Ben Haggard on Potential and Development in Permaculture and Beyond (E30)

In our first ever conversation, Ben Haggard of Regenesis Group shares his history with and perspective on permaculture.

This episode catalysed waves of reflection that are blowing my mind.

Yes, I was struck with the profound clarity and depth of what Ben shared.

Then the sheer resonance of the relevance to exactly where Making Permaculture Stronger is at – well that pretty much knocked me off my seat. You could say I’m still climbing back up off the floor :-).

I don’t know about you, dear listener/reader, but I have the real sense that this conversation is itself a nodal intervention in Making Permaculture Stronger’s ongoing evolution.

It is like I can feel the energy shifting and growing and generatively transforming throughout my entire being and hence the being of this project. New levels of Will are awakening.

I mean I use the terms potential and development (who doesn’t) and before this chat I would have said I had a fairly clear, coherent grasp on what they are. Not any more. I was almost dazzled by the clarity Ben gives these terms in a way that resonates deep in my bones. Then, when he spoke about the idea of permaculture’s originating impulse, well, game over. Let me pen a few reflections on each.

Potential

After decades of experience and reflection in collaboration with a tight-knit community of practice, Ben has reached a fascinating perspective on what potential is. As I understand him, he sees the potential (or the possible contribution) of something as existing in the tension between that thing’s deep, enduring, inherent character and the ever-changing reality of the context in which it is nested and in particular what this context calls for in this particular “historical and evolutionary moment.”

To identify the potential of a farm, a garden, a person, a family, a business, an organisation, a blog project, we need to ask:

  1. what is the unique character of this being? then
  2. what is currently called for in the immediate, local, and greater wholes it is nested within?, and
  3. what could happen here that would harmonise these two things?

Which brings us to…

Development

Clearly, potential often remains latent. For Ben, development is then the practice of actually revealing and manifesting the potential inherent in something, which involves removing anything in the way and becoming more and more relevant and valuable to context.

Originating Impulse

When Ben first mentioned this phrase late in our chat, I knew immediately it was going to inform my very next steps with Making Permaculture Stronger. So take this as a sneak preview where I’d invite you to start sitting in the space of this all-important question: what was permaculture’s originating impulse? Please don’t rush – take your time with this – there will be space to chime in with what arises for you very soon.

One thing here I’d invite if you come across any sound bites or text that speaks of this originating impulse to you, especially if from the early days of permaculture, please send it through to me and I may well include it in the upcoming post.

Other Notable Threads

  • what Ben said about permaculture’s usual initiation/conversion experiences and how these can make it very difficult to bring the ideas into one’s existing ways of working I think was well worth further exploration. I mention it here as a reminder to come back to this in future as appropriate. Any thoughts?
  • This idea of the word place as a rare world in English in that it includes people, landscape etc etc…
  • the idea that if you can be with a person or other living entity as it is, you are taking it as whole (as opposed to our default pattern of fragmenting things by paying attention to their various attributes)

Links to Stuff Ben is involved in

Ben on Place

Exploring the Role of Maps in Permaculture Design with Jason Gerhardt (E29)

This episode shares the continuation of the conversation Jason Gerhardt and I started in Episode 25. While we refer back to the below framework I was playing around with at the time we mainly explore drawing and mapping in relation to permaculture design as well as topics around certification, not needing permission, and more.

Oh yeah at the start I refer back to this post where I explore generative transformation as an attitude not something dogmatic as regards to map or not to map.

Jason directs the USA’s Permaculture Institute and Real Earth Design and I just love being in touch with him and having him as a colleague in this work and these adventures.

Stay tuned for much deeply exciting stuff in the pipeline. Phase Two is about to kick in big time and I am going to need you to get involved.

Finally here’s the place to voluntarily donate some of your hard-earned cash to this project. It makes a massive, huge difference even if just $1 per month so thanks if you even consider it let alone actually do it :-). For those of you interested in joining the new online community that meets every six weeks then join at the $10 tier or get in touch via the contact page to explore other options (as in, if you can’t afford it or whatever, then let’s figure something out!).

Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger: Collaboratively Developing Permaculture’s Potential

So what does my recent discussion of the problem with solving problems look like in relation to the trunk in the Permaculture Tree diagram?

Well, the way I have come to see it is that the whole trunk is itself an imposition.

What, wait, what?

I believe the whole above-ground part of the permaculture tree has been growing from a grafted-on collection of design process understandings that were imported from outside.1

Imported from places like industrial design, engineering, architecture & landscape architecture.2

Because the scion wood and the rootstock were not a compatible match, the graft never really properly took. Indeed, as a result of it being there at all, the latent energy around permaculture generating its own process possibilities has either remained dormant in the roots, or been overruled by the DNA of the grafted-on material.

You see where I am going with this. I don’t want to continue trying to patch up a trunk that in so many ways is a distraction from the work I’m here to participate in. I don’t want to be pulling apart layer upon layer of imported design process understandings that shoot permaculture in the foot by dishonouring its very essence.3

I want to dive deep into permaculture’s beautiful foundations and then to help grow and tend and realise fit-for-purpose design process understandings directly. Without distraction!

What this means for me is…

The Tree is Coming Down

I am cutting the permaculture tree down.

Consciously. Carefully. Lovingly. As a personal thought experiment, I’m cutting it down. Just below the place where the foreign design process understandings were imported and grafted on. To create a fresh surface from which all kinds of wild regrowth can spring forth.

I am talking about the development of design process understandings that stem from permaculture’s own roots. From permaculture’s own DNA.4

I’m talking about consciously coppicing the permaculture tree, take three.

To be clear, none of the tree is removed from the site after the coppicing operation. Yes, it will fall to the ground and it will remain there, branches, twigs, leaves. Hot compost the most diseased material, tuck the rest in around the stump.

Where as fresh growth bursts forth, anything relevant breaks down and is reabsorbed and assimilated into the living tissue of the re-growing tree. Just think, the fungi are going to have a field day and there will be mushrooms by the plenty. In other words, nothing is lost. I would like to think the babies will gurgle in contented gratitude to be free of the bath water.

This is when the real work begins. The work of tending to the new shoots. Watching them closely, nourishing them while delicate and young. As they grow, selectively removing weaker stems and shaping up those that remain for optimal health and form.

Making Permaculture Stronger – Phase Two

I declare Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger open.

Phase Two is all about tapping into permaculture’s essence, its potential, then co-articulating from scratch design and creation process understandings that resonate with and actualise this potential every step of the way.

Where those of us drawn to this work respectfully converse and collaborate in the hard, honest, yet immensely rewarding work of co-crafting, co-creating something fresh. Something authentic. Something alive.

Something worthy of what Bill and David gifted the world in co-originating the permaculture concept.

To me, this is one way of tapping the part of permaculture’s essence that Bill Mollison manifested when he talked about having lost heart in protesting and fighting against what he didn’t want. He retreated into the bush and when he came back he was a different person. He was intensely focused not on what he didn’t want, but on what he did want. He focused his fire and he took permaculture to the world, igniting a global movement.

I don’t want to be against what I don’t like in permaculture any more. I want to be for what I love. I want to be for growing from that place and the incredible potential within it.

Rather than feeling like I’m pissing on the permaculture party, I want to jump in with the crowd and to celebrate as we co-create new dance moves so wild and so alive that the concrete cracks open and long-dormant seeds germinate for miles in all directions!

Let us honour the pioneers, honour all those who have contributed to permaculture’s incredible story and journey.

Not by assuming that permaculture is finished and perfect and beyond improvement. I can imagine no greater insult to everything they stood for, stand for, to everything permaculture stands for.

Confronting the fact that permaculture is not finished and perfect, I used to think I had two options: 1) Politely ignoring permaculture’s problems, tensions, issues and weaknesses or 2) going on about and trying to ‘fix’ them.

