Creatively Use and Respond to Change

"Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be"

This principle has two threads: designing to make use of change in a deliberate and co-operative way, and creatively responding or adapting to large-scale system change which is beyond our control or influence. The acceleration of ecological succession within cultivated systems is the most common expression of this principle in permaculture literature and practice. These concepts have also been applied to understand how organisational and social change can be creatively encouraged. As well as using a broader range of ecological models to show how we might make use of succession, I now see this in the wider context of our use of, and response to, change.

In Permaculture One we stated that, although stability was an important aspect of permaculture, evolutionary change was essential. Permaculture is about the durability of natural living systems and human culture, but this durability paradoxically depends in large measure on flexibility and change. Many stories and traditions have the theme that within the greatest stability lie the seeds of change. Science has shown us that the apparently solid and permanent is, at the cellular and atomic level, a seething mass of energy and change, similar to the descriptions in various spiritual traditions.

The butterfly, which is the transformation of a caterpillar, is a suitable icon for the idea of adaptive change that is uplifting rather than threatening.

While it is important to integrate this understanding of impermanence and continuous change into our daily consciousness, the apparent illusion of stability, permanence, and sustainability is resolved by recognising the scale-dependent nature of change discussed in Principle 7: Design from patterns to details. In any particular system, the small-scale, fast, short-lived changes of the elements actually contribute to higher-order system stability. We live and design in a historical context of turnover and change in systems at multiple larger scales, and this generates a new illusion of endless change with no possibility of stability or sustainability. A contextual and systemic sense of the dynamic balance between stability and change contributes to design that is evolutionary rather than random.

The proverb "vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be" emphasises that understanding change is much more than the projection of statistical trend lines. It also makes a cyclical link between this last design principle about change and the first about observation.