Further Exploring the Contrast Between a Mechanical and a Living Worldview/Paradigm with Jason Gerhardt (E67)

Hey all. I have been so energised from the spirit and content of comments on my last post/episode. Not to mention the private messages coming through. Then Jason reached out and helped me take it up a notch in this delightful dialogue. A dialogue sparked by how the last post/episode fed into some of his latest adventures and insights.

Enjoy, do let me know what this stirs up or brings alive inside of you (in the comments or a message through the contact form). Then catch you all in part two of the talking points series – can’t wait!

Also, I have a few questions for you to ponder. Deep down, which image best represents the lens you look through and hence the world you see? How sure are you about this?

This:

or this:

ps. One little note of clarity is that I’ve personally been referring to mechanical and living worldviews (of which there are others, I just happen to be focusing on these two right now). Then I have been using the word paradigm to refer to the four levels of paradigm Carol Sanford has previously shared with us. I wanted to acknowledge that in this dialogue we use the words paradigms and worldviews more loosely where when mechanistic paradigm is spoken of this is exactly the same as the mechanistic worldview I’ve been talking about in recent and upcoming posts.

Building Your Permaculture Property: Part One – On Worldviews and Metaphors

Making Permaculture Stronger’s core focus is regenerating permaculture design process together.

By this, I mean the deep and hard work of a) honing in on permaculture’s essential core, and b) sourcing and developing design process understandings from, and in alignment with, that place.

A necessary aspect of this work is developing new material (ideas, metaphors, diagrams, examples, practices etc). An equally necessary aspect is making space for this new material by finding and letting go of material that does not align or belong.

I believe this work is like an acupuncture point essential to the development of permaculture’s radical, needed and enormous potential. I also believe that this work, which is ours, as permaculturalists, to do, has barely begun.

This series of three blog posts and corresponding podcast episodes is a heart-felt invitation into this kind of work. Where I want to be clear for you, and in within myself, that I am not writing this stuff as any kind of expert or person-with-the-answers.

While I have a couple of tentative conclusions and perspectives, I mainly have a wealth of questions and a passionate commitment to create and hold spaces inside of which this kind of work can happen.

So, let the experiment begin.

This series was prompted by the appearance of an exciting new book into the literature of permaculture design. Its title is Building your Permaculture Property, its authors permaculture teachers and designers Rob Avis, Michelle Avis, and Takota Coen (who is also a commercial farmer).

The book lays out a clear and comprehensive approach to permaculture design process. A process the authors have developed over decades of combined practical experience, both personal and professional. I celebrate the existence of this book and all the hard-won learning that has gone into it.

Furthermore, I believe this book is a profound contribution to exactly the kind of work I have just been describing.1

It is also true that when I initially flipped through it, I felt some big feelings. Feelings that are informing and energising my effort to write these posts. Feelings that part of my current experiment involves me sharing openly here.

  • I felt JOY in the sheer existence of this heart-felt, earnest attempt to advance the clarity and rigour of permaculture design. This work is so needed and such a gaping hole in permaculture that these three wonderful humans have done their very best to help fill. I am still feeling really happy about this as I am at the obvious extent of collaboration between the authors whose different strengths flow into and make the book so much better than any one of them could have made it.
  • I felt ANGER to note a disconnect between the presentation of design process in the book and the design process developments and dialogues I have been involved in though Making Permaculture Stronger. From my perspective seemingly fertile opportunities for cross-pollination have not happened, where, to come to the point, the book includes much material that I have poured a lot of my life-force into arguing does not belong in, or do justice to, permaculture’s design process potential.2 While this anger has since mostly receded, it is still there also.
  • I felt SAD to reflect on the resulting prognosis for permaculture’s evolution, if there are not established systems for pooling and collaboratively crash-testing and co-developing our mutual advances. If every design process book lays out its own take largely in isolation from a larger field of collaborative development.
  • I felt AFRAID, considering my impression of the disconnect, how I might channel these feelings toward engaging with the authors about their work in a positive, constructive way. Afraid of how gaps I perceive between our perspectives might be bridged without bridges being burned! I feel this fear still.
  • Finally, I felt a different kind of ANGER in seeing what seemed to me to be a profusion of superficial endorsements of the book (including my own!) that did not show any depth of engagement with its ideas. This sort of superficial blanket praise appears to be the norm in permaculture and I’m concerned what that means for permaculture’s capacity to be in the game of evolution. If it is all “your ideas are great and my ideas are great and we’re all on the same page, hoorah for permaculture” when, let’s face it, at least some of our ideas aren’t that great and, if you actually open the book, we are not all on the exact same page!!

