The Patterns of Aliveness Theory



This chapter argues that approaches to navigating complex world making and transformative change for sustainability are more effective when they are anchored in a profound understanding of life processes. The chapter takes the concept of systems aliveness as a quality element of a pattern approach one step further. It advances 13 propositions regarding essential features of life enhancement in systems that can also inform a better understanding of enlivening human co-creation. The propositions lay the basis for the Patterns of Aliveness Theory, which shows how six essential organizing principles allow life to emerge, thrive, and re-create itself in natural as well as social systems. The chapter suggests that these principles must be taken into account in the practice of leading collectively and shows how they become the foundation of a conceptual architecture for stewarding sustainability transformations.


Systems thinking Pattern cognition Patterns of aliveness Living systems Aliveness principles Systems aliveness Wholeness Generativity Interconnectedness Consciousness Novelty Stewardship of transformations Sustainability transformations 


  1. Alexander, C. (1979). The timeless way of building (Vol. 1). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, C. (2002a). The nature of order. An essay on the art of building and the nature of the universe: Book I – the phenomenon of life. Berkeley: The Center for Environmental Structure.Google Scholar
  3. Alexander, C. (2002b). The nature of order. An essay on the art of building and the nature of the universe: Book II – the process of creating life. Berkeley: The Center for Environmental Structure.Google Scholar
  4. Ashby, W. R. (1962). Principles of the self-organizing system. In H. von Foerster & G. W. Zopf (Eds.), Principles of self-organization (pp. 255–278). New York: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  5. Ashby, W. R. (2011). Variety, constraint, and the law of requisite variety. Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 13(1/2), 190–270.Google Scholar
  6. Atmar, W., & Patterson, B. D. (1993). The measure of order and disorder in the distribution of species in fragmented habitat. Oecologia, 96(3), 373–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bastolla, U., Fortuna, M. A., Pascual-García, A., Ferrera, A., Luque, B., & Bascompte, J. (2009). The architecture of mutualistic networks minimizes competition and increases biodiversity. Nature, 458(7241), 1018–1020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and nature: A necessary unity. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar
  9. Bateson, N. (2016). Small arcs of larger circles: Framing through other patterns. Dorset: Triarchy Press Ltd.Google Scholar
  10. Berry, T. (1999). The great work: Our way into the future. New York: Bell Tower.Google Scholar
  11. Bohm, D. (1952). A suggested interpretation of quantum mechanics in terms of “hidden variables”, parts I and II. Physical Review, 85(2), 166–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bohm, D. (1980). Wholeness and the implicate order. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Bohm, D. (Ed.). (1996). On dialogue. Oxford: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Bohm, D., & Hiley, B. (1993). The undivided universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Boisot, M., & McKelvey, B. (2011). Complexity and organization-environment relations: Revisiting Ashby’s law of requisite variety. In P. Allen, S. Maguire, & B. McKelvey (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of complexity and management (pp. 279–298). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  16. Bollier, D., & Helfrich, S. (2012). The wealth of the commons: A world beyond market and state. Amherst: Levellers Press.Google Scholar
  17. Bollier, D., & Helfrich, S. (Eds.). (2015). Patterns of commoning. Amherst: Levellers Press.Google Scholar
  18. Buber, M. (1962). Die Krisis des Menschen als eine Krisis des Zwischens. In M. Buber (Ed.), Werke Erster Band: Schriften zur Philosophie. München: Heidelberg.Google Scholar
  19. Buber, M. (1970). I and thou. New York: Touchstone/Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  20. Capra, F. (1996). The web of life: A new understanding of living systems. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  21. Capra, F. (2003). The hidden connection, a science for sustainable living. London: Flamingo Press.Google Scholar
  22. Capra, F., & Luisi, P. L. (2014). The system’s view of life: A unifying vision. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Carlson, L. E., Beattie, T. L., Giese-Davis, J., Faris, P., Tamagawa, R., Fick, L. J., & Speca, M. (2015). Mindfulness-based cancer recovery and supportive-expressive therapy maintain telomere length relative to controls in distressed breast cancer survivors. Cancer, 121(3), 476–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Chalovsky, N., & Krishna, V. (2009). Meaningfulness, commitment, and engagement: The intersection of a deeper level of intrinsic motivation. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 11(2), 189–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Choi, T. Y., Dooley, K. J., & Rungtusanatham, M. (2001). Supply networks and complex adaptive systems: Control versus emergence. Journal of Operations Management, 19(3), 351–366. Scholar
  26. Constanza, R., & Kubiszewski, I. (Eds.). (2014). Creating a sustainable and desirable future: Insights from 45 global thought leaders. New York: World Scientific.Google Scholar
  27. De Liefde, H. J. W. (2003). Lekgotla, the art of leadership through dialogue. Houghton: Jacana.Google Scholar
