Creative Destruction & the Adaptive Cycle

Embrace creative destruction 2The secret?

Embrace creative destruction.

Because it’s inevitable.

And it’s everywhere.

It’s evident in the turn of the seasons. In the life (& death) cycles of plants & animals. The rise and fall of civilizations.

Divorce. Illness. Earthquakes.

All the things we dread.

Remember the financial crisis of 2008? Creative destruction.

Hating it doesn’t help.

What does?

The Adaptive Cycle

The thing to know about creative destruction is that through it, resources are released. And become available for re-purposing.

Knowing that can change your life.

The Adaptive Cycle BasicIt’s a time of opportunity.

The adaptive cycle depicts the life of a complex system.

The system could be biological & social, like your life. Or ecological, like an ocean or a forest.

In a forest, creative destruction occurs through fire.

Mature trees burn, return to the earth as ash, and create space for new things to grow.

Creative Destruction 2As the system regenerates, opportunistic plants and animals creep in, some temporarily, while others take root and flourish. Over time, the ecosystem jostles its way back into a mature forest.

And then the cycle begins again.

The Order of Things

The same thing happens to a human who is faced with creative destruction.

The destruction may be related to money, a relationship or health. Or all three. But the progression is the same.

Devastation followed by a process of awkward regeneration.

Because what makes sense in one type of complex system (like an ecology) is transferable to other types of complex systems (like your life).

The old order comes apart. Sometimes dramatically.

Space is created. New things happen.

Opportunities arise. Combinations are tried and rejected. Others take hold.

Over time, life jostles its way back into a recognizable pattern.

And then the cycle begins again.


Illness as Creative Destruction

We’ve experienced creative destruction in our family.

At worst, Matthew’s illness compounded with side-effects from medications had him in bed 18-20 hours a day and unable to participate in life at all.

He’s been slowly making his way back from that for three years.

In that time, he’s moved from creative destruction to reorganization.


Finding his way through a landscape that is just starting to feel somewhat predictable.

A New Pattern EmergesThe adaptive cycle presents a possible pathway back from chaos.

Not to the same life.

Part of the creative destruction process involves letting go of that. Completely.

It’s not a track that leads us back so we can continue on as before.

Rather, it’s an opportunity to experiment with approaches that will lead to a new pattern of living.

And yes, you can take some time to feel really pissed off about that.

But when you’re done, just remember, creative destruction frees up resources.

And knowing that can change your life.


You can learn to see them. And once you do, you can learn to put them together in new ways.

These are the core elements of adaptability.

And what’s known as the ‘back loop’ of the adaptive cycle.

Becoming skilled at navigating the back loop is the key, not only to finding your way out of creative destruction, but to succeeding at life.

The Adaptive Cycle Orange

The Front Loop

Creative destruction is inevitable. But we like to pour resources into propping up outdated patterns and systems that, left to themselves, would end. This is the opposite of permaculture.

We can sometimes delay creative destruction, but there’s 2 problems with that approach:

  1.  The resources required to prop up a failing system tend increase significantly over time; and
  2. The destruction is often much bigger when the system finally falls apart.

Creative DestructionSometimes it’s better to let the whole thing go.

To release all the resources that are locked up in the system and all the resources that are being deployed trying to keep it from self-destructing.

Let it go. So you can get on with re-purposing those resources by working with the energy of the system, rather than against it.

Terrifying. I know.

But if you want to strategically align yourself to take advantage of what’s unfolding, no matter what that might be, it makes sense.

Tomorrow is the darkest day of the year here in the Northern Lands.

But the day after that, our days will begin growing longer again.

As is the order of things.

9 thoughts on “Creative Destruction & the Adaptive Cycle

  1. Thanks for the timely blog. Our family just moved into a 5th wheel, in winter, in hopes of building our dream house. The land fell through and now we’re adjusting to our new life in this season and home. What a wonderful reminder to embrace the changes and challenges with each trial/life change and not hold onto the “way things were”. I’m excited to embrace the energy and cycle of this season. Thanks for the constant encouragement.

  2. I love this post. I’m still, after years of pondering, trying to figure out how to creatively deal with chronic fatigue. At the beginning, it wasn’t so hard: I thought I was being called to a more spiritual life. Now, I don’t know. Maybe that’s it, but the need to sleep doesn’t seem to feed creativity or spirituality. This isn’t really just a complaint, more an observation on my own process.

    • Some of us get the opportunity to practice at an advanced level, whether we want to or not. And really, who would want to, given the choice? Thank you for sharing this observation on your process, Alice. I’m reading a book by Mark Epstein called The Trauma of Everyday Life. He writes: “The freedom the Buddha envisioned does not come from jettisoning imprisoning thoughts and feelings or from abandoning the suffering self; it comes from learning how to hold it all differently.” Sometimes, it seems, the advanced practice that life requires is as simple and complex as continuing, each day, each moment, to observe the suffering self. Exactly as you are doing.

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  4. Your timing on this email could not have been better for me. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your post has inspired me and renewed my spirit

    Many blessings to you and Matthew. May all of the joys of the season be yours!

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