Well this is a first for Making Permaculture Stronger, publicly sharing my feelings ahead of my thoughts.

Indeed, in the last few months I have had to do a lot of work on myself to get to the point where I am capable of bringing the energy I want to bring to this whole engagement. I feel like I am there, and I can now do this, so long as I keep a close eye on myself as I go along. Let us see how we go. Maybe you can keep a close eye on me also and enlighten me when I get off track.

To recap something I said above but now in relation to this specific book, I want to stress that:

  • This is nothing to do with who is wrong and who is right
  • This is everything to do with inviting the authors and anyone in the entire permaculture community into a different kind of dialogue where the aim is that all parties grow and develop
  • This dialogue requires that we find civil and constructive ways of not brushing over but diving directly into our differences in design process understandings, in a way that lets us come through these into the realm of fresh insights and discoveries

Okay, enough pretext, feelings included. Let us dive into the first of three talking points arising for me as I engage with this wonderful contribution to permaculture’s evolution.

Talking Point One – Worldviews and Metaphors

While I am no expert in either worldviews or metaphors, together I find them such an interesting and important topic.

In particular, I am fascinated by the metaphors3 we use when trying to make permaculture design accessible. Initially to ourselves. Then to others.

Aside from the specific idea or process we use a particular metaphor to convey, we can zoom out and pay attention to the kinds or categories of metaphor we use.

These kinds or categories I find powerful windows into the worldview we literally view the world from and through. We can then ask whether the worldview we are working from is the best suited to the context of its application. Where, as soon as the worldview changes, the (downstream)4 metaphors all change too.

Before coming back to Building your Permaculture Property, I want to share a distinction between two of the various worldviews available to us.5 I will call these a mechanical or mechanistic worldview and a living worldview. Again, I am sharing my limited current understanding here, where I invite crash testing and clarification of everything I say.

Mechanistic Worldview

In this worldview we view things as if they were mechanisms or machines. As makes sense when working with a clock, computer, or billiard table, this worldview has us break things down into their component parts, examine these parts in isolation, then reassemble them to build up an understanding of the whole.6

Our modern lives are throughly infused with machines that were built by assembling mass produced near-identical components. Most of us interface directly with hundreds (and indirectly with hundreds of thousands) of machines every day. As I understand it, the mechanistic worldview appropriate to understanding and working with these machines has become our default way of seeing almost everything.7

It is fascinating to me how a certain subset of objects (machines) have emerged from within the living processes of Earth (including those subprocesses we call human) and we have then separated out the machines to hold them up as an interpretive lens to understand the life forces that birthed them! Even though I’ve been aware of the mechanistic world view for a while, it is still deeply embedded within me, where I have observed a strong bias toward identifying the relevant parts within any situation and then assembling or reassembling them into more functional configurations.

Living Worldview

In a living worldview, things are seen as alive and as ebbing and flowing organisms (rather than dead machines). Rather than treating wholes as if they were entities assembled from pre-existing parts, a living worldview sees such ‘parts’ as organs which have unfolded or emerged from pre-existing wholes, as the feet and lungs of a frog have emerged from the growth of the frog as a whole.

Here we cannot separate out the different parts, or organs, without killing the frog (or whatever it is).

Instead, the approach to understanding is immersing in the living complexity of the whole and gradually developing an affinity or kinship with it.

As I see it, such a living worldview has more affinity with any indigenous worldview or way of life than does the mechanistic worldview.

Which One is Right?

