Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
Home » Change » #Permaculture and #P2P Culture: hand in hand?

#Permaculture and #P2P Culture: hand in hand?

I think you will spend 424 seconds reading this post

While I was reading that excellent french introduction to P2P on the P2P Foundation website (it’s old but very interesting nonetheless), I remembered my own thinking around permaculture and efficiency or management.

And so it occurred to me that both permaculture and P2P interactions could work hand in hand. Indeed, as I think people need to be trained or at least showed how P2P interactions are easy, the 12 permaculture principles could well be a list of patterns or a roadmap to foster that Peer Production or at least the development of more recurrent and fruitful P2P interactions.

Indeed, we could even just start with the 3 ethics of Permaculture:

  1. Earth Care: in the context of P2P, it would be the results of peer production, that is, the Commons. Respect what’s been done previously: it had a reason to exist, and we can only build on top of it. And even if we don’t, it framed people’s current mental models, and so we must bear with the consequences and take these into consideration for our own creation.
  2. People Care: self explanatory; to better interact with people we have to be as respectful to their ideas as we are keen to promoting ours. In Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline”, it is explained as Bohm’s Dialog: “balance advocacy and inquiry” and “suspend your beliefs” (both in the sense of 1) refraining from letting your judgement be altered by your preconceptions and 2) exposing your beliefs for others to consider and take into consideration).
  3. Fair Share: whatever you co-create, use it and share the rest for others to re-use and build upon. That’s how civilizations are created.

That was the easy part, and you can probably only go with these 3. The 12 permaculture principles below are an elaboration of the 3 ethics. More practical principles if you need something more concrete to apply.

IMHO the reason these 12 agricultural principles seem to work so well is because they are precisely just this: principles applying to a system (nature and agriculture as they are). And because systems thinking is transdisciplinary, they can be quite easily transposed into different realms (like I did in management or efficiency – besides, what I propose below is just a generalization of my thinking on efficiency and better social teleogical interactions [social interactions toward a goal] which we’ve packages into the Labso with my peer Alexis Nicolas).

Also, should you need to explain to starting Holacracy or Sociocracy communities how employees should behave with one another for the cultural change to flourish, it might be a good recipe: more emotionally and metaphorically loaded than a bloated constitution (Holacracy) or 4 rough naked principles (Sociocracy).

Here’s my list of the 12 permaculture principles adapted toward fostering flourishing P2P interactions:

