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More on Scarcity vs. Abundance Thinking

Abundance In between a grant proposal and a website I'm working on for a client, I've been continuing to think about the issue of scarcity thinking in nonprofits that I started on yesterday as I read what others have to say on the subject.

Allen points out that scarcity thinking is the enemy of change management everywhere, not just in relation to IT projects or nonprofits and I completely agree. He suggests that  good planning can help people adjust their scarcity beliefs, although I wonder if the right kind of planning is possible when management is in the grip of the scarcity mindset themselves.

Michelle Murrain of Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology tells a story about a nonprofit she worked with:

A long time ago (in web years) I was working with a certain CEO of a certain chapter of a certain very-big-nonprofit (whose role in life is to fund other nonprofits - this kinda gives it away, but it's necessary for the story.) We were talking about whether or not this certain nonprofit, who had mondo resources, should help facilitate web development for their client organizations. They had realized that if they did that, the client organizations could begin to raise money themselves, instead of depending so heavily on this certain nonprofit. So, guess what? No web development help. I was, of course, surprised (that's mild, I was frankly horrified - wasn't it the mission of this certain nonprofit to help the client nonprofits raise money? Wouldn't helping them raise money themselves fulfill their mission?) But that's scarcity thinking for you. Even though this very-big-nonprofit was rolling in money, they thought the pie was finite, and that if the money didn't go through them, they'd get less. So the scarcity mentality isn't just for small, struggling nonprofits. It's very widespread.

What's sad and scary about this story is that the nonprofit she's talking about was "rolling in money," yet STILL saw the world in terms of scarce resources. It wasn't a picture based even on its own experienced reality, but on a world-view that I'm sure had never been challenged.

I have to wonder if one of the reasons we haven't seen as much progress as we'd like in achieving our various nonprofit missions is because of this scarcity mindset. Scarcity thinking allows us to make excuses for poor performance ("We don't have the time or the money or the people to do this!"). It isolates us, not only from other nonprofits with whom we might share resources and ideas, but from each other and from our clients. We're so busy maintaining our slice of the pie, we fail to see the ways in which we should be working on making the pie bigger. This scarcity mode is divisive and keeps us focused on the wrong things--on the problems and the barriers rather than on the opportunities and the solutions. I think it even moves us to keep clients dependent on us and our services, as Michelle's client did in the story above.

I've been looking at other resources too. This post from the Chief Happiness Officer is a good one, contrasting scarcity thinking and abundance thinking:

Scarcity Abundance
It’s every man for himself We can work together
I never have time I take time for the things that matter
Mistakes are disasters I can recover and learn from mistakes
Ideas are hard to come by and must be kept secret I can always have a great idea
Our company is lacking Our company has everything it needs to succeed
Look at all the resources we need Look at all the resources we have
The market is full of threats The market is full of opportunities
People are out to get me People are out to help me

How often do we hear or see some version of the left column in our daily work? Far more frequently than we see the right column thinking, I'd guess.

I also found this post by Ross Mayfield who wrote last October about the issue of abundance and how he's spent the last five years blogging from that belief system:

I've been blogging for five years as of this month, and here's what I've learned:


I have discovered I have a lot to give.  And when I give, I notice others give more.  Some of them I've formed relationships with, and trust opens giving, but I have also learned to trust strangers to share in abundance.  Life is iterative, markets are not transactions and scarcity of attention is false. Our learnings compound abundance and there may be no limit to what we can produce.

I think that it's this picture of abundance that I find so engaging about the Internet and social media. A lot of people give generously of their time, their expertise and their support to write their own blogs, comment on others, create videos and podcasts and beautiful art that enriches the rest of us. And they do it for nothing.This is abundance thinking. This is a belief that there is an endless flow of ideas and information that we can connect and shape to create new things all the time.

I'm rambling a little, but it feels important to me to begin thinking differently about how I do my work. I know that I'm as guilty as anyone of scarcity thinking, especially under stress. Patricia Soldati talks about how fear drives scarcity thinking in her post on the "allure of scarcity":

(Scarcity thinking is) a powerful notion that's been with us forever, but has exploded in our consciousness since 9/11. Scarcity is rooted in fear and lives in the world of ego. It says: "The world is not safe, so I am not safe. I need to have greater and greater control to feel safe – over my health, my finances, my family, my work. If you have more, I have less."

Safe…maybe, but a scarcity mentality effectively embraces struggle, and abandons any opportunity for you to have a compelling identity about yourself, or to express your values or passions.

Scarcity is limiting, but safe and I think that most people value safety over just about everything (myself included, far more than I care to admit). So part of the challenge is to override your fear and to recognize when you've moved into that anxious scarcity mindset.

This kind of mindful practice is fine for individuals, but what about for an entire organization? It seems that we can only go so far in having individual people willing to challenge and re-formulate their belief systems, particularly if the leadership of the organization is not concerned with changing those patterns.

So the big question for me is what kinds of activities can organizations engage in to begin moving from scarcity to abundance?


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It's no big secret that scarcity thinking is one of the big problems of companies. They should avoid this kind of people to be safe or provide means of changing from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking.

Most of the poeple I know are afraid of making mistakes, especially those important people in the company. They are afraid that doing so will degrade their performance and will be punished. I also think like that, but I always have this thought about making mistakes in work is the only way to learn. No matter how I try not to, I always end up making one because of ignorance.

Helen, I agree that scarcity thinking is a problem everywhere. It seems that it's so ingrained, though, that it's difficult to start changing the pattern for many people.

Marie--I think you're right that fear of making mistakes grips everyone and that the further up you go, the worse it gets in a lot of cases. I don't think it's possible to keep from making mistakes and I think it's actually bad to try. As you say, we can learn from our mistakes and I know that for myself, I often learn MORE from what I do wrong, than from what I do right. But scarcity thinking makes us afraid to have an environment where we accept mistakes for what they are--learning experiences.

Well put, Michele. I think as you climb the management ladder, the fear is that your mistakes will land in front of a larger audience and that the audience won't accept your humanity. The higher the position in a company or other organization, most often the less willing to take risks the person becomes.

Those who admit that they make mistakes, and encourage others to help them improve (there was an article about Michael Dell doing this during his company-wide review) seem to use their humanity to their advantage. It's those who try to cover up their mistakes that seem to find them dragged into the limelight and dissected for all to see.

Great thought-provoker! Thanks!

One of the great difficulties is that we tend to impose a complete separation between our organizational work and our spiritual selves. Gratitude, compassion, and mindfulness all seem to go out the window the instant we get to work! And so, being centered and connected - necessities for existing with awareness of abundance - are not available to us.

Maybe we all need to start having mandatory meditation sessions at work, or reading the Tao Te Ching over the PA system... Our frantically busy work culture moves us away from our best selves, which pretty much guarantees that we will act from suspicion and scarcity...

Thanks for a great, thought-provoking post!

There is spirit in everything, and if you believe this you will act responsibly.
If you don't think so, then for you there will be spirit in nothing, and you will act irresponsibly.
You cannot possibly keep mental lists of what is full of spirit and what is not. Things are too complicated and mysterious to abide by this type of classification technique. The list would become arbitrary, conflicting.
There is spirit in work and in play.

looking good!

peace, love and abundance.

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