Collective Metamorphosis

A combinatorial approach to self-transformation


A chapter draft by John Wood 2014 for Prof. Wolfgang Jonas's book Transformation Design (2015).

Can we design transformation?

This chapter argues that suitably trained designers could help politicians address the problems of climate change and biodiversity losses. We live in a stridently humanistic world in which governments find it almost impossible to look beyond the short-term expediencies of politics. Their tools for change (e.g. legislation, taxation and the setting of targets) are too abstract or circuitous to be effective (Meadows, 1999). However, although design can influence behaviour with a more direct and appealing approach it may need some re-designing. After many attempts to make design greener, what we have learned is that piecemeal reforms are not enough. We have had a hundred years of eco-design and the world is getting worse. This is not to say that previous approaches were weak or dumb. Rather, they were weakened, or dumbed down, by the strength of prevailing economic forces. For example, we cannot 'design' human behaviour in the way we design products or services. By working with politicians and scientists, perhaps we could develop a methodology of transformation design that makes ecological futures more imaginable, meaningful, desirable and attainable. This is an ambitious idea. Paradigms resist change because they are sustained by many vested interests and other entities that depend on them. Transformation processes tend to make their own rules and boundaries, which probably means that it could only be controlled on a collective basis (c.f. Kelly, 1994). If so, perhaps transformation design would inspire a viable form of ‘creative democracy’ (c.f. Dewey, 1939; Jones, 1998).

The need for self-transformation

Surprisingly, after a hundred thousand years of reckless behaviour (Ponting, 1991), our species is still here. Perhaps this explains why we tend to see our bad habits as normal. Nonetheless, many scientists are concerned that our lifestyles will trigger irreversible climate change (Lovelock, 2006), and exacerbate the current rate of species extinctions (Leakey & Lewin, 1996; WWF, 2014). However, this scenario contrasts sharply with mainstream political rhetoric. Whereas environmentalists see the world as a sensitive ecosystem that includes Homo sapiens, governments like to present it as a hierarchy of economies in perpetual competition. What we need is a vision of future prosperity that is ecologically viable (Jackson, 2009). Instead, what politicians offer us is 100% employment and an economic system that measures its success in the number of transactions, irrespective of how destructive they are. Making currency systems bigger makes outward investment quicker, easier and more profitable. However, this dissipates collective wealth in countless covert transactions (Douthwaite, 1992). Instead of designing our cities for diversity and access (Jones et al., 2010) we opt for mobility and speed. This forces us to work harder, just to maintain our sprawling transport industry. Economists and accountants hide the dysfunctional nature of the whole system in the dubious claim that economic growth is essential (Douthwaite, 1992; Jackson, 2009). Corporations then answer this call by increasing the net throughput of materials, money and energy (Meadows, Randers & Meadows, 2004). Only a transformative approach can put things right, and the best way to achieve this is by sharing visions, rather than offering dubious choices (c.f. Meadows, 1999).

The big picture

Reforming design to assist in the political or social context requires new thinking. Instead of blaming individual factors, such as economics (Jackson, 2009) over-population (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1990 & 2013) or the destructive effects of technology (Giddens, 2002) we might want to see how the main parameters interconnect (Hutchins, 2014), then re-imagine them as subcomponents of a better system. Ideally, we should think outside the existing paradigm and re-envision our primary needs, such as food, energy, shelter, mobility, exchange systems and security. If we can do this coherently enough, realistic reform will become thinkable. If it is thinkable and sensible, it will become shareable. If it is shared widely enough it will soon become possible (Wood, 2007:1). This would require a new design agenda that is comprehensive, joined-up, enterprising and imaginative. It would also mean re-designing design (c.f. Jones, 1994) to generate a rich source of long-term visions, purposes and opportunities. This would need to work within a discourse that is understandable, useful and appealing within politics and economics. Although they use different modes of rhetoric, designers and politicians are both pragmatic shapers of change. This complements the approach of more scholastically-trained advisors, who are likely to be better at processing abstract truths. The latter tendency reflects a western tendency to overvalue critical and analytical logic at the expense of creative synthesis and experience (McGilchrist, 2009; Robinson, 2011).

