A Missing Piece In The Holistic Management Framework?

HM = “Holistic Management”

The Holistic Management Framework is currently the best system for sustainable decision making available to us. But what if something important were missing from the Holistic Management Framework? What if the process could be even better than it already is?

What Is Missing?

What is missing is a step in the Holistic Decision Making Framework. It lies between the forming of a Holistic Goal and Decision Testing. This missing piece is the “Idea Generation” process. Before any decision can be tested there must first be an idea.

An Example Of Idea Generation At Work:

Your group has just finished creating your Holistic Context and Holistic Goal. Now it is time to test your first decision. You are in the tropics. Someone in the group suggests that you should test the decision to plant shade trees in your pasture. You test the decision and find that it passes the testing questions. You implement the decision and monitor the results over time.

Where was Idea Generation in that example? The Idea Generation stage occurred in the mind of the group member who suggested you “test the decision to plant shade trees in your pasture”. Perhaps the group member had read about shade trees in a book the night before, or maybe a friend visited them recently and talked about the benefits of shade trees in the tropics. In the absence of any Idea Generation at all, the group would be stuck; they would have nothing to test. If Idea Generation did occur, but was not done well, than they would have been able to continue but their management would not live up to its full potential. Good Idea Generation is essential to management.

Why Idea Generation Was Left Out:

The reason why Idea Generation is not explicitly discussed in the Holistic Management Framework is that it occurs very naturally for most people; it is automatic and quick. People are constantly creating new ideas, learning new ideas, and sharing their ideas with other people. Idea Generation requires little conscious effort.

In contrast, the other steps in the Holistic Management Framework (Holistic Goal, Testing Questions, etc) do not come naturally to most people. That is why Allan Savory had to write the book in the first place. We have to discipline ourselves to follow the Holistic Management Process.

If Idea Generation Is Automatic, Why Talk About It?

Think about the example given above:

What if the idea to plant shade trees had never occurred to them? They may have missed out on a valuable tool for achieving their Holistic Goal. They surely would have come up with some idea to test, but there is no guarantee it would have been a good one.

It is valuable to talk about Idea Generation because, when it is done well, it can have a huge impact on our management.

The Testing Questions are invaluable for determining if an idea should be implemented or not. But the Testing Questions cannot improve the quality of the ideas you test in the first place.

Why The “Brainstorming Process” Is Not The Same Thing.

The Holistic Financial Planning process includes brainstorming, which is a specific form of Idea Generation. However brainstorming is only discussed in the context of Financial Planning and altering business enterprises. Idea Generation, in contrast, occurs daily in all aspects of management. Responding to a broken dam requires Idea Generation. Planning the day’s work activities requires Idea Generation. Designing new infrastructure requires Idea Generation. Idea Generation is a much larger and broader concept than “brainstorming ideas for new enterprises”.



Current Holistic Management Framework:

  1. Define the Holistic Context

  2. Define the Holistic Goal

      1. Test Decisions….. Where do the decisions come from?

      2. Implement

      3. Monitor, etc.

Proposed Holistic Management Framework:

      1. Define the Holistic Context

      2. Define the Holistic Goal

        1. Idea Generation

        2. Test Decisions

        3. Implement

        4. Monitor, etc.

The Benefits Of Including Idea Generation In HM

If we make Idea Generation an explicit part of the Holistic Management Framework there are two main benefits to us:

Benefit #1 of including Idea Generation in HM:

It allows us to integrate outside systems into HM without compromising the integrity of HM.

The amazing thing about Holistic Management is that it allows us to use any tool or system we want in our management. It allows us to determine which tools and systems will lead us towards our goal and which ones won’t. However, the current Holistic Management Framework does not clearly indicate how to integrate outside systems, or ideologies, into HM while still maintaining the proper Decision Making Process.

Consider the following example:

A Holistic rancher hears about a landscape design system called Permaculture**. The rancher researches the system and realizes that it holds a lot of value and could probably improve the ranch. The Holistic rancher also recognizes the value of Holistic Decision Making but does not see a clear way of combining Permaculture Design with Holistic Decision Making. There are two possible outcomes of this scenario:

  1. The rancher temporarily abandons HM, and applies Permaculture Design to the ranch. Because none of the decisions in this process were tested against the Holistic Goal, they eventually produce unintended consequences.

  2. The rancher decides to ignore the value contained in Permaculture Design because they recognize the necessity of always using Holistic Decision Making. The ranch never lives up to the potential it could have had if Permaculture Design had been applied to it.

Both of the outcomes above represent a loss of potential. But there is a third option available…

If the rancher is familiar with the Idea Generation stage of HM, the rancher will easily be able to integrate Permaculture Design into the ranch:

Permaculture Design, like most non-HM systems, is part of the Idea Generation stage of HM. Therefore the results of the Permaculture Design process will be treated just like any other ideas that come out of the Idea Generation stage: they will all still need to be tested, implemented, monitored, etc. according to the Holistic Management Framework.

In this third scenario the ranch receives the benefits of Permaculture Design without any of the unintended consequences that result from not using Holistic Decision Making. A win-win scenario.

