Innovating in permaculture mode

The world of plants, insects and animals is overflowing with continual innovations. We would be wise to follow their countless examples. By doing so, we're using an analogy from nature instead of a recipe from an expert to guide our conduct. That helps keep our right brain cognitive strategies engaged in our innovation process. Here's some thoughts on how to do all that:
  1. When we're first getting started with a new innovation process, new ideas can spring up like weeds. We may suddenly have too many options to consider like a field that has been overtaken by numerous pioneer species. Natural landscapes don't weed out these invaders or apply herbicides to kill them. They rely on the way new growth of other plant forms and insects follows and replaces the initial species. We can also trust our innovation process to outgrow the initial phase by continued cycling and iterations of divergent and convergent growth.
  2. When we're innovating, we go through dry spells -- so do the habitats that support all living things. Natural environments retain moisture in soils, aquifers and bodies of water. We can do something similar. We may run dry of ideas. I know from personal experience, it works to immerse myself in stimulation. Going for walks, watching a movie, thumbing through picture magazine all stimulate the flow of my own inspirations.
  3. When we're trying to decide which of our many ideas are the best to use in the end, we can get pestered by our own perfectionism, idealism or cynicism. Resilient landscapes handle pests quite effectively. They support the food web of predators which feed on those pests while keeping the particular species under siege well scattered. We can, likewise, avoid being over critical, demanding or intolerant of our creative processes by maintaining lots of different viewpoints, issues to resolve and criteria to apply. When we become obsessed with one facet of the innovation, we can simply distract ourselves with these other things.
  4. When we've exhausted our energy by meeting a deadline to prototype a proof of concept, we inevitably feel lifeless. Come winter, resilient landscapes may become frost covered, frozen solid and even buried under several feet of snow. It's also a time for our creative energies to go dormant. Giving our brains something mindless to do restores the potential for another surge of innovations after the much-needed break.
Inherent with all these uses of permaculture analogies suggests that we cannot make innovation happen. It's an emergent outcome from ripe conditions and active processes. We can nurture, protect and cross-fertilize our innovation processes. But we also need to let go, watch what comes of small starts and appreciate the advances that come to mind.


  1. Kia ora Tom.

    My problem with your permaculture analogy is that permaculture is especially useful for creating lots of exactly the same elements. A feature of innovation is that its elements are all unique.

    However, fostering, promoting and nurturing innovation comes with its own problems. If we consider all thought that is initiated under the name of innovation, there would be a lot of what I’d call pseudoinnovation going on.

    I’ll use an analogy: James K Baxter spoke of words generating words when he referred to the works of some writers who simply had no innovation in their writing but churned out stuff that felt like, read like, sounded like real poetry, but had no substance to it, was anything but poetry, and could well be described as pseudopoetry.

    By purely following a structure or format it is possible to create stuff like this, and in Baxter's superb little book The Fire and The Anvil, he illustrated exactly how it is possible to create, under this guise, something that could successfully fool the untrained reader.

    Poetry suffered by the proliferation of pseudopoetry in the mid 20th century - the art world has always had similar predicaments through history. And I’m not talking about copying or fraud here.

    I see pseudoinnovation as being similar to Baxter’s pseudopoetry. Any attempt to commodify innovation will inevitably foster a lot of pseudoinnovation. The result will be a new problem.

    The inevitable proliferation of pseudoinnovation among the true innovation will require a process for sifting out the junk. The more pseudo innovation there is, the more junk will have to be sifted – much like spam is in our email filters.

    A further problem is that, like some genuine emails caught in the spam filters, some of the innovation is likely to get sideswiped with the pseudoinnovation. The more junk there is to be sifted, the higher the likelihood of true innovation being sideswiped and lost.

    It is for these reasons that I wonder about legislating innovation.

    Ngā mihi nui

  2. Ken: I concur there can be a lack of originality, freshness or personal voice within the confines of a writing assignment. Likewise for performance within jobs and roles in families or other communities. What is then offered well deserves the "pseudo" label. I believe it takes two in tandem to create that experience. There's some pseudo teaching joined with the student school work. A lack of innovation is evident in both parties to the entanglement.

    I see an abundance of innovation in permacultures where the particular adaptations to diverse settings and species occur. The context defines how the newly fitted, modified and created growth is innovative. The plants, insects, etc may reassemble other forms, but they function differently in each context.

    The distinction between "sustaining and disruptive" innovations suggests that the function of an innovation is not to be different for different's sake. Rather it's to serve a larger purpose. That purpose may exceed the grasp of our human limitations as it plays out in much larger contexts.

    I suspect the emergence of pseudo innovations and spam does, in fact, serve a valuable purpose. It exposes a form of governance, policies or requirements which fails to nurture authentic innovation. Rather, it imposes pseudo expectations, rewards, comparisons, etc. and then gets the same in return. It functions like weeds and pests in the fields of industrialized agriculture.

    Thus your hesitation about legislating innovation is wise in my view. The design of the department, programs or incentives must steer clear of the pitfalls you foresee. Thanks!

  3. Kia ora Tom

    On that thought, check out Brainstorming: Not as Good...

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth