Regenerating Life with Carol Sanford’s Four Paradigm Framework (E33)

Carol Sanford mid-sentence during this episode…

Such a deep honour to have Carol Sanford return to the show after the wild ride that was episode nineteen.

In this episode Carol takes us deep into one of her living systems frameworks – that of the four paradigms she calls value return, arrest disorder, do good, and regenerate life. This framework has challenging implications for permaculture, and as I explain I am excited with the clarity I believe this framework can bring to our individual and collective efforts to navigate the current global coronavirus pandemic.

I will be using the platform of this podcast to look at the current situation through a process lens for the foreseeable future. All other bets are off for now.

Check out Carol’s website here, her new book The Regenerative Life here, her seed communities here, and the Deep Pacific Change Agent Community (that I am part of) here. The white paper she mentioned can be read in a series starting here, and she has a Regenerative Paradigm website too.

Stay well and until soon. I will endeavour to keep these podcasts coming from my family’s mini permaculture refuge (that has all been created within the last three weeks).

I’m also happy to publish the video of this chat with Carol but I’ll let one or two of you say you’d like that before I make the effort :-).

What came in the post today – hooray!
Snippet from page 162 – hoot hoot!


  1. Great podcast thanks Dan and Carol!

    I sat down to process this and ended up rewriting the myth of Hercules vs the Hydra through the lense of the 4 paradigms. A bit of an epic.

    TL:DR Hercules stops trying to kill the hydra and initiates a regenerative process for it’s habitat, the surrounding land use & local economy instead.

    Hercules sets out to kill the hydra as part of a quest to redeem himself and become immortal (extract value). To do this he has to find a way the to stop it growing new heads everytime a head gets cut off (arrest disorder).

    In a reflective, empathetic moment he remembers his own history of madness leading to murder, and wonders if the hydra’s monstrous behaviour is rooted in a deep form of distress. If the hydra is trying to eat Hercules, maybe it’s hungry, or has baby hydra to feed? It is living in a desolate swamp filled with poisonous fumes and there doesn’t seem to be much available. Hercules decides to feed it, and considers setting up a charity where people can sponsor a baby hydra (Do good).

    As Hercules turns to go his satisfaction quickly fades as he pays more attention to the wider landscape, sees a factory discharging into the swamp and intensive industrial agriculture polluting the surrounding land use. He quickly sees that there are many heads to these issues too. For the hydra to be well fed enough to leave Hercules alone on his quest, the life of the wider systems is going to need to be regenerated (regenerate life).

    From this realisation Hercules begins working with a permaculture design facilitator. Alongside the residents of the area, ecologists, the workers in the farms and factory, business owners & customers, local government, tourists (etc) they begin a long term living design process guided by ethics of care (including hydra care). This regenerates the hydra’s habitat as well as surrounding land use and economy.

    Within this longterm process they move back down the paradigms:
    The community does good by providing extra food for the hydra, arrests disorder by immediately fencing of streams and stopping factory discharge. Hercules extracts value as an apprentice to the permaculture design facilitator (who also hosts him and gives a stipend), and this starts him on a new career path.

    Later Hercules tells his story on the Making Permaculture Stronger podcast, and some listeners think he was heroic. He is clear though that it was an emergent process in which the whole living community (including the hydra) played essential roles in a collective heroic effort.

    Hercules goes on to facilitate other regenerative design processes throughout ancient Greece, and that’s why the once abundant Mediterranean forests are still around today.

    Phew, now for more modern applications! Hydra was on my mind as I was thinking about the alt-right as a hydra yesterday. I’m yet to look at that ecosystem through this framework but it feels helpful. Thanks again.

    1. Love it Rowan – you had me chucking away merrily :-). I couldn’t help sharing with Carol who also enjoyed as well as pointing out that you didn’t quite make it from a high-level of do good to regenerate life, which I’m guessing would involve tapping into the essence/uniqueness of the hydra and the wholes it is nested within, making nodal interventions to support their capacity to evolve or self-regenerate, where they are increasingly expressing their uniqueness :-). I trust Hercules will consider this reflection itself a nodal intervention toward further evolving his capacity on his next quest (maybe with a cyclops or some such?) :-).

  2. I started this a couple weeks ago, and only got to finish just now. This is pure genius. Thank you, Dan and Carol!

  3. Thanks Dan, I really enjoyed that. I see parallels with Cormac Russell’s work – particularly around the dangers of community development organisations ‘doing good’ without it coming down from ‘regenerate life’ – or truly uncovering essence / potential. He calls it ‘from what’s wrong to what’s strong’.

    Lots for me to think about – particularly as a public servant in local government 🙂 Going to go back and listen to your previous interview with Carol now.

    1. Cheers Nycole and just make sure you click your seatbelt in firmly before listening to my first Carol chat :-).

  4. Another amazing podcast Dan. I am listing to it the 5th or 6th time. I ordered Carol’s Regenerative Life book (along with Notes on the synthesis of form and Pattern Language). Thank you so much for your work in this area of human knowledge.

    1. Thanks Bill and wow good effort on the multiple listens – Carol sure does pack a lot into every sentence! That’s three amazing books headed your way and I look forward to hearing what you get from them in due course. Keep commenting!

  5. Brilliant conversation! Kept me awake later than I expected, but was profoundly worth it: to reframe my mind yet again.
    Carol Sanford crafts inspirational insights for this movement and everyone in general, honestly. What a simple way of beautifully describing the complexity of being an empathetic social being in an ever-changing world which is Alive. May you be safe from parasites and viruses, Dan while finding the tame to share and curate amazing content for all of us. I am very curious about how these philosophical inquiries will come to merge with your design ones.

    All the best,

    1. Thanks Manuel and lovely to hear from you. Yes Carol is gifted at not only keeping people awake but waking them up in the first place :-). As to your point of curiosity, well put and I am also curious! Curious and excited to start discovering!

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