very good training course where occasionally one of the course leads would say something like ‘as ontological coaches we are XXX’ where XXX expressed some defining, tangible characteristic. For me this language reinforced the nature of fixedness symbolised by Double Tent. I could feel the resistance I felt to this constraint as a visceral response. It’s intensity surprised me. I did not want to be labelled as an ontological coach. Instead, I am a coach who uses an ontological approach, alongside many others.

At the other end of this artistic interdependent pair is Quantum Cloud XIV by Anthony Gormley. You can just see the human form in the midst of the apparent chaos of the stainless-steel sticks. Gormley explained the Quantum Cloud series of sculptures was intended as part of his enquiry into 'how can you convey the fact that the presence of somebody is greater or different from their appearance…does a body emerge from a chaotic energy field, or the field emerge from the body?’ What a brilliant question, captured so beautifully in the sculpture.

To me Quantum Cloud XIV captures a different learning experience. One that leads to thinking that comes in and out of focus. It swirls around giving glimpses of something tangible, being slightly different every time they come into view. I really like this fluidity and the fact that I have to explore my thinking and feeling in different ways to allow me to access the possibilities of the learning I have undertaken. I find this exciting; consistent with new possibilities forever being available. Every time I see Quantum Cloud XIV the human form seems slightly different, or perhaps it comes to my attention in a different way. In this case the difference is created in the relationship between the art, me, and our surroundings. I have found some ‘Human System Dynamics’ approaches to complexity have this quality and each time I return to them I see something different. The same applies to the philosophical basis of ontological coaching and how coaching can be thought of as being about our clients’ way of being, and how it interacts with our own way of being.

Quantum Cloud XIV by Anthony Gormley, at the New Art Centre, Roche Court. Photograph by Jeremy Hinks

If I had to characterise the interdependent pair represented by these incredible works of art, it would be ‘fixed’ for Double Tent and ‘emergent’ for Quantum Cloud. Moving towards an answer to the question at the top of this essay I realise that what I am becoming is more emergent in my own thinking and in the way that I work as a coach. I am much more drawn to the Quantum Cloud XIV way of being. What is happening as thoughts and feelings are swirling around within me? I see it as me being open to all the possibilities arising from the experiences I can draw on from my past learning and lived experience.

In a coaching partnership my client’s need, and their way of being, act as a template around which our combined thoughts and feelings can coalesce, giving that sense of something tangible, something that can be acted upon, something akin to that human form in Quantum Cloud XIV. What I also realise is the importance and value of all those learning experiences that I more relate to Double Tent. I have been changed by learning about each model whether I have a strong memory of it or now, whether I am drawn to it or not. All of that is present within me swirling around, only coming to some form of order in response to my client’s agenda. My becoming is one that has me favouring Quantum Cloud XIV as my way of being, while absolutely being able to benefit from Double Tent when there is the opportunity to do so.

I am going to draw to a close here with some appreciation gratitude and then some reflective enquiries. The gratitude is to the Human Systems Dynamics Institute and the great thinkers I have shared some time with at meetings I have attended. Do go and check out their website where you will find all sorts of goodies, including some more detail on interdependent pairs. Some appreciation to you too, as you have got this far! These enquiries are for you.

  • In thinking about what you are becoming are there some interdependent pairs that are of particular interest to you, ones that help you tell your developmental story thus far?

  • Pick on one pair that stands out for you and give the opposite ends some form of metaphorical descriptor. Play around with that and see what thinking and feeling might interest you.

  • For this same interdependent pair think about how it plays out for you at work and what are the primary influences that cause you to move across the spectrum (which might be some other interdependent pairs).

If the exploration implied in these enquiries interests you, or you are curious about how enquiry on something that is particularly topical for you might be helpful, please do get in touch with me.


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