This week officially kicks off the exploration of 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.

It is my intention that understanding the application of permaculture principles to business will create better-designed businesses that work harmoniously within the business itself, but also in how the business engages with the world at large.

The base principle in permaculture is to observe and interact. This principle calls into importance the process of engaging with your own environment and using all your senses and powers of observation to take in information from the natural world.

This is about taking the time to understand every factor that is present in your business and have a clear picture of how information and energy flows and how certain factors impact different areas of the business. When we do this, we can design solutions and structures that align with our business and ourselves as a core component of this work.

A common trap and mistake I see a lot of business owners fall into (myself included) is taking action to solve a perceived problem, but then solving it in a way that isn’t sustainable.

This happens when a business owner is drawn to the end result that a service provider sells, but ignore the pathway of how they got there or is told that the how doesn’t matter. This is a slippery slope because ignoring the process or the how can negate or override a business owner’s natural way of operating. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is a great fit and the outcome and the process align with someone and they are able to get the results and sustain the practice beyond the process of learning it.

Yet, the process often goes a little differently than this. Usually, a business owner will see a result they desire and then hire the person touting their own success to help them with it. For the time they work with the service provider, the business owner makes strides forward even if they are forcing themselves to work in a way that is not aligned with who they are. Then what happens is once the service provider’s direct influence is in the background or the work has been completed, the business owner cannot sustain the change and then has to go back to square one to uncover how to achieve the same result, but in a way that is aligned with who they are. Effectively, they’ve made an investment in a short-term result but still haven’t done the work of taking the time to vett what will actually work for them.

Why is this?

I ask this question a lot. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the possibility that results someone else has achieved could be something attainable. A big part of it is that business owners are moving so quickly a key part of the business building process is left behind. It is the process of self-awareness and understanding about how you work as a business owner. What is your pace and your timing? How do you make decisions? How do you process energy? Do you understand your own natural way of interacting with your work? How can you build the business to reflect your own strengths and support your weaknesses or the areas you don’t get excited to work in?

This is one of the reasons the framework of Human Design is so helpful and why I use it as a foundational aspect of the work I do with business owners to structure business systems that align with who they are and what they want to create. It brings awareness and attention immediately to how someone processes energy and makes decisions. Knowing those two areas is powerful because it brings clarity to the processes of decision making and how someone’s energy is engaged in their business.

The bottom line is that only we truly know what is happening within our business and we cannot expect someone else to do the work of observing and interacting with our business for us. Observing and interacting can happen from those who support our work – part-time contractors and employees – but until we have people in our own day-to-day process, no one can take our place. This is ours to own.

On PermaculturePrinciples.com, it is noted that in observing and interacting “it is important to take different perspectives to help understand what is going on with the various elements in the system. We are always looking at the world through the lens of our own values. Yet, in nature and life, there is no black or white or right or wrong, only multitudes of ways of seeing the world and understanding what we see.

In the fast-paced culture we often get swept up in, there is a drumbeat of “go, go, go” and this precludes us from slowing down or stopping to take a look and truly observe what is.

The process of observation means that there is a moment to stop and take everything in, to sit with the questions: what is happening right now? Why is it happening? What are the factors that contribute to this outcome? Is the outcome desirable? If so, how will it be sustained? If it’s not, how is it changed? What am I actually doing and how is it different from what I think I’m doing? How do I engage with my life/business in a deeper and more meaningful way?

It’s important to include our personal life in this observational process. What is happening outside of work has a strong influence on what happens in the business. Beyond the scope of observing the business itself, we can observe our business and think about the factors outside of our direct scope of influence that impact what we do. This includes our market, audience, customers, and overall trends in the industry and economy.

How do you go about observing what is happening in your business environment? How do you step back and observe the whole of the ecosystem? Processes you might use are weekly reviews to see what’s working and what isn’t, collecting and analyzing a handful of overview metrics that give you a picture of the overall health of the business, time auditing where time goes and how it’s spent, review your profit and loss statement.

Slowing down to look at what is happening around you in your business is the first place to start to bring a holistic systems viewpoint to your work.

From here, gather the facts and truth about what is happening and do this from a place of observation, not from a place of taking lenses from other people’s opinions online or otherwise to determine what is reality.

Next week we explore Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy. We will look beyond the business itself to the people who are inherent to running the business and the other systems that support the business’ existence.

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. I’d love to hear any of your insights via email. 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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