I now see both as equally impotent.

No more of that. Let us not close our eyes to the issues. Yet let us see them as indicators. Let us hone in on and widen the cracks until what is broken falls away and we are left with a place from which to re-grow fresh tissue true to permaculture’s core.5

This is what I choose to participate in and I sense this is where I am going to direct a decent chunk of my life force. If it resonates, I invite you to get involved. To bring your gifts to whatever table or forum works for you. Where of course this work is already happening in hundreds of different ways and places, all around the world. Thank God. For this must be our work. It must be held within a field of co-creative coherence.

Indeed, if it resonates, it is because it is not only my voice. It is already in you. If this has any merit as a conversation, it is because it is a conversation that is already happening, all around the world. Let us bring it out into the open. Let us let resonant threads all over the world know that permaculture is well and truly IN THE GAME.

We are leaving the story of the expert, the genius founder behind. It has been a great story, it has served us, it has been a part of the way forward. I have only gratitude for all the pioneering genius that has lifted us high enough to see so far. Yet we are, at a cultural level, moving into a new story, a story in which a process of deep, authentic co-creation is so, so ready to germinate.

It is my hope to look back some day and see that this post was part of the needed scarification.

From today, Making Permaculture Stronger’s byline is no longer by collaboratively identifying and addressing its weaknesses. It is Collaboratively Unfolding Permaculture’s Potential.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for being with me on this journey. I hope to catch you amidst the indescribably exciting things to happen from here on in.

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to Finn Weddle for his support and for the clarity and depth of his reflections on an earlier draft of this post.

I also thank Joel Glanzberg, Bill Reed, and particularly Carol Sanford, whose living systems frameworks are increasingly informing my approach to all this.

Endnotes

Permaculture and Edible Rooftops above Apartments: A Radio Interview

A friend just sent through a link to this recent radio interview I did with Jonathan Green from Radio ABC’s Blueprint for Living Show.

Here’s the link to the show on the Radio ABC website and here it is as an MP3.

Dan Palmer being interviewed by Radio ABC’s Jonathan Green for Blueprint for Living.

If you get through it, you’ll note I didn’t need asking twice at the end when asked about my greater ambitions with this stuff :-).

Here are some of the plans of the rooftop areas we discuss (see here if you’re wondering why Dan Palmer is sharing master plans right now) :

Along with a recent drone shot of the build-in-progress:

When I’m better, hopefully this coming Saturday, I’ll get onto part three of Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger. Can’t wait!

Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger: From Solving Problems to Developing Potential (E27)

Note: This post may not make much sense unless you read (or listen to) the previous post first.

What I’ve been doing…

As reviewed in the last post, I have spent more than three-and-a-half years attempting to help strengthen permaculture’s weakest links, or, in other words, solve permaculture’s biggest problems.

In this approach, success is tacitly defined as the degree to which the weak link or problem is made to go away.1

The Problem with Solving Problems

Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger starts with my realisation that focusing on problems, even if the problems are getting solved, does not and cannot solve the problem that the whole approach of solving problems is itself, well, problematic.2

Joel Glanzberg has summarised the situation perfectly:

We are so accustomed to machines and the mechanical world of Newtonian Physics that we can barely think about how to address the problems of a living world. We try to fix them as we would an old truck: We identify the bad part that is to blame for the problem and repair, replace, or remove it. This is our general approach to everything from medicine to foreign policy to justice. We try to get tumors, dictators and other “bad guys” to reform or we simply replace them. Then, we are continually surprised when new tumors, symptoms, or bad guys promptly arise to take their place. Changing the manifestation of living systems without shifting the underlying causal patterns will always be an uphill battle and often takes us in the wrong direction, like super-gluing the cracks in a hatching eggshell.

As has Carol Sanford (in this article):

When you start well-intended efforts by identifying a “problem,” you are trapped into thinking that you have to fix it. This leads you on a search for the causes and results in efforts to try out many solutions. It pulls all of your energy toward an endless effort that is based on the mindset that got people into the rut in the first place. Einstein warned us about that.

