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David Grove - Emergent Knowledge and Six Degrees to Freedom

Background Information

Emergent Knowledge is a therapeutic methodology, developed by David J Grove (1950-2008), a New Zealand therapist. It extends David Grove's earlier work and ideas on Clean Language, in which a facilitator, coach, counsellor or therapist is emphatically neutral in the process. All inputs from the facilitator are free of bias and influence; the process is 'Clean' - free of contamination - hence the terminology.

While initially used in clinical therapy (David Grove's primary experience) Emergent Knowledge offers helpful techniques to all who work closely and helpfully with others - for example coaches, counsellors, caring leaders and managers and so on.

  • As with Clean Language, this is aligned with modern 'enabling', empathy, self-directed learning, as opposed to old-style 'manipulative' (conscious or unconscious) methods of influence and persuasion and the projection of the facilitator's self-interest. Thus, Emergent Knowledge helps people find their own way forward, free from influence or interpretation by the facilitator (or coach, counsellor, etc).

The process taps into the subject's (person being helped) own intuition. Grove said that intuition is the 'primary guide' of the process. Therefore to some people, the concept will seem very different from the conventional or logical 'taught' approach to problem-solving and personal change.

  • Grove's unconventional methodologies arose because conventional processes for personal change often fail. The traditional linear (straight-line to get from A to B) approach for achieving aims and goals can work well when there are no emotional obstacles, but life is not always so simple. While Grove's ideas can be effective for achieving goals in all cases, they provide a fascinating alternative where attitude or feelings are big obstacles and cannot be addressed conventionally.
  • Emergent Knowledge techniques certainly promote and are consistent with individual empowerment. For example, it fits well with Y-Theory philosophy - encouraging and enabling individual growth, instead of old-fashioned imposed or instructed direction.

Traditional management and training usually entail imposition and direction from the manager/trainer/coach, resulting in the 'coachee' being led and strongly influenced, rather than finding his/her own way towards greater self-fulfilment and expression. In the modern age, people seek and respond better to methods which offer genuine personal growth. In this respect, Grove's concept is aligned well with today's progressive thinking for working with and helping others.

The Development of the Emergent Knowledge Concept

The Concept of Clean Space

David Grove initially developed the Clean Language methodology while working with traumatic memory cases during the 1980s. He discovered that patients (typically Vietnam veterans or victims of child abuse) would often speak in metaphor (expressing something using a different concept or image) to describe their experience and that the most effective way of resolving their trauma was to encourage exploration of these metaphors with the least possible interference from the therapist.

  • The term 'Clean' reflected that the patient's experience and reactions were not contaminated by the therapist.
  • Grove went on to develop the linguistic (language-based) concept of Clean Language into a spatial one, which he called 'Clean Space'. Clean Space literally involved the subject (patient) moving around the room.

Grove found that subjects would discover new self-knowledge in different positions within or sometimes outside of the room (even at times in the car-park) and that they seemed to know instinctively which space would enable them to do this.

David Grove developed this 'Clean Space' work into his Emergent Knowledge concept.

Grove used the symbol ΣK to represent Emergent Knowledge.

  • Σ is the Greek symbol for Sigma (equating to the English X). This symbol is used in mathematical summation, signifying a total, and also to signify a language set.
  • It is apt that the ΣK symbol refers to the summation of a person's knowledge, where all together a new understanding can emerge.

Clean Space Experiment

Try a quick 'Clean Space' experiment.. Go stand on a chair in the corner of the room. Do things start to look and feel different? If so you've just demonstrated how we think differently when we adopt a completely different physical position...

Emergent Knowledge for Coaching and Counselling

In 2004, Carol Wilson, who contributed the technical content for this explanation, began assisting David Grove's development of the Emergent Knowledge concept, significantly for applications outside of therapy - for example in coaching and counselling - so that the techniques may be used by coaches and trainers without clinical or therapeutic qualifications.

In this respect, Emergent Knowledge is similar to other methodologies originating in clinical work and subsequently adapted for wider use in management, training, coaching, counselling and so on.

  • David Grove commonly drew on various knowledge sources to progress his work. This combines principles from the broader science/philosophy of Emergence, the theory of Six Degrees of Separation, Chaos Theory and his own Clean Language and Clean Space principles.

Emergence as a science or philosophy has been studied and written about for thousands of years. It essentially concerns the way systems (societies particularly) organise themselves over time.

