It looks like what we fear a lot about "Natural" - it seems out of control. There is surely no person behind it?
On the other hand, many people who feel uncomfortable in conventional organizations are always going on about bottom up. Or no hierarchy. They feel that if left alone things will sort themselves out.
Both views are wrong.
Nature is highly ordered and always has optimal designs potentially available that ensure optimal productivity and growth. Structural hierarchies and interdependencies are found in all healthy systems
One of the books that I am learning a lot from is Gaia's Garden - A guide to Home Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. This illustration comes from this book.
What it shows is that a natural organization - in this case a productive garden - has a functional hierarchy. The zones all have a focus but all support the larger whole. Even the edge on the outside of wild. Here is where novelty lurks and also where your best defense against predators lives.
In any natural organization there is a gradient of intimacy and utility. The parts that we use the most are closest.
In reality your life is like that too. So is the life of an organization. You can map your social network along this gradient. Close in will be your family and your best friends. If you take your address book you can map this world for yourself. If you think about your department of organization, you can do the same.
As in the Perma Garden, the outside edge is not a throw away. Here is where again novelty lives. Weak ties are where we find new work, new ideas and new friends. But to reach the edge, we have to have the inner layers too. To optimize our chance of finding novelty, we need as much diversity as we can find in our inner layers.
Because many of us have never consciously thought about this other view of our world or our organization, we may have some significant gaps in this world that we don't even know about. You may not have the ideal diversity in your social or work world. You may be missing people in your life that optimize you.
You may be missing your "Guild" or Tribe.
This is what Permaculture Gardeners call a "Guild" - I find that fascinating because in online gaming that demands an aggregation of different and supporting skills, the groups are called Guilds. In online group gaming, no one person can possibly have the skills needed to play at the higher levels of complexity. You need a diverse guild. This will not only have differing skills but also differing mindsets so that collectively you can understand what is going on and what to do.
Well of course it's not just World of Warcraft that demands this collective. We all do in all parts of our life. We just have not usually thought it through as to what we need and what we might be missing. This is how Permaculturists do when they design a garden. They think through the mutually supporting guilds that are needed to optimize health.
For In nature nothing does really well on its own. This is why monoculture is so hard to sustain. Animals and plants are taken out of their best context. A single parent is in dire straits as she has not only no support but her child is only exposed to one teacher her mum. If you toil in a cubicle and know no one outside the firm, you are very weak. As we get older, the great risk is in getting isolated. Our partner dies. Our friends die or get too weak. Our kids get too busy. The more isolated we become, the more risk we are in.
The traditional organization works against us having rich social systems. They also work against having social systems of their own. Because they use power, they constantly weaken every aspect including their own health.
Ideally all things need a diverse and full system for us to be healthiest.
In Permaculture, practioners explore what sets of plants, animals, birds and insects help each other best. Optimally, they design to ensure that these guilds are in place. Remember the larger intent is to design and to start a system that over time looks after itself and becomes more productive with less and less intervention by man/the designer.
So at the heart of a healthy Natural Organization is a deliberate design that as its aim is to ensure that the social ecosystem is set up to be optimally healthy.
Here is an overview of some of the principles of how to do this.
On the left is the full design. You can see that it has the rings of intimacy as I have shown on the bottom right. But if you look carefully you will see that the rings are more sophisticated than a simple set. The rings are in fact the Fibonacci Curve. I suspect that David Holmgren added this part because he understood two vital aspects of the design.
That the key work/job of the human designer is to do her best to set up the best Initial Conditions in the Trusted Space in the centre. And that if she did, then the system itself would largely do most of the work growing out to its optimal scale and health mainly by itself. Care only has to be paid at the points where the curve turns back on itself. If the curve is not maintained the system gets stuck and may get ill or worse. For instance a child that has not had the optimal rearing conditions by 6, may not be able to learn or behave. He may shoot out into the nether world of social incompetence as we see so many kids today. Getting a kid back from the criminal justice system aged 16 is exceptionally difficult. All the leverage is upstream in the period of 0-6.
This is the revolutionary idea behind using Natural design. If you get the initial conditions right, then you have done most of the hard work. As the natural system grows, its ability to interact and to store and attract energy means that you have to use less and less external resources to feed it.
Conversely, in a traditional organization, the work gets harder and the organization demands more and more external energy as the friction is so great and so much useless waste is produced.
So the core design for a Natural Organization is this:
- An Inner Space - I call this Trusted Space - where the leaders set the initial conditions. This is a small fractal system that has the diversity and the interdependencies to grow to its design potential
- A hierarchy of intimacy that extends out from the Trusted Space - these layers also have to be designed to provide mutual support and value
- A very diverse series of "petals" that extend out into the layers of the gradient. These provide diversity on another axis and also connect the different groups
In a Perma Garden there are 3 other things that have to be worked on as part of the initial conditions
- The quality and health of the soil
- The access to water and the ability to hold onto water
- Access to light
We will explore what the human and social versions of these 3 vital elements will be in the next post. Hints:
- The power of the vision for the group - what is the aim for getting together? Shareholder value is not an aim that gets most people too engaged. But making your town more resilient might be. Helping the kids in your place get a real start in life might be. The best aims are those that are bigger than our selves and our limited self interest. The best aims bring the whole person into the group. The best aims are about getting something important done
- The character of the leader: her ability to manage herself, her ability to be focused, to walk the walk and to persevere for decades
- The character/skills of the inner group of the Guild/Tribe that mirror the leader's
We will also explore the nature of the components and how they fit and work with each other. Such as what is the ideal mix for each of us as individuals and as organizations?
I will start to cover this in the next post. But there are hints in the diagram above.
- The numbers in the circle of intimacy are of course the Fibonacci numbers and are related to the Dunbar numbers - there is a math involved, as with all relationships in nature - humans are most effective when placed in groups that use these numbers. Not using them at all - think a high school with 3,000 kids is a recipe for problems
- Note that the "petals" on the Perma Flower intersect. The petals tell us two things. That we need a diverse social network and that while diverse, we need to bridge across the diversity. This is very hard to do. For we like best to be with those that are most like us. Fortunately a good work around for this has been already achieved back in history and today in using tools such as Twitter. More later