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The min max trap

 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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I see a number of posts on permies where people are looking for "the best" , the least for the most and that sort of thing.
It seems to me that there can be a problem with paralysis by analysis with this concept.
My thought is that rather than maximum returns, minimum inputs, "the best" solutions, we ought to be thinking in terms of incremental improvements.

Rather than holding off until someone tells us The Best way, shouldn't we be doing something, to the best we know right now, and looking for incremental improvements?

Better to do something, than nothing (ok, sometimes it is better to do nothing, but I hope it's clear what I am getting at).

We can, I fear, get stuck doing nothing because we are waiting to be told the perfect approach.

Each of us should, imo, take some responsibility for determining what the best approach is for our circumstances. Best practices for my New Jersey sand in now zone 7 are not going to be the best practices for someone in Georgia on clay, and vice versa.

Just seems to me that some of us get kind of caught up in figuring out the very best before we do anything.
 
Phillip Swartz
Posts: 38
Location: Upper Midwest - Third Coast - USDA Zone 6a/b
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I think Eliot Coleman addresses this problem really well and it is a problem that many people use as an excuse for doing nothing.

For example, I know a really stubborn old conventional farmer who does nothing about his soil erosion problem because he believes it would be impossible to stop soil erosion completely on his farm. That may be true. However, the fact that you may not completely and perfectly solve the problem is not sufficient reason for becoming complacent and failing to attempt any solution at all for mitigating the problem.

Coleman is a proponent of the 1% solutions. Find a way to improve what you are doing by 1% - whatever that means to your particular enterprise. If you can find a 1% solution here and a 1% solution there it does not take long to have found a 10% solution.

We can't expect perfection but we can expect to approach perfection by continually refining our enterprises in 1% increments.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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I like to ask myself, "What's the worst thing that's going to happen?" If the answer isn't that bad I'll go for it and see what happens. That hasn't failed me so far.
 
elle sagenev
Posts: 1268
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Charles Tarnard wrote:I like to ask myself, "What's the worst thing that's going to happen?" If the answer isn't that bad I'll go for it and see what happens. That hasn't failed me so far.


That kind of thinking got me a flooded basement, black mold and no bath tub. Why I thought I could substitute for a plumber..... lol
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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I really do think through what the worst thing that will happen is. I can get pretty outlandish trying to figure what will go wrong and how I would go about fixing it, but if I've gone that far and figured out THE WORST THING, I've never had a project go worse than planned for.

Edit::: It's the reason I haven't retrofitted my fireplace or installed my gray water yet; I don't think I can handle the worst case of those situations.
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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Location: northern northern california
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yes agreed, i have my little personal epiphanies about this.

for me its more like...do what you can, with what you have right now.
this works much better than sitting around trying to think of ways to manifest stuff i dont have, or wasting time thinking if i just could get this and that - then i could do this and that. thats just spinning your wheels and quite frustrating.

and then theres the concept of just FOR NOW. so if i cant do something as fully and perfectly as i envision.... i do what i can "for now" and then hope later when things are different or the supplies manifest, i can go from there. often i do something "good enough for now"...then do this a few times...maybe separated by months in between...like incremenetally getting a little better each time...as you speak of...
 
Dan Boone
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Peter Ellis wrote:I see a number of posts on permies where people are looking for "the best" , the least for the most and that sort of thing.

It seems to me that there can be a problem with paralysis by analysis with this concept.

My thought is that rather than maximum returns, minimum inputs, "the best" solutions, we ought to be thinking in terms of incremental improvements.

Rather than holding off until someone tells us The Best way, shouldn't we be doing something, to the best we know right now, and looking for incremental improvements?


Peter your post seems to be aiming at the perils of min-maxing our knowledge and approaches, but I see several comments that are focused on the related "perfect is the enemy of the good" min-maxing mentality when applied to limited resources. "I can't plant apple trees because permaculture received wisdom is that I should dig a swale in my spot first, and I can't afford the heavy equipment work this year ." Or "I can't afford nursery trees and I don't want to plant anything but the very best cultivar for my situation, even though I could get a bunch of bare root trees from the department of forestry."

This resonates strongly with me because before I ever started planting things, I spent a lot of years with an internet gaming hobby. That hobby is riddled with min-maxers, who insist that you can't do a certain thing as character-class X because it would be seven percent more efficient to do it with character-class Y, even though we don't actually have one of those handy and ready to go. Or in a spaceship game, insisting that ten people wait twenty minutes for one person to put different guns on his spaceship because the guns currently on there are 12% weaker than the "best" ones. It used to drive me nuts! I despise that sort of min-maxing. "Do what you can with what you have" is how I was raised.

Back to planting trees: as a resource-constrained individual, I *firmly* believe that it's better to do what I can with what I have, than to do nothing while waiting for more resources that may or may not ever be forthcoming. For instance, this year I had a big container garden, due to limited in-ground planting locations that are within reach of my garden hose and defensible from contracted mowing that's not safely under my control. Many times the soil I had available was just raw mineral dirt, not potting soil; and I had no ready sources for compost, I had limited mulch, I had no budget to buy in more of these, and no reason to think that would change any time soon. So I did the best I could with what I had, borrowing soil and organic material from around the property with shovel and machete and rake and wheelbarrow and bare hands when and as I could. Much of what I planted did not thrive, or grew only modestly. But I got some perennials started, I ate some veggies, and now as I am emptying the "dead" pots I'm finding that even the worst mineral soils that I used are now much improved by the organic root masses that grew even under plants that didn't produce much of a crop. So next year will be better. (The comfrey I started from seed this year will help too.) Is it a slow and painful way to bootstrap up a garden from not very much? I guess you could say so. But IMO it beats waiting around until I can spend several thousand bucks on earthworks, amendments, fencing, and other things I would need to do everything efficiently, rapidly, properly protected, and with perfectly-selected inputs.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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Dan Boone - complete agreement. I share the gaming background and my New Jersey beach, well, Using what I've got to make the most of what I have

And yes, "making the best the enemy of the good" is another way I've seen it expressed - I intended to encompass all of these ideas that stop people from doing something because they don't feel they have the perfect recipe.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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One thing about this that is very important, is you never know how resourceful you are until you have to make something work.

I work in service and maintenance, and a joke my coworker says when we're trying to weigh the costs of time to get a tool vs time to fenegel it in, "Anybody can do it with tools!" It's a joke, but there's truth to it.

Anyone can do great things with money and time, but what can you do when those resources are strained? What can you learn? It's one of the most rewarding things to discover.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1592
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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A few random thoughts on this...

I usually learn best by doing. If I wait to understand perfectly then usually it doesn't happen. An example from work:

I teach maths. During term time I have very little time and am always pushed to get work marked and turned around quickly. Saving a few minutes each day when I am at my busiest makes big impact on stress levels and sleep. Last holiday I taught myself how to use Latex to quickly typeset worksheets for my classes, there were lots of starts and restarts until I had a template I was happy with, but I'm still tweaking it now. Had I waited for a perfect template then I wouldn't have learned as much or as quickly and would never have got to the point of using it routinely. Upfront investment in time and effort saves me time and effort when I'm at my most stressed - worksheets are easier and quicker to mark than questions from their textbook, and more portable than a stack of exercise books.

Is it perfect, hell no, it it useful - hell yes!
 
This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. Now it's a tiny ad:

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richsoil.com/cards


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