Tools for Thinking about How Organized Plans and Self-organized Patterns Flow Together

by Cynthia F. Kurtz

book cover
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A path winds its way through a forest. Why does it go the way it goes? Did someone design it? Or was the path made smooth by feet that chose the smoothest path? Maybe some of both?

Confluence examines the many ways in which organized, intentional plans (like paths we design) and self-organized, unintentional patterns (like paths that emerge where we walk) intermingle (happen at the same time and place) and interact (influence each other). The book lays out seven “thinking spaces” (like this one) that explore various aspects of the structures and relationships that flow together in our lives.

thinking space example

Confluence includes copy-ready materials for a group exercise you can use to think about how organization and self-organization flow together in situations that matter to your life, work, family, community, and organization.

Table of Contents

  • 1 Introduction - What this book is about
  • Part One: A Thinking Tool and an Exercise that Uses It
    • 2 The Confluence Thinking Space - Thinking about how organization and self-organization flow together
    • 3 Using the Confluence Space - An exercise in situational awareness
  • Part Two: Six More Thinking Tools
    • 4 The Jungle - Thinking about self-organization
    • 5 The Plan - Thinking about organization
    • 6 Inundation - Thinking about how self-organization influences organization
    • 7 Regulation - Thinking about how organization influences self-organization
    • 8 The Mix - Thinking about how organization and self-organization interact
    • 9 Connecting the Dots - Thinking about what happens when both forces are (or seem) weak
  • Back matter: Postscript, Acknowledgements, Exercise Materials, Notes, Index, About Me

Confluence Printables


This sample PDF includes the first 35 (of 315) pages and the first 3 (of 9) chapters of Confluence, as they appear in the printed version.

Exercise Materials

These are the materials for the exercise described in the book, exactly as they appear in the print and Kindle editions.

PDF version PPTX version

This version is for use in a physical meeting. After you download it:

  1. Choose a thinking space.
  2. Print the pages for that space. Cut out its corner and axis labels.
  3. Place the labels on a table (or tape them to a wall with non-damaging tape).
  4. (Optional) Cut out the example situations and proverbs and place them into the space.
  5. Label your thinking space with a topic and time frame.
  6. Use sticky notes to describe at least 20 situations relevant to your topic. Place them into your space.
  7. Look for patterns. Use sticky notes to describe them.
  8. (Optional) Print the exercise form (page 4) and fill it out to record what happened.

This version is for use in an online meeting. After you download it:

  1. Choose a thinking space.
  2. Open the file in a presentation program or whiteboard. Find the corner and axis labels for the space you chose.
  3. Copy and paste the labels into an empty space, or copy one of the "coloring book" pages in the document (you will need to rotate it).
  4. (Optional) Copy the space's example situations and proverbs and paste them into your space.
  5. Label your thinking space with a topic and time frame.
  6. Create new sticky-note-style text boxes to describe at least 20 situations relevant to your topic.
  7. Look for patterns. Use the program's annotation tools to describe them.
  8. (Optional) Copy and paste the exercise form (page 4), then add texts to record what happened.

Praise from readers of Confluence

"This book has layers upon layers of meaning. I can imagine groups of people or individuals using the insights you have shared to resolve problems – small disputes to large, societal problems."

"[The book] started to get under my skin, changing my perception of what I would normally see, and what might be really there. Opening a new awareness. . . . This is how we can learn to resonate and interact with what is there and understand the choices we have to step in or stay out constantly."

"I think what you wrote is so cool -- and so practical, too. I loved the clear explanations, clear directions, fun thinking spaces to work in, and how you put together the material."

"I have started reading your book and my initial sense is that it reads very well, like a story as I would expect. I am pulled into the narrative from the outset..."

"It’s a beautiful book, simple and complex in the best way, and I expect to spend a lot of time with it."

"I love your writing style. It is easy to read and fun. My favorite parts are the examples and stories."

"I love this book very much because as you said you have provided a lot of wisdom to work in the zone of uncertainty!"

"[The book] has immediately and utterly shifted my thinking from stuck somewhere in a polarity/interdependent pair, to thinking-space and dynamics. I find the thinking spaces a clever, generative way of working with things that are often viewed as polarities. It invites and enables a coherent and dynamic story to be told."

"I like the introduction of the spaces of agency and interaction, and the collaborative inquiry method for negotiating meaning and seeking possible next actions."

"I got delightfully lost in the book. Your erudition will seed many a reading adventure in my future."

"Very picaresque and I loved everything I read."

"It brought up some interesting ideas, and helped me think about thinking."

"You have created the perfect book for me in this moment. Every time I sat down to read it, it was like fine dining. To gulp it, or to have another helping directly after a first, would have been unthinkable. So I took my time."

Confluence Errata and Addenda

Nothing to see here -- yet.

If you notice an error in the book, send me an email at

Confluence Media Resources

Articles and reviews

Date Description Where
June 2021 Tatiana Feitosa Correa Lima and I collaborated on an article about Confluence for LinkedIn. Tatiana is the Brazil leader at the Business Agility Institute. On LinkedIn

Do you write book reviews? Would you like me to send you a copy of the book to review? Drop me a note at


Date Description Where
Coming soon...

Would you like to interview me? Do you have a podcast or newsletter? I'm interested. Drop me a note at

Interview topics:

  • Where Confluence came from, why I wrote it, and how I hope people will use it
  • How organization and self-organization intermingle and interact
  • How thinking about the ways in which organization and self-organization flow together can help your community or organization
  • Thinking spaces as sense-making and meaning-making tools
  • Complexity, ecology, stories, and society

Book information


Kurtz, C. F. 2021. Confluence: Tools for Thinking about How Organized Plans and Self-organized Patterns Flow Together. 316 pp. Kurtz-Fernhout Publishing.

ISBNs: 978-0-9913694-1-6 (printed book), 978-0-9913694-2-3 (Kindle book).

Key words: families, groups, communities, organizations, decision support, facilitation, sensemaking, brainstorming, education, conflict resolution, community organizing, future planning, self-organization, complexity, emergence.

Copy-paste book description

Confluence is a book about working with complex, emergent patterns as they truly exist in human life: intermingled with intentional, organized actions. The book lays out seven thinking tools designed to help individuals and groups make sense of complex-and-complicated situations, think about how things got to be the way they are, weigh options, consider risks and opportunities, and understand differing points of view.

Copy-paste author bio

Cynthia Kurtz is an independent consultant, researcher, author, and software developer. Throughout her career, she has been fascinated by the many ways in which organization (intentional plans) and self-organization (emergent patterns) intermingle and interact.

Cynthia started out as an animal behaviorist, then learned to write software, then discovered organizational and community narrative. Since 1999, she has consulted on over 100 participatory narrative projects for a variety of government agencies and for-profit and non-profit corporations. Her 2014 book Working with Stories is widely considered a useful resource.

You can also look at the bio section of

Downloadable author photo

Cynthia Kurtz photo


Send me an email at


See the Printables page.

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