“With diversity comes prolific regenerative action.” – Madeline Dunn

Business Through the Lens of Permaculture:
Principle 10 – Use and Value Diversity

[This is the tenth 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.]

When we look at the natural world, one thing is consistent across the board – the more diverse an ecosystem is, the stronger, greater resiliency and flexibility exists.

The complex interactions and relationships strengthen the functioning of an ecosystem. You may have heard that monocultures are not healthy. They deplete soil and make it challenging for a variety of species to be present in a location.

For there to be strength, there must be diversity – a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences coming together.

Madeline Dunn said it well, “With diversity comes prolific regenerative action.” Our diversity IS our strength.

Although diversity is the natural state of functioning in the world, it doesn’t occur automatically. Annie-Rose London illustrates this understanding well: “When we look at fields that are overcome by an invasive grass, it’s clear that we can’t just set up a homestead and wait for biodiversity to kick in. The land is out of balance; it will take active nudging to welcome biodiversity. And you can’t fake it either – simply sowing a few seeds won’t result in a self-sufficient ecosystem. The conditions themselves need to be welcoming, not forceful; space must be made for life.”

You might be asking, “How does this all have to do with business and why should I care?”

What are we doing in our business and through our actions to resist the spread of the monoculture? Monoculture is spread through oppression and we all have ways that we experience these systems of oppression. We are all liberated in different ways and this comes with showing up and taking action.

There’s no way to separate our work from the larger trends, issues, and movements that are happening in the world. We vote with our energy, our money, and our choices. Our actions reinforce the existing paradigm or can work to change it. To think that what we do in our business doesn’t matter or doesn’t have an impact due to the size of our work is naive.

The way we operate – do we reinforce a monoculture or do our actions create a space for diversity to flourish?

The larger climate that we operate our business in matters and has far-reaching effects on our ability to do our work. With issues of separation that show up in many contexts, we need to think about our work and our energy holistically.

How much do you hire people who look like you versus those who come from different backgrounds than yourself?

Don’t stay in a rut with your thinking. It takes a village to raise a business. To cultivate this space that welcomes diversity, listening is key. We have to listen to those who are different than us and listen to what they need, what they desire, what motivates them. Listen rather than tell. Seek to understand through listening.

Within the business itself, diversity can be expressed through types of services or products offered, who the business serves, and how the business is marketed. There are lots of businesses out there who built their following by using organic Facebook posts. Once Facebook changed the algorithms and organic exposure declined significantly. If the business didn’t have the cash to pay for ads to maintain the same level of exposure, they had to start building other marketing channels from scratch. This is a good example of how businesses exist within a larger ecosystem. As that ecosystem changes, there are implications for the business, whether they change quickly or may change farther out.

If you’re someone who wants there to be a better environment for small businesses, how much of your business goes to small businesses? How much do you support those who are starting up and how much do you give your money to the well-established businesses in the market? How much does your sale benefit the business that is starting up? How much does your sale benefit the well-established business?

Beneath this principle is the reminder that we’re all connected.

There are ways that we all support each other. Every bite and step we take has had many thousands of hands on it. The food we eat has been grown, processed, packaged, delivered, prepared and many people have helped it get to your table. Even beyond those people are all those who have helped with planning, logistics, running the businesses that grow the food, prepare and deliver it. Every step you take through a city relies on planners, architects, construction workers, miners, surveyors, and so many more. There is literally effort and expertise that is embedded into everything you touch and receive.

Annie-Rose says it well, “To separate ourselves from the earth in that way, to view them as different projects, is to further alienate ourselves from the earth. This is the same kind of thinking that makes it possible to blindly destroy Earth in the first place.”

There’s a lot of apathy and the feeling that “I don’t need to be responsible for the messes we’re experiencing.” When most people don’t feel responsible for taking care of the environment we’ve created because they weren’t directly responsible for it, the burden gets placed on the few who do feel called to take action or the ones who are experiencing the fall out from the system’s failings. Taking action doesn’t mean you have to be a full-time activist, it means showing up for the things you feel most called to and figuring out a way to be involved.

At the end of the day, we’re all sowing seeds and cultivating a future. We each have the ability to step up for what we care about and contribute positively to our communities.

Next week, we’re exploring how to use edges and value the marginal within a business system. 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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