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10 common mistakes

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10 Common ‘Mistakes’ to Avoid, 
& ‘Needs’ to Meet, 
When Seeking to Create a Better World – 2008 (updated Dec 2012)

Because of the holistic nature of the approach being advocated, all of the areas below overlap & are highly interactive & interrelated. This was written in response to the Commonwealth Government’s announcement of the Australia 2020 Summit in Canberra, ACT (19-20 April, 2008:

1. Getting the usual ‘experts’ (mostly older males) together to talk & plan 
- always leads to tinkering with existing (flawed) plans – [‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’] 
- excludes most, including those affected by such plans & their fresh ideas

- involve mostly ‘different’ people, including (if possible) those most affected 
- start by focusing not on plans, but on values, beliefs, worldviews & paradigms 
- then feelings & passions 
- then, emergent from these, hopes, dreams, visions, imaginings, & creative thoughts 
- only then can ‘design/redesign-based plans’ be enabled to emerge (these proactively enable systems [structures & processes] to meet long-term to short-term, & broad to specific, goals, & to make systems as ‘problem-proof’ as possible) 
- then critically analyse, integrate, & flesh these out, etc 
- detail participatory opportunities, responsibilities, time lines, resource & support needs, means for monitoring outcomes (feedback), tracking progress, & for ongoing redesigning & fine tuning 

2. Emphasising enemy-oriented, problem-solving approaches (back-end, reactive/responsive, curative)
- these tend to focus on symptom management & neglect the need to address the underlying maldesign & mismanagement roots of all problems [trying to make systems work that can never work!] 
- they typically over-focus on measuring problems (a main strategy for postponing action - by those who benefit from the status quo), 
- & they usually focus on efficiency & substitution strategies, eg, improved application of pesticide & on finding less disruptive (but still purchased) substitutes, such as biological controls & genetically modified organisms
same story in other areas: medicine, energy, etc 

- redesign existing systems (& design new systems) to make them as problem-proof as possible 
- & to enable effective change from flawed/defective systems to significantly more improved ones 

3. Getting stuck in activities ‘pathologically’ designed to postpone (feared) change 
- particularly measuring problems (‘monitoring our extinction’) 
- endless over-collection of data (often ‘justified’ by arguments for ‘evidence-based [vs. responsible] approaches’) 
- hearings, committee meetings, report-writing, etc [appointment to such a committee may be strategy to limit one’s influence]
- most such preoccupations have NO follow-through, & usually only lead to more of the same 

- postponing pathologies must be recognised, exposed, contradicted & addressed; by taking responsible, timely, appropriate, collaborative action  
- access to relevant data is needed to make responsible decisions; however, adequate data are often already available from other places, in other languages etc  
- globally, billions of dollars are wasted annually unnecessarily repeating studies in new locations or with mischievous intentions (often related to perceived threats to existing commercial & power advantages) 

4. Trying to solve problems within the disciplines or areas responsible for creating them; or with multidisciplinary teams of selected experts/authorities from favoured disciplines, with others excluded

- genuine transdisciplinary, trans-competency & trans-experience teams, able to access disciplinary & specialised knowledge as needed 
- include competencies relating to holistic approaches to design, sustainability, wellbeing, meaning & effective change processes

5. Patriarchal (them doing things to/for us, & us doing things to/for them) & ‘driven’ do-good approaches are rarely exactly what is needed 
- these are generally not embraced by those being ‘helped’, or are not sustained after the helpers leave 
- also, they invariably have diverse negative unexpected consequences 

- inclusion of those most affected by proposed 'improvements'; as primary collaborators in change processes, & from beginning to end 
- enables ownership, relevance, achievability, ongoing improvement & openness to unforseen/surprise benefits 

6. Planning ‘Olympic/mega-scale’, heroic initiatives (from hearings to projects; talk to action) with no follow-through or provision for ongoing support (this needs to be more than just funding) 
- these invariably only reach the analysis, planning & preliminary stages; & then are abandoned 
- most have unforseen numerous long-term & widespread harmful side-effects (personal, social, ecological, etc)

- diverse, mutually supportive, do-able initiatives that have long-term commitment & support 
- consideration of opportunities for ongoing improvement & learning our ways forward collaboratively towards improved futures 

7. Over-focus on knowledge & data, & neglect of wisdom & experience (most ‘wisdom’ cannot be supported by data; it involves working with the ‘unknown’ – most of what is – not just the limited ‘known’ –  often in ways that rely on intuition, ‘right brain’ & gut feelings, etc)

- to be much better at recognising, valuing & involving the wisest & most experienced in our society, & not so obsessed with ‘cleverness’ (whereas wisdom enables us to work with the ‘unknown’ & ‘known’, cleverness is limited to working with the miniscule ‘known’) 

8. Over-focus on ‘productivity’, profit & quick dramatic results 
- predictably leads to burn-out, only short-term, limited benefits, & often unexpected disbenefits (additional problems that are often initially unrecognised)

- much more focus on ‘maintenance’ activities [sustainable ‘productivity’ is a by-product of this] 
- caring for one another (& other species & the environment) 
- celebration – helps validate & spread good ideas & initiatives
- venting feelings, & access to support for ‘healing’ our (often denied) psychological wounding, etc
- prioritise time & resources for these activities 
- sustained productivity is emergent from the effective maintenance of whole systems 

9. Homogenisation tendencies 
- these tend to result in construction of currently favoured ‘norms’ (for people, structures, processes, etc), 
- failure to consider diversity & 'alternatives'
- creation of in-groups & out-groups 
- also, inclusion, exclusion & blaming 
- failure to benefit from the creativity that resides at the margins & in the borderlands of society 

- openness to appreciation of the value of hererogeneity & ‘functional’ diversity within all systems, with its opportunities for synergy, mutualism... 
- lateral & paradoxical thinking & acting 
- extension beyond the usual competencies 
- relevance to core needs & possibilities (plus, ‘Testing Questions’ & Integrator Indicators’ for these] 
- a sense of inclusion, ownership, & a sense of place, etc 

10. Neglect of the arts, or only token involvement 
- over-focus on economic (not human) grwoth, the sciences, technologies, business, politics, the professions, the media, & the other major powerful institutions within our society 
- as a result, the arts are poorly supported, regarded as a luxury or optional extra, an afterthought, or even irrelevant 

- recognition of the arts, in its broadest sense (including humour), as being an essential part of both the foundation & means for implementation of all efforts to achieve genuine & sustainable improvement


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Emeritus Professor Stuart B. Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology,stu mirror 
School of Education (includes previous School of Social Ecology & Lifelong Learning),


Western Sydney University (Kingswood Campus)
Locked Bag 1797, PENRITH, NSW 2751, AUSTRALIA   
Location: Building KI, Room K-2-19A, Kingswood Campus 
P: +61 (0)2 4736-0799 | Ext: 2799 (Kingswood staff only) | Fax: -0400
Email: Web:

Founding Co-Editor: Journal of Organic Systems: 
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