Economic Development Data & Resources

The Principles of Economic Gardening

Christian Gibbons is the Director of the Business / Industry Affairs Department of the City of Littleton and the co-inventor (along with Littleton City Manager Jim Woods and assistance from the Center for the New West) of Economic Gardening. Mr. Gibbons is also the moderator of econ-dev, a mail list of 400 economic developers, consultants, academics, politicians, writers and students around the world that discuss the concepts of economic gardening.

Chris recently posted on the group a post titled “Christmas Musings–change and stability” that talks about the underlying principles of Economic Gardening and the relation between change and stability. Here is the post:

From: Chris Gibbons <cgibb…>
Date: Dec 30 2011, 10:24 am
Subject: Christmas Musings–change and stability
To: Econ-dev


In the current political environment, I cannot help but notice the
tendency to stake out extreme, singular positions.  If you are far
right, free enterprise is responsible for creating the most wealth in
the history of the world and raising millions out of poverty (real,
not relative).  If you are far left, free enterprise leads to a
concentration of wealth in the hands of a few with most people trying
to play fair but having the rules and outcomes stacked against them
(Occupy Wall Street and other locations with a park).

Everything we have discovered in Economic Gardening leads me to
believe that it is not either/or but rather the tension between these
two outlooks.  Yes, capitalism does a great job of innovating new
products and services to solve human wants and needs.  Yes, capitalism
does a great job of driving down the costs of these items.  This same
process also drives down wages and throws people out of work and
leaves rusting towns in the Midwest.  Because capitalism is a
biological system which is characterized by power laws, wealth gets
super-concentrated.  It is also a system operating at the edge of
chaos and occasionally the bottom drops out and everything gets thrown
into chaos for no apparent reason.

It is all of these things but neither side is willing to admit to the
other side’s truthful points.

The underlying concepts of Economic Gardening (complexity science,
systems thinking, network theory, temperament) all point to the fact
that Nature seems to prefer a tension between change and stability.
To wit:

In complexity science, biological systems are most likely to survive
at the edge of chaos: the line between stability and chaos.
Biological systems need enough change to be able to adjust to a
volatile environment but enough stability to be who we were yesterday.
If all my atoms and cells decide to break up the relationships they
have formed and run off into the universe tomorrow, all the parts are
still there but I am no longer the same system (a pattern of
interconnections).  Change and stability working in tension.

In systems thinking, there are two types of feedback loops that
regulate systems: reinforcing and balancing. Reinforcing feedback
loops rewards the winner of a competition with the means to further
win competitions (good basketball players go to Duke because Duke
wins; Duke wins because good basketball players go there). Balancing
feedback loops works to regulate and stabilize. Biological systems are
an intricate maze of both, reinforcing and regulating in millions of
interlocked sub-systems. Change and stability working in a tension.

In network theory, human networks tend to be local.  My network of
friends also tend to know each other. Our level of information,
knowledge, understanding is pretty much the same.  But I also know
someone who lives far away (weak link).  That introduces me (and my
network) to a different way of thinking, to different knowledge and
information.  Weak links introduce change to our stable networks.
(This is the small town problem you may recognize in Prairie Home
Companion when one of the Minnesota Lutherans takes a winter vacation
in Florida and comes back with recipe for seared salmon with coconut
curry butter at the next church social.)    Change and stability
working in tension.

In temperament, there are stability temperaments (Guardians) and
change temperaments (the Intuitives).  Organizations composed of only
stability temperaments do not do welll in volatile environments.
Organizations composed of only change temperaments have a hard time
completing tasks and consolidating any improvements made into an
orderly and regular system.  Organizations which have both types have
a lot of tension and conflict, but they also have the advantage of
responding to changing environments and while maintaining themselves
in an orderly fashion.  Change and stability working in tension.

I’m not the world’s most perceptive person (you can verify this with a
quick phone call to my wife) but with data points in four very
fundamental concepts (I doubt if complexity, network theory, systems
thinking, temperament are going to change in the next thousand years),
I’d say Nature is trying to make a point.  Arguing for extreme,
singular viewpoints is probably not a very good strategy for long term
survival, economically or politically.  It’s not important that the
Republicans win or that the Democrats win (despite what Fox and the
New York Times say). What is important is that the struggle for
stability and change remain in constant tension.  That, in fact, is
what our country does pretty well.


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