Scarcity, Good or Bad?
Recently I’ve been reading a book about scarcity. I’ve always thought of scarcity as being bad however this book has helped to reframe how I view scarcity. In the below narrative, it discusses the concept of gaming. When we work with businesses and organizations we often use an experiential training module to help them to discover areas within themselves that may be preventing them from operating at the highest level of human performance. Essentially, one of the goals for us is to create a culture of trust that involves a total intellectual contribution and involves the heart passion of the community that is building the business or organization. The central concept of gaming is to create a virtual experience to help the learner to retain and to create higher levels of proficiency, while keeping them engaged.
The book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much is helping me to understand that scarcity, in fact is a good thing. When we are forced through scarcity to focus, the key concept is that we begin to operate more optimally.
In the study, subjects played twenty rounds, earning points that translated to prizes. In each new round they received another set of blueberries. They could shoot all the blueberries they had or they could bank some for use in future rounds. If they ended the twenty rounds with blueberries saved up, they could play more rounds and continue accumulating points as long as they had blueberries left. In this game, blueberries determined one’s wealth. More blueberries meant more shots, which meant more points and a better prize. The next step was to create blueberry scarcity. We made some subjects blueberry rich (they were given six blueberries per round) and others blueberry poor (given only three per round). So how did they do? Of course, the rich scored more points because they had more blueberries to shoot with. But looked at another way, the poor did better: they were more accurate with their shots. This was not because of some magical improvement in visual acuity. The poor took more time on each shot. (There was no limit on how long they could take.) They aimed more carefully. They had fewer shots, so they were more judicious. The rich, on the other hand, just let the blueberries fly. It is not that the rich, simply because they had more rounds, got bored and decided to spend less time on the task. Nor is it that they became fatigued. Even on the first shots they were already less focused and less careful than the poor.
Mullainathan, Sendhil; Shafir, Eldar (2013-09-03). Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (p. 25). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
The question really comes down to how much pain that you are in as an organizational leader, and what you are willing to do to lesson that pain. When the market has shifted and profits are down, it is time to evaluate what you can do, and should do to improve. We are finding many business and organizational leaders in virtual stuck posture, they simply do not know what to do – so they are doing nothing. What is fascinating is that during these times the fear that exists can cause that organizational leader to be in a mode of paralysis. The real threat then becomes frustration, apathy, and an organization filled with contention.
We are learning that during these times where there is less revenue, a shortage of qualified human capital, and a general frustration: that innovation, strategic growth and sustainable change is most possible. It is because of the lack of resources that people are looking for the kinds of solutions that bring their organization and business into alignment, agreement and abundance. Contrary to logic, when things get very difficult that is the best time to make changes.
I would encourage you to consider that you only have one blueberry, that blueberry if it were properly positioned will change your circumstances. Use that blueberry wisely.