It's a way of looking at how systems evolve. For example:

  • In his book ' Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software ', Steven Johnson provides the example of how ant colonies are formed in a logical way, acting as a collective, whereby the system itself determines patterns of successful structure/organisation progressively over time.
  • Human societies evolve or 'Emerge' in similar ways. There is no master-plan. There is an adaptation over time, in which the society develops, often by trial and error, rather than following a specified plan.
  • From a more technical viewpoint, Johnson suggests, the way Google's search algorithms have developed over time, heavily dependent on responses and reactions from the worldwide web, is an example of Emergent scientific development.

The principle of Emergence contains a strong element of interaction with and adaptation to a wider system - in other words, the sense of something progressively refining and developing by 'learning' from countless interactions with a large surrounding environment.

This philosophical underpinning is significant in Grove's theory, and how to understand it. Cybernetics is another way to look at Emergence, and helps explain how and why Emergent development is so effective.


These statements by David Grove help convey how the man himself saw the Emergent Knowledge methodology.

Note the spiritual quality of the language. The ethos is radically different to traditional goal-planning and task-driven personal development.

  • "Emergent Knowledge is an information centered process developed as a theory of self-discovery, to facilitate an individual's journey into the inner landscapes of mind, body and soul. This information contains knowledge which, when drawn on, provides a solution to whatever problems have been identified. This knowledge or wisdom resides in the inner world of the individual and can be used to resolve life's challenges or problems." (David Grove, 2005)

  • "Emergence creates boundary conditions by laying the problem out in space and engages the individual's intuition as the primary guide to finding a solution. The facilitator stands outside of this process and does not add, comment, discuss or analyse any of the subject's content [the person's experiences, thoughts, feelings, etc]. The facilitator is engaged at the 'operating systems' level, asking a series of questions several times over, independent of the content offered by the replies of the subject [person]. Emergent Knowledge holds that the expression that is inherent in the nature of the problem also contains everything that is necessary for its solution. Conventional knowledge moves you from A to B and is goal oriented: Emergent Knowledge changes both the nature of the person at A and the nature at the problem or goal at B, such that, to a new world order, getting from A to B is irrelevant." (David Grove, 2005 - the diagram below clarifies the meaning of A and B, etc.)

  • "An emergent solution is one that is evidenced by a natural state of being in which mind, body, soul and spirit are of one accord, allowing the unexpressed shadow side of knowledge to have equal congress with the socially acceptable expression of the problem. When completed, an Emergent Knowledge solution has a natural and congruent fit for the subject and does not require the physiology of effort, such as practice, reinforcement or dint of will to maintain the solution." (David Grove, 2004)

Diagram of Emergent Knowledge Theory

Below is a simple diagram representation of the theory.

A = person. B = aim. C = gap/journey. D = external factors. F = facilitator/coach. ΣK = Emergent Knowledge.

emergent knowledge diagram

  • A is the subject (coachee, etc) and his/her starting position.
  • B is what the subject wants to achieve, or where he/she wants to be (the object or aim).
  • C is the space between the subject and his/her aim (the journey).
  • D is all the external factors beyond the control of the subject - outside the subject, the aim and journey.
  • F is the facilitator (or coach or helper) - outside of the process and all content/experience - enabling, neutral, and 'Clean'.
  • ΣK is Emergent Knowledge - which arises from anywhere except A (and F) because A equates to the conscious mind, whereas the process generates knowledge from the unconscious.

In more detail:

  1. A is the subject - this is the person being helped. He/she can be a coachee, a trainee, student, patient, subordinate - depending on the circumstances. Grove's primary interest was clinical, but the model, as with many other methodologies initially developed in clinical situations, is now applicable widely in counselling and coaching.
  2. B is the aim or goal or where the person wants to be. Goals can be various things - a personal change, an achievement, a change of feeling or attitude; a change of situation. A remedy or resolution; or an improvement or fulfilment of an opportunity. By the flexible nature of the model, the aim can be anything that the person wants to achieve, and especially something that is emotionally challenging.
  3. F is the facilitator, outside of the process. Obviously the facilitator is not totally removed from the process since the process would not happen otherwise. The point is that the facilitator is enabling a 'Clean' process - free of influence, bias, 'contamination' - from the facilitator. A facilitator can be a coach, a boss, a teacher, potentially a parent where neutral support is required.
  4. C is whatever lies between the person and the aim. Here typically resistance is built from habits, memories, previous unsuccessful experiences, fear and other obstacles. Intriguingly the C area - perceived by many people as an unbridgeable gap - also usually contains hidden 'resources' (ideas, learning, connections, anything), awaiting discovery or rediscovery, which can help the person to reach his/her aim.
  5. ΣK represents Emergent Knowledge. The arrows in the diagram show the areas where knowledge can emerge. Note that Emergent Knowledge does not come from the conscious mind of the subject (coachee, the person being helped). An essential aspect of the methodology is the emergence of knowledge from the unconscious. The conscious mind - a person's normal position - tends to be the source of resistance and obstacles. These methods focus elsewhere, opening new possibilities and uncovering unknown obstacles, rather than reinforcing unsuccessful habits and conditioning, which tend to prevent many people from even starting a new journey.

