What We’re Reading (And You Should Too): Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown

Emergent Strategy Book

By Jennifer Clements

February 25, 2020

adrienne maree brown, an activist, social justice facilitator, healer, and doula as well as author, has been part of many social justice movements in recent years, including Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street. Her book explores what she’s learned from her experiences as an organizational leader — but does not follow the traditional nonfiction narrative format. Instead, brown’s exploration weaves song lyrics, quotes, diagrams, and poetry together with concrete advice and big-picture thinking.

Her core tenets of emergent strategy can go a long way for nonprofits — and their staff! In brown’s words:

  1. The large is a reflection of the small
  2. Change is constant
  3. There is always enough time for the right work.
  4. There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it.
  5. Never a failure, always a lesson
  6. Trust the People
  7. Move at the speed of trust
  8. Focus on critical connections more than critical mass—build the resilience by building the relationships
  9. Less prep, more presence
  10. What you pay attention to grows

brown’s work applies concepts from ecology to social justice movements – the work that many of our clients, and other nonprofit organizations, are doing right now. Their book-length exploration of these themes weaves together a patchwork of practical ways to rethink and reshape the work one does, as well as the world around them.

In short, it is a how-to guide for changing the world, and a fun and fascinating read to boot. And who among us can’t benefit from that?

Read three brief excerpts below:

“We are in an imagination battle.

Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and Renisha McBride and so many others are dead because, in some white imagination, they were dangerous. And that imagination is so respected that those who kill, based on an imagined, radicalized fear of Black people, are rarely held accountable.

Imagination has people thinking they can go from being poor to a millionaire as part of a shared American dream. Imagination turns Brown bombers into terrorists and white bombers into mentally ill victims. Imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race as an indicator of ability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone else’s capability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone’ else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.”

“We are socialized to see what is wrong, missing, off, to tear down the ideas of others and uplift our own. To a certain degree, our entire future may depend on learning to listen, listen without assumptions or defenses.”

“Science fiction is simply a way to practice the future together. I suspect that is what many of you are up to, practicing futures together, practicing justice together, living into new stories. It is our right and responsibility to create a new world.”


-By Jennifer Clements

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