Hmmm. This is exactly the sense in which I have been trying to ‘solve permaculture’s problems.’

Oh well, it’s not like nothing good has come from this approach (and yet it is time for a fundamental change of direction)…

Now I do not think all this effort has been a waste. Absolutely not! I have learned a heap that has really boosted my ability to serve as a permaculture design process facilitator.

I know this is also true for permaculture colleagues around the world. Almost weekly someone reaches out with gratitude for how this project has inspired and supported them to deepen their own design process understandings and practices.

Nonetheless, I’m clear it’s time Making Permaculture Stronger explicitly extracts itself from the business of dabbling in problems. Where I spend countless hours focusing on aspects of permaculture that I don’t even like. On weak links. On problems. Problems that worry me. Problems that demoralise me. Problems that as best I can tell are getting in the way of permaculture’s ability to evolve toward deeper and fuller expressions of its potential.

I’m glad for everything this effort has created and I want to make a clean break from the whole mentality. It is time for something different. Thankfully there is an alternative that resonates so deeply it brings shivers to my spine.

Regenerating from the Core

Having spelled out the futility of the problem-solving mentality, Carol Sanford brilliantly illuminates an alternative approach:

Okay! Okay! So what do we do? As crazy as it sounds, we skip over what exists. We act as though the problem doesn’t matter. This sounds harsh, even cruel, but consider: within regenerative processes, problems are not useful information. Nature doesn’t care that rat populations are exploding in the suburban countryside. Regeneration in this instance occurs when this niche within the ecosystem is filled by returning populations of foxes and owls. Circumventing problems is how much real change comes about and particularly the kinds of change that disrupt markets—and also history, for that matter.

Instead of lamenting a problem, ask, “What are customers (or the planet or social groups) seeking to achieve and why?” This is the route to the creation of something that doesn’t yet exist. Don’t look at why current methods aren’t working. Keep your eye squarely on the your buyer’s intention, on the intentions of living systems and social groups.

What problem?

Wow! What an idea! Instead of lamenting the problem or problems, to take this approach we’d ask “what is permaculture’s core intention” and we proceed directly toward helping to realise that as if all the problems weren’t even there.

For Carol, this entails, “going back to base material and regenerating from what is at the core.”3 Where we move from strengthening weak links or solving problems to unfolding potential:

Seeing true potential requires us to go back to the DNA of our intentions, conscious and unconscious, back to first base, where the uniqueness of the opportunity exists. What is screaming to be realized directly? …

The same is true for engaging with people. For example, when we pay attention, we see loads of potential in the children around us. We see their shortfalls as well; there is no end of shortfalls to fix. But if you start with who a child really is, deep inside, what makes them unique, and you help them realize more and more of that, to become closer and closer to their own singularity, then they thrive. Who wants to make a child “less bad”? Don’t we instead want to support them in their quest to realize their unique potential? And don’t we feel the same about each new business and each watershed? No two living systems are the same; each is pursuing a unique potential. Find that and you become a great business leader or a great biologist.

As a colleague of Carol’s, it is no surprise that Joel Glanzberg is once again on the same page:

Life is by nature creative. She never goes back but only forward. Repair or restoration may work for antique chairs but not ecosystems, eggs or countries. They will never be what they once were, any more than you will ever be a teenager or Humpty Dumpty will be put together again.

Living systems, whether organisms or organizations, ecosystems or economic systems, resolve their problems not by “fixing” them but by outgrowing them. The maturing chick running out of food and space in her egg does not add on or send for take-out. She does not fix her cracking shell but uses this breakdown to break through and emerge into another world, one of air and light where her parents feed her. Then, when the chick and her siblings outgrow the nest and their parents’ ability to feed them, they fledge and fly into the wider world where they can feed themselves and migrate to more favorable climes as the seasons change.