While I’m sure we can agree they are different, neither a mechanistic or living worldview is inherently right or wrong. They both have their place and their value.

If we are designing or building or operating or fixing a machine, a mechanistic worldview makes more sense than a living worldview.

If, by contrast, we are engaging with a plant, child, or ecology, a living worldview will likely serve us better than a mechanistic one.

It is a matter of evolving our capacity to pay attention to and then engage with the worldview most appropriate to the context in which we are working.8

By its nature, permaculture must engage with both worldviews. It deals with both living beings (such as trees) and with machines (such as bulldozers). The question is at what levels and in what situations is each worldview most appropriate?

Metaphors

I now want to suggest a hypothesis: The worldview we are operating from will unconsciously dictate the metaphors we choose to communicate our ideas.

If we are operating from a mechanistic worldview, our metaphors will be sourced from the world of machines.

If we are operating from a living worldview, our metaphors will be sourced from the world of life.

Again, I welcome any and all perspectives on this hypothesis.

The Metaphors in Building your Permaculture Property

Let us now consider the choice of metaphors in Building Your Permaculture Property, asking:

  1. Are they sourced from the world of machines (and hence, if the hypothesis holds, from a mechanistic worldview) or from the world of life (and hence a living worldview)?
  2. To what extent is that worldview the best suited to the context of its application?

I’ll mention first that in the book’s treatment of design process, I found a clear example of a metaphor sourced from the living world being used to shed light on the dynamics of healthy design process. In the author’s words:

Figure 2.3 shows how a watershed gathers individual drops of water into larger and larger channels starting with raindrops, then sheet flow, before going to rills, runnels, creeks, streams, and then the river, until eventually ending in a delta at the edge of a lake or ocean. The diagnosis and design steps function in the same way. In Step 2: Diagnose, our goal is to create a filestream (pun intended), with the function of converting the torrential downpour of information into appropriately compartmentalized physical or digital file folders. These file folders serve the same function as dams, swales, subsoiling, and gabions to channel and store information into appropriate steam tributaries that correspond to the eleven property resources.

Once these eleven tributaries begin filling with information, they will inevitably flow downstream and deposit themselves as design ideas that start with broad brushstrokes down to minute details, or what David Holmgren refers to as “design from patterns to details.” The way that I like to think about this analogy is that the river is diagnosis and the delta is design (more on design in the next chapter).

As soon as I started to mimic the dendritic branching pattern of a watershed to gather and distribute information, my obsession about learning everything there was to know about permaculture vanished. I stopped bingeing on information memorization. This was because I started to notice that the amount of information falling into the catchment of my mind, just like the amount of precipitation falling in a watershed, can exceed the capacity of the filestream or water channels. And when this happened, it was inevitable that the flow of data or rain would burst its banks and flood onto my physical or digital desktop as unfiled resources. In other words, information, no matter how good the quality, is only as good as your ability to put it to productive use.

That being said, you don’t want a drought of information either, because the speed and quality of your design insights are directly proportional to the quantity and quality of your data; poor information yields poor design. You don’t want torrential downpours of data; you want a slow and steady drizzle that keeps pace with the evolution of your filestream. You will also find that just as an older watershed that contains high-carbon soils and deep-rooted vegetation can handle more rain and even the occasional flash flood, a more established filestream can better slow, spread, and sink the occasional higher flows of information.


Building Your Permaculture Property, pages 83-84

This is a great example. The authors are using something from the living world (a watershed) to ‘shed’ light on an aspect of permaculture design process. Without getting into any further details,9 according to my earlier logic, this suggests that the authors are, at least in part, oriented toward, and operating from a living world view.

I say “at least in part,” given that the majority of additional metaphors illustrated in the book are mechanical in nature.

