Abundance vs. Scarcity or if you cut me, do I not bleed?

Kathy Sierra’s post today on anger and negativity being bad for your brain, with a detailed breakdown – I must confess, it’s very long, but I was riveted and read every word – is well worth the read.  I have no word of disagreement with her, my own experience in living with an angry/negative/unhappy/depressed person for a mercifully few short years taught me enough to recognize the truth of what she’s saying. In fact, I’m surprised that any would leave a comment to the contrary on her blog. OTOH, I might just politely point out that it’s Gandhi, not Ghandi 🙂 but that’s just nitipicking.

Anyhoo, I thought to take things one step further, as I was reading her post, it struck me how well it articulates the concepts and rationale behind my far more simplistic theory, or approach to life but now that she’s written it, how well it grounds my outlook.

I’ve always believed this, and try to exemplify it in my daily life, to the best of my ability to do so, that there’s a step beyond being just positive or optimistic. It’s an approach based on the concept of abundance, an abundance mentality*, if you will, one that believes that the more you give away, the more you have. And most of you who’ve met me have heard me say this at some point or the other.

As Kathy says, it’s not just simplistic concepts of ‘being happy’ (go read her post, I say) or the glass being half full or half empty. It’s a way of thinking, of being, that genuinely believes there’s more than enough to go around, that one person’s joy or success does not imply another’s loss or sorrow. In fact, that is the opposite of abundance, the scarcity mentality. The belief that if you get a job, it’s one less chance for me.

I was first struck by this conundrum about two years ago in Chicago. I had just begun a search for a way to leave my then position, and was talking on the phone to a still unemployed (then) business school classmate of mine in Pittsburgh. When I’d told him that I was going to an interview that week, he said "But you already have a job" in a tone that implied it wasn’t fair, since he had been looking for close onto a year by then. I asked him how he thought my looking for a job in marketing would affect his chances in programming?  That was when I first realized that here was a person who genuinely believed that there were only X number of jobs (or whatever) in the world, sort of like one for each one, and once you had one you shouldn’t try for another just in case it hurt someone else’s chances. Or at least it seemed that way from the rest of our conversation (it was one of our few last ones by then) that day.

And I’ve talked about this concept before in The Design Thinker’s Dilemma, in a corporate strategy, business competition kind of way but it’s a mindset that applies to all parts of life. It’s a philosophy of life. It’s a value system, a set of fundamental beliefs, and who would say that all of those do not colour our approach to the way we do business?

That’s why it was such a pleasure to have read Ms Sierra’s post and find the concepts and frameworks with which to articulate one’s philosophical outlook on life. She says,

Of course it’s still a myth that "happy people" don’t get angry. Of
course they do. Anger is often an appropriate response. But there’s a
Grand Canyon between a happy-person-who-gets-angry and an
unhappy-angry-person. So yes, we get angry. Happiness is not our only
emotion, it is simply the outlook we have chosen to cultivate because
it is usually the most effective, thoughtful, healthy, and productive.

And what I have learnt, and am learning, is to do what Robert Scoble is doing – the seed that started Ms Sierra’s post in fact, which is, learning to recognize those who are a drain on our energies, and learning then to let them go out of our lives so that there is room for abundance, and thus, happiness, in our lives.

ps. I know some of you will get cavities after reading this, go brush your teeth, I say 🙂

* I don’t agree wholly with their step by steps but the basic concept is all there.

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11 Responses to Abundance vs. Scarcity or if you cut me, do I not bleed?

  1. niblettes says:

    I think the scarcity mindset also drives an adherence to the business-as-was metaphor, while an abundance mindset drives an adherence to the business-as-ecology metaphor.
    If business is a zero-sum game, then for you to have more necessarily means I have to get less. And that means we’s gonna fight. In this context the whole 1980s, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, greed is good, Sun Tzu, militaristic approach makes sense.
    But I don’t think we’re really there anymore–I’m not sure we ever were entirely there. Sure commodities markets are still zero-sum games, but those market have for the most part already been won and lost, those battles are over. Energy and talent seem to moving towards abundance, toward networks and cooperation, toward complexes of ecological integration and mutual dependency.
    While I think we will always have to deal with the economics of scarcity (finite resources, land, etc..), perhaps we can use the economics of abundance to help compensate, and leave that tired old business-as-war metaphor in the past.

