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The fourth principle of Permaculture is to "Apply Self-Regulation & Accept Feedback" (see previous blogs for discussion of first three principles). Here, David Holmgren, author of the 12 Permaculture principles, is invoking central ideas from cybernetics and systems thinking which encourages us to map, create, and monitor feedback loops so that we can appropriately regulate some action or set of actions.
The "self" in "self-regulation" is also worth noting. Self-regulation can be contrasted with regulation by law or government.
Self-regulation can also be contrasted with top-down regulation by others. Self-regulation means you accept personal responsability
for your actions and believe in limiting your actions through voluntary choice rather than top-down regulation. David Holmgren
argues that self-regulation should be the preferred way to regulate behavior because he does not believe meaningful change happens
when it is regulated from above. David sees meaningful change happening when individuals take it into their own hands to be the
change they want to see in the world, instead of expecting government to regulate behavior into the change we want to see in
We can relate this principle to ideas in Lean Startup Theory, a popular framework for guiding startups. One way to view
Lean Startup Theory is that it spells out the details of how to map, create and monitor customer feedback loops that can be used to regulate
startup behavior more reliably towards successful outcomes. Lean Startup Theory is a combination of applied scientific method and
cybernetic principles, with "apply self-regulation" and "accept feedback" being two such principles.
Self-regulation involves a set of positive and negative feedbacks. These terms hold no value-judgement. Positive here means that the
effect of the feedback is to increase the trend the system is already following; it is therefore an accelerator for the system. Negative
here means that the effect of the feedback is to decrease the trend the system is following; it is therefore a brake for the system.
So accepting feedback involves accepting both positive and negative feedback signals to guide behavior.
The "Apply Self-Regulation & Accept Feedback" principle is a design principle. A principle that is supposed to help us design better landscapes, products,
and services. Perhaps we do this by designing the principle into the landscape, product or service. Perhaps we do this by designing
the business so that it operates on this design principle. Perhaps we apply it to how we design our diets by creating feedback loops with local
food growers and regulating our behavior according to what is seasonal or locally available. There are many ways to interpret and apply this
Many people view this principle as having to do with limits and how to navigate them properly. As entrepreneurs and investors our job is to overcome limits to growth but there are some environmental limits that we should respect as we do so. Chris McGee has an excellent Permaculture song dedicated to the forth principle and specifically this issue of environmental limits.
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