This is my attempt at rewriting permaculture principle no 3 — “Obtain a yield” in terms of Organisational Permaculture. It is part of a project initiated by Dan Mezick to map all 12 permaculture principles to cultivating groups and teams.
The idea is that the members of the Organisational Permaculture group each pick one of the permaculture principles and rewrite it. And we’ll end up with a complete draft of the 12 principles of organisational permaculture.
The only guidelines were that the posts describing each principle should be at least 500 but not more than 1000 words, and include at least one picture or diagram/sketch. But since there has been very little coordination, I have no idea if what I have written matches any other expectations than that.
Oh, well. It is a first draft, after all…
Obtain a yield
Whatever work you do together as a group should provide some concrete value to you. You need to ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing. That you obtain a yield.
A yield in this regard can be any number of different things. But generally it is something that leaves you better off than you were before. Such a yield is not just about money or food. It is about all the things that will enable you to sustain and improve your shared work.
Therefore, through your work you should strive to gain
• more connections
• more energy
• more joy
• more fun
• more community
• more courage
• more confidence
• more resources
• more beauty
• better understanding
than you had before. As permaculturist Bill Mollison says, “the yield of a system is theoretically unlimited, or, limited only by the information and imagination of the designer.” In other words, obtaining a yield is not just something we do at harvest or when we collect our paycheck. It is a continuous creative process, a flow of energy that helps us to sustain us in the work we do together.
As the community organiser Marshall Ganz has stated again and again: Collective action is what builds community. Doing things together is the one thing that will turn a group of people into a cohesive whole. And in order for collective action to be successful, it needs to obtain a yield.
Joy, fun and beauty are just as important yields as money, information and influence. And they are often a lot easier to harvest early on. It’s kind of cliché to say that we should focus on picking the low-hanging fruit. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
Having easy successes early on builds the confidence, ability and energy necessary to tackle bigger challenges later on. And as Ganz’ mentor, Saul Alinsky, put it, “the organizer’s job is to build confidence and hope in the idea of organization and thus in the people themselves: to win limited victories, each of which will build confidence and the feeling that ‘if we can do so much with what we have now just think what we will be able to do when we get big and strong.'”
Permaculturist David Holmgren remarks that any changes we make or elements we introduce in a system ought to be productive. It should increase the number of beneficial connections, increase the energy in the system, increase the yield. So it is with collective action. With each successful collective action that a group makes, the group as a whole grows stronger. It is the law of increasing returns. Just like how each time you use an idea, a language, or a skill you strengthen it, reinforce it, and make it more likely to be used again. The group grows stronger the more it works together and the more success it achieves. Success breeds success. Or as it is written in the Gospels: “To those who have, more will be given.”
Confidence builds confidence. Generosity begets generosity. Trust begets trust. Obtaining these yields is the prerequisite to build and store the resources that will prove vital when unexpected challenges and difficulties arise.
But one word of warning when it comes to obtaining a yield: Don’t optimise too soon. Don’t let yourselves be seduced to focus solely on one or a few kinds of yield to the exclusion of the others. Forget about the small efficiencies. For, as the computer scientist Donald Knuth wisely noted, “about 97% of the time, premature optimization is the root of all evil.”
Optimisation comes at the cost of flexibility. You may not notice at first, but such a loss of flexibility can prove critical when a crisis occurs. It is a constant trade-off between exploiting a known path of success (optimising a current strategy), or diverting resources to exploring new paths (thereby wasting energy trying less efficient methods). Therefore, have many goals that can provide many different yields. Stay flexible, and forget elegance. Instead, remember: If it works, it’s beautiful.