  2. There is this guy in the US who preaches that one must start giving away one’s possessions and he touts this as a way of becoming wealthy – his career is teaching people how to become wealthy, and the appeal of his philosophy obviously comes from the abundance theory.
    Every good lie is built by taking one tiny grain of truth and then drawing invalid inferences from it – finally resulting in an entire mountain of incorrect thinking.
    So long as one does not fall prey to *this* kind of abundance thinking (which is obviously simply a bipolar reaction to being stingy and believing in limited resources), the abundance theory makes sense as a positive path.
    And it is common sense – someone else’s happiness obviously does not detract from mine.
    At the end of it – both (abundance and scarcity) these are maps that try to define the terrain of reality and nothing more.
    Both are bound to be flawed in certain situations and both are bound to be right in others.
    One that is stuck in one model is as bad as the one who is stuck in the other model.
    Wisdom is knowing which model to apply when.

  3. niti bhan says:

    Yes. wholeheartedly agreed. It is the “knowing” that is key. But that cannot really be taught, can it? Or, truly be communicated, with words alone. As with any wisdom, it comes from within.
    What say you?

  4. niti bhan says:

    waisey tho fake swamis kahin bhi milenge, haina, agar log hain sunnewale?

  5. Certainly. I was speaking more of the importance of the golden middle path, rather than bhondu-swamis.
    But yes, one also needs to beware of bhondu-swamis who use a grain of truth to spin an entire structure of lies.
    And unfortunately, many are caught in bhondu-philosophies due to this one tiny grain of truth around which the lie is constructed – followers cannot always be blamed for allowing themselves to be misled.
    Yet, once one is caught, it takes a lot of rigorous clarity to see the precise error of one’s own judgement.

  6. AkaRoundPeg says:

    Good post. As a child, my prayers would go like this O God, I would really really like to have …… But if there is someone else more derserving its ok if you give it to her. It never occured to me God could have abundant enough of everything for the world and its wife.
    Don’t know if its because I grew up in a third world country where scarcity is the norm.
    Begining with the first thing you do in the morning brush your teeth, we were taught to conserve (water in this case) becasue resources were scarce or even non-existant.
    You waited for the bus, the telephone connection, a scooter, a car
    even mangoes – they all got exported to the Middle East!

  7. niti bhan says:

    Round Peg,
    That’s something we’ve discussed extensively here, the impact of scarcity on our culture and society. Particularly fascinating for me is ‘jugaad’ as a concept for making things happen under the constraints of our resources.
    Atrakasya, yes, btw you wouldn’t happen to have sat and had long philo discussions with me during college days, would you? your line of reasoning ‘feels’ familiar 🙂

  8. No Niti, I didn’t study with you.

  9. atrakasya says:

    You are aware, of course, that there is an entire movement that believes that the scarcity model (using the peak production theory) has been wrongly utilized to convert oil into a kind of a currency, regardless of evidence that there is ample evidence of abundance of oil at lower depths, as proven by Russian success with oil. Lot of theories abound over this.
    There recent popularization of the abundance model is, IMO, actively promoted by the lobbies who either resist this artificial conversion of oil into a limited resource currency, or by those who resist the political agendas behind it.
    Which brings us to a very interesting insight.
    In any situation, we simply have to look for the most valuable commodity, which has become synonymous with a medium of exchange – acting as a security.
    In an international political situation, it could be oil. This would be the equivalent of gold (security), and carbon credits would probably be the equivalent of promisory paper notes (paper currency).
    In interpersonal situations, it could be gratification, or other abstract emotional/sensual currencies.
    Then, one looks for the boundary condition parameters – abundance and scarcity of these currencies, and see if someone is following the abundance model or the scarcity model.
    And then this allows for a predictive model of what will happen when one moves in either direction.

  10. niti bhan says:

    that was a rhetorical question, but appreciate the answer nonetheless. no, I wasn’t aware there was an entire movement around the concepts, but then I just blather on my blog 🙂

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