  1. OBSERVE & INTERACT – “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The best way to accustom yourself to someone else or to a pre-existing group is to observe and interact without trying to actively interfere with the group. Feel the rhythm and get used to the beat before entering the dance floor.
  2. CATCH & STORE ENERGY – “Make hay while the sun shines.” Don’t spoil your energy, nor that of others. P2P interactions should make the best use of energy and better yet, capture the environmental energy (that out of the Commons as I said above with the 3 ethics) in order to reuse it later. That energy may be in the form of peers wanting to contribute, meaning which can be leveraged to fuel a new project, ideas in the air waiting to coalesce into something bigger and thicker…
  3. OBTAIN A YIELD – “You can’t work on an empty stomach.” Whatever you want to collaborate on, it needs to produce something, because 1) you need to be able to (at least partly) live on it and 2) that very production is what will motivate your peers to continue. Idealized vision are a must to start, but they evaporate quickly with time unless concrete results can sustain the momentum.
  4. APPLY SELF-REGULATION & ACCEPT FEEDBACK – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation.” P2P is not lonely work. For the collaboration to work, the group must accept internal 1:1 exchanges between its members so they can coordinate among themselves and people self-correct when they feel their interactions aren’t inducing the best results for the other peers as individuals and for the group as a whole. But for that internal balance to exist, people must provide and accept (respectful) feedback.
  5. USE & VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES & SERVICES – “Let nature take its course.” Avoid producing one-off artefacts. Build Commons that can be reused by others. Make them flexible, easy to dismount and remount differently, easy to compose with others’ own artefacts.
  6. PRODUCE NO WASTE – “Waste not, want not. A stitch in time saves nine.” Waste is that which doesn’t bring value to others. When you create waste, you loose support from others and you work against your own group of peers, because it will go against the energy they’re trying to invest. It will clog your interactions, grind the creative process and eat all your (individual and collective) energy for nothing. Don’t do that.
  7. DESIGN FROM PATTERNS TO DETAILS – “Can’t see the wood for the trees.” Lay down the general principles, which are more intellectual and high level but also more flexible and around which you can more easily exchange, interact and adapt. It’s easier to mold an idea than to rebuild a physical gizmo. Yet balance that with #3: obtain a yield. The global idea is best tackled with the whole group when the details can be addressed in smaller subgroups or even by individuals acting for the benefit of the whole.
  8. INTEGRATE RATHER THAN SEGREGATE – “Many hands make light work.” To avoid centrifugal forces, seek to weave links rather than erect barriers. Search for what’s similar and what’s similar inside the differences instead of focusing on the sole differences. Constantly reweave the group together with similarities and connections between ideas and people. Don’t let differences and dissimilarities tear you apart from one another. It’s a natural step for the mind to spot differences (I’ve started to write about that in my book) so you need to pay special attention against it.
  9. USE SMALL & SLOW SOLUTIONS – “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Although we’re a lot wanting to change the world, it all starts with small steps. They also are the best way to coordinate with one another and let people enough time to chew on new ideas and adapt to them. Slowly build a robust small foundation rather than a hasty big fragile one that will crumble under pressure later on.
  10. USE & VALUE DIVERSITY – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” The best group is composed of diverse people with various perspectives. It ensures resilience, innovation, constant (individual) energy access, etc. Uniformity, just like in Nature, is prone to diseases and thus failure.
  11. USE EDGES & VALUE THE MARGINAL – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path.” What’s on the border is what’s more likely to be different. It mixes the internal (who the group is) with the external (what the environment needs, calls for, provides…) Edgers are better armed to provide that diversity (see previous point) to the group and allow it to evolve as best as possible along with its environment (provided the group accepts feedback, see #4). Make as many people edgers as you can. Interview them, find what makes them different because of hidden edges they have (untapped potential, skills, talents), then make these edges explicit and weave those with what’s the group is doing. Yes, that would mean a sort of community manager for the real physical world. Or peer-ify that and ensure people regularly do that to one another.
  12. CREATIVELY USE & RESPOND TO CHANGE – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.” And that’s the corollary of all that preceded: learn to recognize the need for change when you meet it, whether it comes from the outside environment, from the edges or from deeper inside. Be purposeful and stick to your values, but don’t rigidify so as to break when it would have been better to pivot and change gears.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Also published on Medium.

  • de Gromard Brice

    Principles seems to me logic. I think willingness and time are required to be able to make them habits.

  • Indeed. 12 is quite a number to swallow and you can only get so much at a time. So perseverance and incremental learning and practice a key, yes, of course.

    Chances are you already practice some of them to some degree. Which one attracts you to experiment with?

  • Nicolas, great idea to link Permaculture and P2P culture! Your 12 ideals seem great too, but might add “Look for what you’re naturally blind to”. Such wonderful descriptive prose is no equal to operational practice, for example.
    [also posted the FB pattern language group PLAST(1) and to post on Medium(2)]

    You do make an effort to include the intent to consider the context of one’s designs, but it’s stated philosophically. That may be better than most systems thinkers do, but as philosophy it’s easy to brush over. It’s not detailed as a practice, to bring out the great challenge it naturally poses, of living in an ecological world, populated by all kinds of “alien” organizations and behaviors.

    I’ve noticed that as a systemic problem, throughout professional practices, that everyone tends to focus on their designs and brush off the world they need to work in. It led me to discovering how our world standard sustainability metrics were being profoundly ill-defined too. The economists who provided our world standard accounting methods thinking of businesses, cities and nations as only what’s inside them. So our world impact accounting is limited to organizing information on hand for business, city or national accountants. What goes uncounted is huge in both scale and kind, with most earth impacts of the economy not being anyone’s responsibility at all(1). To correct it would requires a whole system approach rather than a local system approach, like my World SDG aims to offer(2).

    I had a wonderful reception on the issue worth mentioning, at the UN this week, at its first world Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDG’s. I helped bring out that that much of what is disrupting human ways of life around the world is the effects of “disruptive investment”. Those are innovations that investors tend to make the most money from, but never think of the costs to society for, such as to what gets disrupted. It’s one of the leading causes of ever growing inequity around the world, and the rapid expansion of distressed communities. Businesses and investors, even many sustainable development pioneers working closely with the UN, have all been consistently looking only as their positive hopes and ignoring how they might disrupt the contexts in which they plan to operate. It applies to permaculture too, that even the most perfect holistic design by itself has externalities, and happens to include the necessity of having “day jobs” to provide things we can’t do without, and inadvertently tying permaculture to those roles in supporting the world economy as it spins out of control.