  28. De Dreu, C. K. W., & Van Kleef, G. A. (2004). The influence of power on the information search, impression formation, and demands in negotiation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(3), 303–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Donaldson, T., & Walsh, J. P. (2015). Research in organizational behavior, toward a theory of business. Research in Organizational Behavior, 35, 181–207. Scholar
  30. Duit, A., Galaz, V., Eckerberg, K., & Ebbesson, J. (2010). Governance, complexity, and resilience. Global Environmental Change, 20(3), 363–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dupré, J., & O’Malley, M. A. (2007). Metagenomics and biological ontology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 38(4), 834–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Elgin, D. (2001). Promise ahead: A vision of hope and action for humanity’s future. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  33. Erickson, E. (1953). Growth and crises of the “healthy personality”, II. Psyche, 7(2), 112.Google Scholar
  34. Endamana, D., Boedhihartono, A. K., Bokoto, B., Defo, L., Eyebe, A., Ndikumagenge, C., Nzooh, Z., Ruiz-Perez, M., & Sayer, J. A. (2010). A framework for assessing conservation and development in a congo basin forest landscape. Tropical Conservation Science, 3(3), 262–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Finidori, H. (2015). Purplsoc Conference 2015 Plast (Pattern languages for systemic transformation): A fourth generation pattern language, Free Knowledge Institute. Retrieved from
  36. Finidori, H, Borghini, I., & Henfrey, T. (2015). Towards a fourth generation pattern language: Patterns as epistemic threads for systemic orientation. Draft paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Pursuit of Pattern Languages for Societal Change Conference, Krems: Danube University.Google Scholar
  37. Finidori, H. (2016). Patterns that connect: Potential of pattern/languages for sustainable futures – Model report: Systems thinking, modeling and simulation news. Retrieved from
  38. Folke, C., Holling, C. S., & Perrings, C. (1996). Biological diversity, ecosystems, and the human scale. Ecological Applications, 6(4), 1018–1024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Folke, C., Carpenter, S., Walker, B., Scheffer, M., Chapin, T., & Rockström, J. (2010). Resilience thinking: Integrating resilience, adaptability and transformability. Ecology and Society, 15(4), 20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Fullerton, J. (2015). Regenerative capitalism: How universal principles and patterns will shape our new economy. Capital Institute: Future of Finance Publication [online publication]. Retrieved from
  41. Gabriel, R. P. (1996). Patterns of software. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Gharajedaghi, J. (1999). Systems thinking, managing chaos and complexity: A platform for designing business architecture. Boston: Butterworths-Heinemann.Google Scholar
  43. Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Gilligan, C. (2002). The birth of pleasure. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  45. Glasbergen, P., Biermann, F., & Mol, A. P. (Eds.). (2007). Partnerships, governance and sustainable development: Reflections on theory and practice. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  46. Gould, S. J., & Vbra, E. S. (1982). Exaptation: A missing term in the science of form. Paleobiology, 8(1), 4–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hajiran, H. (2006). Toward a quality of life theory: Net domestic product of happiness. Social Indicators Research, 75, 31–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hammer, R. J., Edwards, J. S., & Tapinos, E. (2012). Examining the strategy development process through the lens of complex adaptive systems theory. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 63(7), 909–919.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hanleybrown, F., Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2012). Channeling change: Making collective impact work. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 9(1), 1–8.Google Scholar
  50. Hassan, Z. (2014). The social labs revolution: A new approach to solving our most complex challenges. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Haythornthwaite, C. (2002). Strong, weak, and latent ties and the impact of new media. The Information Society, 18(5), 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Helgesen, S. (1995). The web of inclusion. New York: Currency/Doubleday.Google Scholar
  53. Hicks, D., & Waddock, S. (2016). Dignity, wisdom, and tomorrow's ethical business leader. Business and Society Review, 121(3), 447–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ho, M. W. (1994). What is (Schrödinger’s) negentropy? Modern Trends in Biothermokinetics, 3(1994), 50–61.Google Scholar
  55. Holden, E., Linnerud, K., & Banister, D. (2016). The imperatives of sustainable development. Sustainable Development, 25(3), 213–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Holling, C. S. (1973). Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 4(1), 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. IDEO. (2008). Design thinking, in Harvard Business Review [Online]. Available from:
  58. Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue and the art of thinking together: A pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life. New York: Currency Doubleday.Google Scholar
  59. Jaworski, J. (1996). Synchronicity: The inner path of leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.Google Scholar
