In 2012, five books have inspired me a lot. As you will see, they all relate to some key elements of a successful transition towards a new society. Let’s start with the first of them : David Holmgren, Permaculture, Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability
I have to say that it is the most inspiring book I have read in many years. Not only did I learn a lot about nature and its basic processes, but the book has so much wisdom embedded ! Holmgren, one of the fathers of Permaculture concept and practice, develops 12 core principles of the discipline, such as : Integrate rather than Segregate, Use Small and Slow solutions, Produce no waste, etc. Each principle is discussed through examples taken from a lifelong experience of growing food and animals in his Australian Melliodora farm but also through the most advanced therories of social systems.
This intertwining of practice and theory is one of the qualities of the book, but to me it is also the extraordinary source of metaphors that it brings to the world of organizations. What if we considered a company or a community as a soil where a diversity of species (human endeavours, subcultures, different beliefs or points of view…) should flourish ? The role of a urban planner or a leader is then similar to the role of a farmer – in permaculture way, of course, not in contemporary monoculture chemical-based agriculture !
In reading Permaculture, I often recalled the interview I made a few years ago with Paolo Lugari from Gaviotas. In an abandoned region of Columbian sierra, he and some friends renewed the place with low-tech inventions, making it possible for 200 people to live there. By planting hundreds of trees, the place recovered totally, even allowing seeds of several hundreds years to flourish again. We might have a sense that our organizational landscape is terribly impoverished – looking often like a human desert !- but beyond what we see there is also this fantastic capacity of nature and human beings. Holmgren is a wonderful guide into the understanding of this potential and into serving it instead of overexploiting it.
Some good quotes to give you a better idea of the value of the book :
Many people are surprised, even shocked, to learn that most corporations have a shorter lifespan than humans. The cause of this surprise is the common-sense understanding that big, powerful systems should b slow-changing and have a long lifespan. World affairs are now dominated by enormous government and corporate institutions, operating at scales that affect global climate, but driven by an intelligence and planning horizon which is shorter than individual humans are capable of. This mismatch of scale and lifespan is close to the heart of the unsustainability of industrial culture. – p. 192
Because solar energy has been the primary external energy available for life on earth, billions of years of evolution have probably already optimised the capture and conversion of solar energy [i.e. green plant photosynthesis]. Technological alternatives are unlikely to match that efficiency when properly evaluated. – p. 97
An open, inquiring attitude to problems is almost always more fruitful than an urgent demand for solutions. The latter is often driven by fear and an unquestioned consensus about the nature of the problem. – p. 18
When you try some action, don’t assume you were the reason for any success. Conduct small trials and think about other possible causes for success or failure. – p. 17