Living Systems

Breakthroughs in biology, physics, and chemistry and emergent theories of evolution, consciousness, and psychology are expanding our understanding about how the world works. Unlike our current worldview that emphasizes a mechanical, cause-effect existence, a living systems worldview reveals a self-organizing, emergent, and co-creative universe.

In today’s complex, unpredictable world, we need an expanded worldview that holds the truth that is contained within both of these views. While our current mechanistic worldview can be helpful with technical problems, a living systems worldview reminds us of our biological, ecological, and evolutionary capacity to adapt, evolve, and thrive even when challenges are complex. With living systems as the guide, human systems can tap into the wisdom that is inherent in our DNA and found in all living systems.

The living systems worldview provides powerful insights about leading, learning, and change in human systems. For example:

Leading change is more effective when the whole system is engaged.

A living system is healthier when it is more connected to itself. This applies to human systems as well. When we engage the whole system in conversations that matter, it is more likely that we will discover the innate wisdom that already exists within the system. In exploring our diverse perspectives, relationships are strengthened, participation deepens, and we discover that we share a common desire to figure it out together.

Learning is an essential strategy for systems change.

Life evolves because living systems learn how to self-organize and adapt to changing environmental conditions. Learning, therefore, is an essential change strategy. Rather than try to manage change, leaders can manifest change more naturally by developing the inherent capacity of the group to learn, self-organize, and adapt. Engaging in conversations that matter, sensing into wise action, then prototyping and learning what works and what doesn’t is a natural way of engaging in continual learning and change.

It’s all connected – change can start anywhere in the system.

Living systems, including human systems, are a complex web of interconnections. Since it’s all connected, change in any part of the system has the potential to affect the entire system. Since we are a part of the human systems we want to change, we can influence the system by being the change we wish to see.  What we do and what we believe makes a difference. We can amplify the change by being the change together.

Change initiatives are less about managing change and more about creating the conditions and capacities that allow people to connect, learn, and innovate together.


Nature has been learning to adapt for four billion years; maybe we need to pay attention. – Stuart Kauffman


People are intelligent, creative, adaptive, self-organizing, and meaning-seeking. Organizations are living systems. They too are intelligent, creative, adaptive, self-organizing, and meaning-seeking. – Margaret Wheatley