At a conference in Calgary this past week, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, expressed dichotomous needs for border security for our respective countries. He chose to use abundance thinking versus scarcity thinking when he said “We don’t have to choose between security on the one hand and efficiency on the other hand, we can achieve both.”
Either or thinking is also based in a win/lose mentality. Either I win or you win and someone is going to lose. This is all a matter of perspective. There are no facts or science that makes it so. So you can change your perspective once you become aware of which one you are using. And what better time to change your perspective than during a strategic planning session, dealing with a tough problem, or large change initiative.
Stephen Covey, in his well known best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls this the Abundance Mentality. It is based in the belief that there is enough to go around for everyone. This mental frame results in sharing of prestige, recognition, resources, profit, and much more. The Scarcity Mentality, on the other hand, views the pie as being limited and if someone gets a big piece that means less for everyone else. People with this perspective also have a hard time sharing in the happiness of the success of other people; it’s as if it means less for them. They may verbally express their congratulations in keeping with social protocols but inwardly they are eating their hearts out. As Covey says, this is the “…zero-sum paradigm of life”.
Abundance Thinking Saves $$$$
I had the opportunity to hear the power of the abundance perspective in action from the leader of a not-for-profit in Edmonton, Alberta who provides services to learning disabled adults. They were looking for solutions to staff turnover, of which one was lack of professional development and training. When they sat down to “look for money” in the budget it became the shell game. They were, as the expression goes, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Someone become conscious of their mental model in action, scarcity, and suggested trying the opposite by posing the question “What would we do if we had more money than we needed for training and professional development?” The answer was immediate, “We would share.” They would share with other not-for-profit organizations that were experiencing the same challenge. The light bulb went on! They could get more training with the same amount money by sharing the training events with other organizations and vice versa. The result was multiple organizations that opened their training events to each other, thereby expanding the amount of training, without expanding their expenses.
Now I’m not saying all problems are solved by using the abundance perspective because that would be either or thinking right there; either abundance or scarcity. The goal is to be conscious of what your default perspective is and when that’s not working try reframing it by using the opposite. Here are some tips on how to go about using these alternative perspectives.
Self assess your default perspective by thinking about these questions. Do you fundamentally believe you have everything you need every day? Do you experience personal joy in the achievements of others, including your peers and competitors? Do you constantly think about what’s missing, what needs to be fixed, what’s not going to work, who receives more recognition or pay?
Find a mentor that exhibits the perspective you are interested in fostering. Merely thinking about these different perspectives is not enough, you need to practise them. And as the Dalai Lama points out, our greatest teachers are not usually our friends, rather our enemies. That’s a bit strong in this context but what I mean is that we can learn a lot from those people who irritate us. They irritate us because they are not like us, they may not share the same values or belief systems, and this is where the opportunities lie to discover the source of their default perspective.
Get some gratitude in your life. As Charles Dickens said, “Reflect upon your blessings, of which every man has plenty, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Start with a simple scrap of paper and write down what you’re grateful for today. It can be as simple as a sunny day, or as heartfelt as a clean bill of health after a health crisis. Over time, your eyes will become open to all that you already have in your life that you were not giving recognition too.
Read some literature. Go back and dust off Covey’s material as mentioned above or try an inspiring movie like Chariots of Fire. For those looking for models that can be used at work or with their teams try Peter Senge’s work on personal mastery and mental models from The Fifth Discipline. For those travelling down a spiritual path look at Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses or Wayne Dyer’s How to Attract Abundance into Your Life.
Let’s continue this conversation. What other resources have you found help you with changing your perspective either to abundance or to scarcity?