Principle 12: Creatively Use & Respond to Change

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Changes are a Coming

All systems, whether natural or man-made are subject to change either through an evolutionary process or an unforeseen event.  Some changes are predictable, and we can plan for them – in nature we have seasons and patterns of succession, in life, we experience rites of passage as we age and in business, market disrupters require businesses to evolve in order to remain competitive.

We Can Use It to Our Advantagebetter 

The changes we can anticipate should be accounted for in any system we design. This takes us full circle to the first design principle – the purpose of Observing and Interacting is to take stock of the shifts that are happening.

Anticipating it can help us create productive ecosystems faster, better meet the needs of population growth, assist us in successfully ridding our economic booms and busts, and better prepare for everything else that transforms and evolves.

Image of Man Screaming

Living with climate change and in an atmosphere of economic downturns, we all have a lot of uncertainty to contend with. If we learn to respond to change correctly we can identify the essential elements of life, live within these limits and still thrive. 

The Unforeseen

Of course, other changes are unpredictable.  So we should ask, do our systems have enough flexible sustainability designed into it so that they can survive the unforeseen

On our journey, we need periods of reflection to adjust as we move from childhood to adulthood to old age.  Are your social networks strong enough to support you through personal tragedy, job loss, or divorce?

Image of a man juggling one sword on the beach

The unforeseen is what we learn from – it points out to us the things which we didn't consider. This is where we really get a chance to shine, we can learn to adopt an adaptive stance and turn a negative into a positive.

Driven by Change

Personally, this is the heart of it all. I thrive on change, driven to and by it, without it nothing good can happen.  Nothing stays the same, so we should welcome it and be ready to use it to our advantage.  Growth versus death.  Progress versus regression. Deterioration versus evolution. 


Some people respond to change with anxiousness and can be overly cautious. Don’t create a state of analysis paralysis, go do stuff and see what happens. As you read the examples of change that I give below think about how you might creatively respond to change.

Garden Example

Change is unavoidable in our gardens, so it should be anticipated.  There are so many agents of change at work it can be overwhelming trying to pinpoint what might get affected.  The change may come in a form that we have no control over or it might be something we easily see coming.

React vs Respond

Whether from man or nature changes come in a full spectrum of variety, so the goal isn’t to necessarily try and see what is going to change but to develop the ability to respond, not react, to a change.  Think about when you're sick, if you have a reaction to a medication it’s a bad thing but if you respond to a medication it means it’s working.

Created by the Sun

Again, Principle #1: Observe and Interact, if you do a sufficient job of observing how the sun tracks across your garden, you can develop a plan of how to respond to the change from season to season. Plants, bushes, or trees planted in full sunlight can grow and shade other plants thus retarding their growth.  Knowing the specifics, like the sun's path across your garden and how tall/wide a planting is going to grow will help you figure out how to manage your garden as the seasons shift.

Image of a bench half in the sun and half in the shade

A gardener can move elements around according to where they know the sun and shade will be as the season's shift. If you have a winter garden and a summer garden, then you will need to switch up where you place your crops for maximum sun exposure since the sun takes a different path across the sky in the winter than it does during the summer.

Financial Example

SWOT analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

A SOWT analysis is an exercise used to help organizations evaluate themselves and their competitors. This analysis helps extrapolate where you, your competitors and the markets are likely headed and what changes may lay ahead. 

Image of a man staring through a magnifying glass

The examples are many of companies that saw change coming and creatively adapted to it.  Amazon is the mega monster example of what good anticipatory skills in business can result in.  They were a mere bookstore that morphed into the “Everything Store” and they flipped the retail market on its head in the process.

Anticipating Changes in the Market

Amazon found ways to compete in highly competitive spaces.  They offered services that others did not, same-day delivery, an extremely easy return policy, and secure delivery/pick-up with Amazon lockers.  The list goes on but they certainly don’t need a plug from me.

The interesting thing is that back in 2004 as the Kindle reader was still on its long and difficult road to the consumer Jeff Bezos and his senior VP Steven Kessel were exploring the radical idea of making their own software. 

An interface that would be super easy to use and would bring “everything” altogether. They saw the opportunity in making everything easy to access in one place. They creatively responded to change and not only took books into the digital realm but found a way to make buying almost anything literally as easy as buying a book used to be.

Health Example

Of all the things in life, you can defiantly count on your body changing. It’s inevitable and if we don't deal with we'll devolve into a pile of primordial goo or something like that. Truly smart people develop habits early in life so they age gracefully. The goal is to live well as we age not just make it into old age.

Mix it Up

Tony Horton, the creator of P90X and other popular exercise programs preaches that you need to mix-up your workouts.  Repetition of the same exercise in the same order with the same weights eventually returns zero advancements.  Horton utilizes a decades-old concept called muscle confusion that consists of constantly switching between a core set of workouts. 

Image of a woman in plank position

This simple concept allows me to easily see my improvements in a wide range of exercises and keeps it interesting, so I keep showing up. I now know that I will need to continue to keep changing up the kind of exercises I do. It’s a constant effort and has become a lifestyle choice. 

Easy concept to get your head around, right?  You must push your body during workouts, or you decay.  You need a variety of exercises so that you remain pliable and resilient as you age.  Also, we need to be open to trying new forms of exercise, so you have a well-rounded exercise regime. 

Respond to Change Well and Thrive

It’s appropriate that I’m closing out the last permaculture principle with an example of physical fitness.  It’s appropriate because it’s crucial that we protect these amazing vehicles we call our bodies so throughout our life’s journey we can fulfill our highest purpose.  My aim is to thrive every day and that requires strength and vitality regardless of age.

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