Beyond accountability

For example, in recent years, data-led, rather than design-led fishing policies in the European Parliament have endangered biodiversity, food security, fishing communities and profits (c.f. Brown, 2011). Until 2013, the quota system forced fisherman to discard (i.e. to kill) up to half of the fish they had caught in the North Sea. Like many dysfunctional systems this reflects a systematic disconnection between managers and the managed. Although fishermen have first-hand knowledge of the 'blooms' of fish shoals they do not have access to more detailed, real-time scientific data that would help them to reduce discards (Matthias, 2014). In order to bargain for the highest fishing quotas, politicians depend on scientific data which quantifies fish in dimensions, species and availability. Also, a third of the fish caught in the English Channel now contain plastics (Lusher, McHugh & Thompson, 2013) but it is not clear who could, or should, remedy the situation. Although, as citizens, we did not vote to kill fish, or to put plastics into the food chain, as consumers we dutifully participate in the waste-based economy. This all seems normal because our traditional models of accountancy and economics habitually discount futures (Gollier, 2013). Transformation design would require a more holistic response that brings all vested interests in line with an ecological vision. While the technology for locating fish is now extremely precise the design of fishing nets has improved remarkably little over thousands of years. We need to design better technologies for harvesting fish (c.f. O’Reilly, 2012). Even more importantly, we need joined-up business models that think beyond today's wholesale fish stocks.

Science plus design

In order to reconcile technology, social norms, business and other factors with biodiversity (c.f. Wood, 2013:2) we need a new, multi-stranded, ecologically entrepreneurial approach, informed by scientific expertise. Science is important but it cannot transform lifestyles without the help of technologists, politicians and designers. In short, science is not enough. In the early 21st century, under intense pressure from climate change lobbyists, scientists failed to make a strong case for a precautionary design approach - i.e. just 'in case' the worst happens. Because of their professional identity, they found themselves forced to defend their data and their modes of inquiry. Scientists and designers could work together to manage biological diversification. At present, scientists aim to differentiate between more species. However, as only around 9% of all sea species are known, or have been classified (Mora, Tittensor, Adl, Simpson & Worm, 2011) this will take many decades. Designers would take a more immediate, pragmatic standpoint. They might, for example, work on business innovation and marketing. Only by finding new synergies (c.f. Wood, in Walker & Giroud, 2013) are we likely to replace harmful practices, such as ‘bottom-trawling’, or bland industrial products, such as fish fingers (i.e. 'fish sticks'). This would have the effect of saving some species that we know we do not know. In short, a viable transformation design approach would mean intervening imaginatively, wisely and proactively in every part of a future circular economy. This means integrating political, scientific and design thinking within an imagination-based, open-source discourse of transformation.

Comprehensive design

Inviting designers to work in a more systemic, holistic way would require them to see the world as a joined-up, but poorly designed system. This is a big idea with even bigger political implications. Ultimately, it could lead to a reform of ballot-box politics and consumption-based economics. Until now, however, the growing awareness of the importance of design thinking (Brown, 2009) has yet to enhance the designer's status or to upgrade her role and responsibilities. Rather, it has given some management experts the idea that they can apply 'design thinking'. Historically, designers have tended to present themselves as freelance specialists, rather than as deep-thinking professionals. Unless they have secured senior managerial positions, designers seldom have much influence over business models. This is also because they are usually hired to augment existing production processes, rather than to work at a strategic level. The proliferation of many specialist design fields began in the 1880s, when society was becoming more industrial. Since then, a diversity of specialist practices emerged to support an increasingly narcissistic and profit-driven consumer economy (Forty, 1986). Corporate and governmental resistance to change is, to a significant extent, enshrined in a discourse that refuses to re-design itself in accordance with the living world. Envisioning more ecological paradigm is a vital step in making the 'unthinkable' possible (Wood, 2007:1). The next process of transformation might, simply, to design, then apply, appropriate 'policy switches' (Greyson, 2014).

Collective metamorphosis

If called upon to assist to catalyse a paradigm change, would designers be ready for the challenge? This is unlikely, as the task would include the daunting task of re-designing design itself. Because it resists simple explanation (Lawson, 1980), designing tends to be seen as a relatively humble discipline. Traditionally, it is a predictive process (c.f. Simon, 1969) that anticipates better situations, usually by mapping them out visually. The higher level of complexity in transformation design would challenge this ‘future-focused’ nature of design and introduce a strong co-design element that would entangle designers (c.f. Thackara, 2005), just like everyone else. Blurring the traditional boundaries between designers, clients, governments and stakeholders makes the idea of transformation design democratically rich because it involves everyone in succession of complex, multi-level changes that are largely unpredictable. In a sense, it would become a kind of 'collective metamorphosis'. Fortunately, this chimes with recent developments in 'open source' collaboration and distributed, non-hierarchical modes of thinking (Wood, 2009). For example, there is evidence that ordinary citizens sometimes appear to 'know' more than individual experts (Surowiecki, 2005). If so, this is good news for future democracies. If co-design processes precipitate new, shared experiences this should lead to permanent shifts in assumptions and beliefs. For this reason, it makes sense to see transformation design as a 'self-transformative' process because the designers would be implicated in their own transformations. This would apply whether the term 'self' refers to an individual designer, or to co-designers and their community of clients.


