What is Holistic Decision-making?

July 18, 2016

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

We recently interviewed Dan Palmer from Very Edible Gardens all about holistic management decision making (HMDM) – what it is, why it works and what it’s got to do with permaculture. Read on my friends to get acquainted with this life changing framework!

What exactly is Holistic Management(R) and Holistic Management(R) Decision-Making*?

Holistic Management(R) Decision-Making is a framework for making deeply sound decisions. Deeply sound in the tangible sense of honouring the whole situation, minimising unintended negative consequences, and taking you where you want to go. There are three key pieces to its practice:

  1. Clarify that thing. This thing is what you are managing or making decisions about. This could be anything. Your life as a whole, your family, a business, a project, a day. Whatever. Who is involved? What support is available?
  2. Aim that thing. This involves tuning into what the key people involved most deeply want from the thing being managed – the destination, how you’d like to navigate the path toward the destination, and what you depend on if you’ve any chance of getting there
  3. Steer that thing. Make decisions toward the desired destination, act on them, and use feedback to stay on track

It was originated by Allan Savory and is most often applied in a farming context. But it applies to anyone that makes decisions, and part of what I’m doing with my life is sharing how to use it.

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VEG directors Dan Palmer (left) and Adam Grubb (right) with Allan Savory tucked in the middle

How does it link in with permaculture?

Permaculture is weak on decision making, in that when permaculture projects fail it tends to be due to decisions with unintended personal, social or financial consequences. Holistic management is like a plugin that fills this gap and makes permaculture projects more likely to succeed. I would say that adding a liberal dash of holistic management doubles or triples the power of permaculture to affect lasting positive change in the world. I’m at the point where I can’t imagine not using holistic management in my work as a permaculture design consultant. I still think permaculture is awesome, by the way, but if you get to know any approach well enough you’ll find blind spots that some other approach can help address. This is a case of that.

How has it impacted you personally and professionally?

Soon after I learned about HM we used it to save our company (Very Edible Gardens or VEG) from near-certain failure. It was taking over our lives, stressing us out, and losing money hand-over-fist. We were incredibly close to pulling the plug. Seeing HM rapidly transform VEG into something way more sustainable, fun and profitable really got my attention. I next applied it with my wife to our family, which while not in quite as dire a position, was flailing about a bit. We have not looked back and use this tool to make all major family decisions. Next up I used it on myself to the point where it is present inside the fabric of every day for me. Lately I’m using it to sustainably manage something like ten separate projects, many of them businesses. I think you get the point – HM and my life are inseparable and I’m a lot more effective and satisfied in the world as a result.

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Dan and Adam with team members Carey Priest and Cassie Carter

Who would benefit from learning about HMDM?

Anyone who feels that something is lacking in the way they currently make decisions. Especially if it feels like their current way of making decisions is taking them in circles or compromising how satisfying life is feeling.

What’s one (or some) of the more powerful stories you’ve heard about how HMDM has helped transform people’s lives?

I’ve heard plenty of stories of farmers who turned their farms around financially, socially and ecologically using this tool. Plenty of workshop participants have used it successfully in their life projects. But my experience of using it to transform my own failing business into a success is probably the best example I have yet experienced. If only I had thought to give it a shot before!

Ed. note: To find out more about HDM, read Dan’s articles about it herehere and here.

*Holistic Management(R) is a registered trademark of Holistic Management International.

Tags: holistic approaches, permaculture