Whether one domino hitting another (p. 3), navigating through a field of landmines (p. 61), disarming bombs (p. 63), directing a small ball through a maze using pullies and dials (p. 88), operating a pinball machine (p. 132), or shooting birdshot, buckshot, or a slug through a shotgun or using a bazooka (p. 142), mechanical/machine metaphors are used repeatedly to explain core ideas and aspects of permaculture design process. The two most central metaphors used to illustrate the dynamics of permaculture design process as understood by the authors are a ball-in-the-maze machine and a pinball machine:

I want to note here that this tendency to pull in machine metaphors when sharing about permaculture design is in no way unique in the permaculture literature.10 I also want to emphasise that in my opinion, all these mechanical metaphors are used brilliantly to make their target points with clarity. Yet, if what I shared above is valid, the predominance of mechanical metaphors indicates that, despite clear indications of a living world view in the living metaphor I shared, the centre of gravity of the book is a mechanistic worldview and its associated mechanical metaphors.

As I emphasised earlier, there is nothing wrong with this worldview when used in its relevant context of application – namely the world of machines. However, it is my sense that the relevant context for permaculture design process as a whole is not the world of machines, but is the world of life. Or, at the very least, I feel it would be a worthwhile experiment to try and articulate permaculture design process from within a living worldview, using mostly if not entirely living metaphors.

Which brings me to a set of questions around my first talking point:

  • I find it interesting that in permaculture we surprisingly often use machine examples to understand non-machine processes, don’t you?
  • As permaculture designers, teachers and authors, how much attention are we paying to the metaphors (and similes, analogies etc) we use?
  • How much attention ought we be paying to the metaphors we use?
  • Do the metaphors we choose flow from and hence reveal the worldview we default to?
  • What do you think about this?
  • What do you feel about this?
  • Does this stuff even matter?
  • Is it possible to make the points we want to make in a permaculture design context using living metaphors?
  • Is our audience so deeply steeped in the mechanistic worldview (and the techno-sphere it has enabled) that we must prioritise machine metaphors in order to stay accessible?

I’d be curious to hear how these questions land for you, and I am grateful to Rob, Takota and Michelle for inadvertently prompting me to ask them. Please talk to me in the comments below or by sending me a message.

We’ll look at another core pattern in the book, and raise an associated talking point, in Part Two.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Takota Coen for reviewing a draft and making suggestions that helped me more accurately represent the book (which is not to say I’ve succeeded!), Jon Buttery and Beck Rafferty from the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community for their suggestions and James Andrews for helping me clean up the overall energy of this piece.

Endnotes

On honouring Indigenous Tradition, Ancestors, Spirit and Intuition in our Permaculture Design Processes with Laura Adams

In this episode we explore part of what it means, or might mean, to bring indigenous perspectives to permaculture design with Laura Adams from Seven Winds LLC in Maryland, USA. This episode started with an email from Laura sharing some thoughts on the last episode:

Greetings Dan,I have been listening to your podcast with great interest over the last several months whilst taking part in Geoff Lawton’s online PDC.  (Although I have been exploring permaculture for many years) I am also a supporter of and very excited about the Reading Landscape Film, congratulations on making the goal.  I was prompted to send this note when I heard the most recent podcast you released regarding a conversation with your core group about systems thinking and more.  In that podcast you encouraged your listeners to hit pause and answer the question(s) themselves prior to continuing to passively listen which led me to engage with the conversation more actively and I thought there may be a value in sharing a perspective.

I agree with you that when you prod systems thinking, it quickly dissolves back to parts, and I believe this is because it evolved from parts thinking (or mechanistic thinking) in the first place. However generative or regenerative thinking is totally different (until the word gets co-opted). I come at permaculture from the perspective of a cultural and spiritual root which is Kongo-Taino out of the Caribbean. When we look at something (be it a person, place, river, mountain, event), the first thing we acknowledge is that it is “Un Misterios” (effectively a spirit) and we know that we cannot possibly understand it fully and if we pull it into its parts, the essence of it (the spirit) will disappear on us. The mode of approach is one of listening and sensing and letting it tell us about itself, knowing that this process could be indefinite. Over time that place (or person, animal, what have you) slowly reveals different aspects or understandings of itself to us, if we continue to pay attention (or “follow the trail”).

