“Cells rely heavily on the code of DNA for development, but they also need a
sense of place to do their work. Indeed, the code is utterly worthless without
the cell’s ability to determine its place in the overall organism, a feat that is
accomplished by the elegant strategy of paying attention to one’s neighbors. As
[Matt] Ridley writes, ‘the great beauty of embryo development, the bit
that human beings find so hard to grasp, is that it is a totally decentralized
process.’” (from Emergence by Steven Johnson)
Life is by nature creative. Unlike mechanical systems, this is how she di-solves her problems. She moves to new levels or worlds where the problems are no longer problems. This is at the core of leadership in living systems. There is no farseeing operator driving. Every member plays its unique role in moving the whole forward.
Anyone who has ever played a team sport or in a band knows how this works. There is a unifying vision of what you are trying to do, where you are trying to go, and a clear sense of each player’s essential roles within it. We carefully watch one another, looking for opportunities to set up or back up or capitalize upon our con-spiritors. We take our clues from one another, from our context in the working and playing of the whole, and from our own inner compass. It is not co-operation like the parts of a machine. The best bands and teams are driven by internal tensions and dynamics that drive each player beyond his or her known abilities to create something far greater than the sum of the parts.
Holding my baby son one night as he slept, I thought about how I would make his body. Having built things all my life, this seemed simple. I would begin by framing him up, joining his bones together using his muscles, tendons and ligaments. Then I’d run his arteries and veins, his nervous system, install all of his organs, sheath him is skin, fill him with blood, a bit of food and water and start him up, maybe with a spark from jumper cables. Of course he was made nothing like this, but this Frankensteinian thought experiment revealed my own mind’s mechanicalness and the difference between how we think about and make things and how the living world creates. Everything we make is conceived and constructed before it begins to carry out the processes for which it was designed.
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