systems of influence

“When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.”

– Rudolf Bahro, quoted in Margaret Wheatley, From hope to hopelessness

I’ve always liked Margaret Wheatley’s books [how could one not like someone who says ‘action must precede planning’?]. i’ve been delving into her writing again over the last few weeks. If you haven’t read any of her stuff, there are some excellent articles on her website, then go buy Leadership and the New Science

On the weekend i was reading this article. When i was studying my masters, communities of practice were the latest big thing – where people who share a common purpose intentionally work together to create new knowledge and practices about that work. These were a step on from learning communities (which Peter Senge brought to public notice in the ’80’s). In the article, Wheatley and Frieze say that global change (‘global’ meaning large scale, whole system) happens when communities of practice turn (suddenly, surprisingly) into systems of influence. And what distinguishes a system of influence from a community of practice?: “A system of influence possesses qualities and capacities that were unknown in the individuals. It isn’t that they were hidden; they simply don’t exist until the system emerges. They are properties of the system, not the individual, but once there, individuals possess them. And the system that emerges always possesses greater power and influence than is possible through planned, incremental change.”

[Using Emergence To Take Social Innovations to Scale, Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze]

We were discussing what our [hypothetical] future PhD topics would be on the weekend. I think that would be mine. What happens in that ‘magic moment’ when communities of practice turn into a system of influence. What cognitive and systemic processes take place when systems of influence emerge so that individuals become capable of wisdom and skills beyond what was ever even imagined before?…


  1. this is a really helpful idea. we are having a 24 hour get together of the intentional network i was telling you about on thurs and fri this week. i think community of practice and system of influence is a really helpful way of thinking about it…

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