To introduce this principle I'll let it's author, David Holmgren, explain:
This principle has two threads: designing to make use of change in a deliberate and co-operative way and creatively responding or adapting to large-scale system change that is beyond our control or influence. The acceleration of ecological succession within cultivated systems is the most common expression of this principle in permaculture literature and practice.
So change comes in two main forms - change that we have some ability to control and change which we must adapt to. The principle advises to to be creative in our use of change when we have that option, or in our response to change when the change is trust upon us. If we are looking for models in nature of the creative use and response to change then a primary model we might use are cultivated systems like gardens and forests, particularly the successional processes that happen in gardens and forests and which we try to accelerate through our cultivation efforts.
David Holmgrem comments on another aspect of change that is worth noting:
Permaculture is about the durability of natural systems and human culture, but this durability paradoxically depends in large measure on flexibility and change.
The stability of a bicycle is dynamic and is achieved by making lots of adjustments to the bike and our bodies to maintain stability. Likewise, our present circumstance will not persist or improve unless we make ongoing adjustments to try to maintain or improve our circumstance.
In a later blog I'll discuss using ecological succession as a model for creatively using and responding to change, but today I want to end by discussing Dennis Meadow's white water rafting analogy for using and responding to change:
White water rafting provides a useful analogy here. When you are going down the river, most of the time it is placid, but every once in a while, you hit the rapids. When it is placid, you can sit back and think where you want to be, how you should time your journey, where you want to stop for lunch, etc. When you are in the rapids, you focus on the moment, desperately trying to keep your boat upright until you return to quiet waters. During the placid moments, it is very useful to have a discussion about where you want to be tomorrow or the day after. When you are in the rapids, you don’t have the luxury of that kind of discussion. You are trying to survive.
There are a couple of interesting aspects of this way of looking at change. One aspect is the pulsing nature of change. You have periods where the water is calm and you can reflect on all the things you want to do but then you encounter white water and the way you have to operate changes significantly. You might navigate your way through the water and continue on with your plan, you might just make it out of the rapids alive and decide to change your plan, or you might in fact die as a result (due to poor planning, lack of skill - probably both). Sort of like a business plan when it encounters the rapids of the real world. But, keep in mind that change is often of a pulsing nature - you might think it never ends but it may only persist for awhile until the situation becomes more manageable again. Weather pulses daily according to the rising and setting of the sun and seasonally according to the position of the sun with respect to your patch of earth. The change you might need to encourage or adapt to might be a pulse of change symbolized by white water rapids, however, more dangerous rapids can occupy larger stretches of a river - constant change that requires more skill and creativity to navigate.
In permaculture we often say "the problem is the solution". Part of the reason we say this is because that is simply the fact of the matter. Your starting point for solving a problem is the problem itself. The problem has to be part of the solution. In white water rafting the rapids are the problem but we also have to use them as the solution to moving the raft onwards to our destination. The role of creativity is both in formulating a good business plan (using change, the calm part) and being able to react appropriately when you get into the rapids (responding to change, the crazy part).
The rapids can be the fun and exhilarating part of the journey:
Or the not-so-fun part:
Change cannot always be used or responded to creatively and gracefully but life is generally better when this happens :-)
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