In the 18th century, a mathematician discovered that coin flips created a distribution that resembled a smooth curve. And the infamous “bell curve” was born.
In scientific analyses, the sight of a perfect bell curve is a beauty to behold! But, Corporate America hijacked this concept to fit everyone into a profile, a data point, and a curve. Recent neuroscience studies indicate that this practice is not only ineffective but detrimental to employee motivation and performance.
Too many companies believe people are interchangeable. Truly gifted people never are. They have unique talents. Such people cannot be forced into roles they are not suited for, nor should they be. Effective leaders allow great people to do the work they were born to do.— Warren Bennis
As a person, you are more than the sum of your talents, skills, and knowledge. Don’t take my word for it. In contrast to the bell curve, consider the Emergence principle.
The whole is other than the sum of its parts.— Kurt Kofka
There are numerous examples illustrating the Emergence principle in the sciences and the arts. From the architecture of suburban neighborhoods to the complex neural pathways in our brain, emergence is prevalent in many adaptive systems.
The (ant) colonies that Gordon studies display some of nature’s most mesmerizing decentralized behavior: intelligence and personality and learning that emerges from the bottom up.”― Steven Johnson, Emergence
The phenomenon that we refer to as life or consciousness may itself be an emergent property, the inexplicable result of interactions between matter and energy.
No philosophy explains Emergence better than Gestalt theory. The word “Gestalt” is of Germanic origin and loosely translates to “form or shape”. Gestalt philosophy is evident in many aspects of everyday life from visual arts to music to design of user interfaces. The Gestalt principle is applicable to change at the individual, group and organizational level.
Gestalt theory maintains that the operational principle of the human mind is holistic, parallel and analogous. Simply put, we perceive the entire figure and form before detecting the individual lines and curves, suggesting that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
All experience and learning that has been fully assimilated and integrated― Fritz Perls
buildsup a person’s background… [This background] gives meaning to the emerging gestalten, and thus supports a certain way of living on the boundary with excitement. Whatever is not assimilated, either gets lost or remains a block in the ongoing development [or growth].
Gestalt is comprised of a number of fascinating principles of perceptual organization, such as proximity, similarity, closure, continuity etc. These principles illustrate how we form perceptions and how we create meaning based on our existing knowledge and experience.
For the purposes of this post, it is sufficient to explain Gestalt through an example. The picture below contains both positive and negative spaces. Instead of perceiving the identifying parts (hair, eyes, nose), when looking at the image below, you either see a face or the shadow of a man playing an instrument.
The Gestalt stance is most readily apparent in Coaching individuals through change. Gestalt introduces a process approach to coaching, with the process taking precedence over tools and techniques.
The Gestalt Coaching process follows the path of a self-regulating cycle of experience – sensation, awareness, mobilization, action, change and closure. The individual (or group) instinctually
Thoughts and feelings that surface during this process, echo the forms moving in and out of the foreground that is the conscious mind. When these thoughts or assumptions are questioned, the forms can be brought completely into awareness. When attention and awareness come together there is an experience of the now, which opens the individual up to more choices.
Just as the parts fail to explain the whole, so the past fails to explain the present or the present the future . . . at the present― Murphy and Jensen
instantthe future seems simply non-existent . . .
Gestalt awareness uses powerful questions. These questions, sometimes direct and guided or often broad and open-ended, create a space, a psychologically safe environment where the individual can surpass finding meaning in just doing and connect with a real sense of being. Here are a few Gestalt questions that can bring forth a heightened sense of awareness:
- How do you perceive your world?
- How can you think beyond your current circumstances to visualize your ideal life?
- What filter or lens can you apply to your issues to view them differently?
- Who can you become through this experience or situation?
- Who are you outside of your career (or your family)?
Gestalt sometimes leads to a paradoxical view of change, awareness leads to acknowledgement and acceptance of reality rather than continual denial and rejection of reality. When you begin to accept what is, then fixed perceptions begin to dissolve and greater complexity starts to evolve.
Change is not a linear or sequential process, but complex, interactive, and recursive. Gestalt reinforces this understanding of change as cyclic and as a systemic force. Anything that affects one aspect of our life will sooner or later permeate all other aspects.
Ultimately, the purpose of understanding Emergence and Gestalt is to develop a greater level of perceptual awareness in your life. This, in turn, transforms how you create meaning from your experiences. It helps you see yourself as more than just a number or a profile. It helps you approach metamorphic events with an attitude of learned optimism.
I hope once you internalize the implications of the Emergence principle, you will awaken to the fact that far from being a static data point on a bell curve, your true nature is a dynamic continuum. You have an unlimited potential to grow and expand into the fullness of your being.
Nothing changes until it becomes what it is.― Fritz Perls
Now that you are aware of the Emergence principle and Gestalt Theory, what have you learned about yourself? How will you perceive yourself from now on?