Time to shift things up…

I also just love the way Robert Fritz talks about this stuff:

There is a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away – the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being – the creation. Most of us have been raised in a tradition of problem solving and have had little real exposure to the creative process.

For this reason many people confuse the two. It doesn’t help when some ‘experts’ talk about ‘creative’ problem solving. They think that the creative process and problem solving are the same. They are completely different.

The problem-solvers propose elaborate schemes to define the problem, generate alternative solutions, and put the best solution into practice. If this process is successful, you might eliminate the problem. Then what you have is the absence of the problem you are solving. But what you do not have is the presence of a result you want to create (The Path of Least Resistance, p. 31)

How beautiful are all these statements? How exciting are they! What is screaming to be directly realised in permaculture? What would it mean for permaculture to crack open, fledge, and fly? What is the result that we in permaculture want together to create? Now we are talking. And this brings us right up to where this little project called Making Permaculture Stronger is going to be heading next

References

Fritz, Robert. The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. Fawcett, 1984.

Learn about Carol Sanford’s books (with free sample chapters) here and her podcast here.

Visit Joel Glanzberg’s website here.

Endnotes

Introducing Phase Two of Making Permaculture Stronger: Recapping Phase One (and its problems)

Making Permaculture Stronger is about to cross a pivotal threshold in its evolution as a project.

Let me explain…

This project launched three and a half years ago with the intention to be…

…a space where permaculture practitioners come together with a spirit of strengthening the design system aspect of permaculture by clarifying its weaknesses and coordinating efforts to address them.

where

The best way I know of strengthening something is to identify weak links and then to direct energy toward making them less weak.

An early requirement for the project was to create a framework for thinking about all the different aspects of permaculture. Some way of holding the whole so that weak links could be honed in on and strengthened…

Permaculture Tree (take three)

Remember this? I sure do. I still find it helpful way of mapping out how all permaculture’s different aspects sit in relation to one another. I introduced my original illustration here and what follows is a new (draft) version beautifully illustrated by my friend and permaculture illustrator Brenna Quinlan.

Note – the arrows leaving and entering the tree represent permaculture bringing foundational understandings in from outside and creating solutions that go out to become part of other approaches or the culture in general (as isolated things)

To recap the main idea:

  • permaculture has general foundational aspects that are universal in their relevance (roots)
  • permaculture has specific solutions (design configurations, strategies, and techniques) that are appropriate in some situations and not in others (limbs, branches and leaves)
  • the only thing that can get you from the foundations to the appropriate solutions for a given situation is sound design process (trunk)

I can’t resist sharing two further aspects of the tree before I move on, given I just rediscovered Brenna’s lovely sketches of them. First, here’s a view from above where you might recognise something familiar. Second, the cyclic patterns of movement I’m using the tree to highlight are an instance of the pattern Bill Mollison called the core model.1

Brenna Quinlan’s sketches of two additional aspects of the Permaculture Tree (Take Three)

The Original Plan

Having created the original tree diagram, I hatched a cunning plan for the future of Making Permaculture Stronger. I was going to complete, and indeed have completed, a few inquiries myself. Each was to start with something permaculture seemed to have got wrong in terms of design process and end with some better alternative to it. I went so far as to prepare the below plan. I was going to put this out there once I had the ball rolling (as in about now). A diagram to set the parameters to invite others to come play this same game over and over. Together we were going to remedy permaculture’s issues, one strengthened weak link at a time..

My early masterplan for Making Permaculture Stronger

Why I started with the Trunk

I spent a few posts explaining why I chose to start my weak-link work in the region of the tree’s trunk, as in design process. I described the apparent lack of a deep, coherent, shared, widely used understanding of sound design process in permaculture as a foundational weak link. Foundational in the sense that all sorts of other littler weak links flowed from it. Foundational in the sense of a Type One Error.

