You’ve no doubt heard the stories that it’s impossible to get toilet paper. It can’t be done. There’s not a square to spare anywhere!
That’s what the news stories would have us believe. And stories like that create a scarcity mindset. One of my favorite books on the topic is Scarcity by Mullainathan and Shafir. It’s a fascinating read into the science behind why it’s so hard to break out of procrastination, poor dieting results, even the cycle of poverty.
TLDR version of the book: Scarcity comes from not having enough of something. It could be not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough food. And the lack of something we need causes our brain to work differently, to tunnel, and focus on the lack. It changes our behaviors and often exacerbates the very problem we’re trying to solve.
Those stories about no toilet paper create a sense of scarcity for us. We feel fear around not having enough… and it changes our behavior. I’ll show you what I mean.
Our family had run out of TP at the end of February, so I had restocked our supply with a family-sized pack just before the shutdown started and toilet paper became scarce on the shelves. We had enough to get by for a little while.
And yet, those news stories started to get to me. I didn’t notice at first, but eventually I spotted the scarcity mindset when I found myself wondering thoughts like, “Should we be using less TP to conserve our supply?” and “Should we be trying to minimize bathroom use altogether?”
Now, I’m the furthest thing from a doctor (I get faint at the sight of needles!), but I’m pretty sure that if I asked one, they would tell me that avoiding going to the bathroom is not the recommended course of action to maintain a healthy body.
The scarcity mindset had me focused on lack and was starting to get me thinking about changing my behavior! What’s the counter to scarcity? An abundance mindset.
Abundance doesn’t focus on what you lack; it focuses on what you have. It shifts your attention away from the negative and to the positive.
For finding more toilet paper, there are options. Yes, we could check several stores and eventually, I’m sure we’d find some (we did, in case you were worried!). But I also know that if we had called or texted any number of people, a roll or two would have shown up on our doorstep in short order. Heck, there’s even a pizza place near me running a carry-out special right now that includes a free roll of TP with a large pizza!
When I focus on the abundant options, it changes my attitude and my behavior.
Let’s think about scarcity in the business world. There are lots of examples of company policies that create a culture of scarcity. Things like you can’t get promoted until you’ve been in the role for 3 years or maybe you have to have degree X to make it to level Y or how about only a small percentage of people can get a decent sized raise and oh by the way the criteria for achieving said raise is so impossible that no one knows anyone who’s ever gotten it.
Those policies, grounded in scarcity and fear don’t bring out the best in people. They are actually highly demotivating to the majority of workers.
Exceptional companies recognize this. The culture focus shifts from scarcity to abundance. Promoting people who do great work. Recognizing a degree isn’t a guarantee of the quality of work you do. Growing and cultivating leaders at all levels, knowing you can never have enough great people. Finding ways to share the wealth, but more importantly motivating people beyond money with purpose and challenge.
Scarcity cultures bring out bad behaviors in people because people believe the stories that there isn’t enough for everyone. Have you ever worked somewhere with a bunch of competitive, back-stabbing jerks all angling to get ahead? Yup. Me too. It’s no fun and good people will spot the scarcity and move on to more abundant pastures quickly.
#PositiveAction How can you challenge a scarcity belief today? Is there an abundance story that you can start telling to yourself and your team instead?
P.S. What an exciting time we live in where toilet paper and bathroom usage are totally appropriate topics to discuss in the context of work and career! Thanks for reading to the end.