This is how we will organize in the future
So lets unpack these two images of how we grow food - the primary shaper of how humans themselves organize and see the underlying vision, rules and outcomes of each approach.
The field is a machine made by machines, fueled by oil and money. The farmer uses vast resources and effort to work directly against nature. What do I mean by working against Nature?
I mean that he first of all clears the land of everything with the intent of planting one temporary, annual crop. It's all about doing one thing in a big way. It's an assembly line.
He can change the one crop but all his systems are focused on one outcome, so a change demands a major shift in resources. Potato farmers also plant grain but they have to have two very expensive handling and harvesting systems running in parallel to do that. Making changes to the line is very costly. All the money is made in the main line. Changes to markets have big impacts on him as well - impacts that he cannot control.
In a dynamic world, he finds change very hard to cope with. It's a structural problem.
Worse, he not only fights markets that he has no control over and uses systems that he cannot change easily - but he also is in an arms race with an adversary who cannot be beaten - Nature herself.
The one thing that Nature abhors is an open space. She will do everything to fill this space. She always starts with invasives. We call them weeds. She will also always drive to find a balanced system. So a monoculture or a one cow species milk system will be attacked by every predator out there to bring the system into balance. We call these pests or diseases.
Worse - much of his resources are devoted to keeping Nature from doing what she wants. He uses more and more chemicals, he pushes the land itself, he demands more from the animals. A Holstein milker may last 3 years and have to be on drugs all the time. A Jersey house cow will milk for 12 and never see a vet. In the end, he has to lose.
His key strategy? To keep growing in size and to specialize more. So the best practice dairy man has 1,000 cows. The best potato farmer has 10,000 acres and huge fields so that the machinery can be run well. He copes with an ever lower ROI by pumping up the scale. So he becomes more and more dependent on factors that he cannot control. As he gets larger, he becomes more fragile. Collapse is inevitable. This is what happened to food systems in Babylon and in North Africa, the prairies of the Roman Empire. Nature always wins these battles.
This is how we run large companies and bureaucracies.
They too are a collection of monocultures with vast resources tied up in being efficient. So making any changes - such as GM will have to do - to react to events or markets is all but impossible. They cannot react in real time to events.
Being run like machines, the primary work of the leadership is Control! Like a pristine field, everything has to be neat and tidy. Much of the real costs of a large organization are derived form this control system.
Huge amounts of waste are produced by these organizations as they are in agribusiness farming. As with agribusness this waste is usually dumped on society and not counted as a cost. A few pigs produce food for plants. 20,000 pigs produce an environmental catastrophe. Much of business exports real costs to all of us in society.
Like Agribusiness that removes all the vitality from the soil, so bureaucracies, by being so control focused, take all the vitality from the soil of organizations. They take all the vitality and thinking out of their people. Obedience is the key employee behavior.
But the tragedy is that like the Holstein cow, the KFC Broiler, the Russet Burbank potato, humans are not machines. This environment of high demand and low control makes us ill. Did you know that more than 50% of women in the work force are depressed and take anti depressants? It is harder for women to give up their humanity.
We are beyond domestication now. We less than border collies, we have have become like pekineses. Like lap dogs we not only get ill a lot but we snap and are helpless. For we have gone beyond domestication to creating a society where most people have lost nearly all their ability to look after themselves. They have become dependent on the machine systems that they once created. I think that we do indeed live in the Matrix!
So what then about the new alternative? Lets have another look.
Looks chaotic doesn't it? But it is not. Here a human being has used her knowledge and observation of how Nature works best in her part of the world and has assembled a starting point of an ecosystem. She has:
- Started off by observing what is really here - what is the soil and the water like - where does water naturally flow - what are the plants that fit best and with what others for that locality
- Worked to build up the vitality of the soil by using all the tools that nature offers to do that work
- Worked to see how the water, shade and light will work as a system
- Worked to use combinations of plants that will reinforce each other's health and defend each other from problems
- Worked to see how she can attract animals and insects that will defend and add to the system - a mantra of Permaculture is that if you have too many slugs you don't have enough ducks!
- Because of the design and the scale, in this system waste is food for another part of the system
- Works with her neighbors who are also working like to - like barn building and also learning from each other. For this system scales by using the network effect not by scaling the unit itself - massive improvements in social capital and hence health and social stability are a by product
Like a parent, the leadership role in this new system is to create the optimal environment for nature to do most of the work!
But this all looks so messy. It can't be very productive. How could we do big things? How could we feed millions?
This system produces as much yield as the agribusiness system. It also:
- Over time the amount of work effort and resources provided by man reduces
- Because the system is balanced and all small scale, it can turn on a dime
- It has no reliance on oil or chemicals or seed companies, large scale machinery - the farmer is self sufficient.
- There is very little need for money after the first 5 years - so the financial barriers to entry are very low. The work barrier is high only for the first 5 years. The more people are involved such as in Cuba, the more support is available form the community as well
- Because the system is so mixed, there is little risk of a major crop failure. Because the system becomes more healthy and more resilient over time, even drought has little impact. These kinds of gardens are now being grown in deserts!
- Because the markets are largely local, big events far away have little impact
- The ROI increases year of year and so does the underlying quality of the natural and social capital
- People become ever more connected and resilient themselves
So if we have applied Agribusiness to how we run organizations, how would we apply Permaculture to organizations?
The work of the leadership is to use their knowledge of how nature works to grow a starting ecosystem that has the power to reinforce and feed off each part. Just as the early years are critical in raising a child, so nurturing the tender young system and ensuring that it has what it needs to get to early adulthood is the most important work.
