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Watching the Outliers

going my wayI watched another report this morning on Peter Andrews and natural sequence farming. This is probably the third media report I've seen,which meets the 'three times on my radar screen' requirement, so I checked out his website. What made me go there was the comment that he is seen as an outlier, as someone whose approach is contradictory to what science has told us about farming for a long, long time. He is having some success, yet has much opposition. His 'promise' that "Australia could be carbon negative in a year!" is a brave one, but if it's true... Peter Andrews is probably still an outlier, even though he uses YouTube as part of his efforts to communicate the value of his approach and is in the mainstream media, with a really busy schedule. His ideas haven't yet been accepted by governments, but they warrant watching.

It's an example of the need to track emerging issues from the periphery, not when they have reached government acceptance stage. Dismissing the work of outliers because they do not fit expected patterns or conform to conventional wisdom is our usual response to what often sounds just a little to weird to be true. Yet, this is how we miss what might be coming, and end up reacting to the future after it hits us in the face!

Think about sustainability - the term is now so mainstream, it is a part of our language and part of how we live (think of all the 'how to be green' tips we get everywhere we go). Yet, 15-20 years ago, the evidence and warnings being put forward by scientists and activists was dismissed as rubbish. It didn't fit conventional wisdom then, but it does now. What changed our minds was when the very obvious destruction of the world's natural environment hit us in the face and we couldn't ignore it anymore. But, where would we be now if we weren't so dismissive of the sustainability outliers in the past?

The work of outliers might indeed be weird and not helpful, but you won't know this unless you track them. If, in fact, their work is very relevant to our futures, then there is nothing to lose by adding 'outlier tracking' to your environmental scanning work. It's what is often called looking for early warning signals.

I always say in my workshops that if you have a 'that's rubbish' or 'that will never happen' reaction to something, then you must track it, if only to test the validity of your assumptions about what you believe to be real. Open your mind, dismiss nothing and explore what might just be possible in the future.