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The natural world is staggeringly complex, and yet amazingly elegant in how it manages the multitude of interconnected parts into organized, unified wholes that thrive. What is the secret for harnessing this elegance for use in human systems? Tim Winton found that observation of the most common patterns found in the natural world led to the development of high level principles which can then be used to address the most complex challenges that human systems face.
After learning some of the common patterns found in all natural systems, we can then begin to recognize these patterns in human systems , and learn how to balance the ones that are skewed, and to integrate in the ones might add a greater level of enduring health. We can “make a deeper difference by changing the system!”
PatternDynamics is a systems thinking tool for creating systems level change that Winton has been developing over 20 years as he’s worked in diverse fields, including: environmental services contractor, organic farmer, sustainability educator, designer, project manager, consultant, executive leadership, and corporate governance.
What is unique about PatternDynamics is that it combines the patterns of nature with the power of language, to produce a sustainability pattern language.
In a recent paper by Barrett Brown, referring to a study he had done in 2012 of top performing organizational leaders, he observed that these top leaders “use three powerful thinking tools to design their initiatives and guide execution. They are (a) Integral theory, (b) Complexity theory, and (c) Systems theory. These models help them to step back from the project, get up on to the balcony, and take a broad view of the whole situation. They use these tools to make sense of complex, rapidly changing situations and navigate through them securely.”
And famed Permaculture teacher Toby Hemenway (author of Gaia’s Garden)recently posted on his blog the following recommendation: “To enrich our ability to use recipes and put them into context, without engaging in a full-blown design analysis from scratch, we can use pattern languages. The term was coined by architect Christopher Alexander to mean a structured grammar of good design examples and practices in a given field—architecture, software design, urban planning, and so forth— that allow people with only modest training to solve complex problems in design. … Like recipes, pattern languages are plug-and-play rather than original designs, but they allow plenty of improvisation and flexibility in implementation, and can result in rich, detailed solutions that fit. A handbook of pattern languages for the basic human needs and societal functions, structured along permaculture principles, would be a worthy project for a generation of designers.”[my emphasis]
PatternDynamics is firmly rooted in Integral theory, Complexity theory, and Systems theory, and as well contains Permaculture’s emphasis on patterns and principles (PatternDynamics was developed during Tim’s time as Director of the Permaforest Trust, a 170 acre Permaculture education center in New South Wales, Australia). In addition a fifth strong influence was Alexander’s ideas on pattern languaging. These five robust theories and practical application tools provide a very firm foundation that will continue to support PatternDynamics long into the future as it continues to evolve. It is probably not the recipe book that Hemenway envisions, rather the patterns are more like a set of key ingredients from which we are invited to collaborate to co-create the needed recipes for a given context. The goal is to facilitate collective intelligence.
“The key to complexity is systems thinking, and the key to systems thinking is patterns. The key to patterns is using them as a language – an idea I borrowed from architect and mathematician Christopher Alexander’s book ‘Notes on the Synthesis of Form’.”
– Tim Winton
Systems thinking itself is complex and difficult to learn, which is why the series of Patterns in PatternDynamics can be so helpful in simplifying that complexity – “If we don’t have a symbol for something, it does not become enacted in our reality” Winton says.
Secondly, as these Patterns become part of a shared language, this gives us the ability to collaborate with others –hence the facilitation of collective intelligence. Noting the increased complexity in our human systems, Winton states that “No longer is any one person brilliant enough to solve the complex problems we face; we really have to use our collective intelligence.” This innovative method of facilitating collective intelligence is proposed as an essential 21st century skill.
Speaking for myself, after completing the Level II training in PatternDynamics, I notice that I am starting to see “wholes” much more often, in extremely diverse systems. Everything from systems at work in my own body, to systems in organizations I’m involved with, to the systemic problems facing our world, and all the way up to long term processes going on in our universe. Being able to see these wholes then helps the next step – ideas are flowing more easily on how to balance and integrate to improve the health of the systems I am involved with.
Therefore, it is with some excitement that I am preparing to host a One Day PatternDynamics Workshop on January 26, 2014 here in Bellingham, Washington. Click Here for more information about this event. A workshop is also being held in Oakland, CA on January18th – more info here.
To read a longer article I co-wrote about an introductory workshop I attended last year, go here: Integral Leadership Review