The Path of Least Resistance

I just finished reading The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz. Robert is a systems thinker whose work was profiled in the blog Leverage Points as one of the path of least resistance10 best systems thinking books of the past 10 years (or so).  He presents systems concepts in a very non-technical way demonstrating them as an artist-like way of creation.

Anyway, after reading the path of Least Resistance I am really struck with the frequency with which we in general see things as problems, such as:

  • the problem of global warming
  • the problem of ecological disconnection
  • The problem of unhealthy food
  • The problem of ineffective action.

Fritz argues that an orientation that tries to attack and eliminate the “problem”  leads to system oscillation. One takes action for a little while and once the pain becomes less intense, one relaxes and the problem returns.  This is happening because while you attack the problem, you really haven’t done anything to change the system underlying the problem.

He suggests that creating a totally new vision independent of the constraints of the existing system is a much more effective approach.

This reminds me of Donella Meadows’ work, Places to intervene in a System where she ranks 12 ways to bring about change in a system be it a life activity, group, organization or business from least to most effective.  Most of the problem solving efforts that we take fall into the least effective categories, typically throwing money and resources at the “problem” or “repairing the physical infrastructure”.  Fritz’s approach falls into one of the more effective categories, changing the fundamental goal of the system.Thinking in Systems

When one sets the permaculture goal, one creates a fundamental goal of the system that engages the values of earth care, people care and resource share.

I’ve followed many a permaculture blog since starting this blog and completing the PDC. I’ve found myself being exposed to thousands of little “solutions;”  thousands of little elements that supposedly fit within a larger permaculture project.  I’m not sure if it”s the blogging or facebooking writing framework or the biases of our culture that encourages these little solution snippets but we seem to be stuck on describing these least effective ways of effecting the system rather than the higher level ones.

The model Fritz presents starts with the vision and current reality and then presents three stages of the creative cycle, germination, assimilation and completion. The PDC process I participated in emphasized vision and current reality and then presented a ton of information but really didn’t present the “how to” of the process of germination, assimilation or completion.  As this blog continues to explore permaculture beyond the garden I hope I can find more resources that focus on these creative stages.  Or maybe I can create them myself.

Have you seen other permaculture design resources that focus on these aspects?

See also Moving from Patterns to Details part 2


Holistic Management – A review

I’m about 3/4 of the way through a new book, Holistic Management and I’ve gained so many insights that have been beneficial to my permaculture practice, I wanted to write a preview article about them.

The primary author is Allan Savory, a former wildlife biologist, game department ranger, farmer, and ranching consultant.  Mr. Savory was born in Zimbabwe, and it seems the majority of his life experience is in creating and maintaining sustainable animal/plant systems in arid, brittle environments.  About half of the book focuses on defining brittle environments and how successful management  in these brittle environments differs from those for non-brittle (humid) environments (such as those in GA where I live.)

These insights would be particularly of interest to those living in brittle (seasonally humid) environments where most above ground vegetation dies at a certain point and year and simultaneously insects and microorganisms that would aid in recycling or decomposing this dead vegetation also become dormant.

Photo by: Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust

Though I found this very interesting,  the fascinating part of the book  is his goal setting and decision-making process.  The first edition of the book titled Holistic Land Management focused solely on management of land. The second edition expands the decision-making process to cover personal goal setting and decision-making for any type of home or business goal or decision. This process is particularly applicable to setting the goals and evaluating the planned actions of a permaculture design.

The goal setting process is more rigorous than the permaculture goal setting method I learned. It is totally applicable to permaculture goal setting and by nature incorporates the 3 ethics of earth care, people care and resource share. Goal setting  consists of :

  • identifying the key decision makers, resource base,and available funds
  • developing a joint quality of life statement with the other decision makers
  • identifying the proposed forms of production for the enterprise  and
  • articulating a future resource base.

See an earlier post Permaculture Goal Setting for more information about more about permaculture goal articulation. For a better understanding of the difference between these two approaches see:

The second major contribution I found beneficial to permaculture is the decision-making framework the author proposes. He suggests that one use 7 testing questions and your holistic goal to evaluate each decision. The names of the seven questions appear below, you need to read the book to get a full understanding of them.  He devotes a chapter to each question.

  1. Cause and effect.
  2. Weak link (social, biological and financial)
  3. Marginal reaction
  4. Gross profit analysis.
  5. Energy/money source and use.
  6. Sustainability.
  7. Society and culture.

In developing my permaculture design, I identified a list of proposed actions all which I incorporated into the design. Running my list of actions through the Holistic management testing questions:

  • I eliminated 2 of my rain barrel installation actions as low priorities (they were less than critical problems),
  • I decided to make simple mycorrhizal improvements of my soil and not install mushroom spawning beds.  (it achieves my goals at a lower cost; lack of mushrooms to eat really wasn’t a problem for me
  • I added one action, to plant polycultures into the lawn to reduce the need for chemical spraying (question 5)
  • I changed the priorities of my activities based on questions 3 and 4 to focus first on activities requiring less time and less money and contributing more to my “profit”.

I found the testing methods proposed were a very systematic and comprehensive way of testing how well an activity will meet my overall goals. I can see over time how consistently applying this approach will lead to goal achievement.

Also see blog post from Holistic Management website, Taking the Mystery out of Holistic Management

I’ll talk more about the insights from the book in a second post (after I finish it off) but so far, I find this information is a beneficial addition to my permaculture library.