Conventional thinking tends to address known obstacles. Emergent Knowledge tackles the unknown obstacles; coaching the goal at B, the gap in C, and the outside influences in D, rather than the subject (person) at A directly.

Six Degrees to Freedom

David Grove's Six Degrees to Freedom is an important element within the Emergent Knowledge model. In developing Six Degrees to Freedom, Grove drew inspiration from the famous 'Six Degrees of Separation' theory.

Background Information

  • The Six Degrees of Separation theory is generally attributed to American social psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933-84).
  • Milgram's theory - first published in 1967 as the 'Small World Problem' - basically stated that every person in the world is no more than six personal connections from anyone else in the world.
  • Milgram's 'Small World' Theory', and the more common term, Six Degrees of Separation, were subsequently popularised by various books, and at least one play and a film. Popularity was fuelled also by the parlour/trivia game 'Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon' (based on a similar principle, in which players attempt to connect other actors with Kevin Bacon via six or fewer connections).
  • The precise origins of the Six Degrees of Separation are complex, and not especially relevant to Grove's work. That said, in summary: Milgram's research coincided and/or collaborated with similar studies in the mid-late 1900s, notably Michael Gurevich, Ithiel de Sola Pool, and Manfred Kochen. Their perspective in this context was social networks, which has long fascinated sociologists - way before the internet. You might also see Six Degrees of Separation referred to as the Small World Phenomenon, or Small World Experiment, and Grove later used the terminology 'Small World' in his own Six Degrees theory.

Of more significance is that in the Six Degrees of Separation (or Small World) theory, links between people are commonly very unlikely or surprising. Connections tend not to be predictable and linear (straight line). Fascinated and inspired by this, David Grove translated Milgram et al.'s Six Degrees of Separation theory into a questioning process within Emergent Knowledge, which he termed 'Six Degrees to Freedom'.

Grove's Six Degrees to Freedom methodology acts to create a 'small network' of moves enable a subject (person) to reach his/her goal more quickly and with less effort than taking the 'obvious' route (which tends to be linear and conventional - a straight line, conceived by conscious, habitual or conditioned thinking).

6D2F Diagram

Grove's Six Degrees to Freedom approach, compared with conventional goal-planning thinking.

emergent knowledge diagram

Sometimes the strongest connections are made through the most obscure links.

Emergent Knowledge and Six Degrees to Freedom Approach Questions

The Six Degrees approach shows itself in Emergent Knowledge questioning by asking approximately six iterant (repeating but slightly different each time) questions, for example:

  • "Can you move to a space which knows about this?"
  • "And what do you know from that space there?"
  • "And can you find another space which knows about that?"
  • "And what do you know from that space?"
  • "And is there another space which knows about this?"
  • "And what do you know from that space?"

Techniques - Six Degree to Freedom

In addition to the Six Degrees to Freedom questioning method, David Grove defined several new techniques for applying the methodology, here firstly in summary, and afterwards in more detail:

Name Function
Clean Start To ensure that the subject (person) and the goal are in the best places from which to emerge knowledge.
Clean Pronouns For the subject (person) to understand that there is more than one self that may respond in any situation.
Clean Time To re-align or re-scale the subject's (person's) internal time signature to match that of his or her current reality.
Clean Hieroglyphics To emerge knowledge through questioning about the subject's (person) hand-writing of his/her insights, goal, life's purpose, etc.
Clean History of Goals To emerge knowledge which may have been lost when the subject was deflected from their life's congruent (more natural) purpose.
Clean Scanning To ensure that the subject is experiencing the knowledge exercise that will be most beneficial.
Clean Action Space To tie the new knowledge and energy into tangible changes which will move the subject (person) forward.
Clean Scapes To provide clarity using pictures drawn by the subject (person).
Clean Networks To enable the subject (person) to access knowledge that had seemed lost. (Clean Networks was originally developed as the 'Clean Space' method.)
Clean Spinning To emerge knowledge which may be uncovered when the subject faces different directions.
Clean Aid For when/if the subject (person) crosses a boundary into the realms of therapy, or moves to a negative space which produces a difficult emotional reaction.