For sake of illustration, let’s say we are talking about a particular land, it could be a “property” a landowner has purchased. Your typical permaculture designer is going to go in and analyze it for water, access, structures and the various desires the landowner expresses interest in. This is a big improvement on blindly going in a throwing structures and access wherever. However, the land itself has its own spirit, as does everyone who lives on it. I really do not see that permaculture as taught even tries to understand this. The reason is simple, it cannot be measured, easily seen, or “proven”. This is where Indigenous or Re-indigenized culture clashes with Permaculture. I understand that people want to shy away from terms that cannot fully be defined such as “spirit” (or even essence). However geometry is built upon three undefined terms- a point, line and plane.  I do understand why permaculture teachers do not want to get into these waters, (there would be a big backlash and accusations of pseudoscience). Yet, permaculture wants to cosy up with Indigenous cultures (and it should do this to reach its potential). However, if you do want to cosy up with Indigenous cultures, then you have to be ready to see life as infinite worlds within worlds, each one essentially Un Misterios.

Keep up the good work!

Laura 
Seven Winds LLC

To which I replied:

Laura thank you so much for your beautiful email where everything you share resonates with and inspires me deeply. Isn’t it such a muddle how we find ourselves trying to force the deep beautiful mysterious and sacred essence-spirit of a place into our puny little mechanical containers and how in doing so we cut ourselves off from perhaps the most deeply nourishing and soul-warming energies there are to access as a human being (namely relaxing back into the larger pattern of life).
Un Misterios. Love it.

Two questions. First, would you consider sharing your words as a comment on the shownotes – I want to welcome reflections such as these (which in part help me feel less alone and crazy) on the site, and hope they will in turn prompt related reflections from others. Second, would you be up for getting on a call about this stuff some time that we record toward the possibility of feeding into a future episode?

Warmly, to stay in touch, and thank you again for reaching out and for supporting the Reading Landscape film!

Dan 

Luckily for me Laura agreed to a chat and so we booked in and recorded what became this episode. Afterward Laura then followed up with this comment:

Dan, It was lovely chatting with you earlier this week. Our conversation sparked some further pondering on the essence of design not just for utilitarian purposes but as a pathway to deeper connection to the heart of life. I respect that you have the courage to put yourself out there as a professional in this regard, as to an extent it is a lot easier to keep one’s profession and one’s personal design practice separate out of concern that one’s personal design practice will not be accepted professionally. My personal design practice is significantly different from my professional one, as I prefer allowing the design to evolve spontaneously within the natural rhythm of action- contemplation (reflection)-action… rather than plan it out on paper. 

Attached you will see two photos. The first is a African American cemetery circa 1850 on our lane. The spiky plant around the grave markers is Yucca filamentosa (Spanish Bayonet). It was planted for protection and connects to Bantu use of Draceana spp -used for the same purposes of protection and marking entrances and boundaries. The cemetery is the boundary between life and death and the Yucca simultaneously marks this important boundary. 

The second photo is of my husband’s [Jose Running Water Centeno] burial mound. Its design began on the day he placed a very large boulder to mark a place he called “Mundo sobre Mundo” (World within Worlds). There is now a small hut right in front of that boulder. Once he was buried, I placed other large boulders which were already in proximity to create the mound itself. The design itself is ever evolving, as elements continue to gather to his mound. Four Yucca (these ones are variegated) plants surround the mound, serving the same purpose as in the old cemetery. 

I believe you are on a wonderful path by choosing to forgo the idea of a “master plan” and embrace an ongoing relationship with your clients and their land. This approach feels a lot more genuine to what I think people want permaculture to be, a pathway back to connection with land and self. I am also well aware that it takes much more creative effort to have an ongoing relationship with clients than a quick in and out. I wanted to share these visuals, as a small contribution to your process and a thank you.

Be well, Laura

Inquiring into Systems Thinking with the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community (E64)

In a world first for this project, this episode shares one of last year’s sessions with the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community.

