“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” ― Viktor E. Frankl

Business Through the Lens of Permaculture:
Principle 12 – Creatively Use and Respond to Change

[This is the final 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.]

Over the past twelve weeks, we have explored how permaculture principles can be applied to business to help it run more smoothly, grow efficiently, and do so in harmony with your needs and the needs of your greater environment around you.

This week’s focus principle is a key opportunity for businesses: Creatively Use & Respond to Change.

Working with change is one of the areas you must work with effectively if you want your business to last. You may have heard the phrase, “change or die.” In a world where we’ve seen the DVD rental stores go out of business (replaced by Redbox), printing businesses suffer (in lieu of digital viewing) and the rise of Netflix, AirBnb, and Amazon, show the market is shifting very quickly.

Change is growth. Change is an opportunity. We can work with change rather than against it.

The question then becomes, “How do I use change as a growth driver?”

In facing change, meeting it and riding the wave of it, reality is our best friend. We can bring Principle #1, Observe and Interact, into the mix to get clear what is happening and then intervene at the right time. This intervention can be to jump on an opportunity train, mitigate risk, or start building in future capacity that may not be profitable right now, but will be an important pivot point down the road.

To face change and reality, it’s key to explore how we use time and money. Are we always redlining our resources? Are we always taking in way more of a surplus than we need in certain areas?

Let’s think about this in a garden. Change is inevitable. Seasons change, temperatures change, there are dozens of factors that a gardener needs to work with and most of these factors cannot be controlled. We can be done is to work with the changes, to pay attention, and continue experimenting to see what works. What may work one summer may not work the next.

Not knowing what is going to work all the time creates constant creative tension.

It is the creative tension that taps into a vision of what could be. When you hold a vision of what could be with the knowledge of what is, the space in between the two is the creative tension. This is the gap that inspires creative thinking, the commitment to test new ideas and experiment with new solutions.

You’ve probably noticed that no matter where you go, plants will always grow to the best of their ability. Have you seen flowers sprouting up through cracks in the concrete? That’s a perfect example. No matter where they’re planted, plants will show themselves and not hold anything back. This is an encouraging reminder that we’re the same and our businesses are the same. We might not immediately be in the ideal soil with the ideal level of sunlight, but we are going to keep growing because that is how we are created.

A few questions you can ask are:

  • What is changing?
  • How does this impact my business?
  • What are the short-term and long term impacts and drivers?
  • How do you see certain trends developing over time?
  • What does your audience, market and customers desire?
  • How can I respond to this change?
  • What will happen if I don’t change?
  • How much time do I have to work with the change I am observing?
  • What does this mean for my work?

I believe nature wants us to be successful.

We are wired for growth and to work together to create systems and abundance that benefit us all. For decades, Darwin’s work has been blatantly misquoted and taken out of context. You usually hear how species compete, but if you read the book Origin of Species, you’ll find that competition is only mentioned a couple times. The predominant theme is one of cooperation. Sandpiper birds that run along the shoreline are a beautiful example of cooperation. There may be a dozen species of sandpipers living in the same area, but none of them will compete. They all have different beak lengths to comb the beach and there is more than enough food to go around.

What if we take this mindset into our work? Then we know there’s a place for each of us to serve, do our work and cooperatively co-exist. There’s plenty of room for us all on the same beach, or forest, or desert. With a mindset like this, change becomes a creative tool, a driver for us all to expand and evolve. It means there’s always something pushing us to do better work, to expand our capabilities or think about new ways of accomplishing the things you already do.

It’s a reminder that change is constant. It’s not something to fear or get bogged down by, but simply another tool in the toolshed that you pull out and use to create an even more incredible business than you had before.

We can creatively use and respond to change when we lean on our inner resources and ask for support from our communities. All of the principles of permaculture can help us creatively use and respond to change. There’s a whole new toolbox we’ve explored: observe & interact, use small and slow solutions, produce zero waste, use the edges, and more.

All these tools can be combined in different ways, giving you a whole set of ways to respond to change and work with reality.

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.

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