“Getting Good at Change” with Howard Silverman


Howard Silverman joined our Portland office for an MGxCHANGE workshop to discuss resilience and the social-ecological relationship in a systems approach towards change. MGxCHANGE is an initiative we began as an agency to facilitate discussion with social change catalysts through the exploration and exchange of ideas and fostering collaboration. This event centered around the question of: what does it mean to “get good at change”?

We live in a time of flux, a time for innovation and transformation, a time for getting good at change. But change is hard. Think about how difficult it can be to modify long-standing habits, compared with trying to develop a new organizational direction or trying to influence broader social shifts. In what ways are these challenges similar and in what ways they are different? And in what respects are these challenges of design?

Howard teaches systems thinking in the Collaborative Design MFA program at Pacific Northwest College of Art; he is also a principal at the consultancy Pattern Labs. Formerly at Ecotrust, he was a senior writer and analyst where his work integrated systems thinking, spatial planning, and communities of practice in areas such as food systems, fisheries and forestry, climate and energy, and ecosystem services. Howard was the lead writer of Ecotrust’s Resilience & Transformation: A Regional Approach, which lays out the core principles of resilience and how to develop capacity for each principle.

Resilience Principles:

  • Plan for change: capacity for flexibility, awareness of uncertainties, and functional redundancy
  • Expand opportunities: capacity for human potential; leadership, creativity, and entrepreneurship; and diversity
  • Develop rich relationships: capacity for social capital; local and regional self-reliance; and rich feedbacks
  • Design for learning: capacity for integration of knowledge and practice; social memory and learning; and continuous institutional innovation
  • Consider multiple scales: capacity for systems thinking, foresight, and compassion



Howard joined MG fresh from presenting at Resilience 2014, an international science and policy conference about the resilience of social and ecological systems, in Montpelier, France. He blogs at Solving for Pattern and his writings have appeared in Conservation Biology, Ecopsychology, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Huffington Post, Shareable, and On the Commons. We are also extremely appreciative for New Seasons Market, Premier Press, and Pacific Northwest Kale Chips supporting this event.


Joined by guests from Q Center, Portland Community College, OEA Choice Trust, Wieden+Kennedy, Portland Design Museum and a variety of other fields and corners of Portland, the discussion evolved around the question: what do you think and feel about when you think and feel about getting good at change? We talked about everyday and theoretical challenges to change and our aspirational desires for change on an individual and systemic level, with the help of sticky notes to help our notes literally and figuratively stick.