Observation is key to permaculture. Developing good observation skills is essential if we want to make well-functioning permaculture designs.
By observing natural and social patterns we are able to use them in our design work - this relates to Bill Mollison's philosophy of 'work with nature, not against'. We have to know how nature works if we want to be able to work with it.
"Good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship between nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration." David Holmgren
Since we are usually dealing with complex systems - even a small garden can be incredibly diverse with many interactions - this principle suggests that we take a relatively cautious approach, that we make the smallest intervention that we think is necessary to make the change we want, and then closely observe the results. That way we can change, stop, or continue, depending on the results, without causing any big problems.
In fact, "failure", is very useful, as long as we learn! And learning is the key point. This principle reminds us that permaculture is all about learning. Permaculture uses an 'action learning' approach which works in stages:
1. We state a problem, issue or challenge
2. Then consider realistic options for action
3. Put the best option into action
4. Observe the results
5. Reflect on what has been learnt
6. Restate the problem, challenge or issue as it now is, and start a new phase of learning
Just observing makes nothing happen. Just acting can make problems bigger and bigger. We need to balance the two.