Horse trading – abundance vs. scarcity

by Edward Henkler on September 9, 2014

A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article included two important leadership lessons.  The first lesson is to identify resource tradeoffs between abundance vs. scarcity.  The second lesson is that meaningful change often takes time.  The article initially discusses the “drowning” of salt water marshes as sea levels rise along with other environmental changes.  The marshes are a critical element in the coastal ecosystem and their loss could be devastating to local communities and the food chain.  The writer then describes an innovative approach to restore the marshes.  The Army Corps of Engineers is dredging mud from channels which have been clogged since Hurricane Sandy.  The dredge “spoil” is normally deposited elsewhere, creating huge mounds which typically provide no benefit.  In this case, the dredge “spoil” will be mixed with water then sprayed into salt marshes, which have become inundated with water.

Salt marsh restoration (Philadelphia Inquirer; 26-Aug-14)

This approach takes an abundant resource, the mud and silt in the channel and moves it from where it is not needed to a location which has a significant unmet need.  Other than the cost of the actual transfer, both areas benefit.  Since the dredging would have occurred either way, this activity is nearly cost neutral.  In “Blue Ocean Strategy”, Kim and Mauborgne recommend this type of horse trading between business units.  Rather than hoarding your resources, seek to identify abundant resources which could be exchanged with another business unit which has a complementary need.

The article is also a reminder that meaningful change often takes time.  It will take approximately two years for the marsh grasses to grow up past the newly sprayed dredge compound.  In the interim, the area will look barren.  Long term, the marshes will sustainably continue to provide valuable habitat, protect water quality, and serve as fish nurseries.  They will also offer critical storm protection to Shore communities, along with evacuation routes, by blunting the effects of waves.

Does your organization horse trade between abundance vs. scarcity?  If not, why not?

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