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Water: Challenges or Opportunities?

In response to my post on Coming to ThinkWater, a friend asked me why I framed what I wrote about water as challenges instead of opportunities. I thought that was an astute distinction and a good opportunity to reflect on perspective.

To begin with, yes, I’m guilty. I tend to identify challenges/issues. We have some very real and very complex challenges in water. And we as a society need to engage with those challenges in their complexity. In some situations like the California drought/water shortage, unless we deal with the real issues of increasing demand, we’ll just continue to create more challenges as demand grows. So not all challenges are real opportunities.

However, that’s not the whole story. As this article on the green opportunities of resource shortages indicates, situations can be seen from multiple perspectives. We tend to want to see things simplistically from one perspective or another to reinforce our mental models of how the world works. Unfortunately, our mental models are often too simplistic. The world is not black or white, left or right, right or wrong. The world is complex. We need to embrace what the Cabrera’s, in their book Systems Thinking Made Simple, call “and/both” logic. We tend to get into trouble (e.g., running out of water) when our mental models don’t match the reality and complexity of the world. Taking different perspectives and examining the complexity of situations can help us develop mental models that are more in line with the real world and ultimately to develop effective responses to our challenges - to turn our challenges into opportunities.

Without even realizing it, my friend was applying systems thinking rules in her response to my post. She identified the distinction between challenges and opportunities and applied a different perspective to the topic. Distinction and Perspective along with understanding the parts & wholes of Systems and examining the Relationships within the system make up the framework (DSRP) that is at the core of ThinkWater and our approach to applying systems thinking to address complex water situations (opportunities and challenges). Learn more about DSRP here on the Systems Thinking Daily blog.

We need to engage with and examine our situations from both challenge and opportunity perspectives. And, I can do a better job of framing situations as opportunities! I hope you’ll join me in improving our systems thinking skills.