  60. Jones, P. H. (2014). Systemic design principles for complex social systems. In Social systems and design, Translational systems sciences (Vol. 1, pp. 91–128). Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Joos, E., Zeh, H. D., Kiefer, C., Giulini, D. J., Kupsch, J., & Stamatescu, I. O. (2013). Decoherence and the appearance of a classical world in quantum theory. New York: Springer Science, & Business Media.Google Scholar
  62. Jørgensen, S. E., Patten, B. C., & Straškraba, M. (1992). Ecosystems emerging: Toward an ecology of complex systems in a complex future. Ecological Modelling, 62(1-3), 1–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Jacobs, J. (1961). The death and life of great American cities. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  64. Jacobs, J. (2002). The nature of economies. Toronto: Vintage.Google Scholar
  65. Kauffman, S. (1996). At home in the universe: The search for the laws of self-organization and complexity. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Kauffman, S. (2016). Humanity in a creative universe. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Kelso, J. S. (1997). Dynamic patterns: The self-organization of brain and behavior. Cambridge: MIT press.Google Scholar
  68. Kirsch, M., & Windmann, S. (2009). The role of anxiety in decision-making. Review of Psychology, 16(1), 19–28.Google Scholar
  69. Kohlberg, L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. In G. Geis & L. Kohlberg (Eds.), Moral development and behavior: Theory, research, and social issues (pp. 31–53). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  70. Krishnamurti, J. (1978). The wholeness of life. Madras: Krishnamurti Foundation.Google Scholar
  71. Krishnamurti, J., & Bohm, D. (1986). The future of humanity: A conversation. San Francisco: Harper, & Row.Google Scholar
  72. Kuenkel, P. (2015). Navigating change in complex multi-actor settings: A practice approach to better collaboration. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 58, 119–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Kuenkel, P., Gerlach, S., & Frieg, V. (2011). Working with stakeholder dialogues: Key concepts and competencies for achieving common goals. A practical guide for change agents from public sector, private sector and civil society. Potsdam: The Collective Leadership Institute.Google Scholar
  74. Kuenkel, P. (2016). The art of leading collectively: How we can co-create a sustainable, socially just future. Claremont: Chelsea Green.Google Scholar
  75. Laloux, F. (2014). Reinventing organizations. Brussels: Nelson Parker.Google Scholar
  76. Lewin, K. (1963). Feldtheorie in den Sozialwissenschaften. Bern Stuttgart: Huber.Google Scholar
  77. Lipton, B. H. (2015). The biology of belief 10th anniversary edition: Unleashing the power of consciousness, matter, & miracles. Carlsbad: Hay House Publishing.Google Scholar
  78. Luhmann, N. (1990). Essays on self-reference. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Mandelbrot, B. B. (1983). The fractal geometry of nature. New York: Freeman.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. In R. S. Cohen & M. W. Wartofsky (Eds.), Boston studies in the philosophy of science (Vol. 42). Dordecht: D. Reidel Publishing.Google Scholar
  81. Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The tree of knowledge: Roots of human understanding. London: New Science Library.Google Scholar
  82. Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1991). Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living (Vol. 42). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  83. McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2010). Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. New York: North Point Press.Google Scholar
  84. Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage points: Places to intervene into a system. Hartland: Sustainability Institute.Google Scholar
  85. Meadows, D., Randers, J., & Meadows, D. (2004). Limits to growth: The 30-year update. White River Junction: Chelsea Green.Google Scholar
  86. Midgley, G., Cavana, R. Y., Brocklesby, J., Foote, J. L., Wood, D. R., & Ahuriri-Driscoll, A. (2013). Towards a new framework for evaluating systemic problem structuring methods. European Journal of Operational Research, 229(1), 143–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Mishra, C. (2011). Understanding osteoarthritis and its management. New Delhi: Jaypee Brothers Medical Publications.Google Scholar
  88. Mizobuchi, H. (2004). Measuring world better life frontier: A composite Indicator for OECD better life index. Social Indicators Research, 118, 987. Scholar
  89. Oshri, I., Van Fenema, P., & Kotlarsky, J. (2008). Knowledge transfer in globally distributed teams: The role of transactive memory. Information Systems Journal, 18(6), 593–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Oshri, I., Kotlarsky, J., & Willcocks, L. P. (2015). The handbook of global outsourcing and offshoring. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Pennock, M., & Ura, K. (2011). Gross national happiness as a framework for health impact assessment. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 31(1), 61–65. Scholar
  92. Polletta, F., & Jasper, J. M. (2001). Collective identity and social movements. Annual Review of Sociology, 27(1), 283–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Pór, G. (2008). Collective intelligence and collective leadership: twin paths to beyond chaos. A PrimaVera working paper, Universiteit van Amsterdam, All Sprouts Content. Retrieved from
