As it appeared in the Sunday Standard, Botswana on Sunday Nov 18, 2012 edition
Cycle? What cycle?
In Part I last week, we were concluding that the water tables in the region were possibly declining.
This series of articles in November is a dedication to this subject.
It explores issues of primary industry (raw material) development to water consumption choices and their effects on families, the nature and the economies. In short, it underscores the story of diversification of any economy.
All of this will be discussed as we take a trip around the water cycle in this series of the column.
Water tables even if they are underground are part of the water cycle, originating when part of the rain that falls on the Earth’s surface sinks through the soil and seeps downward to become groundwater. Groundwater will eventually flow out of the ground, discharging into streams, springs, lakes, or the oceans, to complete the water cycle. (See Picture 1)
When asked how high is the water table and how it has behaved over time, most of us picked Pattern C (refer to last week’s article. See also red line here in Picture 1 below (refer to ‘Long-term depletion’, the line marked AB)).
That it has shown a general downward trend.
Such long-term trends become evident when we study past data spanning several decades. They usually escape the best of us when our attention is on what’s happening today (refer to the lines CD).
Here’s the implication of seeing such patterns over time.
The long-term depletion worsens the position of each short-term variation. We now have a persistent issue but is working its way to the levels of a crisis in the long-term. Such issues usually resist change and defy our best planning and implementation efforts beyond the short-term. It is a costly management process.
And if we imagined the water cycle, it would have begun to show signs of weakening intensity. The local weather conditions could see the likes of droughts or even floods. Of course, these conditions would reverse with long-term augmentation or increase.
In systemic thinking, we pay attention to these long-term positions rather than the short-term. This is because of the following reasons:
- It is these long-term positions that determine what happens in our day-to-day realities. Ignore them and the realities get worse. These will help us become more realistic in our planning and implementation efforts;
- The reasons that cause the long-term position are often very different from those that cause short-term positions; and so,
- When we find those reasons, they will present areas that will allow us to turn the situation around. For good. It saves our resources.
To get there, it helps that the country as a whole learns to see and understand such patterns together, with the disciplined eye of a hawk. All of the time. Should we not, then like a boiled frog, it would lead us to deeper crisis unawares. We become the boiled frog instead.
And I left you with a question. How do we know for sure, that the water tables are indeed declining?
I am sure you have figured this one out.
You might say, well it is when we notice farmers dig their bore-holes deeper. And they do so, from time to time. You are right! This is an indication that the water table for his side of the land is behaving more like Pattern C and as the pattern continues to unfold the land becomes drier (a crisis is looming).
Does anyone know how deep some of the bore-holes in the Kgalagadi and possibly Namibia are? They did not start that way. They became that way.
The reverse, however, is true for the forests in the Amazon. Both are happening at the same time each with its deliberate direction and goal. This is what we, otherwise, call reality.
Uncovering the Cycle
However, most management concepts did not clarify that our straight-line goals are not designed to fight trends such as AB. They are designed to fight the shorter-term trends like CD. The latter, is an important view of the military and the fire-fighters. Crisis management.
Now, if the long-term position is true, i.e. if the water tables are going down, then we have a circular causality in our hands. This requires very different management tact. We would need to uncover the elements of the cycle to address these long-term positions.
Therefore, rather than ask what we should do about it, the next question here is what is causing the water tables to go down?
Meaning to say, if we say the water table is going down (in the long term), what is causing that? And in turn what is causing the cause? And so on. Think cycle. Get the idea?
And remember, even when you think you have got to the “root cause”, in this work, we say, even the root cause has a cause. Nothing exists without a reason. It is whether we see the reason or we don’t. In short, the 5Whys methodology does not work for persistent problems.
Do not forget to also go the other way in the cycle! Should the water table go down, there are consequences. Yes? And then what are the consequences of the consequences?
Here’s a tip. Should the circle not close in itself, then it is not the ‘right’ circle of causality. Start again but with a different set of reasons. This is a trick we use, before we understand more deeply the tools of this work.
Go ahead and try it! There is something inherent about wanting to see vicious circles, as hard as it feels like to get there; it captures our curiosity and intrigue.
So, … what is the circle of causality that is causing the water table to go down?
Well, I am sure, you and your friends will keep trying and enjoy getting there! This will be the subject of discussion next week in Part III of this series of the column on “Have Greens, Will Rain!”
Till then have a lovely week discovering and learning!
This is the 2nd of a five part series of this article. Each part will build on the earlier article to an eventual conclusion. We invite you to participate in the column as well as do your ‘own homework’ – searching and discussing the issue to build your own conclusions.
Ms Sheila Damodaran, an international Strategy Development Consultant in the use of systemic thinking for managing persistent issues at regional and sectoral levels, welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. For upcoming programmes, refer to www.loatwork.com/Senior_Leadership_Introduction.html.