For all of the above reasons I prefer to use the term metadesign, by which I mean a self-organizing framework for continuously co-designing and re-designing systemic change (Maturana, 1979; Giaccardi, 2005; Wood, in Walker & Giroud, 2013). Metadesign is qualitatively different from design because it is too complex to be predictive. Some authors have applied the metaphor of 'seeding' in this context (Ascott, in Giaccardi, 2005), which implies that metadesign can be more opportunistic and adaptive, rather like the cultivation processes in gardening. Not surprisingly, metadesign is permanently incomplete, because it must address unforeseen conditions, perhaps within the scope of a necessarily incomplete, long-term vision.

Some Practical Steps for Metadesigners
(These serve to illustrate some of the principles behind metadesign.)

Design and imagination

One reason why government agencies and other corporate bodies become dysfunctional is that, as they grow above a certain size, their bureaucracy renders them less agile. Unless we can optimise the scale of organisations, simply replacing rules and targets with a more quality-focused, design-led approach may not work (Pollock & Price, 2011). However, if it is not feasible to scale down, or de-centralise a given organisation, transformation designers might seek to re-language (c.f. Maturana & Varela, 1980) misunderstandings and opportunities that exist between top-down and bottom-up initiatives (Forte & Bruckman, 2008; Wood, 2013). Perhaps all members of organisations could be invited to develop their potential in accordance with a vision of the underlying purpose of their role. This kind of shared envisioning process is likely to transform habits and behaviours quicker, and more sustainably, than current methods (Meadows, 1999) . Since 2010 the UK government has sought to change public behaviour with the aid of 'nudge' psychology, said to be a non-coercive approach that makes the formal or presentational logic of government communications more 'customer-friendly' (c.f. Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). However, this is a fundamentally behaviourist approach, rather than a democratic one. A more design-led response might, for example, emphasise forward-based envisioning, rather than quantifying the status quo. We can learn a great deal from successful design-oriented initiatives, such as 'hacktivism' (Von Busch, 2008), 'design activism' (Fuad-Luke, 2009), design-led community approaches (c.f. Vezzoli & Manzini, 2008) or the evolution of new democratic approaches to business enterprise (McDonnell, Macknight & Donnelly, 2012).


If organisations work better when encouraged to operate organically, rather than mechanistically, what contribution might science make, in developing transformation design? Traditionally, the scientist's role is to check that a given state of affairs exists, then to explain it. By contrast, designers tend to make things work in a more specific and situated context. Crudely speaking, whereas transformation design will be surprising and idiosyncratic, scientific truth claims are generalities that can apply, predictively, as 'laws'. Science's long established quest for 'universals' derives from a succession of influential thinkers, such as Aristotle (384 BCE – 322 BCE), William of Ockham (1285–1349) and Leibniz (1646-1716) who developed ways to make propositions that are unassailable. Unfortunately, this works better in the Platonic realm of abstract form, logic and number than it does for actual living organisms. Before Galileo, events would unfold in miraculous complexity. Afterwards, they became unravelled as simple domains of absolute time and absolute space (i.e. evidenced by Newtonian clocks and Cartesian grids). While the separation of space from time led to major technological achievements in target-based planning, the assumptions behind it are less applicable to living systems. Where, for example, physicists make the expedient claim that all atoms of the same element are identical, irrespective of context or history, this kind of generalisation would be less viable within a social or ecological context. In particular, non-humans inhabit a time-place in which survival depends on their alertness and attentiveness to the wholeness of the immediate present, rather than to rules made in the past.