Clean Start

The facilitator asks the subject (person) to find a representation of his/her goal, for example by writing it on a sticky-note, or choosing an object in the room to represent it. The facilitator then asks a set of questions to ensure that the subject and the goal is in the best places from which to emerge knowledge.

For example:

  • "Is the goal at the right height?"
  • "Are you at the right height?"

Clean Pronouns

For the subject to understand that there is more than oneself that may respond in any situation. The different forms of the questions address these different selves, some of which may be parts of the subject's psychological system which have become disassociated at some point in their lives. Example questions are:

  • "When you say 'I', where is your 'I'? Is it inside you, behind, in front of, outside you?.."

The questions are asked of each pronoun: I, me, myself, and you.

Clean Time

To re-align or re-scale the subject's (person's) internal time signature to match that of his/her current reality. People sometimes become trapped in time-frames of events which traumatised them long ago - for example the expression:

  • "He has a mental age of three.."

This exercise dissolves these limits and releases the trapped knowledge and energy back to the subject.

Clean Hieroglyphs

In this process the subject (person) is encouraged to write down his/her insights, or goal, or life's purpose, on a piece of paper.

Then the facilitator asks questions about the words, letters or even the spaces between the words and letters, for example:

  • "And are there any interesting letters on that paper?"
  • "And what does that (letter S) know?"
  • "And what words could there be before those words?"

Clean History of Goals

To emerge knowledge which may have been lost when the subject (person) was deflected from his/her life's congruent (true, natural) purpose.

Many people say that they have a sense that their lives have a 'pathway', if only they could find out what it is.

  • This exercises takes people back to the state when their own natural authentic pathway may have been diverted by events, perhaps at a very young age, and dissolves the limitations of this, so that they can move forward more confidently on the 'easy path' - using their own natural talents to the full.
  • Carol gives the example of hearing a client say (during a session with Grove) "My mother married him, not me!" The woman had just come to the realisation that her own will had been so subverted to that of her mother, that she made crucial life decisions, such as choosing a husband, from her mother's perspective, because she had lost touch with her own.

Clean Scanning

  • Simply, to ensure that the subject is experiencing the exercise that will be most beneficial.

Clean Action Space

To tie the new knowledge and energy into tangible changes which will move the subject forward. As always in Clean processes, this is entirely led by the subject (person), facilitated by Clean questions from the facilitator, for example:

  • "Is there a space which knows what action you want to take?"
  • "And what do you know from that space there?"
  • "What's the first action you know you can take from that space there?"
  • "And how will you do that?"

Clean Scapes

In this exercise, the facilitator asks the subject to draw his/her answers.

  • Some people find it easier and more productive to respond by drawing than expressing their answers in words.

Clean Scapes can be incorporated into any of the exercises from time to time, so the subject can use words and images together.

Clean Networks

As we move through life we accumulate layers of knowledge. Some layers become separated through time, or circumstances, or disturbing experiences. When the subject (person) physically moves to a different physical space, he/she is often able to access knowledge that had seemed lost.

  • An example of this is the way we can sometimes find a solution to a problem by going for a walk, and in the saying 'A change is as good as a rest'.

This question used constantly during Grove's spatial exercises:

  • "And what do you know from that space there?"

This enables the subject to identify, 'download' pockets of knowledge which surface when the subject moves to a different space in the room.

As mentioned above, this was the first of the Emergent Knowledge exercises to be developed and was originally called 'Clean Space'.

Clean Spinning

In this exercise, the facilitator asks the subject (person) to face different directions, for example:

  • "Turn to face a direction that knows about that"
  • "And what do you know from that direction?"

The process emerges knowledge which may be uncovered when the subject faces (or 'spins to') different directions.

Clean Aid

For when/if the subject (person) crosses a boundary into the realms of therapy, or moves to a negative space which produces a difficult emotional reaction.

As these processes tap into the unconscious mind, there may be times when the subject has a strong emotional reaction.

Clean Aid provides a series of questions which will help the subject return to safer emotional ground, for example:

  • "Is there a space that would like you to move to it?"
  • "And what would you like to have happen?"

The latter question parallels solution-focused questions in coaching, which tend to shrink the problem and give the subject (person) energy and motivation to deal with it.