    To transcend all this is the challenge. I start from using a fairly radical “whole systems approach”, making the environment part of the design. Others might have their own starting points for getting to thinking of the parts as their roles in the whole. Once taking that view one can then ask what *other* centers of organization need to be responded to, leading to a more broad understanding of the commons shared with them. My way of thinking about it takes elements from all the kinds of systems studies. What is most different from familiar systems thinking is my work on expanding scientific use of common language, and use of the expert holistic design method following Christopher Alexander’s principles of pattern language. It *starts* with studying the “context” and “forces” and what you’d call “problem finding”, and returns to that again at the end too, as a foundation for holistic design.

    In that interest I proposed a substantial expansion of PL thinking and practice Last year(3), so PL can also work with naturally occurring design, as well as intentional designs. It uses the same framework and expands the terms for studying natural ‘contexts’, ‘forces’ and ‘centers of organization’, following the practice that developed for using pattern language for expert holistic design. Having ‘context’ as the first question really helps one to not forget it, as a way to counter the historic general problem.
    My most important contributions seem to be 1) how to use natural language as a deep repository of meanings for natural designs and 2) using pattern recognition for growth phases as a guide to discovering the organizational changes of naturally evolving designs.

    How I understand pattern language is as a list of good questions, that needs at least to include the following. Others do state and organize them differently, but generally always seem recognizable as having a common core:
    1. An clearly described “context” and “circumstances”,
    2. the particular “forces” between “differentiated parts” and
    3. the “principle of design” that “brings them into balance”,
    4. to work together as a “whole” and exhibit the new “emergent properties”
    5. as a result of their organization working as a whole.
    6. its organizational growth and development from a origin pattern
    7. the new roles and relationships it develops in its world
    8. and their legacy

    So I’m not saying this is the ideal statement of holistic systems thinking, but suggesting terms to allow holistic systems thinkers to join forces with holistic system designers. I think both need this kind of structure, and to have a common language of expert design that teaches much the same core elements to be found in each other’s work. To me using CA’s holistic design practice and method of explicit description as a foundation would be better than using either philosophy or science.

    Very best regards,

    • Hi Jessie.
      Sorry for having forgotten to validate your comment (I was on holidays though).
      I agree with most of what you say. As stating things philosophically: I’m not sure although I understand it can appear that from perspectives others than mine (I sure have experienced other people saying that to me, although usually ith other words like: “too theoretical”). It may also be because I haven’t investigated that part of my reasoning. But I rely on either myself going back to what calls for attention when the need arise, or others to point it to me, which you just did. Thanks for that, it confirms the true power of social networking and collaboration 🙂 It’s also the benefit of having a blog: people read it and comment, and then the two of them grow in the process.

      As for “problem analyzing”, although it works quite well and brought Humanity so far, it also (IMHO) makes humans pedantic as thinking they know better than, say, mother nature or just other humans sometimes (did I just thought “often”? oh my 🙂 Whereas the strength-based approach to change is about finding what DOES work, understanding why, and trying to do more of it, or even improve it if possible.

      This is IMHO what permaculture is about (although it starts from a blank land and collate natural elements, its basically trying to reconstruct ecosystems that work elsewhere). And I do see CA patterns the same way: he deeply analyzed what places or buildings were “working” for their inhabitants and found the repetitive elements and was clever enough to formalize them into patterns. This is really brillant.

      Maybe we could stress the strength part of patterns by including a “works better with…” section to each of them? (there’s already a “see also” but the meaning isn’t as specific for me). Like for instance: when planting Tomatoes, “works well/better with”: Basil (the two of them become tastier because of their proximity).

      What’s currently bothering me about permaculture (although I might find an answer should I take on a permaculture design course) is that although some “solutions” or “patterns” do exist, I see nothing that could compare to the work of Christopher Alexander, from whole to parts, and where to start from. I see all the information in the books (permaculture 1 and 2) but it’s not arrange in a practical way. Now, given it’s a wholistic approach to garden design, and that it depends heavily on the place, the people (their desires), the weather, local micro-climat, etc.) it maybe hard to go further than what I’ve already read. My intuition is that we can do better, though.

      Maybe using the 15 wholeness principles and confronting them to permaculture will give me hints? I did found what appeared to be a smooth path in the 15 wholeness principles from #1 to #15 that flew logically from start to end when it comes to mental models formation. Maybe I can do the same for permaculture? Here’s the piece I wrote:

      I would like to write a blog post on that. Stay tuned ! 🙂

Mail List

Join the mailing list

Check your email and confirm the subscription