Emergent Solutions for a World in Crisis (Part 5)

The Whole That is Greater Than the Sum of its Puzzle Pieces

Dennis Wittrock
10 min readFeb 19, 2021

Like many of my peers, I am constantly wrestling with the question: What does it take to steer the world into a saner, more sustainable direction? This text is not a definitive answer to that question, simply a summary of what puzzle-pieces I have found so far that seem relevant. I will release it in the form of a series of posts. My hope is that by putting my pieces on the table that others will pick them up and link them to theirs so that this act of distributed cognition can move the whole forward.

The Whole That is Greater Than the Sum of its Puzzle Pieces

Let’s recapitulate the journey through the various puzzle pieces presented in this article series. Each article contained a guiding question, the answer to which sparked a new question that led to the next puzzle piece promising to hold a potential solution. To bring this series to a (preliminary) close, we will now bring all the pieces together and look for the Emergent Whole which is bigger than the mere sum of its parts.

Overview of the journey through the articles with their respective guiding questions and puzzle pieces

Larger quantum leaps of evolutionary novelty always arrive in an entirely new configuration of what was already there right in front of our very eyes. Cumulative progress hits a tipping point and a paradigm shift announces itself. That’s the nature of evolutionary emergence. We have to have confidence that the answer is already out there waiting for us to be unveiled. The trick is to find the pattern that connects — the integral element. For that, we have to overcome the mental illusion of separateness in every conceivable way and render reality diaphanous or transparent so that the hidden light of wholeness can shine through and lift the veil of our blindness and illusion. Please follow me. We can do this together.

1) “What is the case?” Ken Wilber’s Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP)

We started out by stating that the world is currently in a major state of crisis, with various crises coagulating into a global Meta-Crisis expressing in many forms. The growing complexity is overwhelming us on many fronts. If we want to have any hope of addressing it, we will need to start keeping track of the many interwoven threads (and threats) we need to deal with as humanity. The best tool we’ve developed to figure out what is the case is the scientific method. But there is not just science of the exteriors, but also science of the interiors, both individual and collective.

Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory offers a framework broad enough to welcome and cherish truths from all possible disciplines, enacted by the entire smorgasbord of hundreds of methodologies for producing data, insight, and knowledge. Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP) can become an invaluable guide to coordinate research efforts across all kinds of disciplines in a systematic and coordinated fashion so that we don’t fall prey to all kinds of disciplinary absolutisms. Instead of fighting truths derived by different methodologies than our own favorite ones, we can create a bigger tent, a framework in which all of them are welcome, where their specific perspective is acknowledged and cherished while at the same time their absolutistic claims are curbed. “Freeing methodologies by limiting them”, as Ken says.

A non-fragmented, non-exclusionary approach in which contributions to the whole are indexed across the grid of the 8 major methodological families (the “8 zones”) described by IMP will help to simultaneously track phenomena across multiple zones. Triangulating their co-occurrence across methodologies will enact a deeper space of insight into the interrelationship of the various phenomena under research. This form of integral trans-disciplinary science will illuminate our understanding of reality in a deeper way and give us a wider space to roam in search of practical solutions to concrete problems resulting from the Meta-Crises.

2) „What is the root cause of the most pressing global problems? “ Daniel Schmachtenberger’s Analysis of Existential Risks (X-Risks)

Drawing on the work of Daniel Schmachtenberger we can gain deeper insight into all the existential risks we are currently facing as humanity. The main takeaway from the analysis of various troubling issues is that there seems to be an underlying commonality, a hidden pattern, or shared “Generator Function” driving all of them and preventing us from making any substantial progress on solving any of them. Climate Inaction, Erosion of Environmental and Work Standards, Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Tax Evasion, Increasing Wealth Gap, and Erosion of the Information Ecology are all just the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface, they are all connected by a similar pattern.

This pattern is well-known in game theory as “Tragedy of the Commons” or as “Prisoner’s Dilemma”. Daniel Schmachtenberger calls it “a collective action problem” that results from a misalignment of individual incentives with what would be best to do to preserve the commons. Anticipating the other player’s selfishness, we fear losing out and by virtue of that help to create the very situation in which everyone loses in the long run through our own behavior. We use “plausible deniability” to defend our actions to ourselves and to others while collectively our behavior slowly but surely erodes the shared commons, be it the resources of the natural world, financial means, our attention, our trust, our truthfulness, or other values that all of us are supposed to benefit from.

While it is not impossible to “do the right thing” as an individual actor, in the long run, the honest brokers run the risk of being at the sucking end of all the games they play with others who are not as ethically-minded. In the end, they usually give in and take refuge in “plausible deniability” as well, since their defection on the common good seems justified by the behavior of the others. It is a vicious cycle, a true downward spiral.

3) „How can we solve the Tragedy of the Commons politically? “ — The SIMPOL Campaign by John Bunzl

Like Daniel Schmachtenberger, John Bunzl of SIMPOL arrives at the same conclusion: there is one central dilemma that keeps the world in constant political gridlock. It is the same “Tragedy of the Commons” dynamic. He calls it “Destructive International Competition”. In order to stay competitive, national governments have entered into a destructive downward spiral with each other, competing for capital, investments, and workforce (and other things) on a global level. In a race to the bottom, they lower taxes, their work standards, and environmental standards to not lose out to other nations. They are being had by a pattern they either don’t understand or don’t have an idea how to overcome.

