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.


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

Over and out.


  1. Let’s not go down the Carol Sanford rabbit hole on this right now…
  2. Which for me includes making a self-and-family-and-community-nourishing yield while benefitting the evolution of the ecologies you’re nested within
  3. Thanks to Jacob DiGirolamo for sharing this Allan Watts quote from the Way of Zen as part of his response to a draft of this post. It’s perfect and speaks to previous posts in this series that differentiated generative transformation from winging it: “But spontaneity is not by any means a blind, disorderly urge, a mere power of caprice. A philosophy restricted to the alternatives of conventional language has no way of conceiving an intelligence which does not work according to plan, according to a (one-at-a-time) order of thought. Yet the concrete evidence of such an intelligence is right to hand in our own thoughtlessly organized bodies.”
  4. regardless of the exact words used to describe the process dynamics ‘generative transformation’ is pointing at


  1. Standing ovation my friend!
    Just love this. We had a moment during a PDC recently that you’ll appreciate. I’ve been using Rowe Morrow’s place as a case study (because what could be better!) and as part of that process I created a beautiful, detailed, watercolored plan based on her property. When I introduced it I explained that this was not my design but Rowe’s. The plan had been done retrospectively……
    Just like the plan for our place……..
    Um…….wait a minute, was there a permaculturist anywhere that had done a plan BEFORE creating? Okay, maybe. I’ve seen some pretty gorgeous plans over the years and met some people that possibly did that first but I suspect they have the kind of imagination that allows them to explore the site in their mind and then use planning to make notes of what is essentially the beginnings of a generative process.
    Certainly I don’t know anyone that hasn’t deviated from the plan very soon after they started implementing it.
    So now the big challenge. How do we teach this?! I’m still using sector and site analysis and concept plans, as you know, but are they still too far away from the generative process?
    We need to talk.
    You’re not done yet. 😀

    PS: Your recaptcha is working again <3

  2. You are a total joy blessing and joy and the larger morphic field is delighting in you. I know mine is. Thank you. Reading this, and watching the videos (acorn/tadpole) as well as your discussions with folks, is like learning, yet remembering at the same time. I cannot thank you enough. Parts and wholes. Fun. In the moment design. Sounds like a good way to live …. the unlearning the relearning the more joyful living as life/nature “intended” dare I say “designed” us …..
    my total gratitude,

    1. Linda thank you SO much for chiming in to share! I feel deep joy to hear the underlying life and energy of all this is coming through clearly and cleanly and landing with resonance for the likes of your good self – hooray and indeed!

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