How to make the most of what we already have

When faced with an obstacle or difficulty that we want to overcome, we often focus on the things we don’t have and pay less attention to the things we have in abundance. And that seems logical — after all, we need these other things we don’t have, so why not focus on them?

But usually there is plenty of value in the things we already have. Often this value can be appreciated by others and can help us acquire the things we need. This article describes a method that will help you learn to “see” what you already have (or can easily access) and how to use it to get what you don’t have and need. It could be a very useful thing for bootstrapping entrepreneurs.

Sometimes, making the connection between what we need and what we have a lot of is easy. Take for example a young person who wants to become more independent and they are looking to move out of their parent’s house and buy a car. To do all of these things they need money which they currently don’t have. They do however have plenty of time on their hands and they might decide to trade their time for a job, which will provide the money so they can acquire the things they need.

Other times, discovering what you have in abundance and how it can help you obtain what you need is not that simple. An organisation I worked with a few years ago were getting a new web shop done. It was going to replace the organisation’s legacy system and bring a number of key benefits like speed, scalability, resilience and extensibility. One of the must have functionalities for the organisation was the ability of the maintenance team to update and quickly publish product changes to the website. Following their established way of thinking, the customer team was proposing the use of a Content Management System (CMS) solution. The problem was, that they weren’t going to have the money to pay for a full-featured CMS that also provides the same level of scalability, resilience and extensibility.

After spending time with different members of the team, we discovered that the maintenance team members are quite technical and they would in fact prefer to be able to modify the product files directly and providing that the system could validate the changes before publishing the sales team would be happy with the approach. The customer discovered that while they can’t pay for a full-featured CMS that is also as scalable and resilient as they need, they did have plenty of technical skills available to them and they could use that skill instead to achieve the same outcome without spending money they didn’t have on an expensive system.

Sources of Abundance

Our experience helps us build ways of thinking that can be very useful but also can sometimes blind us to opportunities. This is often difficult to understand which is why I believe the method for creating abundance proposed by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden in their book “A beautiful constraint” is a must have tool and could help any individual or organisation see beyond what’s currently possible.

Abundance, as it turns out, is all around us; we just need to learn how to see it. There are four sources of abundance as described in the book.

· Our own stakeholders — our own stakeholders often have more to offer than we believe. For example, the UK telecom provider GiffGaff does not pay for any form of support. GiffGaff have discovered that their customers have an abundance of knowledge and are willing to share it with each other on discussion boards in exchange for credits added to their accounts. GiffGaff does not pay for support and can keep their prices low. Their customers benefit from the low prices and accept that in exchange they may have to participate in supporting each other via the provided online discussion boards.

· External partners — partners are commonly used as resellers of products or services because of their distribution networks or local knowledge. External partners could be a source of many other resources too, like my wife’s small online shop for stickers. She often joins planner events in partnership with the organisers. The organisers of the event want to attract more attendees by providing relevant, specific products and need goodies for raffles or competitions. In return for contributing to the raffles and setting up a stall at the event, my wife’s shop gets to sell to a very interested and large audience with very little effort.

· Resource owners — There are often resource owners who do not see what they have as valuable and often consider it waste. For instance, in India, people show their religious devotion with flowers. Some 800 million tons of flowers are deposited at temples around the country to create a tricky waste problem (because the flowers are used for worship they are considered sacred and cannot be sent to landfill). However, the founders of an Indian start-up, Helpusgreen, have spotted the abundance and started collecting these flowers and making them into incense and soap. Thus they solve the waste disposal problem and in turn produce a useful product that they can sell.

· Competitors — This is not a common one, and you may even think that it could never happen. However dixons.co.uk can prove you wrong. The people at Dixons, an online only shop, recognised that customers often need advice before purchasing high tech equipment so they amended their messaging to send prospective customers to their competitors shop first. With the slogan “Dixons.co.uk — the last place you want to visit” they encouraged online shoppers to visit Dixon’s competitor’s brick and mortar shops first and come back to shop from dixons.co.uk after they’ve decided what they are buying.

What kind of resource do we need?

Now that we’ve looked at some ideas about where to look for sources of abundance it is time to explore a method we could follow that will help us make the most of what we already have.

First, we need to identify what kind of resource we need. Sometimes this would be straightforward — for example a bootstrapping start-up might identify lack of funds as their main constraint. Other times it may require more investigation to uncover the required resource or there could be several constraints and you may need to prioritise in order to be able to focus on one kind of resource.

Identifying sources of abundance

To identify your sources of abundance I would recommend doing a simple brainstorming exercise and then bringing the ideas together and consolidating them in a prioritised list. From our experience using this tool we’ve found it to work well in small to medium sized groups. You could of course use a different diverge-converge technique but the above is simple enough and will help you uncover abundance of resource you either have or can access.

Identify your assets

Take the resources you have in abundance that you have identified in the last step and for each of them think about what you might be able to trade. For example, because of how our online leave planner product operates, we have an abundance of customer emails and phone numbers that we have gathered as leads over the years, however we will never trade these therefore that’s not an asset for us. On the other hand we have the attention of a large number of users on a daily basis and at some point in the future we may decide to trade that attention if it can help us obtain the resource that we need. It could be useful to put your assets in a table ready for the next step.

Re-frame

In this step we need to revisit every asset we have identified already and find out if we can re-frame it so that it seems more relevant and valuable to others. For example, if we publish a monthly magazine for craft beer lovers we might have a lot of data about our customers, their age, their profession, their postcode, their payment methods, etc. We may not be allowed to share some of this data and in its raw state it may not be useful to anyone, however consider an aggregation of this data that might show postcodes that have a large number of your customers. This information could be useful to craft beer manufacturers looking to grow their sales because clearly putting more effort in areas where more people subscribe to your magazine is more likely to produce more sales.

Create a shared agenda

Often the link between what you have in abundance and the interests of the resource owner may not be obvious. You will then need to create a shared agenda and communicate it in a way that makes it easy for the resource owner to see the benefits.

Consider a computer reseller in a developing country in Africa who have just discovered that large IT corporations across Europe often decommission used computer systems which in reality can still be used for education or home use. The computer reseller needs these computer systems while the large IT Corporation wants to get rid of them but they are not easily connected. An example for a shared agenda could be to reframe the transaction as donation in which the IT corporation pays for the shipment instead of paying for recycling and the local computer reseller guarantees to charge their customers minimal fees.

Making the most of what we have

We often take for granted the things that we have in abundance and we fail to exploit them sufficiently to help us get the resource that we need. The method described here as proposed by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden in their book “A beautiful constraint” is simple to follow and allows us to learn how to see abundance and find new ways to make use of our own resources to obtain the things we need.

Are you in need of a resource and unsure how to go about it? Have you got examples of finding abundance? We would love to hear from you!

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