Huge thanks to Han Kortekaas, Ronella Gomez, Nicholas Franz, Zola Rose, Barry Gibson, Jon Buttery, Arthur Buitelaar, Dan Milne, Byron Birss & Joel Mortimer for co-creating this with me and for their gracious permission to share here. Here are some of us during a more recent session.

Learn more about the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community here.

Below is the section on systems thinking in the book Practical Permaculture by Jessi Bloom & Dave Boehnlein (p. 18) that is mentioned during this episode. This section is viewable as a free preview at google books. Similarly, you can also check out page 20 of Toby Hemenway’s The Permaculture City here if you like.

Reading Landscape with David Holmgren Videos

Hey all. So in this post I want to share some of the videos we’ve been putting together as part of the current fundraising push for the Reading Landscape Film project. Reading landscape (or unpacking the energies of a situation in general) is a foundational skill in healthy design process and I’m happy to be helping bring David Holmgren’s work and abilities with it more into the open. Please consider supporting us!

Meantime I wanted to let you know that while things have been quiet on the surface, a lot of substantial blog posts and podcast episodes are brewing right now so stay tuned for some making permaculture stronger action the likes of which ain’t never been seen (or heard) before.

Best, Dan

Overall project intro
DH on weeds.
‘Reading’ the history of a magnificent tree.
Reading the suburbs.
Seeing landscape as process
An eight-year-old who knows more about his local ecosystem than most adults!

Five Principles of Healthy Design Process with John Carruthers

In this episode my friend John Carruthers shares five insights or principles he’s distilled during five years of developing a 70-acre property in Central Victoria, Australia. It was an honour to act for a part of the journey as what John describes as a ‘robust river guide,’ and I am so thrilled to see John and his partner Rosie in full stewardship of their own process and the beautiful forms that are emerging from it.

Here is the video we mention several times in the chat – thanks to John for permission to share it here.

John also sent these further notes:

a) the deep ripping across the southern half of the property begun this year is an “option value” decision because it’s an excellent BNS (Best Next Step) for almost any other activity thereafter, be it cover-crop pre-pasture, shelter belt tree planting, or agroforestry or silvopasture. It’s a valuable precursor step.

b) The widely-spaced keylined beds in one paddock is where we’ve begun planting oaks, silky oaks, cedar and native pines as a long-term (inter-generational) agroforestry / silvopasture trial. We have planted several hundred this year and forecast planting three times that over a few years. The oaks are being planted from acorns we collected and germinated. This first planting is our BNS before switching focus to the house site early next year.

Also the quote I cited “I count him braver who overcomes his desires, than who conquers his enemies – for the hardest victory is over self” is by Aristotle NOT Socrates – as I may have suggested 🙂

If anyone is interested in connecting with John or in the services of drone pilot and film maker Peter Watts send me a message and I can connect you.

I also tracked down this video of my first visit to Limestone road, which we talk about in the chat too.

and I found this one also:

Finally I am excited to announce that today is the first day of our in-house six week crowd funding campaign for the Reading Landscape Documentary Film project. Come get amongst!

Tyson Yunkaporta on permaculture, systems thinking & the pattern of creation (E62)

It was my pleasure to yarn with Sand Talk author Tyson Yunkaporta on permaculture and much else. Tyson’s perspective complements and contrasts with that of Leah Penniman in the last episode. Please do tell me what you got from the chat in the comments below!

Tyson Yunkaporta

Permaculture isn’t a form of gardening – it’s a method of inquiry about relationships – that’s all it is. And it’s awesome and in that way it’s similar to traditional ecological knowledge from all over the planet and it’s a constantly shifting evolving body of knowledge too, that’s never the same in the same place twice. Love it!

Tyson Yunkaporta

The above quote comes from this talk between Tyson and my friends at the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance:

Also a big shout out to my my three friends Woody, Meg and Patrick who make up Artist as Family who Tyson speaks about in the yarn. Coincidentally Woody is to appear in our upcoming documentary film about reading landscape. To learn more about that project visit the website www.ReadingLandscape.org and either subscribe to the newsletter or donate to get invited to a free project zoom call on July 15, 2021, with David Holmgren, filmmaker Dave Meagher, and myself.

