What is the ecocycle?
“Is it a nature friendly setting on the washing machine?” “Or a bike with laser thin wheels?”
In another universe perhaps. In this article, the ecocycle is a powerful thinking framework, and tool to make sense of reality, ask questions and guide resource allocation decisions. Why should we care? As humans and organisations, we have a finite amount of energy, and it makes sense to know where we’re at, what energy is required to move things, and how best to focus our efforts next. The ecocycle is a fantastic instrument to help you with this.
The ecocycle gets you to see a set of activities in relation to one another. This holistic view gives more strategic insight than a fragmented view. It can be done at different resolutions, for example, at a whole of area view (e.g. an overview of your projects), and then, plotting the various components of an element (e.g. deconstructing aspects of a single project).
I’m not going to limit your creativity here – because you can apply this to any system, set of activities or’ area
It was derived from a study of natural cycles, but has since been applied to other processes, and used to help people align and prioritise. I’m not going to limit your creativity here – because you can apply this to any system, set of activities or’ area.
Each ‘quadrant’ of the cycle represents a different stage; birth, maturity, creative destruction, renewal.
These stages can be mapped to archetypes that personify the types of energy and action that often accompany operating in that quadrant; the entrepreneur, manager, destroyer and networker. This is handy when asking yourself: what mode do I want to operate in, for this area?
I’ve found it to be a super helpful tool both personally and professionally. I use the ecocycle to keep a one glance overview of my projects and life practices, by showing the stage each is at. Using writing as an example, I can track all of my current efforts – by plotting each article I’m working on, somewhere on the ecocycle. This thing you’re reading – it’s ‘mature’ – published and out there. A story idea that came as an epiphany during a recent cacao drinking ceremony at a festival – that’s still just a thought – it’s in the ‘renewal’ area, waiting for some more development and birthing. Knowing where each is helps me see what’s in progress and prioritise.
I’m going to describe how you could use the ecocycle to:
Create an overview of a particular area, using life practices. You might also like to map the balance of an organisation’s activities, skills and expertise, a set of relationships, or your whole life – split into components.
Let’s do the overview, using the example of life practices.
We can map areas of our life to this curve – to see where they are, what sort of energy, attention and action they require. I’ve found that this has helped me balance and be strategic with my total energy output.
USING THE ECOCYCLE TO MAP LIFE PRACTICES
First step is listing all of the life practices you undertake (or want to), and then plotting them somewhere on the ecocycle curve. This should give you a snapshot of where you’re at. When I first mapped my life practices – or those I wanted to have or manage in my life (meditation, reading, exercise, strategic planning, sleep, alcohol, socialising, and about thirty more), I noted that I had a lot of elements in the renewal and growth areas, and there were less practices that I was doing consistently. That’s a nice way of saying I was trying to do a lot of different stuff and making glacial progress on many. You might also be shocked at the various things you’ve got on your ecocycle plate. Which I imagine as a super impractical pretzel type plate.
Example of practices ecocycle
Visual by Björk Brynjarsdóttir
Lo and behold, I was falling into one of the traps of the framework – the poverty trap. The trap is where not enough energy & resources are invested for the subject to develop (how’s your two hours of golf a week skill development going?) This happens due to either a lack of resources – or by spreading those too finely across too many activities. This is intuitive, but it’s a good one to really fix in our minds and to be aware of what we’re prioritising. If you’ve ever had triplets or been stranded on a Sunday with your Vegemite/Leverpostej & butter on toast ratios out of whack, you know the stakes.
When reviewing my practices, I saw visually, that it would make sense to focus on ‘raising’ one or two of these practices at a time. I could then enjoy the benefits and extra energy derived from these successes, to help speed up the maturity of the next. For example, nailing that elusive 20-60 minutes of meditation a day (yeah actually did it), then gave more mindfulness to get myself to read more, which gave more enthusiasm to put energy into whatever area of life I was reading about. I now use that freedom to study things such as modern feminist history, via the novel Eat, Pray, Love.
The second trap – the rigidity trap, involves hanging on. At a certain point, we (or our organisations etc) might resist change or reinvigorating ourselves. Once mature, things can also become brittle, outdated, and subject to shocks. Creative destruction, can mean taking something existing through a process of renewal (or innovation), or to free up energy for something new to emerge. Examples include business cycles, the various stages relationships go through, organisational habits, or natural ecosystems like forests.
By tracking progress over time, you get a holistic view of how things have moved in relation to each other. This is really handy for showing the flow-on effects of seemingly unconnected areas.
If you want to give this exercise a go; think about an area you’d like to create a different perspective on, see in a holistic manner or improve. Then create your own category for the exercise. It could be health, learning practices, your projects, relationships, work, your organisation’s focus, whatever makes sense to you.
Once you’ve mapped this, ask what’s required to evolve weak areas, and how your mature activities can be leveraged. This generates action steps required to make progress. Also think about your resources in doing so. By tracking progress over time, you get a holistic view of how things have moved in relation to each other. This is really handy for showing the flow-on effects of seemingly unconnected areas.
But if you’ve come this far, don’t take my word for it. Take 4 minutes, grab a piece of paper or whiteboard, and map an area of your life. Who knows what insights you might find?
Are there areas you could mature more? Could you focus your efforts more strategically and are you trying to do too much at once? Are there relationships, activities, parts of your life that need some creative destruction or renewal, to free up your energy for new versions? Is one of your thoughts or new ideas in need of birthing? Do you need some more inspiration to find new possibilities?
The ecocycle was adapted by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless from professor Brenda Zimmerman (see www.change-ability.ca) and ecologists (see http://www.resalliance.org).
Workshop use instructions are available at ecocycle liberating structures page http://www.liberatingstructures.com/31-ecocycle-planning/