Deploying Social Trimtabs To Steer Systemic Change
Earth's socioeconomic and environmental systems are in chaos. Inept governments and greedy corporations are mortgaging the future to satisfy insatiable appetites for political and financial power. Global ecosystem integrity is being compromised, increasing numbers of flora and fauna species are threatened with extinction and billions of people suffer from a lack of healthy food, clean water and adequate housing.
How can the relatively "powerless 99%" influence the course of events that seem both out of and beyond our control?
We have more options than conventional wisdom might lead us to believe.
"Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing on the edge of the rudder called a trim-tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving that little trim-tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim-tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether… the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said,“Call me Trimtab.”
R. Buckminster Fuller
Relating to the duties or activities of people in relation to their town, city, or local area.
The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
Citizens are empowered when they realize that they can take some measure of control over meeting their basic needs in ways that also address socioeconomic and environmental justice concerns. The thoughtful application of whole systems-informed solutions can lead to a transformation of our current system from one that works for 1% of the population to one that works for everyone.
Every problem has multiple solutions
"The discovery that once a closed system is recognized as exclusively valid, the list of variables and degrees of freedom are closed and limited to six positive and six negative alternatives of action for each local transformation event in Universe."
R. Buckminster Fuller
An understanding of the structure and dynamics of whole systems can help individuals and communities identify points of leverage and the availability of tools (programs, policies, technologies, etc.) best suited to change the system to benefit the greatest number of people with the least amount of energy/resources and without compromising ecological integrity.
Families, communities, organizations, cities, states and nations are systems. Each is uniquely complex. However, the principles governing their structure and dynamic interdependencies are common to all. They are the same laws that operate throughout natural world, at every level from atoms to galaxies.
Moreover, every system has one or more key points of leverage where trimtab solutions can be applied that are capable of leading to systemic change.
Because we are often so focused on the particular problem at hand, the broader system changes triggered by our actions may go unnoticed. This is particularly true when the unanticipated system impacts are beneficial! The term unintended consequences usually refers to unwanted side effects. When beneficial spin-offs result from our actions they may go unnoticed or at least not be understood to have resulted from the local trimtab solution. Linear analysis is incapable of capturing the synergetic dynamics of whole systems.
Different industries, by rule, have different rates of incorporating innovation and new ideas. Buckminster Fuller observed that:
"Lag times in social acceptance of new artifacts is a function of a natural gestation rate associated with different technological arenas, e.g., novelty electronics proceed from drawing boards to end-users in a matter of years, whereas adoption of fundamental changes in household architecture is measured in decades. Some NEW IDEAS come with glacial-paced agendas that no amount of cleverness in strategy will accelerate beyond a top limit."
It is extremely helpful to know what the "gestation rate" of the particular sector you are trying to influence or change is. Having a sense of how long the process may take leads to a wiser choice of strategies and may minimize frustrations.
Trimtab solutions can leverage significant change, but they may not be able to accelerate the rate of change beyond a sector's cultural gestation period. Public education, financial incentives, political prioritization and other interventions might speed up the process.
"Design Science is the effective application of the principles of science to the conscious design of our total environment in order to make the Earth's finite resources meet the needs of all humanity without disrupting the ecological processes of the planet."
R. Buckminster Fuller
"In a changing world, everyone designs: each individual person and each collective subject, from enterprises to institutions, from communities to cities and regions, must define and enhance a life project."
The goal of design science is to produce so much life support per unit of resources invested as to be able to take care of all human needs in harmony with the natural world.
Until recently the impacts of design science went unnoticed. Today, innovations like permaculture, photovoltaics, offshore wind farms, farmers' markets, ecological design, community-supported agriculture, local currencies, open source manufacturing to name but a few are having widespread and significant impacts on communities, local economies and the natural systems that sustain us.
Organizing is key to developing a civic trimtab strategy designed to change the course of large, powerful socioeconomic systems guided by political and corporate agendas and fueled by their considerable resources.
This section will examine examples of initiatives employing the trimtab principle. Some will draw on past experiences while others are current. We will extract lessons and principles from history and use them to monitor, assess and understand efforts in progress.
Trimtabs are systemic game-changers. They take on a variety of forms including artifacts, technologies, policies, programs, even works of art. Trimtabs leverage positive impacts that affect large numbers of people with a proportionately small amount of energy/resource expenditure. They are transparent, strategic, transformative, efficient, replicable and synergetic.
They often emerge in times of crises but can also be the result of anticipatory design.
The following gallery highlights eight examples of civic trimtabs that I have been involved with: New Alchemy Institute; Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI); Massachusetts Farmers' Markets; Berkshares, Inc.; Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network (CUSAN); CleBar Uggún Tractor Company; U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative (USOWC) and Boston Urban Gardeners.
Click on each thumbnail to learn more.
Mainstream media has become a messenger of gloom and looming dystopia these days. However, even though there is certainly much to despair, there are also innumerable unreported or under-reported examples of positive systems-changing activities taking place throughout the world. Taken together, these examples offer an inspiring glimpse of a world that could truly work for everyone without compromising Earth's ecological integrity. This page will highlight as many of those stories as possible while occasionally reminding readers of the seemingly intractable problems they are attempting to address.
World games, Fuller insisted, were a remedy for war because they were the antithesis of war games, and an antidote to “zero-sum” game theory, a system in which conflicts were modeled mathematically to rationally determine the optimal strategy for winning. Fuller got his idea all the way to Capitol Hill. “Game theory,” he informed the Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations in 1969, “is employed by all the powerful nations today in their computerized reconnoitering in scientific anticipation of hypothetical World Wars III, IV, and V.” The theory of war gaming, he said, “which holds that ultimately one side or the other must die, either by war or starvation, is invalid.” The U.S. government rejected Fuller’s plan. The Pentagon-funded RAND Corporation called his writings and Senate testimony “a potpourri of pitchmanship for an ill-conceived computer-based game” that would “retard real progress in the field.”
