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This paper is an extended exploration of Mead's phrase the emergence of the novel. I describe and characterize emergent systems-complex dynamical systems that display behavior that cannot be predicted from a full and complete description of the component units of the system. Emergence has become an influential concept in contemporary cognitive science [A. Clark (1997) Being there, Cambridge: MIT Press], complexity theory [W. Bechtel & R.C. Richardson (1993) Discovering complexity, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press], artificial life [R.A. Brooks & P. Maes (Eds) (1994) Artificial life IV, Cambridge: MIT Press; C.G. Langton (Ed.) (1994) Artificial life III, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley; C.G. Langton et al. (Eds) (1991) Artificial life II, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley), and robotics [S. Forrest (1991) Emergent computation, Cambridge: MIT Press]. I propose that novelty is a necessary property of emergent systems, and I'll explore a specific kind of emergent system: an improvisational theater ensemble. This is an example of emergence in a small social group, which I call collaborative emergence to emphasize several important contrasts with other complex systems that manifest emergence, such as connectionist networks and Alife simulations.