“The Water Column”- Management by Walking Around

If you’re as old as I am you will remember the term “management by walking around” (MBWA), which refers to a style of management tracing its origins in the 1970s to Hewlett-Packard’s management practices and later by Tom Peters and others business consultants. The main point was that we are not good managers if we just sit behind a desk, read reports, correspondence, and issue directives. Good managers are walking around the “shop” and knowing what all the people are doing or not doing.  They are paying attention to details. Management by walking around is well and good provided one is not sauntering, that is to say idly wandering around.

How many of us are good Source Water Managers? Are we smelling, observing, testing, and tasting (okay, maybe not tasting) the source water. Are we just looking at the surface of the reservoir or are we looking deeper into the water column? Henry David Thoreau wrote his most famous book, Walden, after living for a couple of years in a homemade hut at Walden pond. While wandering about, had he looked deeper into the water column he would have seen, with the help of a microscope, a hidden world of microbes, cyanobacteria, plankton and zooplankton. He would have encountered plankton species just floating freely in the water, species that squirmed and wiggled, species with flagella, benthic species, and periphytic species. You get the idea. There is a lot going on that we don’t know or understand. The more we venture into the depths of our oceans, the greater the realization that we don’t know nearly as much as we thought we knew. What’s that line…you don’t know what you don’t know?

Thoreau also wrote a shorter essay entitled Walking. After all, he was a surveyor, as well as philosopher, moralist and abolitionist, naturalist, poet and author, but perhaps not as good a scientist and definitely not a good manager. Had he wondered about what he tread upon, fungi and their mycorrhizal relationship with trees and other plants? Had he looked deep into the water column he would have found a whole new ecosystem to philosophize about.

This brings us back to just “walking around”. Walking around just doesn’t get it! Studying what is happening throughout the water column and the watershed does get it and will lead to greater understanding and preparedness for what is about to happen.

What’s upstream is the future, what’s downstream is history!