  94. Peredo, A. M., & McLean, M. (2006). Social entrepreneurship: A critical review of the concept. Journal of World Business, 41(1), 56–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Prigogine, I. (1996). The end of certainty: Time chaos and the new laws of nature. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  96. Prigogine, I., & Stengers, I. (1984). Order out of chaos. New York: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  97. Radin, D., Lund, N., Emoto, M., & Kizu, T. (2008). Effects of distant intention on water crystal formation: A triple-blind replication. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 22(4), 481–493.Google Scholar
  98. Raskin, P., Electris, C., & Rosen, R. A. (2010). The century ahead: Searching for sustainability. Sustainability, 2(8), 2626–2651. Scholar
  99. Raskin, P. (2016). Journey to earthland: The great transition to planetary civilization. Boston: Tellus Institute.Google Scholar
  100. Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut economics. Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. London: Random House.Google Scholar
  101. Richards, R. (2001). A new aesthetic for environmental awareness: Chaos theory, the beauty of nature, and our broader humanistic identity. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41(2), 59–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Robertson, B. J. (2015). Holacracy: The new management system for a rapidly changing world. New York: Henry Holt and Co.Google Scholar
  103. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S., III, Lambin, E., & Foley, J. (2009). Planetary boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society, 14(2), 32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Rouse, P., & Putterill, M. (2003). An integral framework for performance measurement. Management Decision, 41(8), 791–805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Ruesch, J., & Bateson, G. (2006). Communication: The social matrix of psychiatry. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  106. Sahtouris, E., & Lovelock, J. E. (2000). Earthdance: Living systems in evolution. San Jose: iUniverse.Google Scholar
  107. Scharmer, O. (2007). Theory U: Leading from the futures as it emerges. San Francisco: Berrett- Koehler Publisher.Google Scholar
  108. Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.Google Scholar
  109. Senge, P., Hamilton, H., & Kania, J. (2015). The dawn of system leadership. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 13, 27–33.Google Scholar
  110. Snowden, D. (2015). Propensities and dispositions. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 58, 41–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  111. Swanson, G. A. (2008). Living systems theory and an entity-systems approach. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 25(5), 599–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  112. Swanson, G. A., & Miller, J. G. (2009). Living systems theory. Systems Science and Cybernetics: Synergetics, 1(System Theories), 136–148.Google Scholar
  113. Torbert, W. R. (2004). Action inquiry: The secret of timely and transforming leadership. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.Google Scholar
  114. Varela, F. J. (1999). Ethical know-how: Action, wisdom, and cognition. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  115. Varela, F. J., Thompson, E. T., & Rosch, E. (1992). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  116. von Stamm, B. (2008). Managing innovation design and creativity (2nd ed.). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  117. Waddell, S. (2016a). Change for the audacious: A doers' guide to large systems change for a flourishing future. Boston: NetworkingAction.Google Scholar
  118. Waddell, S. (2016b). Societal change systems: A framework to address wicked problems. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 52(4), 422–449. Scholar
  119. Waddell, S., Waddock, S., Cornell, S., Dentoni, D., McLachlan, M., & Meszoely, G. (2015). Large systems change: An emerging field of transformation and transitions. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 58, 5–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  120. Waddock, S. (2015). Reflections: Intellectual shamans, sensemaking, and memes in large system change. Journal of Change Management, 15(4), 259–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  121. Weaver, I. C., Cervoni, N., Champagne, F. A., D'Alessio, A. C., Sharma, S., Seckl, J. R., & Meaney, M. J. (2004). Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior. Nature Neuroscience, 7(8), 847–854.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  122. Weber, A. (2013). Enlivenment. Towards a fundamental shift in the concepts of nature, culture and politics. Berlin: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.Google Scholar
  123. Weber, A. (2016). Biology of wonder: Aliveness, feeling and the metamorphosis of science. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada.Google Scholar
  124. Wheatley, M. (1999). Leadership and the new science, discovering order in a chaotic world. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.Google Scholar
  125. Wheatley, M. J. (2001). Innovation means relying on everyone’s creativity. Leader to Leader, 20, 14–20.Google Scholar
  126. Wilber, K. (1998). The marriage of sense and soul: Integrating science and reason. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  127. Wilber, K. (2002). A theory of everything: An integral vision for business, politics, science, and spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  128. Zohar, D., & Marshall, I. (1994). The quantum society: Mind, physics and a new social vision. New York: Quill/William Morrow.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Full Member of the Club of RomeCollective Leadership InstitutePotsdamGermany

Personalised recommendations