Source: The Buckminster Fuller Institute

Trimtabs Unite! reGeneration Rising!

Scale-linking & Salutogenic Design for Planetary Regeneration

Daniel Christian Wahl
6 min readMar 5, 2020


In January the Buckminster Fuller Institute launched an new online training programme to support and interconnect people working on whole systems design for sustainability and regeneration — what Bucky called ‘Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science’. The programme is called Trimtab Space Camp.

The idea of being a trimtab comes from Bucky himself who had a predisposition for using rather mechanical metaphors while doing very dynamic and organic work in support of life on (living) “Spaceship Earth”. A more organismic metaphor would be to act as a catalyst for the emergence of systemic health within the physiology of Gaia — life as a planetary life-sustaining process.

Link to the book

More than 50 years ago, in 1969 Bucky published ‘Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’ and now BFI and friends from around the world are working on creating the ‘Co-operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’.

A trimtab is like a small rudder on a large ship that when cruising at full speed creates so much drag and resistance on the large rudder that it is impossible to turn it. Only once the small trimtab rudder which is easier to turn starts shifting some of the flow towards the big rudder can the ship actually correct course.

We can all acts as trim-tabs to turn the oil-tanker of a degenerative industrial growth society towards a life-sustaining path: the path of diverse regenerative cultures everywhere engaged in ecosystems restoration and the healing of the Earth and her people. That is the upstream response, not to “fight” or “battle” climate change, but to become planetary physicians and engage in humble geotherapy to begin reversing the damage we have done. We can design for human and planetary health! We can create conditions conducive to life!

In the video above Bucky explains the significance of the trimtab metaphor to his work of changing humanity’s degenerative and cataclysmic trajectory — literally a choice between “utopia or oblivion”.

Bucky even went as far as having the words ‘Call me trimtab’ engraved on his tombstone.

I am excited that BFI has started to curate this amazing online learning opportunity and feel deeply honoured to have been invited to contribute one of the first four sessions in the programme. It is a respectful way to remind people of all the wealth of insights we can still draw from the work of this remarkably visionary and far-sighted human being. At the same time it explores his work through those who are standing on his shoulders and the current generation of trim tabs, weavers, systems healers: the reGeneration rising!

The first four contributors included:

Medard Gabel — Design Science

Sachem HawkStorm — Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Shanee Stopnitzky- Complexity

Daniel Christian Wahl — Regenerative Cultures

and the second course will have contributions by:

David McConville, Gaian Systems Thinking

Tom Chi, Rapid Prototyping

Ganga Devi, Ecology

Daniel Schmatchenberger, Sense-making

Here is a description of the Trimtab Space Camp programme:

Become Crew of Spaceship Earth

Come join your fellow terrestrial astronauts, aspiring comprehensivists, systems integrators, experimental philosophers, synesthetic synthesizers, planetary physicians, and cartographers of complexity to expand our collective imagination.

We’ll explore systems thinking, rapid prototyping, traditional ecological knowledge, biomimicry and other frameworks to offer you new cognitive scaffolding upon which to design the future.

What’s a trimtab?

A trimtab is a point in a system where the minimum effort causes the maximum effect. You can think of it like an acupressure point. Trimtab projects and people not only solve multiple challenges at once with systems-solutions, they also dis-solve the underlying circumstances that lead to those challenges.

Trimtab Space Camp will train you to become a trimtab, using a present-day version of Fuller’s Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.

Comprehensive: Start with the whole. Take a whole-systems perspective to explore connections within an integrated, complex world. HOW BIG CAN YOU THINK?

Anticipatory: Think ahead. Identify, research, and interpret significant trends to gain a deeper understanding of possible futures. HOW MANY POSSIBLE FUTURES CAN YOU IMAGINE?

Design: Create intentionally. Seek and apply the elegant patterns and principles guiding the evolutionary strategies of nature. HOW DOES NATURE CREATE?

Science: Discover through experience. Generate hypotheses, iterate experiments, and rigorously verify through empirical observations. HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW?”

— Buckminster Fuller Insitute

Here is a short (transcript) excerpt of the one hour session I offered as my contribution to the course. The whole recording of my conversation with Amanda Joy Ravenhill is available to people who join the growing community of trimtabs around the world:

I think it is really useful to think in terms of this idea of ‘scale-linking design’ (Van der Ryn & Cowan, 1996; Wahl 2006) because it opens up the invitation to — whatever you are focussed on — to look at the nested wholeness of it. In Regenesis’ language I think they call it ‘the proximate whole’.

What is the next think out from the project that you believe you are focussed on is actually serving?

To ask one fundamental question, every time you do anything, ‘is it regenerative?’ … another way to ask that question is:

Does it [do we] contribute to the health and wholeness of that nested wholeness in which we participate? Is it health-generating [salutogenic]?

I think health is a wonderful standard for quality design, because health in itself is scale-linking. It is an emergent property of the right alignment with life’s pattern language in such a way that we create conditions conducive to life.

So personal health, family health, community health, bioregional and ecosystems health, and planetary health are fundamentally interlinked and affect each other.

So if we have that notion that ultimately by doing scale-linking design and doing the meta-design of understanding the system in this participatory way — where our consciousness matters, literally — and then holding the intention of wanting to heal the system, so [applying] Salutogenic Design, for me those are the axes of doing the work we now need to do to get the crew of Spaceship Earth on a better path again.

Daniel Wahl on Scale-linking and Salutogenic Design as important aspects of regenerative practice

More about the Trimtab Space Camp:

More on Salutogenic Design:

More on Design for Planetary Health & Regeneration:

More on Scale-linking Design:

Trimtabs Unite! reGeneration Rising!

If you like the post, please clap AND remember that you can clap up to 50 times if you like it a lot ;-)!

Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures



Daniel Christian Wahl

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures