Tragedy of the Commons

Shared resources used by individuals with no ownership end up depleting it. Common examples include fishing (over-fishing) and forests (deforestation).

One way that has been shown to combat this phenomenon is to create collaboration and shared risk/reward. For example, a fishery that grants shares to a lake where fishermen now benefit from the improving the value of the resource and start collaborating on rules and policies to conserve it.

See also:

  • Principal-agent problem is a similar issue that can result in the depletion of a shared resource. You could view the individuals as the agents and the ecosystem of animals and plants as the principals whose interests diverge.
  • Areas of Responsibility List

    An AOR list (areas of responsibility) prevents a tragedy of the commons at your company. It’s a list of responsibilities—grouped by function—where each responsibility is assigned to one (and only one) person. This makes it clear what the responsibilities are, who owns them at the company, and how to route questions.

  • Directly Responsible Individual

    A DRI is a commonly used organizational pattern where one person is directly responsible for the overall outcome of an initiative. This avoids many pitfalls like a tragedy of the commons where responsibility is shared amongst everyone and therefore everyone loses all accountability.

  • Recent Technological Advancement Is in Simulation

    When comparing recent technological advancement with the previous century, most of the biggest changes are simulation versus physical. For example, railroads and airplanes compared to networking and computers.

  • Heirlooms Foster Long Term Thinking

    Caring for an object for the purpose of passing down to a future generation helps people think long term. Being and heirloom means it can’t be consumed or depleted and it instills a sense of duty to grow or preserve for successive generations. This helps to combat a tragedy of the commons. As good example of a shared heirloom that promotes long term environmental conservation is the US National Parks.

  • The Shirky Principle

    Institutions end up perpetuating the problems they aim to resolve, either intentionally or unintentionally. For example, TurboTax addresses the issue that taxes are too complicated for individuals to handle independently and then lobbies Congress to hinder efforts to simplify tax preparation for individuals.