Just before the holidays, we published our second major note set on hybrid thinking, which I’ll post about in more detail soon. But what I’m really excited about, and wanted to post about first, was our inaugural note on panarchitecture, a very different kind of architecture.
Panarchitecture is a kind of hybrid thinking that combines insights and practices from architectural thinking with those from ecological thinking—specifically the ecological thinking known as panarchy. C.S. “Buzz” Holling coined panarchy as the name of his framework for understanding the dynamics of ecosystems. The pan- in panarchy is meant to connote the Greek god Pan, who is associated with both nature and disruption.
The fundamental insight of panarchy is that all systems that evolve (and not all do), do so through a alternating cycle of sustained growth and disruptive renewal. Holling calls this the adaptive cycle and it looks like this:
As you can see, the sustained growth phase (which Holling calls the front loop) is the traditional S-curve, which has been at the heart of thinking about innovation for decades. What Holling and others investigate more deeply is what happens between the time one S-curve peaks and flattens and the emergence of a subsequent S-curve. What happens is a phase of disruptive renewal, a sort of on inverse S-curve, which Holling calls the back loop. More importantly, Holling analyzes what triggers the transitions from front loop to back loop and vice versa. The answer? Other adaptive cycles!
In other words, what traditional architectural thinking (and dare I say systems thinking) views as hierarchies of static, containing structures, Holling views as panarchies of networked, dynamic cycles:
While panarchy thinking has begun to spread beyond ecological science, it has done so slowly, and indirectly. For example, it turns out that both Stewart Brand’s concepts of shearing layers and pace layering were influenced by Holling’s work. While Brand visually shows such layers as cycles, his use of the term layer unfortunately undercuts his message that layers are best thought of as dynamic cycles of influence, not static structures of containment.
Accordingly, panarchitecture is a line of research we will be developing at Gartner to help enterprise architects better understand and architect for the dynamic back loops in their systems, their enterprises, their industries. and even their cultures.
For more on panarchy and panarchitecture, see From Hierarchy to Panarchy: Hybrid Thinking’s Resilient Network of Renewal. It is posted on the Gartner Enterprise Architecture “free research” page, so you can read it even if you are not a Gartner client. Please give it a read and let me know what you think!
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