Most thinking nowadays is done on linear terms wherein people are encouraged to follow structured approaches to problem-solving and idea-generating.
However, more and more, new ways of thinking need to be conceptualized. As society rapidly and exponentially evolves, new radical ideas are needed more and more desperately. The monotonous must be replaced with the spontaneous, and the ordered with the random.
I present to you the answer: ecological thinking.
Whereas traditional lines of thought have been one-dimensional in their approach, ecological thinking encourages chaotic and widespread patterns of thought that transcend into a more three dimensional way of thinking, often overlapping and continuing in cyclic flows of thought.
Ecological thinking, as its name suggests, borrows its methods from examples found in nature. To demonstrate this example, I shall draw on Mitchel Resnick’s analogy of the rainforest ‘walking tree.’ It is a tree that appears almost uprooted, with its roots visibly supporting the trunk off the ground. This tree sets out roots and randomly samples the soil, then finds (for example) that the soil to the east is better soil, so it strengthens its hold on the east while weakening its hold on the west. It grows more roots, and plants down strongly to the east, and even weaker still to the west. Slowly, over time, this tree ‘moves’ towards more favourable conditions. This is a brilliant analogy of how ecological thinking works: test randomly, evaluate the data, and elect favourable options accordingly, thus moving towards the desired outcome or solution.
Although it is an indirect and often more time-consuming method of thought, it often leads to more creative, innovative results. Perhaps this is why ecological thinking is so invaluable when it comes to creative art and design.
Alternatively, ecological thinking can mean thinking geared towards sustainability and environmentally-friendly solutions. People like William McDounough embrace this way of thinking, encouraging cyclic designs in which there is no “end game” but an “infinite game” or infinite goal, outcome, and usage. He suggests designing and thinking in terms of infinity instead of giving designs, concepts, etc, “expiration dates.”
In essence, both forms of ecological thinking borrow their principles from nature— randomness, connections, adaptations, and finite cycles.
1. Resnick, Michael. Thinking Like a Tree (and Other Forms of Ecological Thinking).
2. Code, Lorraine. Ecological Thinking: the Politics of Epistemic Location. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
3. Keiny, Shoshana. Ecological Thinking: a New Approach to Educational Change. Lanham: University Press of America, 2002.
4. Smith, Richard Currie. “Ecological Epistemology.” Slide Share. PowerPoint presentation. 2007. September 22 2009. <http://www.slideshare.net/richardcurriesmith/ecological-epistemology-intro-2-12-08>
5. Werner, Ulrich. Some Difficulties of Ecological Thinking, Considered From a Critical Systems Perspective: A Plea for Critical Holism. Plenum Publishing Corporation, New York, 1993.
TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Video. February 2005. Ted Conferences, LCC. 22 September 2009. <http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/william_mcdonough_on_cradle_to_cradle_design.html>
7. “Ecological System.” 2003. Carnegie Mellon University. 23 September 2009.