Where living systems are concerned, the tendency to investigates parts, rather than wholes can be counterproductive. When making their 1970s study of the life sciences, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela found no pre-existing model or definition of a living system. Their subsequent model of living systems (Maturana & Varela, 1980) reminds us that nature does not manage itself with stopwatches and tape measures. For example, although science can predict precisely how a corpse will decompose in laboratory conditions, it cannot know the future personality or interests of a newborn child. This suggests that transformational science should be situated and 'inclusional' (c.f. Rayner, 2012:1,2). In physics, chaos theory emerged from the failure to find Newtonian principles at work within actual systems (Gleick, 1987). Even in the simplest pendulum system, no matter how meticulously you prepare your experiment the tiniest irregularity will grow into larger events. Insignificant factors that were unnoticed at the initial stages can 'trigger' a cascade of larger events with unexpected outcomes. Many of these so-called ‘strange attractors’ can only be properly understood within their own local context. David Ruelle, the chaos scientist, once remarked that 'strange attractors' are psychoanalytically 'suggestive' (Ruelle, in Gleick, 1987, p. 133). This implies that practically any sign, whether or not we can identify it, can act as an unconscious attractor (Hayles, 1991). Again, unless it can be studied after the event, any design, or management of the chaos principle seems out of reach for orthodox science.


One reason why deductive reasoning has, for so long, been vital to axiomatic certainty is that its logic seems simple, predictable and repeatable. However, syllogistic versions, for example, only work if one is willing to accept that a given 'x' can be identical with a given 'y'. Even then, complex formulations are less predictable and some are baffling. Alfred Jarry (1873–1907) founded the Pataphysical Society on the premise that exceptions were more important than 'norms', 'rules' and 'laws'. This is not to say that rules can never apply within transformation. Indeed, once an exceptional occurrence has disproved an existing rule for a given length of time, it is more likely to become the template for a new one. This is an evolutionary principle that appears to contradict the more analytical and reductionist methods of science (Feyerabend, 1969). In 1877, Charles Peirce discovered a non-deductive type of logic he called ‘abductive reasoning’. Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries, are a good introduction to abductive thinking, although they invariably show it as a rare hallmark of individual genius, rather than as a commonplace process. As Gregory Bateson said: "all thought would be totally impossible in a universe in which abduction was not expectable......" (Bateson, 1972). Perhaps abductive reasoning is the mutable logic behind self-transformation. As the caterpillar creeps along the earth, can it imagine itself in the future, fluttering above the plants and trees? If so, does it use the same type of reasoning throughout the whole process of metamorphosis? These are tantalising questions for anyone wishing to develop the design, or art of transformation.


When transformation designers need to make practical interventions they will probably find system theory helpful. Two of its key concepts are ‘feedforward’ and ‘feedback’. In the act of designing, outcomes are predetermined by the earlier insights that shaped them. Thus, the designer’s drawing ‘feeds forward’ in time to create the final design. However, applying transformation design in a social context would be too complex for 'feedforward' to work for very long, therefore a corrective process called 'feedback' is necessary. If the outcome of a particular action encourages a system to increase that action this is called 'positive feedback'. Just as the possession of great wealth can attract more money, so the conditions of dire poverty may cause someone to lose even more. Although these situations have opposite meanings at a social, or economic level, in systemic terms they are both examples of 'positive feedback'. Crudely speaking, all positive feedback systems exhibit 'runaway' tendencies. They share this characteristic with epidemics, avalanches and explosions. Whenever they create a qualitative change of state that runs through the whole system. All of which can be thought of as types of 'transformation'.
JW Fig2
square-50cm-spacer.jpg Figure 1. Positive feedback

Figure 1 shows a simplified schematic diagram that describes a system in which the positive feedback is designed to amplify factors expected to be beneficial. A practical problem with this model is that there seems to be no way to control the transformation. In other words, it seems set to reach an extreme state that may be, in practical terms, irreversible.

Negative feedback

When some form of regulation is needed within a system then 'negative', rather than 'positive' feedback' is needed. A good example is found in steering, whether in cars, boats, or hang-gliders, etc., as it is a way to regulate something (i.e. the route). The same principle also applies for automated systems, such as autopilot steering on boats and planes, water filling regulators in lavatory cisterns, and thermostatic temperature controllers. The reason we call these feedback processes 'negative' is because they involve a reversal of values (e.g. travelling too far 'left' requires a 'right' correction, and vice versa). Although advanced cooking may be more complex, in systemic terms, food-tasting has the same outcome as ‘steering’, because both achieve preferred outcomes, whether this is in terms of geographical destination or culinary taste. Transformation designers must therefore devise appropriate feedback loops and 'steering' processes by which their particular system can be monitored and managed.
JW Fig1
square-50cm-spacer.jpg Figure 2. Negative feedback

Figure 2 depicts a system in which the feedback loop was designed to regulate only the unwanted processes from a given situation. This could be a sketch of a hospital's progress in which feedback ignores the successes and reflects the number of patient fatalities. While the diagram suggests that this number would be reduced, it may also remind us that choosing appropriate 'performance indicators' is vital for successful outcomes. For example, instead of choosing wellbeing, or happiness as an economy's performance indicator, most governments have use GDP. This encourages overconsumption which causes costly health problems such as obesity, diabetes, etc.. Ultimately, it will be counterproductive, because all economic endeavour depends upon (and is intended to provide) a certain level of public wellbeing.


