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My Article on the PatternDynamics Workshop

David and Tim

me on left, Tim on right

Tim Winton, from New South Wales, Australia, recently visited the west coast of the U.S. and Canada, and I had the privilege of organizing one of his PatternDynamics (TM) workshop presentations here in Bellingham.  Following that, I had the privilege of co-writing an article about the workshop for Integral Leadership Review, for the March 2013 issue, which is now available online.

PatternDynamics has been described as “a tool for integrating multiple perspectives,” and the blurb on the PD website calls it “a ‘Sustainability Pattern Language’ – that will help you understand, communicate and design solutions at the systems level.” Here’s an excerpt from my portion of the article, Tim Winton’s Pattern Dynamics™ Workshops in USA and Canada, January/February 2013:

One of the major “ah-has” for Tim during his 20 years of working in sustainability was the realization that the major problem was not in finding technical solutions, but rather in working with the social dimension. “Our challenge is complexity,” Tim says, “how we come to terms as humans with organizing ourselves so that we can actually steward this planet and have a sustainable civilization.”

PatternDynamics grew out of what he calls “perspectival systems thinking:” self, culture, and nature. Things get very interesting when we begin to look at the “integrative systems view that can be applied to at least those three perspectives.” We’re talking about a broader level of systems thinking than is usually presented, which tends to focus on the biosphere and neglect the noosphere.

Nature has sustained thriving systems for hundreds of millions of years, and has demonstrated that integrating multiple patterns of organization is the key to sustaining those systems. Borrowing patterns from nature and applying those principles to human organizations, and then learning to balance and integrate them, can contribute significantly to the enduring health of those organizations. Tim has created pattern diagrams that represent those principles in an attempt to create a language that can be used to communicate systems thinking. This language can then be used to facilitate organizational sustainability.

Tim sees complexity as the major challenge in human living, and he observes that living systems handle complexity really, really well. “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.”

Click here to read the full article.

I am also very excited to report:

Tim is returning to the west coast U.S. in May for more PatternDynamics workshops at a deeper level.

Tim tells me in an email:

We have pencilled in a One Day Workshop and a 2 Day Level II Training for the 18th, 19th and 20th in the Bay Area (San Francisco/Oakland) and we are planning a One Day Workshop on Saturday on the 25th in Seattle and then a 2 Day Level II Training in Bellingham, WA on Sunday the 26th and Monday the 27th.

So if you have any interest, email me: miles58 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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Comment by David MacLeod on March 17, 2013 at 4:28pm


That's a great quote, thanks for sharing it! The last line, "It has to be everybody or nobody" is part of what makes doing Transition work on the community level so important.  And on the other hand, it has to start with "somebody," so that might as well be me (and you).

Comment by David MacLeod on March 17, 2013 at 4:20pm


Thanks for reminding me of that Greer article. I did read it when it first came out, but the only part I really remembered was the (memorable) line "if you happen to be sitting next to a sleeping grizzly bear, the fact that the bear may have its own reasons for waking up in a bad mood is not a good argument in favor of poking it repeatedly with a stick."

Yes, PatternDynamics is a systems thinking tool, but with a twist.  Usually systems thinking is used to examine material or biological systems, and it is taught in ways that are complicated and hard to understand.  These I think contributed to why it was "dropped like a hot rock in the early 1980s."

Tim's approach with PatternDynamics is an attempt to make systems thinking "simple, sticky, and scalable," and more important to make it culturally meaningful. If it's not meaningful to people, they won't use it. 

No, it's not necessary for people to buy into either systems thinking or more specifically PatternDynamics to lower their carbon footprint or otherwise change their lifestyle. Nor do they need to know or care about climate change or peak oil.

But as Greer points out in the article you referenced:

"For the aspiring green wizard, on the other hand, there are few habits of thought more important than thinking in terms of whole systems. Most of what we’ve been talking about for the last eight months, when it hasn’t been strictly practical in nature, has been oriented toward systems thinking, and a great deal of the practical material is simply the application of a systems approach to some aspect of working with nature."

Any time anyone considers consequences to actions, and then changes course due to their considerations is in some small sense using systems thinking - including those who decide it's not a good idea to poke bears with sticks.

And in answer to the last question, no one needs PatternDynamics. It is just a tool. I and others are excited about it, and think it will prove to be a useful tool.

Comment by Peggy Parker on March 17, 2013 at 4:12pm

Or, as Buckminster Fuller said:  "We are going to have to find ways of organizing ourselves cooperatively, sanely, scientifically, harmonically and in regenerative spontaneity with the rest of humanity around earth . . . We are not going to be able to operate our spaceship earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody."

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