“Steinbeck wrote about the tide pools and how profoundly they illustrate the interconnectedness of all things, folded together in an ever-expanding universe that’s bound by the elastic string of time. He said that one should look from the tide pool to the stars, and then back again in wonder.”  ― Robyn Schneider

Business Through the Lens of Permaculture:
Principle 11 – Use Edges & Value the Marginal

[This is the eleventh installment in a 12-week series exploring Business Through the Lens of Permaculture. Using the principles of permaculture, a design framework that brings greater connection and understanding of the way elements within a system work together, we will undergo a study about how each of these principles can be applied to the systems of business. This series will focus specifically on small business, where an owner’s way of working impacts every facet of the business.]

Last week in this series, we explored creating space for diversity to arise. This week, we’re moving into Principle 11: Use Edges & Value the Marginal.

As permaculture was originally created as principles for working with nature, marginal means relating to or being situated at the edge of something. This is about making use of all possible space (and resources) that are available to you and your business.

The edges are full of biodiversity. These are the most valuable, diverse and productive areas in an ecosystem. This is where new energy comes in from the outside. As an example, let’s talk tide pools. These areas, where the ocean meets the land, are fertile ground for all sorts of species to cohabitate.

The marginal are the spaces you don’t think can be useful or productive. The edges are where you open the business into new territory or new ways of thinking or operating. It is where the most interesting events take place and new ideas are formed.

The edges are where you meet other ecosystems – events, other businesses, conferences, collaborations, partnerships – these spaces are where two systems come together.

In the ways they operate or questions they generate, new energy is created.

Within the confines of your own ecosystem, you can see what you see and you have the experience that you have gathered thus far. When you take your business to an event or opportunity to interact outside of regular happenings, the edges of the business are immediately touching the edges of other people’s businesses. New information and energy comes filtering in as knowledge, wisdom, questions, experiences, and ideas. You get new, creative ways of thinking about what you’re doing and the world. Now, all sorts of stuff is happening and moving and taking shape. This is the gift of the edges meeting.

If you’re feeling stagnant, the edges are a good place to go to.

The “edge lands” is where you’ll discover newness and creativity. Go here to shake things up and see your work from a new perspective.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like too much is coming into your awareness, you may be in the edges a lot. You may or may not be able to control this depending on what or where your business is, but if you can step back and you need to, do this. If you can’t step back, it might be time to think about how to manage the flow of energy and information in a way that allows you to ride the waves of change.

Marginal areas in your business could be in physical spaces of where you do work. What feels like unused space? How could you use this space in a creative way? Are there things you could do with these spaces interweave them with everything else? These might be areas where you could bring in a plant, art or find a creative way to use the space for a specific function.

They could also be small blocks of time between events, meetings, or scheduled work that feel like floaters or filler time. Even this space is useful. How can you use that time better? Maybe it can be used for a meditation, responding to a few extra emails, or generating ideas for a solution you’re working towards. If you run events as part of your work, the marginal might exist during certain times in the event that feels like filler time.

If you own a business in a physical location and you have customers who have to show up and wait, then the marginal might be what they do with their time while they’re waiting. The marginal might be space on your website that isn’t being used well. The marginal often shows up during transition time. The marginal, when it comes in the form of time, can be a useful reminder to take a break, breathe, stretch your legs and step outside for a few minutes.

Utilizing what is marginal in your business means making use of all possible space and resources. 

It’s also helpful to remember that the most popular approach is not always the best approach. It’s helpful to go through your business, list all the resources that you have (time, expertise, courses, education, networks that are available for you to work within, potential partners and collaborators) and then look at which of these aren’t being used. Do any of them take up space that you’re not using? Is this space that you could free up for other resources or initiatives to come in and create productive outcomes for your business?

The edges and the marginal are about how spaces meet and how the landscape of your business is being thoughtfully cultivated.

Questions that can inspire thinking around edges in your business are:

  • Where are your personal edges?
  • What’s challenging?
  • What questions do you have consistently?
  • Where do your edges of your business meet?
  • What are spaces that you think aren’t useful?
  • What are spaces or resources that aren’t being used?
  • What has gotten shelved and could have new life breathed into it?

What you may want to do is take some time to explore what the edges are and what is marginal in your business. Put your attention on these areas and see what you can discover as you move throughout your day.

In the next and final week in this series, we’re exploring how to creatively use and respond to change in business. We’ll think about how this applies to the core facets of your business functions and how to use this principle to grow your business sustainably.

I hope you’ll think about the connections between these principles and the way businesses operate, so you can draw new parallels and your own connections to the framework. Share your insights in the comments. This is a topic in its nascent stages, so we are on the edge of creating a new understanding. It’s an exciting place to be in and there is much to discover. Let’s do it together.

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