This page will feature resources that trimtab practitioners around the world have found helpful in their efforts to bring about positive systemic change including tools, technologies, books, music, performing and visual arts, workshops, films, videos , etc. Suggestions are welcomed.
“In our comprehensive reviewing of published, academically accepted history we continually explore for the invisible power structure behind the visible kings, prime ministers, czars, emperors, presidents and other official head men, as well as the underlying, hidden causes of individual wars and their long, drawn-out campaigns not disclosed by the widely published and popularly accepted causes of those wars."
"What my experience taught me was that if the physical laws thus far found by science to be governing Universe were intelligently and fearlessly employed in the production of ever higher performances per each pound of material, erg of energy, and second of time invested, it would be feasible to take care of all humanity at higher standards of living than had ever been known by any humans - and to do so sustainingly. Evolution seemed to be operating in such a manner as to drive humans to inadvertent accomplishment of their own success.”
”There is not a chapter in any book in economics anywhere about doing more with less. Economists traditionally try to maximize what you have, but the idea that you could go from wire to wireless or from visible structuring to invisible alloy structuring did not occur to them at all. It was outside their point of view - beyond their range of vision. Economists are specialists trained to look at one particular thing.”
“The different aspects of social movements [have] an undulating rhythmic profile, not one that is invariable or varies regularly, but one marked by periods when [their] intensity increases or diminishes. ‘Social movement’ can be taken to refer to all the movements at work in a given society, the combination of movements which forms the conjuncture or rather the conjunctures. For there may be different conjunctural rhythms affecting the economy, political life, demography, and indeed collective attitudes, preoccupations, crime, the different schools of art or literature, even fashion (although fashion in dress changes so quickly in the West that it is more a question of the day-to-day than the conjunctural. Of all these only the economic conjuncture has been seriously studied, if not pursued to its logical conclusion.”
Global energy network is an important platform to guarantee effective exploitation of global clean energy and ensure reliable energy supply for everybody. Global Energy Interconnection analyzes the current situation and challenges of global energy development, provides the strategic thinking, overall objective, basic pattern, construction method and development mode for the development of global energy network. Based on the prediction of global energy and electricity supply and demand in the future, with the development of UHV AC/DC and smart grid technologies, this book offers new solutions to drive the safe, clean, highly efficient and sustainable development of global energy.
A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History sketches the outlines of a renewed materialist philosophy of history in the tradition of Fernand Braudel, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari, while also engaging the critical new understanding of material processes derived from the sciences of dynamics. Working against prevailing attitudes that see history as an arena of texts, discourses, ideologies, and metaphors, De Landa traces the concrete movements and interplays of matter and energy through human populations in the last millennium.De Landa attacks three domains that have given shape to human societies: economics, biology, and linguistics.
Swarmwise (2013) is a tactical guide to changing the world using cost-efficient swarm methodology. It is a leadership handbook that outlines how the Swedish Pirate Party was able to beat the political competition on less than one percent of their budget, and shows how any cash- and time-strapped executive or manager can use swarm methodologies, whether the goal is business, social, or political.
That organization, founded by one man without resources, has now spread to over 70 countries using the same cost-efficient swarm methods.
Swarmwise will tell you what it takes to found a swarm of volunteers, to organize and energize it, and to lead it to success. The book doesn’t go into theoretical detail, psychology, or deep research papers. Rather, it is very hands-on leadership advice from pure experience – it covers everything from how you give instructions to new marketing assistants or activists about handing out flyers in the street, up to and including how you communicate with TV stations and organize hundreds of thousands of people in a coherent swarm.
In the past decade, city leaders have raised minimum wage, expanded social services and engaged in social welfare redistribution. These cities have not suffered capital flight. In fact, many are experiencing an economic renaissance.
City Power shows how cities can govern despite constitutional limitations - and why we should want them to. In an era of global capital, municipal power is more relevant than ever to citizen well-being. A dynamic vision of city politics for the new urban age, City Power demonstrates that the city should be at the very center of our economic, legal, and political thinking.
For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever examination of the huge literature on state-making whose author evaluates why people would deliberately and reactively remain stateless. Among the strategies employed by the people of Zomia to remain stateless are physical dispersion in rugged terrain; agricultural practices that enhance mobility; pliable ethnic identities; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture that allows them to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states.
A system can describe what we see (the solar system), operate a computer (Windows 10), or be made on a page (the fourteen engineered lines of a sonnet). In this book, Clifford Siskin shows that system is best understood as a genre—a form that works physically in the world to mediate our efforts to understand it. Indeed, many Enlightenment authors published works they called “system” to compete with the essay and the treatise. Drawing on the history of system from Galileo’s “message from the stars” and Newton’s “system of the world” to today’s “computational universe,” Siskin illuminates the role that the genre of system has played in the shaping and reshaping of modern knowledge.
Greg Watson is a strategic organizer who has spent the past 45 years designing and implementing social trimtabs working primarily in the areas of food, energy, and community development.
Greg organized the first urban farmers' markets in the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area in 1978. He was the first executive director of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust and co-founder of the U.S Offshore Wind Collaborative. During his tenure as director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, he helped guide the community's effort to build a 10,000 square-foot greenhouse - the cornerstone of one of the nation's first urban agriculture programs. He served two non-consecutive terms as Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture where he established one of the first statewide urban agriculture programs. Following a visit to Cuba in 2014 with the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, Greg created and founded the Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network.
Do you have a trimtab example to share? Have questions or comments about the information on this site?
Contact me. Let's share information, experiences, stories, insights and resources. It's up to us to connect the dots and maximize the synergies.