Let's stay with the metaphor a bit longer. If you raise a tomato plant in a greenhouse before planting - you give it a head start. If you have the soil well prepared and the location ideal, you have made a good start. Don't plant outside before the last frost date! But harden the plant off before you plant. When you plant, ensure that it gets enough water to get it through the adjustment. But, and now comes the lesson, if you do all of this, your work drops off. A well started and located plant will almost certainly deliver fruit in August. By the time the plant is an early adult it can cope with a lot of stress on its own.
So if the main work of the leader in the machine world is control, the main work in the new world is observation and nurturing. In the machine world you use force to get what you want. In the natural world, you use your brain! You work to get nature on your side as an ally to do most of the work.
To do this you have to use a diverse system that works as a true community. It must be an ecosystem where the differing parts all add something.
Sounds fanciful? OK a real example for you.
The PEI Bio Alliance is one of the first of these Natural Organizations. They are also called Chaords (Dee Hock) Here is a link to the full case study.
A small 3 person team of "Gardeners" work for the PEI Bio Alliance Inc. Their job is to nurture the ecosystem of government, academia, business and others who are part of a system that is growing PEI's place in Bio Research.
The trick is that the Nurturer has to get the different parts to collaborate.
Here is another view of the "organization".
Recall that PEI is one of the smallest jurisdictions in the western world. In our field we are now becoming one of the world's players thanks to this approach.
Between 1996 and 2005, expenditures on research and development in the Maritimes increased by 80 percent to $770 million from $424 million. Expenditures increased $63 million from 2004.
Of the $770 million, Nova Scotia at $464 million accounted for nearly 60 percent of that total, followed by New Brunswick at $243 million then Prince Edward Island at $63 million. Research and development funding in Prince Edward Island increased nearly 54 percent between 2004 and 2005. This increase appears to be largely due to an investment in bioresources by the National Research Council. During the same period, funding increased by 8 percent in Nova Scotia and 5 percent in New Brunswick.
Up 54% vs the rest at an average of 9%! Growth indeed.
Like the Permagarden, this is an increasingly complex and interdependent ecosystem made up of many parts - many of who would normally find it very hard to communicate let alone collaborate with each other.
Collaboration is the key.
Key to the design is the concept of making diversity work. Key to this in the human field is to put aside all our focus on racial diversity and to focus instead on the reality of human cultural diversity. We have to understand the DNA of human cultural diversity and use this knowledge to make the connections work.
This is not KUMBYA! It's not KUMBYA in gardening and it is not KUMBYA with people. Making diversity work is not about ideals, It is rooted in science.
A way out research scientist has a POV that makes it hard for him to talk to a government bureaucrat. A hard driving businesswoman finds talking to that bureaucrat hard to and she cant understand a word of what the scientist is saying!
So a vital part of the work of the Nurturer is knowing what tools to use to bridge these gulfs of world view so that the richness of the diversity can be realized. I will spend a couple of posts on this later as it is so important. But if you cannot wait - here is a link.
Each of us have these characteristics. I am way out there in Pioneer. To get work done I have to partner with Providers and Nurturers. On my own I am always at 50,000 feet. But an organization that does not have access to someone like me, can't see far enough ahead. I can't however talk to the hard hitting businessman or to the all nurturing type. We can't connect. But I can talk to the Provider who is himself a Pioneer. I can talk to a Nurturer who is also a Pioneer.
The trick is to see that these categories are fractal. They apply to individuals and to organizations. A good mix is needed to have a human ecosystem that is healthy.
The job of the Nurturer in the centre is to understand this model and use it to ensure that the people at the table can connect.
We have been fortunate to work with Stuart Baker who has I think cracked this tough issue. When I say cracked it, I mean that he has found a framework that works every time so that we don't have to rely on having a genius as the nurturer.
The character of the lead person in the centre, the Gardener/Nurturer is therefore a vital part of the Design.
The typical CEO of the traditional modern organization is a heroic Provider. He like the farmer uses the big machinery and money to drive his message into the organization. He is the decider and the brain.
The New Leader is a keen observer. She sets up the best starting point. He defends the young. She brings in more diversity. He reacts to problems. She works on the container not the contents.
The time she or he is most busy is in the early years. In systems theory, it is "Initial Conditions: that are the critical aspect.
This chart shows what happens to children who have an optimal or a suboptimal first 2 years.
Then ideal family environment for a child is one where the child discovers that there are rules but that she is heard and where she is warmly loved. Part of this ideal is that she in conversed with. Not talked at. By two, she will likely understand 300 words.
The less ideal environment is one where the child is treated like an object. She is talked at and mainly about bad behavior. She is looked after in a more mechanical way - cleaned but not physically loved. She is not listened too. She in fact hears very few words. By 2 she will understand about 150 words.
The difference looks small. But here is the point. The 150 word child is likely never to reach her potential. She will plateau at about grade 5. The 300 word child can hardly be stopped. She will reach 2nd year university level in grade 10. It's not just academic - all the issues of growth and health are affected. If you want to learn more about this aspect of children's development - here is a link to the research
Character, personal maturity is what makes an ideal parent. So it is with the ideal CEO of a Natural Organization. He or she is ideally someone who has their own ego needs well under control. The control issue for the Natural Organization is the character of the leader. They have to be able to put the needs of the Whole before their own ego needs.
If it is all about me, you will not be able to create the trust needed to keep the ecosystem together.
The PEI BioAlliance has a staff of 3. The ecosystem is now thousands of people. Think about that for a moment. A head office of 3 for an organization of thousands.
This has been a long post - sorry about that. In the next post I will unpack the model itself and do my best to show how all the parts work with each other.