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Backwards problem solving  RSS feed

 
                                
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Let me preface this by saying I have limited practical experience with growing food, but I do have lots of experience with problem solving and design in software development. I'm going to try to generalize across very differt fields, so please feel free to let me know if I'm way off. Let me try to generalize one of the biggest problems I see to designing optimal solutions to problems in both software and potentially in sustainable agriculture.

And of course, I'm not trying to say everyone does this. However, I'm guessing most do at some point, and novices would be much more likely to. I certainly have, likely still do at times, and will again.

This is the problem of solving problems backwards. That is, trying to fit a technique or tool to a problem, rather than analyzing the problem and deciding on the optimal way to solve it. This is problematic because it creates less than optimal solutions. However, it is a very common pattern people get into, probably often without realizing it. If you have good results solving one problem in a particular way, you may become attached to that solution (sometimes with nearly religous following) and change your problem solving practice to try to fit that solution to every problem. I see a lot of gardening books reinforcing this, by touting their scheme as the one true way and talking about how its amazing yields will end world hunger and that if only it were applied all over the world things would be better. I recently read John Jeavon's How to Grow More Vegetables, so I'll pick on that. While the book has some interesting information, his techniques are presented as something that should be done everywhere. This causes people to try and apply his techniques to cimates which might be better suited to a different  technique. I think the book would have been much better if the system weren't branded (GROW BIOINTENSIVE) and simply presented as one system that is known to work well in a certain climate.

I think it makes more sense to think of permaculture as just a design system. I'm not sure if this is what the original creators had in mind. This prevents people from saying something isn't permaculture because it doesn't do X. To me, permaculture shouldn't really be about any specific techniques, because they all depend on region and specific site, down to very small micro climates. There's no way to generalize this, and any attempt to do so will inevitably lead to backwrads problem solving. Permanent agriculture could work in a multitude of ways that we can't even imagine yet, so any attempt to define what it is will fail. However, an attempt to design a systematic problem solving process to establishing sustainable agriculture sites will not. As I understand it, this is the basis of permaculture. The problem I have is that permaculture seems to now encompase a multitude of techniques. I think these techniques are often thought of as permaculture and people find themselves in a backwards problem solving process, where they are trying to apply permaculture techniques to the site, rather than analyzing the climate, soil, etc. and designing the optimal sustainable agriculture solution.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I agree with you, with one small exception.

It always makes sense to begin with the given situation, with the problem at hand, and work from there to match problem(s) with solution(s).

A healthy method of backward problem solving, which I've always loved to see in action and which is characteristic of permaculture, is to take one of the given conditions that you currently regard as a problem in need of a solution, and re-imagine it as a solution in need of a problem.

Working backward from a solution that truly is in need of application, people often find that it connects to some other problem or problems in the system they are considering.

It remains worse than useless in the context of purely analytical, one-problem-at-a-time work, naturally. Such a linear style of problem solving closes off the possibility of seeing new connections between problems right from the beginning.

I wonder if this habit of backwards problem solving developed under conditions when analysis was uncommon, and so reversing problems was often a useful thing to attempt. If that's so, I guess I'm glad it has survived through the ages of Aristotle and Arthur Conan Doyle, into an age when we can recognize that, for all its power, that sort of reasoning has some very narrow limits.
 
                                
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
A healthy method of backward problem solving, which I've always loved to see in action and which is characteristic of permaculture, is to take one of the given conditions that you currently regard as a problem in need of a solution, and re-imagine it as a solution in need of a problem.

Working backward from a solution that truly is in need of application, people often find that it connects to some other problem or problems in the system they are considering.


Yes, I definitely agree about this. For example, instead of looking at slugs as a problem, they can be re-imagined as a solution to feeding chickens or ducks.
 
Tyler Ludens
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barefooter wrote: As I understand it, this is the basis of permaculture. The problem I have is that permaculture seems to now encompase a multitude of techniques. I think these techniques are often thought of as permaculture and people find themselves in a backwards problem solving process, where they are trying to apply permaculture techniques to the site, rather than analyzing the climate, soil, etc. and designing the optimal sustainable agriculture solution.


I think that's more a problem with people and not with permaculture itself. 

Permaculture always encompassed a multitude of techniques.

 
Matt Ferrall
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Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
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Permaculture does promote things like observation.It is a language of those trying to reconect to place .It isnt as easy to think outside the box AND implement said relizations.The techniques are great inspiration but I also believe they should be secondary to an actuall relationship with a landscape that involves compromise.
 
                              
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Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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Mt.goat wrote:
Permaculture does promote things like observation.It is a language of those trying to reconect to place .It isnt as easy to think outside the box AND implement said relizations.The techniques are great inspiration but I also believe they should be secondary to an actuall relationship with a landscape that involves compromise.


freakin amen!
 
Brenda Groth
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kinda reminds me  of  retracing your steps when you misplace your keys..or something..which i do all the time since i live with someone that is mentally disabled with short term memory loss.

tracing back to find out the source of the problem and seeing what you could do differently.

problem with this type of thinking is the need to have a problem

i guess i like to think ..maybe overthink...things through before attempting to do them so that I don't have to go back and fix my mistakes..by  not making the mistakes in the first place.

i do often make mistakes..but not like i used to (i'm older)..so now i prefer to try to emass a lot of knowledge and work out the patterns and plans before i dive in to the digging and the planting, etc..to avoid having to always redo things done wrong..

as ou get older you take more time to think things through rather than to jump right in
 
Tyler Ludens
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I make mistakes all the time and have to re-do things.  I think this might be the way I learn best.  I don't think I'm very good at planning things out, unlike you, Brenda.  I guess I'm more of the jump-right-in type.   I used to get more frustrated with myself for having to redo things, but now I just see it as a process.  I try to learn form what other people are doing also, of course.  This forum has been huge help in that regard.

 
Brenda Groth
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oh Ludi I still make a lot of mistakes..but the older I get the more thought I put into things..to try to avoid having to redo
 
                  
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That is, trying to fit a technique or tool to a problem, rather than analyzing the problem and deciding on the optimal way to solve it. This is problematic because it creates less than optimal solutions. However, it is a very common pattern people get into, probably often without realizing it.


This is where I think a well informed novice can have an advantage over someone more experienced in the same field.
A well informed novice can approach a problem without preconception (perhaps not even realizing there is a box to think outside of).
My experience (outside of permaculture) has always been that the rookies are sometimes the best source of original ideas that provide the veterns with new proverbial tools for their proverbial toolboxes.
I don't see why it would be any different within the field of permaculture.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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I was a well informed novice, and i can tell you, that no one is listening to you, until you have experiences with the infos you are giving. And results. Now, when people can see what is going on on the property, now they are starting to listen.
 
Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly first. Just look at this tiny ad:
FT Position Available: Affiliate Manager Who Loves Permaculture & Homesteading
https://permies.com/t/69742/FT-Position-Affiliate-Manager-Loves
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