Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” Richard P. Feynman

Business Through the Lens of Permaculture:
Principle 7 – Design from Patterns to Details

[This is the seventh 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.]

As this exploration into business through the lens of permaculture continues, this week we delve into the principle “design from patterns to details.” We’re continuing forth from last week’s topic and principle “produce no waste.”

Everything in the world made up of patterns. From big things to the smallest things that we need a microscope to see, patterns are everywhere. At our fundamental level, our bodies are made up of patterns of DNA, sequences of genes, and combinations of base elements that create everything in the world that we see. There are patterns of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen that occur throughout all living things.

Certain patterns that we see appear consistently are the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Mean. We see these show up in ferns, nautilus shells, the movement of ocean waves. We see fractals in coastlines and cabbages.

When we understand patterns, designs can be made to follow those existing patterns.

Beds are designed to be horizontal because of our usual pattern of sleeping behavior. How about the design of the most comfortable chairs? Or the design of a fork or cutlery of different types? How about the design of a computer?

There are patterns in the ways we do things. We all work with gravity. Plants grow toward the sun. Water flows to the ocean. We are always overcoming the tendency toward inertia.

Observing and understanding patterns helps us to work with how life naturally occurs and is the core meaning of this principle.

The better we know patterns, the better we can design things that support life and business within those pattern structures.

It also seems worthy to mention that sometimes we want to design things to disrupt patterns. It takes knowing a pattern to create something that will intentionally disrupt it.

By understanding a pattern before we design for it, the more efficient and effective our process and solution can be.

In business, there are countless patterns and details we can design for. Workflow, life flow, business patterns, patterns of energy that are specific to you and your team members.

A great place to start when thinking about your business and designing for it is:

  • What is your pattern of creating?
  • How do you consistently bring this through your business?
  • What are the patterns of delivery that exist?
  • How about patterns of marketing and sales?

It all comes down to knowing yourself, your energy, your strengths and weaknesses.

What are the things that consistently need to happen daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly in the business? How do you batch certain processes together that are similar types of work? This might mean a day a month gets allocated to build marketing content. You might have a day or several days of writing a week if you need a lot of written content. You might instead write every morning because that works better for your energy and daily flow.

Let’s take business finance as an example in designing from patterns to details. Most businesses will need to have processes around paying quarterly tax payments, managing cash flow, paying and managing expenses, bookkeeping, and semi-annual tax meetings to pay taxes. Depending on the size of your business, personal finances might be included in these flows as well from the perspective of batching. Some of the areas you might be navigating are accepting customer payments, building business and personal budgets, managing your credit and credit card payments, understanding when cash comes in and goes out of the business and for what purposes so you can maintain a strong and positive cash position.

Some of the ways you can take advantage of patterns and energy flows are in knowing how much time or how much control you need to have in this area of the business. Certain payments you will make monthly. Can you automate those payments rather than having to schedule them manually each month? Can you set a certain date every month to batch all of your financial tasks? Maybe on the same day of the month, you complete a financial review for the previous month, look at your projected cash flows, and make sure your cash flows and upcoming payments are set. Maybe you do a quarterly review when you pay your quarterly estimated tax payments. Maybe you use a system like profit first that drips your funds into separate accounts that cover each area of your business and personal life for better financial management. There are many ways to do this and it all comes down to how your business operates, the patterns that are present and the design that will fit these patterns.

A few questions we might think about when applying this principle to business are:

  • What are consistent patterns that you can see throughout the way you do work?
  • What are consistent patterns in the way the business operates?
  • How can you leverage your own patterns to improve the flow within the business itself?
  • We all have patterns of completion in different areas. Where do you struggle with completion? These are areas where you might want to hire support or simplify the way things get done so that you never have to reinvent the wheel.

When in a process of design, the closer we get to something, the more distracted we get from the big picture. By stepping back, we can observe patterns, design better systems and see how multiple areas of a business can intersect and support the functioning of one another. This is why it’s so useful to receive outside help from time to time, so they can come in with a fresh set of eyes and look at how all the pieces come together and flow within the system.

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.

Next week, we’ll look at the importance of integrating many different elements rather than separating them. If you’re interested in following this series, sign up for my email list.

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