Leah Penniman from Soul Fire Farm on Permaculture, Decolonisation, and Re-Indigenising

It was a deep honour to have Leah Penniman from Soul Fire Farm join me for this conversation. Along with Leah’s beautiful sharing, I was grateful for the feelings the conversation evoked (many of which only emerged when I listened to our chat again afterwards). I feel like I gained some powerful waypoints in navigating the journey back home. A journey I’m sure I’m not alone in craving.

I also appreciated hearing the heartache Leah has around certain patterns she perceives permaculture to be perpetuating. My focus in the conversation was about inviting and engaging with Leah’s perspective. A perspective which comes from her standing outside permaculture and looking in. I would love to hear your perspective in the comments below. What of Leah’s experience of permaculture resonates with your own? What, if anything, doesn’t? What impact, if any, does you listening to this episode have on your journey forward?

Learn more about Soul Fire Farm here, and check out a rich trove of Leah sharings on youtube here. This one’s a goodie:

And here’s one helpful summary vid in which Leah shares the Soul Fire Farm journey:

Also here’s a link to the work of Toshi Reagon (see also Toshi’s Opera about Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower Opera) that Leah recommends during our chat. Which, by the way, I must mention happened way back on January 8th, 2021.

What did this conversation evoke in you? Would you like to hear more conversations of this nature on the show? Should I share Tyson Yunkaporta’s perspectives on the same matters in the next episode? Please let me know in a comment below!

Engaging the Design Web with Looby Macnamara (e60)

In this conversation, which follows on from the previous episode, explores Looby Macnamara’s design web. We dive into the topic of emergent design process, and in particular Looby’s design web approach to designing anything. I was pleasantly surprised to discover in my preparations for this chat that Looby is a co-traveller in the realm of design process innovation, earnestly striving via the design web to get free of traps such as:

  • Viewing design process as a linear sequence of steps
  • The logical fallacy of having “design” be one of the steps within the whole “design” process
  • Having observation as a step as if at some point you stop observing
  • Getting too prescriptive about the end state you are heading toward
  • Separating planning from action in ways that cripple the possibility of the best outcomes and discoveries
  • Getting paralysed by complexity
  • Getting stuck in one’s head
  • Mechanical (as opposed to biological and ecological) metaphors

Learn more about Looby’s work including books and courses at her Cultural Emergence site here. Also if you’re keen to have Looby support you / us in applying the design web to something in our own lives, make a comment below and if there is enough interest and enthusiasm we’ll make it so!

Here is the design web:

Looby Macnamara’s Design Web

Here is a juicy quote I pulled out from Looby’s latest book Cultural Emergence:

The Design Web is a non-linear process with non-linear outcomes and possibilities. Emergent design reflects the flexibility and unexpectedness of Cultural Emergence. It allows for solutions to emerge that take the design in a new direction. It is organic, responsive, adaptive, fluid, flowing and dynamic. As the design emerges we continue to weave our way between the anchor points. An attitude of emergence enables us to flow and move with what is arising. It recognises that things are not always as they seem, there is more to discover and be revealed. The process is alchemical with surprises along the way.


Designing regenerative cultures is an ongoing process of emergence, not a permanent destination. We are designing for and with living systems that are organic, dynamic and unpredictable. We are setting direction and intentions. It is an invitation for change, rather than being exact or prescriptive.

Looby Macnamara in Cultural Emergence

An Emergent Conversation with Looby Macnamara (e59)

For some years I’ve been itching to get permaculture designer, teacher and author Looby Macnamara on the show and that dream has finally come true. Not only that, we had such a lovely chat we’ve already booked in a second conversation, where Looby will take us through what she calls her permaculture design web.

Find out more about Looby’s books and other work at her personal website here.

Looby – image source

Find out about Looby’s colleague in cultural emergence, Jon Young, at his website here.

And here is an image of Looby’s permaculture design web that I am excited to explore in our next chat.

Here’s vid of Looby introducing Cultural Emergence

Enjoy the episode, leave a comment, and catch you in episode 60!