The word ‘integrate’ comes from Latin and it means “make whole”.

Business Through the Lens of Permaculture:
Principle 8 – Integrate Rather Than Segregate

[This is the eighth 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.]

In our ongoing exploration, in the previous principle, we looked at designing from patterns to details. This week’s focus is a natural segue. It’s the principle, Integrate Rather Than Segregate. When things are designed in our business, or otherwise, we want to design from patterns to details and integrate rather than segregate.

Everyone’s process for building businesses looks a little different. Some are created on the side while working full time in a job. Other businesses are thought about for years and then executed in a short amount of time. Some people take a meandering path to articulate what they do and who they do it for. Depending on how a business is built, it may be in various stages of disconnection within the business itself. Wheverever there is disconnection, we want to integrate. We want to do this within the business and also with an eye to larger systems that we live in.

The core ideas behind this principle are ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ and ‘right things in the right places foster the right relationships.’

To think about this in the context of business, we’re going to explore three areas: 1) business systems, 2) the human relationships of business, and 3) the larger systems that our business interacts in.

From a business systems standpoint, there are several systems that have to work together for a successful operation. These include, you as the foundation of the systems, core business structures (legal, entity, financial, tax), marketing, sales, delivery and service to your customers, the team, the technology, and information flows. In all of this, you’re navigating cultural elements, norms, expectations and your own authenticity and values. It can be easy to feel like all sorts of systems have been cobbled together in a way that doesn’t make a ton of sense. When systems get to this point, it’s time to bring them together.

For a system to work properly, information needs to be able to flow freely through the system itself.

How can we foster greater connection between different areas of business? One example of creating greater connection is to really speak to your audience and customer base to find out what they need. What are their questions? What are they struggling with? What kind of solutions are they looking for? By opening up the communication flow through direct conversations, surveys, interviews and feedback, the right combinations of information start to come together. This information impacts how marketing is done, what education an audience is seeking, what challenges they have to contend with, how solutions are structured and what kinds of communications are created to build relationships.

In this way, the informational elements start to support each other. One element, like a conversation with a customer or a prospect, becomes an important data point that informs many areas of the system itself. Each element performs many functions, each function is supported by many elements. It is common to feel that within a business, there are several areas that are all competing for resources – especially time and money. As the business functions more from integration rather than segregation, it’s also moving into a place of greater cooperation rather than competition.

There is a shift that happens from an ‘either, or’ perspective to one that looks more like ‘yes, and.’ When this shift happens, decisions will affect multiple elements positively. Think of the marketing plan that will build brand awareness while building towards the interest of a course launch. Think of a campaign that not only helps to shift consumer behavior, but it also educates and builds positive partnerships for the business in the future. This has to do with the stacking functions element that is integral to permaculture design. Anything in the system needs to perform more than one function. It’s like when you pack for a trip and you have a small amount of space to use, you can bet you’ll pack all the items that have the most functionality in the greatest number of scenarios. You’ve got to be sure that you have your needs covered and can do it with a limited number of items. In this case and in the case of your business, you’re going to use the items that are the most functional, just like you’ll lean on your strengths and leverage the areas of yourself that you know are strongest and can produce multiple outcomes from your effort.

When we look at the human relationships within a business we think about, teams, teamwork, partnerships, collaborations, beneficial connections, and any of the human support systems that exist for the business. There may be a community network component, whether that is to tap into services for the business or to support your customers. Again, to integrate it’s important to open up information flows. Doing this means getting everyone talking, getting all collaborators on the same page, and having clarity about vision, direction and desired outcomes. It’s important to welcome differing viewpoints, communicating non-violently and in a way that builds and strengthens relationships.

When we step back and think about integration and segregation within the larger systems our businesses exist within, there is a lot to think about. There are millions of businesses in the U.S. alone. What is your business’s part in these larger systems? How do you think about the environmental contributions you are making? Are you helping to reduce the collective impact that we as humans have? How do you show up as a member of your community? How can you dismantle racism in your work? How about personally?

On the collective front, these are big questions and can quickly become overwhelming. The best approach is to think about the issues or areas you care about most in the world. When you think about those areas, what contributes to those challenges being challenges in the first place? What are the causes to them existing? Then think about the small ways those are caused and start to shift those small things in the way you run your business and show up in your life. It may feel like it doesn’t matter, but those small actions come together collectively and the choices and small actions you take do make a big difference.

Next week, we’re exploring small and slow solutions and how the fastest route isn’t always the best route. 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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