Here is how I originally diagramed it, noting that “the image I get is of a huge oak tree teetering on a feeble little stem”:

The First Two Inquiries (and where they led me)

I then started the first of two epic, in-depth inquiries where I honed in on problematic aspects of the shared understandings of permaculture design process that were available in the literature. In that sense I identified design process as a weak link then went looking for little weak links within the big weak link that were presumably making the big weak link weak! I dove deep into two of them…

From Assembling Elements to Differentiating Whole Systems

I have such fond memories of the opening post of the first inquiry, which drew on the work of Christopher Alexander to identify an initial problem: the common permaculture understanding that design is a process of assembling or combining parts or elements into whole systems.

In doing so I shared Alexander’s alternative suggestion that systems and landscapes with the character of nature are achieved by a process of differentiating wholes into parts. The post stirred up a lot of fantastic commentary and dialogue. It was a great experience and so gratifying to have the interested attention and appreciation of colleagues (including the likes of David Holmgren, Dave Jacke and Toby Hemenway). If that particular post hadn’t been so well received I wonder if the project would have even continued.

In any case, it did, going on to look into this issue in some depth, where ten posts later it had arrived at a different conception of design that was not only articulated theoretically but applied and documented in two practical design project examples (see here and here). So I guess on its own terms the inquiry achieved its intent. It started with a problem or limitation and ended with way of approaching design that resolved or avoided the problem. The dialogue this inquiry catalysed also helped me arrive at a new take on the whole matter that was a pivotal stepping stone toward the more recent work on designing via transformation.

From Detailed Up-Front Design through Concept Designing to Generating

In Making Permaculture Stronger’s second inquiry I honed in on the dominance of up-front master planning in the permaculture design literature. I first showed the seemingly universal consensus that “in a sound permaculture design process one completes a detailed design before starting the implementation of that design.”

I then pointed out how problematic this idea is in light of permaculture’s aspiration to create nature-mimicking systems. As in the first inquiry, I ended up, in striking contrast to the standard permaculture mantra of:

  • observe (people and place or whatever)
  • concept design
  • detailed design
  • implement
  • evaluate/tweak

…with either a hybrid (or concept designing) approach or the fully-fledged generating approach2 where you:

  • Immerse in the overall context of the design
  • Decide on what high-level features or aspects to tackle first
  • Rapidly generate then iteratively test or prototype a first step until something feels solid and relatively certain
  • Adaptively implement that step
  • Re-immerse in the new reality of the just-transformed whole

Again, I started with a perceived problem and arrived at some alternate understandings that appeared to resolve the problem.

Generative Transformation

I had no idea that after these two inquiries what would emerge next is the chart I then developed. This chart brought the outcomes of both inquiries together into one place where any design process could now sit in one of nine different spaces. To me, the most important outcome of the whole project so far is a fairly clear initial articulation of the space called generative transformation. I have argued that generative transformation is permaculture’s home turf.

Conclusion

Aside from a few other bits and bobs (including the podcast and videos) this pretty much sums up the entire journey so far.

In the next post, I’ll share why and how I’ve come to realise that it is time to let go of this whole idea of finding and strengthening weak links. Before, in the post after that, sharing in the post after that the alternate approach Making Permaculture Stronger will be taking from here on in.

Endnotes

Exploring Developmental Pathways for Permaculture Designers with Jason Gerhardt (E25)

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this rich, deep yet lively second conversation with Jason Gerhardt (first chat was here). Jason directs the USA’s Permaculture Institute and Real Earth Design. As it turns out we continue exploring the ordering framework I introduced in Episode 24.

Here’s the framework diagram, slightly updated thanks to a suggestion from Bill Reed. Or download as pdf here.

Oh yeah I also mention this recent recreate of Making Permaculture Stronger’s purpose that Joel Glanzberg helped me with and that uses the pattern I explored with Bill Reed here:

MPS inspires creative exploration and dialogue around permaculture design in a way that develops our ability to think and act creatively as and with community to effect the large scale systemic change we need.

Oh yeah Jason mention this amazing white paper on the four levels of Regenerative Agriculture by Ethan Roland Soloviev & Gregory Landua. I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet. Do check it out if you’ve not seen it and leave a comment telling me what you make of it.

