Recommended ReadsMay 25th, 2021

Learning about dynamic systems from the language of nature

A photo of Emily Hamilton in the Paper Giant studio.
Emily Hamilton, Senior Service Designer

I was first introduced to the concept of fractals as images of dynamic living systems in Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy

Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales – that is, if you separate it into parts, each smaller part reflects the same structure as the whole. Looking to nature, fractals can be found everywhere: fern leaves, mountains and even broccoli.

Dynamic human systems often mimic these patterns in nature. Adrienne Maree Brown draws on the concept of fractals to explain a structural echo between the relationship of micro and macro scales; what we practice at a small scale can reverberate through the whole system. In other words, the principles we act by every day can build at all scales.

These structural echoes are often hard to track. Subtle ideas and behaviours are typically not measured from the small to the large scale. If you overhear an interesting conversation that impacts your behaviour, you can’t use contact-tracing to find its origins. The metaphor of fractals can serve as a reminder that we are all part of the system, and it is not beyond our control to make change.

Part strategy, part science and part spirituality, Emergent Strategy is a book about how to drive social change by learning, by leveraging ever-changing complexity, and by influencing emerging patterns.


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