Everyone knows about the Iceberg Effect – that there’s usually a lot hidden beneath the surface.
But what about its corollary, the Other Iceberg Effect? Because if only one-tenth of something is visible, and the rest of it is floating beneath the surface, the whole thing tends to rise up when some of the top is cut away. Or, equally, the visible part will shrink slightly – more accurately, sink slightly – if part of the subsurface portion erodes or melts away.
The first part of the Other Iceberg Effect can give the dangerous delusion that a resource is sustainable, self-renewing. As we cut away some portion of the top, look! – there’s still plenty more! The level has risen again – it’s almost the same as before!
But it’s that ‘almost’ that should give us the clue that something’s not right here… Another clue is that the shape of the periphery – the visible boundary of the resource – will often change as the iceberg rises: so if the boundary seems to change as we extract a resource, watch out…
If we don’t heed the warning, we’re likely to keep on going, keep on extracting this ‘self-renewing’ resource – until suddenly, and supposedly without warning, the resource vanishes, and we’re left floundering in deep water instead. Because what’s happened is that each time we’ve removed that top layer, yes, the level has almost returned back to where it was – but to do that, the whole iceberg has risen in the water. And eventually there’s no more iceberg left…
So watch out for those two warning-signs:
- a resource that almost replenishes itself as we use it
- a periphery that changes its shape as we use the resource
There are many, many resources that are like this: a company’s reputation, for example. And in each of those cases, if we don’t watch out for those warning-signs, don’t be surprised if we suddenly find ourselves in deep water – or worse…