Here’s a question for you today:
Do you see the world in which you inhabit as one of scarcity or one of abundance?
Last year, I delivered a pitch to two organizations about a project that would effectively improve the exact same service they delivered to their customers. These mission driven organizations support people in their quest to attain greater professional development and personal satisfaction. Because of my expertise in online learning and technology, the division leader from each company agreed to meet with me, and while I discussed the exact same proposal and offered to help them advance their mission in the same way, I received diametrically opposed responses.
I will call the first leader “Barbara.” Barbara has been enormously successful in her career, rising up through several organizations because of her keen insight into the market and her disciplined approach to work. After the normal discussions of challenges Barbara faced delivering guidance and services to her customers, often on tight deadlines, I suggested a few new ways to approach the problem. Specifically, I mentioned how to outsource some of the services to include utilizing subject matter experts from outside her organization combined with a certain technology solution. Then, I noticed what I call, “The Turn.”
Anyone who works in a hierarchical organization, be it corporate or education or government, knows about “The Turn.” It happens when a new suggestion comes forth, one that may not require radical thinking or “disruption theory,” but even just a simple shift of perspective away from the status quo. As with any turn, it can head either way, and the ego of the leader often dictates which direction it will go.
To Barbara, my suggestion became a threat, and at that moment, even though I work as a consultant, I became her competitor. In her mind, by outsourcing expertise outside the organization, she’d have to admit two problems to her boss: 1) their organization did not have the in-house expertise they claimed and 2) it would mean the services provided up until that point had been deficient. Within just a few moments, The Turn became one of defense, self-justification, and frustration. At one point, she blamed the customers for their behavior. In short, Barbara’s ego was tied up in her job, and aside from impressing her boss, it became impossible to do anything new. We ended the meeting on good terms, cordial to the end, with promises to stay in touch…
Meanwhile, I met with another divisional leader with similar responsibilities at a different organization, someone I’ll call “Amanda.” Amanda had similar experience and job responsibilities, and therefore, she had similar problems providing services to her customers seeking the exact same solutions. So, as I did with Barbara, we discussed outsourcing subject matter expertise and a technology solution. And again, The Turn occurred.
But, this time The Turn went a different direction because Amanda sought out the solutions her customers needed. Amanda embraced the idea and how it might work for her business and her customers. Sure, she had a boss, but impressing that boss, if a concern at all, was low on her list of priorities. Instead, Amanda’s ego did not interfere with the mission of her organization. We ended the conversation with how together we could take the next steps.
As I write this blog post almost a full year since these two conversations, I realize the answer to the question above about scarcity or abundance informs how we act in our personal and professional lives. Of course, I’m not dictating a correct answer or way of thinking here because based on the context and situation, the answer could be different. Perhaps then the question is best used when analyzing a situation like the one I describe with Barbara and Amanda.
Barbara, on one hand, believes the world in which she inhabits is one of scarcity. Perhaps her boss believes it, too, which means professional life and effort in the company is a zero sum game. Thus, in our discussion, my suggestion went from an attempt to help to one in which I became a threat. If I help Barbara help her customers, then Barbara is not doing so herself. In her mind, if I win, she loses.
Amanda, on the other hand, believes the world in which she inhabits is one of abundance. My effort to help her helps her customers. In her mind, they win, and therefore, she’s properly doing her job. She doesn’t need the boss to tell her that.
Of course, many people live lives of scarcity where daily struggles are real, results uncertain, and resources scarce. In fact, as I type this blog, the world descends into the chaos of coronavirus infection and stores empty of essential goods. At the same time, as Peter Diamiandis and Steven Kotler wrote in their books Abundance: How the Future is Better Than You Think and Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, we live in a world of tremendous resources and technological advancements where new business models and new modes of thinking constantly emerge.
So, now I turn back to the question and ask you two different ones:
- In your mind, do you inhabit a world of scarcity or abundance?
2. What will you do with the answer to that question?
Thank you for reading. Please share this post or offer a comment if you are so inclined.