If Idea Generation is an explicit part of HM then it will be easy for managers to integrate any useful system or ideology with HM. They will gain the benefit of ideas from other disciplines, while retaining all the benefits of HM.


Most outside systems and ideologies fit best into the Idea Generation stage of HM. Here are examples of systems which fall into the Idea Generation stage:


  • “Permaculture”**

  • “Keyline Design”

  • “Regrarians”

  • Elaine Ingham – Composts and Cover Crops

  • Ag-Extension Agent Suggestions

  • Masanobu Fukuoka – No Work Farming

  • SPIN farming

  • and many others…


  • Marketing Systems

  • Business Philosophies

  • and many others…


  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

  • Spiritual traditions

  • Psychotherapy, psychology

  • Meditation techniques

  • Relationship Philosophies

  • Communication Systems

  • and many others…

There are far too many to list! All of these can be seamlessly integrated into our Holistic Management if we understand the Idea Generation phase.

Holistic Land Planning Is Part Of The Idea Generation Phase:

I would even argue that some parts of Holistic Management itself fit well into the Idea Generation phase of Decision Making; especially Holistic Land Planning: The process of Holistic Land Planning, is similar to Permaculture Design: it allows you to create a very good plan for your landscape. But you still have to test your decisions… therefore Holistic Land Planning is actually a part of the Idea Generation phase.

Conclusion To Benefit #1:

Most Holistic Managers are probably already using multiple ideologies in their management. Perhaps some Holistic Managers have already figured out how to integrate these ideologies into HM seamlessly. But I am willing to bet that many people do not know how to integrate these systems, or even that they can be integrated. Because they do not know how to integrate these outside systems into HM they will usually end up temporarily abandoning HM while they use the outside system… leading to unintended consequences. This is a situation that can be easily remedied if we formally acknowledge that Idea Generation is a distinct part of the Holistic Management Framework.

*Important Note*
The terms ”outside ideologies” , “outside systems”, or “non-HM” refer to any theory, system, ideology, or method which is not mentioned in the book “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making”. In reality there is no such thing as an “outside” or “non-HM” ideology or system because HM does not discriminate against any management tool. However the author determined that these terms were useful for clearly communicating the ideas in this article.

Benefit #2 of including Idea Generation in HM:

It allows us to develop and discuss better Idea Generation techniques, which will improve our management effectiveness.

Until Idea Generation is explicitly included in the Holistic Management Framework it is unlikely that we will give it the attention it deserves.

Idea Generation can be vastly improved when it becomes a conscious process that we are working on, instead of an unconscious process that we are barely aware of. The benefits of improving our Idea Generation are simple and obvious: if we are testing more diverse ideas and better quality ideas we are more likely to stumble upon one that dramatically improves our management.

These are just a few techniques for boosting our Idea Generation skills*:

Methods for generating more ideas from our own minds:

        • dream journal

        • artistic expression

        • brainstorming on paper

        • physical exercise

        • intoxicants

        • meditation

        • observing nature

Methods for generating more ideas from other people’s minds:

    • getting more ideas from books

      • really old books

      • books in different languages

      • really new books

      • obscure books

      • books with cult-followings

      • fiction books

      • religious books

    • getting more ideas direct from other people

      • seminars, courses, etc

      • conferences

      • grass tours, “open gate learning”, etc

      • mentorship

      • asking better questions during conversation

      • teaching others

      • asking experts

      • talking to children

      • talking to crazy people

      • talk to strangers

    • getting more ideas from other media

      • internet webinars

      • blogs

      • social media pages of smart people

      • podcasts

      • YouTube videos

      • email lists

      • search engines

*Page 471 in “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” has some good ideas for Idea Generation techniques.

Embracing Bad Ideas:

After an idea is generated the brain immediately starts to analyze it. This is the initial, quick evaluation that helps us to weed out the clearly bad ideas. However the natural human tendency, especially in adults, is to dismiss ideas too easily. We want to avoid embarrassment, we are afraid of being ridiculed for having a bad idea. If you want to unlock your own creativity you must learn to overcome your fear of ridicule. Embrace your bad ideas, and test them against your Holistic Goal, you might be surprised with the results.


I am a huge fan of Holistic Management as it currently exists. It has dramatically changed my life for the better. It has given me hope for the future of humanity. It is the best Decision Making Framework I have ever encountered. However, I believe that we, as a movement, should always be looking for ways to improve. We should always be questioning our assumptions.

If the Idea Generation process were to be acknowledged as a distinct part of HM it would allow us to seamlessly integrate outside systems of thought into HM without compromising the integrity of our management. I am thinking specifically of the Permaculture movement, which is rapidly becoming the dominant movement in the world of sustainability**.

Formally including Idea Generation in HM would also allow individuals to discuss and improve their Idea Generation techniques. Generating more ideas, and better ideas, would probably lead to better management (as long as all of those ideas were properly tested, of course).

**My next article, “Permaculture: For Holistic Managers”, explains what Permaculture is, and how it can benefit us as Holistic Managers.

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