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 BLOG >> April 2014

Systems Thinking and Sustainability [Business Models
Posted on April 30, 2014 @ 12:06:00 PM by Paul Meagher

The ability to engage in Systems Thinking is probably a good skill for an entrepreneurs and investors to have.

Lately, I've been trying to figure out how to incorporate Systems Thinking into my own skillset. One way is through taking my Permaculture Course which could be called Systems Thinking for Farmers and Gardeners. The goal of systems thinking is generally to create sustainable systems so any literature that deals with creating sustainable systems could exemplify systems thinking.

In an ideal world, the buildings and products claimed to be manufactured sustainably or using sustainable practices, would in fact incorporate enough systems thinking to earn such accolades. Often such claims are not real or substantiated because the designer did not take into account enough of the parts and their interrelationships. They fall short by not incoporating enough systems thinking into their design. They might have solved the reductive problem, but not the wholistic problem.

Systems Thinking is useful for designing sustainable systems, but is it useful for designing profitable systems? That is the million dollar question.

A good resource to use to get started with systems thinking is a book by Donella Meadors called Thinking in Systems: A Primer (2008) Chelsea Green Publishing.

Donella Meadows book was published posthumously based on a widely circulated but unpublished manuscript. She died in 2001 but left us with 4 fascinating Youtube videos that are worth watching. Here is the first:

One of Donella's best pedagogical devices was the stock and flow diagram she came up with to represent a systems model. I'd recommend you become familiar with it and how to use it if you want to use systems thinking in your own practice.

This prototypical version of the stock and flow diagram was lifted from a useful article by Peter Morville discussing systems thinking in the context of information architecture.

I hope to return to the topic of systems thinking in future blogs as I read more of Donella's book and think more about the concept of sustainability from a systems point of view.

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Venture Capital Rankings [Venture Capital
Posted on April 15, 2014 @ 10:13:00 PM by Paul Meagher

The Canadian Venture Capital Association (CVCA), in association with Thompson Reuters, compiled a report on Venture Capital Investment in Canadian Companies in 2013. The report includes an interesting graph that ranks US states and Canadian provinces by the amount of venture capital they attracted in 2013. The graph is reproduced below.

It would appear that there is less volatility in rankings among the top 5 states, but after that there is quite a bit of year-to-year volatility in rankings. It is also important to note that the money being spent in a particular state or province does not all come from the state/province/country in question. In the case of the Canadian provinces, the improved rankings came about as a result of increased foreign VC investment - domestic VC investment was actually down in 2013 compared to 2012 so the improved rankings we due to improved foreign VC investment. The increase in Canadian foreign investment came from US venture capital.

The report contains many interesting and useful graphs and is worth exploring on your own. I'll end this discussion by displaying one more graph from the report. The graph below is a breakdown of where VC money is being invested. While the majority of investment continues to be in info-tech, and it continues to increase each year, the average deal size has increased significantly for clean-tech companies. Average deal sizes for clean-tech companies were at least double the size of deals in companies belonging to other sectors.

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The Problem is the Solution [Permaculture
Posted on April 3, 2014 @ 12:50:00 PM by Paul Meagher

For those of you into growing plants, you might be interested in this video on Mullein. Mullein is often considered a weed, but as this video shows it has many medicinal uses, can be used to amend soil, to create pagan torches, and is apparently an excellent replacement for toilet paper.

Mullein is a good Permaculture plant for all these reasons. It can also be used to illustrate one of the principles of Permaculture, namely, that "The Problem is the Solution". This is a difficult principle to grasp but essentially it says that the problem may only be a problem because of the particular way we are looking at it. The problem is potentially a solution to another problem we might have. In the case of Mullein, the problem might be that it is a weed in our garden. Why is it a weed in the first place? Perhaps because our soil is disturbed and needs nutrients which Mullein is capturing for us, so it is a solution to the problem of amending our soil so we can better grow our vegetable plants. Also, when we have the knowledge about the many uses of Mullein, we can see that it is a solution to other problems we might have - bronchitis, smoker's cough, ear infection, toilet paper emergency backup, etc...

The Temperate Climate Permaculture blog lists other examples of how the problem is the solution:

  • The problem of deer in the garden? Hunt them and you have a solution for your food bill!
  • The problem of occasional flooding of a river? We can plant trees to capture the silt the flood is carrying, and we have a solution to building good soil!
  • The problem of too many “weeds” on our land? Eat them and we have a solution to lowering our grocery bill and increasing our nutrition! Plus we can identify the type of weed to give us an answer (solution) to our soil condition.
  • The problem of a wet spot (poor drainage) on your land? You have the solution for where to place a pond!
  • My own problem of too many sticks from overgrown bush trimmings that were not good for our fire place and too woody for the compost pile? I laid them out over an area that may be a small sinkhole. This was the solution to keeping my children and dog away from that potentially dangerous area, and it provided a great habitat for the local population of lizards… right next to the vegetable garden, so they can come over and eat pests whenever they choose!
  • My own problem of a sudden population of caterpillars eating through my Kale patch? I did nothing, and ended up with two Kale plants that were not affected. I now had a possible new caterpillar-resistant Kale variety… solution!

A weed is often defined as a plant that is in the wrong place. Armed with some knowledge about the many benefits of Mullein, we might regard Mullein in our garden as being in exactly the right place - alongside other plants providing useful food and medicines for our household. The lesson here is to be careful about how you frame your problems; when seen from a different frame your problem might also be the solution to another one of your problems.

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