Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown — A Review

Do you remember the movie Purple Rain? Yes? Well, let’s be honest — on paper, it’s not a very good movie. The direction is too earnest, it’s narrative is more a collection of vignettes loosely strung together by a soundtrack, and it is mostly populated with musicians, not actors, trying way too hard to act. But, somehow, despite all of that, it works. It’s electric. The musical performances thrilling. And the whole time one has the feeling they are on the cusp of something big. Because they are. A defining moment in the career of an artist and, some may argue, music itself. It’s an experience more than it is a movie. But, that’s what makes it great.

On paper, Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown shouldn’t be a great book. It’s a collection of morning pages, loosely-joined notes, poetry, quotes, interviews, ideas not fully formed, and fan-non-fict of sci-fi author and visionary Octavia Butler. The author tells you up front that she doesn’t have any of this figured out and invites you along to help her do so, so don’t expect any answers at the end. In fact, the hidden secret is that the idea of Emergent Strategy itself has no hard boundaries (“answers” are boundaries) and depends on mass participation driven both intentionally and organically by individual action. The book, is the author’s action and she’s suggesting ways that others may take theirs.

But, the whole time I was reading it, it was thrilling. Every few sentences I’d run into an idea that was electric. And the whole time I had the feeling the author is on the cusp of something big. That the idea of Emergent Strategy, once we collectively figure it out, could be the answer to so many things. That it could reshape lives and movements in fundamental ways. And, even if that’s not the case it was such fun to be a part of that energy that it’s easily the best book I’ve read this year (and, perhaps, in many years). One that I’ve marked up furiously (and that my wife marked up as she read it before me) and that we will be talking about, referencing, revisiting, and using as a guide for years to come.