The Simultaneous Policy campaign (SIMPOL) introduces such an idea. If all nations simultaneously implement the same rules to solve a certain global issue (that is otherwise unsolvable due to the game-theoretical gridlock), no single nation has to worry about losing out by introducing policies that constrain powerful corporations or investors. The playing field has been leveled and there is no place left to evade such restrictions for these actors. There would still be competition amongst nations, but not destructive competition that plays out nations against each other.

For example, the whole world could agree on a minimum tax rate for companies of a certain size that would kick into effect simultaneously everywhere. Moving jobs elsewhere wouldn’t cut it anymore for companies. Since their competitors face the same taxation, they wouldn’t lose out to international competitors in this regard. With the surplus money, national governments would receive enough funds to finance crucial projects for the common good of their citizens. Political trust, eroded by decades of neoliberalism, could slowly be rebuild, reanimating political culture worldwide and helping to give birth to a new political identity beyond the nation-state level: global citizenship — an emerging identity that is already “in the air” for many cosmopolitans, yet hasn’t manifested in a shared global political project yet. SIMPOL could become that project.

The SIMPOL campaign is a bottom-up campaign that is driven by a relatively small number of citizens in democratic countries. They pledge to give strong preference for any politician or party in their national election which also pledges to support the SIMPOL campaign. Those politicians would only have to make good on their promise as soon as there are enough nations on board that have also signaled support to implement policies simultaneously. So there is no risk involved for the particular politician or party to sign up. But there is a risk in not signing up since the political competitor might do so. In that case, he or she runs the risk of losing the growing block of voters that favor SIMPOL and have pledged to support any candidate within reason that also does. Cleverly, the campaign leverages competition to enforce cooperation on a higher level. Once every party in a given country supports SIMPOL we have another pearl for our global necklace, ready to be strung on the unifying thread of simultaneous implementation of policies on a global level. The Global Governance Gap would finally be closed.

Not unlike the organelles like mitochondria and chloroplasts one day woke up amazed to find themselves to be suddenly enveloped by a cell membrane, nation-states one day might wake up amazed to find themselves to be suddenly enveloped by a pattern of coordinated action that is beneficial to everything within this new higher membrane around “spaceship earth”.

That is the nature of the evolutionary emergence of greater and greater wholes.

4) “Which process should we use to craft policies to efficiently integrate key concerns?“ — Holacracy & Integrative Decision Making by Brian Robertson

With any attempt at tackling complex global problems, it is clear that a multitude of perspectives will need to be integrated in order to reach a shared goal. But instead of coming up with the usual dull and watered-down “compromises” and “meeting halfway in the middle” type of solutions, which leave every party feeling like they lost out on the deal (while moving the needle only little to nothing), we will need much better ways to explore the design space of potential solutions in an intelligent way, staying on track with solving the original tension or problem, while taking care to integrate any issues that would be caused by adopting the new simultaneous policy.

We will need much better ways to explore the design space of potential solutions in an intelligent way

Luckily, Brian Robertson and his Holacracy colleagues have developed a very robust way of reaching a highly integrated solution by using a process called “Integrative Decision-Making” (IDM) that is being used by companies to define and refine policies of organizational governance. It is a highly disciplined process led by a trained facilitator, which works in an additive “yes, and” way instead of an oppositional “yes, but” manner and no team member can block the process through a veto. Instead, concerns with regard to the adoption of policy proposals undergo a thorough testing process and only those objections need to be integrated that satisfy certain objection criteria that have proven to be useful in filtering out irrelevant concerns.

As I indicated in the article about Holacracy, the rules of the process might have to be “exapted” from the organizational context and refined for the SIMPOL context of trying to craft proposals for simultaneous policies that are highly integrative with regard to the needs of all the stakeholders involved. But the process wouldn’t have to be invented entirely from scratch. IDM is already demonstrating its capacity to bring results in thousands of Holacracy-powered companies around the globe every day.

And just like the Holacracy community of practice has joined to evolve the code of the Holacracy Constitution together on an open-source platform, the operating system of the Global Commons, the “SIMPOL Constitution” that encodes how simultaneous policies are formed and implemented, could be continually refined in an iterative fashion by the constituents affected by it — the global citizens.

Putting it all together

One morning I woke up with a hazy vision of how to fit these lingering puzzle pieces together which were floating around in my mind. Writing it out helped me to gain more clarity for myself. I hope the result is useful for you and that you do something with it. I will certainly try to fill out the gaps, holes, and overlooked pieces, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns.

I think that each one of us holds unique insights and perspectives that can help create a saner, more whole world. Each one of us is a unique intersection of experiences in the grand Kosmic web of existence.

Nobody is quite like me. Nobody else could have written this. This fact confers a felt moral obligation for me to share my particular and maybe exotic favorite puzzle pieces and not to withhold the gift that is only mine to give. I encourage you to do the same so that we all discover an ever-extending pattern of wholeness and start healing a world that is utterly broken.

Stepping up and owning your puzzle pieces publicly takes courage. It means exposing yourself to the criticism of others who might want to poke holes into your fragile construction. But let that never stop you from building the foundations of a future that works for all of humanity and the planet. Cynicism is cheap and lazy, just like plausible deniability. Instead, start constructing, make errors along the way, but start erring in the right direction.

Learn to play the infinite game and have fun along the way!

PS: If you liked this post, don’t forget to leave some claps. It will help others to find it. The algorithm gods (and me) will thank you!



Dennis Wittrock

Integral pioneer from Germany. Holacracy Master Coach at Xpreneurs. Partner at encode.org. Co-founder Integral European Conference. www.denniswittrock.com