Exceeding a resource limit is referred to as overshoot. Once a tipping point is reached, the collapse of the system exceeding the limit becomes inevitable.
For example, if more animals are allowed to graze than the land can sustain, overgrazing occurs. As a result, no animals can be sustained in the future. Overgrazing of large areas of land (as is the case in many African countries) also affects other systems negatively. It can lead to desertification. Water will become scarce. Without vegetation to absorb and hold the water, groundwater levels decrease and springs dry up. The rainwater runs off on the surface taking valuable top soil with it making rehabilitation of the land impossible. Poverty will increase and with it disease and a variety of social, economic and political problems.
In some instances overshoot may be contained if the system has safety margins built into it. However, continued or increasing overshoot may lead to a tipping point after which the excess cannot be contained but leads to the collapse of the system. For example, a person can lead an unhealthy life for some time before disease and even death occur – apparently suddenly.
Analogous to the straw that breaks the camel’s back,a tipping point can be reached with a relatively small increment (e.g. it takes only a few animals too many to overgraze a piece of land).
While it can take a long time to build up a system, it can be destroyed rapidly and irretrievably.
relevance for the change manager
Systemic change management should be directed at establishing and maintaining the sustainable development of a system.