Although some of the above examples are mechanistic, James Lovelock’s notion of ‘Gaia’ suggests that the distinction between animate and inanimate players in an ecosystem is functionally unimportant (Lovelock, 1979). A systemic approach is appropriate here, then, because it allows us to compare and integrate many things, whether or not they are biological. In describing how cultures sustain or perish, the word 'paradigm' is useful, as it refers to their underlying structures rather than to their more superficial properties. This distinction is similar to that of grammar and vocabulary in linguistics. As an employee, the current designer's role is not to re-design the paradigm, but to re-style a particular brand so that it will attract consumers and enable them to differentiate it from rival brands (Barthes, 1983). For example, the automobile paradigm can be defined as a system of mass production, tarmac roads and fossil fuels that sustain habits of private mobility (c.f. Kauffman, 1995). Unfortunately, designers cannot work at this level because they are paid to regard the car as a signifier of economic status and identity. In a sense, the systems of consumption and mobility are competing paradigms, each sustained by the many vested interests that play their separate parts in co-sustaining the status quo. However, although the car's status within the consumer paradigm can survive when fossil fuels are abundant, it is suboptimal when seen in terms of its negative impact on communities, energy usage and time (Illich, 1974).

Steering the steering

It is the scale, complexity and stubbornness of paradigms that poses the greatest challenge for transformation designers. Usually, the larger and more established they are, the more muscle, ingenuity or perseverance, is needed to regulate or transform them. With very large vehicles we can put powered-assisted servos on their steering systems. However, even though major paradigms may endure for a long time (Kuhn, 1962) at some point the opportunity for transformation will eventually avail itself. Moreover, their dynamic nature means that different opportunities will ebb and flow. If an intervention is appropriate, and timed precisely enough, the effect will require less input. This can be tested by walking through a swing door at different intervals in its natural cycle. Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) was fascinated by the idea of the trim tab. This is a miniature rudder mounted on the main rudder of a large ship that draws its energy from the forward motion of the ship, thus making the act of steering easier for the steerer. Buckminster Fuller saw the larger implications of this principle: "the little individual can be a trim tab....if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go." (Sullivan, Gilmore, & Blum, 2010). In transformation design terms, this is equivalent to designing the feedback loops and making sure that the form, quality and type of information selected is as timely and appropriate as possible.

Keystone innovation

This chapter has sought to outline an approach to transformation design that is systemic and compatible with the way designers think. Perhaps the main message is that this approach must learn from whole ecosystems (Yeang, 2013), rather than just copying mechanical parts of living creatures. Where the traditional world of the designer is characterised by critical elements such as tools, laws, resources, individuals, services or teams, ecologists identify critical elements that include keystone species (Paine, 1969). What defines a keystone species is that its own demise will precipitate the loss of other species that depend upon it. For example, elephants and sea otters are keystone species because they clear away parts of the ecosystem in ways that are favourable to other species (Monbiot, 2013). As transformation designers we might, therefore, 'reverse engineer' the idea by creating ‘keystone tools’, or ‘keystone ideas’ (Wood, 2013:1) that are likely to encourage other types of innovation in the future. History offers many previous examples, such as millstones, ball bearings, money, and limited liability contracts. All are 'keystone innovations' because they transformed lifestyles in a way that invites further innovation. Oil and gas were also keystone facilitators that gave us the energy to exploit other virgin materials and develop new gadgets.