I also mentioned the Permaculture Home Garden by Linda Woodrow.

Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Eleven of Eleven) – Generative Transformation is part of what it means for Permaculture Design to come back to Life

Here I’ll wrap up and declare this series done. I explained at the beginning that:

The diagram introduces and suggests a name for a space that I believe is permaculture’s core businesshome territory or primary purpose. While no doubt the language can be improved, I’m tentatively calling this space generative transformation. As we’ll see, generative transformation is a way of going about doing or creating anything, be it a garden, farm, organisation, livelihood, or life.

Where my intention was to argue that…

…to the extent it identifies with the bottom-left part of the diagram (what I call fabricated assembly) permaculture diminishes its potential. The invitation and the challenge of this framework is actively exploring pathways toward the top-right. Toward generatively transforming whole systems in life-enhancing directions

In the course of the ten preceding posts about this, I have said all I need to say (probably more than). Here, after a brief lead-in I’ll sign off with a few closing reflections.

Brief Lead-In

I mean it is all so simple really. Permaculture says it aspires to mimic nature.1

What this really means, I believe, is that it aspires for us humans to drop back into being the life we already are and in that sense to drop back into being alive.2 At the very least, I’m sure we can agree that the rest of life creates itself via generative transformation, or that generative transformation is the most accurate way of framing what the rest of life is and does as far as the terms of reference the chart has to offer. There are no master plans.3 There are no concept plans. There are no parts separate from wholes. There are no wholes seperate from parts. Period. I mean, just watch a tree germinate and grow…

…or a tadpole coming into being from a zygote…

Tell me what you see, what you feel as you watch these. You will have just described an instance of generative transformation.

Now, for those closing reflections.

Generative Transformation is Applicable Everywhere

One thing that happens in this space is that designing stops being something separate from life, something we do in advance, something that we do only in a professional capacity. Generative transformation can apply to everything we do. To every space or landscape we work with. To every day we live, to our life as a whole. To how we show up as parents, as partners, as colleagues. To how we develop our own homes and all the spaces we inhabit, to how we plan and roll out parties, courses, any and all kinds of events. We even tried this kind of thing out with our wedding!

This was a shock to me when it landed some years back. To realise there wasn’t this specific set of skills I turned on and off as I arrived and left my work as a permaculture designer. To realise that in every situation I am ever part of I can choose to be alive to the wholes-and-their-parts I am participating in. I can choose to be alive to my intentions with regard to these wholes, and I can choose to be and act in ways that honour what is already there while drawing it out and developing it so as to add, enhance, increase its life and beauty and function and flow.

Everything you do, every process you are part of, everything you help create, can be located somewhere within the nine portions of this diagram. I’d love to hear about your experiences, but I’d wager that the more alive the process felt, the more connected and respectful it felt, the more it flowed and the more its outcomes were beautifully adapted to the situation, the more you were approaching the top right corner. The more you were in the space of generatively transforming whole systems in healthy, life-giving, life-enhancing, life-welcoming directions.

Generative Transformation is Easier (and more Fun!)

This is an interesting one. On the one hand it can be really hard to get out of the same old rut of masterplanned assemblies into the flow of generative transformation. On the other, once you have a taste the current kind of drags you along and and in my experience it eventually becomes the easiest option and a non-brainer.

One recent experience that comes to mind is that I was I was using a generative, transformative approach with three lovely clients on thirty lovely acres a month or two back. The two adults are performance artists. We were marking out a new driveway by hauling bales of straw into a line then moving them till they felt right. There was no pens and no paper and certainly no computer screens. As we worked, one of them said something like “hang on a second, this is exactly what we do in working with community members to create a performance!” It was like the penny was dropping as they realised that they were allowed to have that much fun developing their place. It didn’t have to be all serious and where is the master plan and where is the permaculture expert to tell us what do to and that whole kind of act. Actually I just remembered I made a little video that same day:

As far as fun goes, it is a no-brainer. I remember so clearly how much I used to hate having to go home after a consultancy and spend countless hours drawing up detailed plans to deliver back to the client. I actually did it again recently as an experiment for some clients who I failed to talk out of wanting a detailed plan and I tell you it was gruelling. It took all my willpower to force myself to do it (that said I’m not even quite finished, darn it, I had been repressing that fact till now!). To make up all this arbitrary stuff to dazzle them with, knowing they were going to love it and knowing that it was nowhere near as wonderful as what would have been generated if we were generating and transforming rather than fabricating and assembling and partitioning.

