Director's Desk: Emergent Strategy

  • Posted on 29 October 2020
  • By Morgan Goodwin
When my partner and I started dating, she was in Austin, TX and I was in Truckee, CA. Given the distance, neither of us believed it would actually turn into anything more than a summer fling. It was tenuous, wild, exciting. Yet we fought for it, and I constantly look back to remind myself how wise I was to continually let go of my predetermined notions of how this relationship might evolve.
As we started to create a relationship out of our swirling lives. Daria had a favorite quote she'd often remind me of: "Want to make god laugh? Make a plan."
We trained to make plans, and yet as soon as we lay down the plan, we expose ourselves to the risk that something might happen outside the plan. Hardly any of us planned for what might happen if Trump won in 2016. We were caught, not only emotionally stunned, but also flat footed as to what needed to happen next. Where could people express their anger? Plug in to meaningful action? Yet a movement emerged, led by women, people of color, youth, all stepping forward to respond to the moment. A resistance movement emerged.
While planning is a powerful tool, I have been studying 'Emergent Strategy' as an alternative way of thinking. Ants don't plan, but colonies emerge. Trees don't plan, but forests emerge. Geese don't plan, but their migrations explode across the earth.
Allow me to share some of adrianne maree brown's principles of emergent strategy, and how we are growing as the Sierra Club in the Angeles region:
  • Change is constant, be like water. All of 2020 has been about finding the path. Just now, forest fires in Orange County are impacting our members as they try to vote. See OC voting resources here
  • Trust the people, if you trust the people, they become trustworthy. Chapter elections are under way in our democratic Club of passionate environmentalists. If you haven't voted, please do
  • Move at the speed of trust. In some areas, the Chapter is slowing down to build trust and improve our understanding of what it means to advocate for justice and the environment. By investing in trust, we can set ourselves up to move much faster.
  • Focus on critical connections more than critical mass - build the resilience by building the relationships. Similar to trust, our new staff is investing in relationships with our volunteer leaders. This is just good advice anyway.
A word on plans: we are also doing a great deal of planning. Outings leaders are planning how to re-open safely. Our fundraising team is planning how to bring in more resources. Our Executive Committee is planning an equity, inclusion and justice workshop. Our Conservation committee is planning how to absorb all the volunteers active in the election. We do a great deal of work planning, but these plans are the dance of an emerging network of leaders, committed to the mission of the Sierra Club.
My takeaway thus far in this emergent strategy exploration: I don't need to know all the pieces, I don't need to anticipate every possibility. Instead, I need to remember that I am a living thing with a particular experience in a particular moment in time, and trust that my love for the living earth will lead me to show up in such a way, that the gifts I have to give will find grateful homes and I will have enough to meet my needs.
No matter what happens this election day, our environment is cascading through a series of crises. Let us be the trees, roots reaching out to each other, emerging as the forest of a just and sustainable human existence.

Header Image: Lundy Canyon Trailhead; Morgan Goodwin all rights reserved

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