Resilience, football teams and fluctations

I’m reading a lot on resilience and the “management” of ecological services. One point that comes up time and again is that efforts to control ‘outputs’ of one particular thing will be successful in the short-term, but then require bigger and bigger inputs until eventually the system spins out of control and the ‘crash’ is bigger than it would have been if ‘natural’ fluctuations were allowed to happen. This makes sense to me, but I know to some people (economists?!) it goes against their belief in endless control (“but,” they assert “we are smarter than those people were, we have better technology, better monitoring…”).
And I know some other people are unsure of their ability to even try to think about this stuff, about ecosystems, because they’ve been told time and time again that they’re stupid. I think that’s not true (just another damaging lie that those who run the society – whether capitalists or Soviet apparatchiks- like to tell the workers).

I’ve come up with what I think is a reasonable analogy, one that pretty much anyone can understand. (Deep breath) here goes…

Say you’ve got a sports team (it can be football, cricket, ice hockey, etc.) The team is doing well, after a few years of ‘building up’ it’s all come together nicely. The right players are doing the right things and – most importantly – communicating and acting as a team. They’re winning cups and leagues and almost everyone from the owners through the fans to the accountants is happy.

But some of the most important players are restless, for various reasons – family issues, personality conflicts, they don’t like the city they’re based in etc. They want to move, and their contracts allow them to.

What do the owners/bosses of the team do? They could let those players go, but team performance may well drop (and that could have financial costs). It seems such a pity, given how much has already been invested…(and performance bonuses might not get paid…) Why not throw extra money at the players who want to leave (and also at those who want to stay – or else their noses will be out of joint). The wage bill will go up, it’s true, so savings will have to be made elsewhere… maybe with the youth team and “minor” acquisitions. But at least the performance will be steady, and trophies will keep coming.

That’s the decision and sure enough, the team continues to win, and people remain happy. All seems well.

But it will end. Players get old, injured, jaded or sulky. Some will leave, no matter how much money is thrown at them.

Suddenly four or five key players go at once. New, untested players are thrown in to replace them, but the ‘magic’ just isn’t there – the seemingly effortless communication and co-ordination is absent.

The team doesn’t just drop one or two places in the league table, as it might have done in the time when one or two of the old guard left and their replacements were “bedding in”. No, the team drops a dozen places, and so misses out on playing in other leagues. Revenues from ticket sales and advertising and so forth dry up.

If the managers had not been obsessed with maintaining current levels of performance at the cost of long-term resilience, then they needn’t have been suffering this.

Does that make sense? Does it catch the notion of flows, of the maintenance of ‘consistency’ in the face of natural fluctuations, and the longer term consequences of maintaining control?

Thanks to Leavergirl and Antonio Dias for their helpful comments on the first draft of this post.

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About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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3 Responses to Resilience, football teams and fluctations

  1. robpatrob says:

    Bang on Dwight – makes perfect sense – may I add doing something small and beneficial every day also helps rather than a grand splash.

    Writers who write a disciplined 2 pages a day – tend to be prolific and not burn out. That’s 2 books a year!

    Gardeners who put in their 3 hours a day and stop end up with great gardens.

    Parents who put in real time every day versus “quality time”….

  2. dwighttowers says:

    Thanks Rob,
    you are spot on – “slow and steady wins the race.” My problem is focus. I am still young enough to believe that with enough discipline I can do everything (I never test that proposition properly, since I lack discipline!) But the crucial thing, I suspect, is to focus without becoming narrow…
    Two pages a day, every day, equals two books. That’s quite an equation.

    Best wishes

  3. robpatrob says:

    And I think 2 pages a day allows your unconscious mind to do most of the work -I think our rational brain is highly over rated – all the great discoveries seem to happen most when the unconscious mind has had room to play

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