After sessions working with generative transformation I feel more alive, more energised, as do the folk I’m working with. Rather than being the expert who needs to manufacture brilliant solutions on the spot, I am a process support team, a facilitator, where so many of the decisions become effortless to make because we make them at the proper time in the unfolding process, rather than attempting too much guesswork up front. All plans are guesses, after all, and master plans are a whole grab bag full of guesses shoved in together. Generative transformation is largely about systematically eliminating guesswork and hence design decision arbitrariness.

Then the sheer satisfaction to have collaborated with others to reveal the most unexpected yet beautiful and perfect steps forward. I mean those of you who know what I am talking about know that it doesn’t get much better than that!

This seat emerged from a spontaneous bout of generative transformation – alive and in-the-moment

Generative Transformation is What Permaculturalists are already doing when they are doing their best stuff

I have said this before, but I want to make it clear that I don’t think that generative transformation is in any way a new thing. It is an attempt to describe not only life’s default operating system, but what already happens when permaculture is at its best. As in generating real, adapted solutions that wrap themselves beautifully into and around the specifics of given situations. The thing is though, I know respected permaculture designers who talk, teach and write about permaculture design as a process of assembly and at most partition-based fabrication who in practice especially at their own places are doing something far more akin to generative transformation! Have any of you noticed this phenomenon? It is like we say what we need to say for professional credibility then when we think no-one is watching we do what it is we really love.

What I am suggesting is why don’t we just do what we really love, ALL THE TIME!

Don’t Leave – Come Back – Permaculture Needs You!

There is a part of me that has something to say to anyone (and I know there are so many of you) who have felt isolated by design, who have felt incompetent because they can’t or don’t draw impressive up-front plans, who have assumed they have nothing to offer to this conversation. What I have to say is this: “please, turn around – please, come back!” Permaculture needs you! Permaculture needs your intuition, it needs your native abilities to observe and be present to the deep patterns at play in any situation. It needs your life and your energy at its core and at its helm. We have so much work to do, and we all need to be collaboratively figuring this journey of humans becoming alive and nested in life again. We need all of us.

Done

Permaculture, meet generative transformation. I’d like to think you’re going to become ever the best of friends.4

Over and out.

Endnotes

Exploring a Framework for Thinking about Permaculture Design in conversation with Meg McGowan (E24)

I’m excited to share here the beginnings of a (Carol Sanford inspired) framework in my second conversation with perma-powerhouse Meg McGowan (the first was here). It is a framework I feel is going to inform much of Making Permaculture Stronger’s evolution moving forward. Here is a preliminary sketch laying it out as a starting point to crash test and improve together (or download as pdf file here). Huge thanks to Meg for taking the time to help me share and start developing it. Oh yes in this episode I also share my brand new project Designing for Life that will be developing in conversation with Making Permaculture Stronger moving forward. Exciting times my friends, exciting times!

Visit Meg’s blog here, the interview on the other podcast she mentioned here (episode three), her pyramid of wisdom here (note: compare with this). You can also go listen to the mentioned chats with Carol Sanford and Joel Glanzberg and Bill Reed by clicking on their names (where you’ll find further links to their sites and work). Finally, if you would consider supporting Making Permaculture Stronger financially, then visit our support page and mega-thanks in advance for what you are making possible in terms of supporting and fast-tracking the evolution of permaculture’s wildly exciting potential in the world.