Paradigm design

Stuart Kauffman's comparison of the cultures of horse-powered and automobile-powered communities in a previous paragraph (Kauffman, 1995) offers an invaluable clue to how we might design for paradigm change. Figure 3 illustrates how this might work. By comparing past and present paradigms the designer visualises possible keystone parameters that might be required for seeding a new one. Just as cars would not have become the dominant paradigm without highways, insurance companies, refuelling stations etc., so we can imagine a near-perfect set of conditions that would be required for human-powered vehicles to become the dominant paradigm. For example, in hilly regions, using Norman Foster's concept of 'cycle utopias' (Foster, 2014), road gradients could be reduced using a network of vertical towers that lift cyclists up to the requisite level. Regular cycle stations (Jones, 2006) along the routes might enhance safety, comfort and trading opportunities. Designers and scientists might help politicians to present these ideas to citizens as an investment that delivers greater long-term prosperity, fitness and fun for city-dwellers. In an urban or community context it is always sensible to share certain investments and costs, provided there are synergies offer new benefits to the whole system and/or its contributors. For example, a cycle track programme might complement a self-build housing scheme (Wates & Knevitt, 2013), a food-growing cooperative (Seyfang & Haxeltine, 2012) and biodiversity enhancement programme (Monbiot, 2013).

-The Previous Paradigm square-50cm-spacer.jpg The Current Paradigm square-50cm-spacer.jpg Future Possible Paradigm
EnergyHorseHeat engineHuman muscle
TechnologiesJoinery/blacksmithyHi-tech production lineDistributed crafts
Energy sourceFodderCarbon fuel industryLocal food
MaintenanceSmithyPetrol station/garageLocal maintenance
SurfaceRough trackGentle-gradient tarmac roadNo-gradient, ultra-flat track
Stop facilitiesHostelriesMotelsCycle stations
PermissionsFewLicense/insuranceFiscal incentive
EnvironmentalFewAir/water/food chain pollutionFew/none
Support systemsTraveller hospitality cultureHospitals/insurance etc.See 'keystone synergies'
Key conceptsNecessityStatus/freedom/convenienceSynergy-of-synergies
square-50cm-spacer.jpg Figure 3 - Designing a future paradigm, based on previous and current paradigms

Keystone synergies

The idea that relations between things have a higher value to that of virgin materials will probably sound far-fetched to many. Humans are so familiar with the logic of exploiting minerals from the ground that we may have a 'blind spot' (c.f. Greyson, 2014) about non-exploitative reasoning. Fossil fuels have been so extraordinarily plentiful and accessible that we have not seen the need for a philosophy that transcends extraction and consumption. Unfortunately, until our society can move beyond its narrow Smithsonian mindset, practices such as fracking for dwindling oil and gas reserves (c.f. Baker, 2014) will still seem like good business to many. What this mindset implies is that individual assets, materials or entities have a 'use value' on their own (Wood, 2013:2). This is an illusion, as single resources tend to be useful only when combined with other entities that work with them in a complementary way. However, whereas the economic logic of mining follows Adam Smith's 'law of diminishing returns' the combinatorial logic of synergy exemplifies the 'law of increasing returns' (Romer 1991; Arthur 1996). In effect, synergy is a free gift from Nature. Inspired by certain ideas of Leonhard Euler (1707–1783), Walther Bauersfeld (1879-1959) and others, Buckminster Fuller developed some design principles based on synergy (Fuller, 1975). In order to bring the 'art of recombination' up to date, transformation designers may need to learn how to de-focus at the level of single products and pay attention to the relations between them. This will mean learning to think beyond the dualistic and reductionist mindset of Western thought.


In moving towards a truly relational and 'inclusional' approach (Rayner, 2012:1,2) it is helpful to look at examples from the living world. For example, the biological process of sexual reproduction is a good example of 'recombination' in that it rearranges existing things, rather than starting from scratch. By recombining several enterprises in adjacency with one another (Wood, 2007:2) it is possible to achieve many unexpected results with opportunities for further recombination. Ultimately, synergy derives from difference, irrespective of whether what is combined is generally regarded as a useful resource, or not. Indeed, some of these differences may have been identified separately as 'problems', rather than 'resources' (Evans, 1996). By finding and highlighting synergies that are of critical benefit we will encourage others to continue the process by revealing new synergies. Eventually, designers will be able to create keystone synergies that are likely to seed the creation of subsequent synergies. If successive synergies can be re-combined to create a continuing succession of new synergies, this would unfold as a cascade of steps in the transformation. Remarkably, the simple mathematics involved can also be synergistic. For example, whereas two projects will combine to deliver only one additional synergy, four interdependent projects will deliver six (Wood, 2013:2), provided each of the four will combine effectively with all of the other three. This is an additional 'bonus' that contributes to what Fuller described as a synergy-of-synergies.

The author is grateful to Dr. Ken Fairclough, James Greyson, Dr. John Matthias, Dr. Alan Rayner and Olaf Zimmermann for their helpful comments.


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