Relevance to Coaching and Counselling

The underpinning principles of Emergent Knowledge align well with other positive communications concepts.

Notably these principles are:

  • Being 'Clean' - staying out of the coachee's way and focusing on the coachee's agenda
  • Following the coachee in tone and pace and reflecting back the coachee's own words and gestures
  • Focusing on the solution.

David Grove's methods are particularly useful in addressing:

  • Unhelpful repeating behaviour patterns
  • Fears, for example of public speaking
  • Blocks, for example, uncontrolled temper.

David Grove's Emergent Knowledge and related 'Clean' processes are entirely led by the subject (the person being helped, or 'coachee'). The facilitator does not 'contaminate' the content.

This is not only right and good for people (to determine their own answers and direction) but also, the theory suggests, crucial in making the methodology accessible and deliverable without the need for training in clinical therapy.

The process is 100% client led, so there is no danger of the facilitator causing mental or emotional damage to the subject, which might happen where a therapist is making diagnostic judgements and intervening in the subject's own unconscious processes.


  • Emergent Knowledge fits well with modern ideas about helping and enabling people.
  • Directing and instructing is sometimes necessary to get a simple job done quickly, but it is not a sustainable managing or coaching style for truly developing and getting the best out of others.
  • Emergent Knowledge is potentially a very helpful model in the overall process of working towards positive change with people and organisations.
  • Like Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Transactional Analysis, Emergent Knowledge theory came originally from the world of psychotherapy but is increasingly being used in business situations.
  • As with Clean Language the awareness aspects of it relate strongly to Johari Window theory .
  • Emergent Knowledge is a very modern concept. It aims to help people - not to exploit or benefit the coach/facilitator (other than indirectly through helping another).
  • It therefore naturally relates well to progressive approaches increasingly used by today's enlightened teachers and leaders.


These Emergent Knowledge materials were provided exclusively for Businessballs by Carol Wilson, a UK-based expert, trainer and author in David Grove's methods. Carol Wilson's biography and contact details are below. Carol's help in providing these learning materials is gratefully acknowledged.

  • Small World: Uncovering Nature's Hidden Networks . Mark Buchanan.
  • Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means . Albert-Laszlo Barabasi.
  • Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. Steven Strogatz.
  • Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age . Duncan J Watts.
  • Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software . Steven Johnson.
  • Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness (Princeton 'Studies in Complexity') . Duncan J Watts.
  • Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Howard Rheingold.
  • Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds . Sullivan and Rees.
  • Resolving Traumatic Memories: Metaphors and Symbols in Psychotherapy. Grove and Panzer.
  • Metaphors in Mind. Tompkins and Lawley.
  • The Power of Six: a Six Part Guide to Self Knowledge. Philip Harland.
  • The Life and Work of David Grove: Clean Language and Emergent Knowledge in Coaching and Business . Carol Wilson.

Author: Carol Wilson

Carol Wilson FILM FAC FPSA is a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management, the Association for Coaching, and the Professional Speaking Association, is on the Global Advisory Panel at the Association for Coaching and is a Trustee to the non-profit MOE Foundation, where she designs coaching programmes for underprivileged young people and the African Prisons Project. A multicultural expert, Carol has designed coaching and leadership programmes all over the world for organisations including IKEA, Philip Morris, the BBC, Hilti and NCR, and manages our team of multi-lingual trainers. 

She has won and been nominated for several awards for coaching and writing; she authored “ Performance Coaching, A Complete Guide to Best Practice Coaching and Training ” featuring Forewords by Sir John Whitmore and Sir Richard Branson; she has contributed to 6 books and published over 50 articles. Carol experienced the value of a coaching culture at first hand during a decade working at board level with Sir Richard Branson at Virgin. Later she held board level positions with Island Records, Warner Brothers and Polygram. During this time she signed and developed many famous artists including Sting, The Buzzcocks, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Martha and the Muffins. Since entering the coaching field in 2000 she has studied with thought leaders including Nancy Kline and Tim Gallwey, and collaborated with Sir John Whitmore David Grove. Carol is a keynote speaker at conferences worldwide including The HR Summit Budapest, the Asian Emerging Leaders Summit Hong Kong, Guts for Change Mumbai, Catalyst Australia, HRD London, and the China Executive Coaching Conference Shanghai.

Contact details:

Tel +44 (0) 20 7022 4923


Carol's contribution of these Emergent Knowledge learning materials is gratefully acknowledged.

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© Carol Wilson & Alan Chapman 2009-17