I like to be generous and am buoyed to be even more so as I read the research that supports that you can almost never be generous to a fault. I don’t generally keep a mental scorecard on things I do, waiting for the return as a “matcher” might do and see more and more that being generous is truly generative and makes others more share and give more to you.
That said, I have work to do on overcoming some of my own remaining scarcity thinking as I reflect on why it persists in some areas and limit the growth and maintenance of a healthy work culture.
In a nutshell, scarcity thinking is the idea that there just isn’t enough to go around. Not enough money, time, recognition. The result is that anything you take, I lose. Scarcity thinking can be especially damaging when paired with “downward spiral” thinking as discussed in “The Art of Possibility.”
Consider this scarcity thinking paired with downward spiral thinking. I have a friend who is a creative, award-winning chef and is asked for her recipes and gives them freely. I can hear some of your reactions to this. That’s as bad as people stealing the recipes. They could then make the food and would stop coming to the restaurant. They could open their own restaurant. What if they do better than her restaurant and hers closes? But what’s the reality? Having a recipe is nothing close to cooking the food yourself. Once you see the ingredient list and the work involved, the odds of you cooking the dish may go down significantly. You may realize that you are just curious as to how it’s done and grateful that someone with a well equipped kitchen bothered to think this up and create if for you. What’s more, food tastes better when cooked by someone else. And there is no denying that a certain meal in a lovely restaurant with friends will not necessarily taste the same when you re-create the recipe at home.
In another recent experience of struggling with scarcity thinking, I was debating submitting my ideas in an exercise where we were asked to submit innovative ideas at work with the best/most popular ones getting resources allocated to see them realized (we don’t personally get money just help). So I wanted to talk about the ideas and share the proposals to “kick the tires” but a nagging idea started in the back of my mind that maybe I shouldn’t share them because someone else would present the same idea but only better. But, in end I knew I would need help to implement solid ideas so decided that the more people who considered these projects, the better. And in government we don’t own ideas anyway. So I shared my ideas with several colleagues and the ideas got more refined and I gave more strongly reasoned and more polished products as my final proposal (with a shout out to my brainy colleagues).
What about more objective things like time? That really is a scarce resource for most people so this should be an easier argument to make. In the past few years I have challenged myself to really look at how actual time unfolds to reality check my own hard-wired panic about lack of time and my hatred for being late for things. While a certain percentage of the world wants to polish and perfect, I tend to continually stress about all the things I have to get done and would rather see progress and completion than break into a cold sweat because things are late. I also hate being late because it disrupts the plans of others and seems to imply that my time is more important than the person left waiting. That said, I have now concluded that, in general, there is usually enough time if we wade in mindfully.
So how to embrace an abundance culture in the workplace?
Give more of what you need
I would start by saying, take a general leap of faith to believing that things often work out and prime yourself for that possibility. Some simple ideas that follow from this mindset: I like the idea from a recent piece which sounds counterintuitive but has the power to improve work cultures immensely – give more of what you need. You feel your work isn’t getting recognized enough? As an example of what I have experienced, I have tried to bend over backwards to be civilized/polite and friendly in many work emails and I can see language I used mirrored sometimes. It costs no time to say “have a good evening” or “good morning” in an email though it sometimes appears that people have forgotten this is an option because they feel they don’t have time.
Remember to play the long game
Scarcity thinking has also be characterized as extreme short term thinking (with a focus only on the negative thing in the present moment). Though bumps and even significant losses can be devastating, avoiding risk and getting consumed when we get derailed can ignore the research that says that we are generally more resilient than we think we will be when confronted with bad events. The long term effects of most of our losses and worries are overblown in the present moment.
When researchers checked with both lottery winners and persons who had been through a catastrophic event (e.g. someone who lost both legs in an accident), they both returned to their original base levels of happiness with a year.
On a practical level, you might consider using the 10/10/10 rule. Ask yourself if the issue you are fretting about will matter in ten minutes, ten months and ten years. This has been a powerful one for me. For a stretch I made a mental commitment to checking in with myself to really examine the long term outcomes after a period of great worry or actual loss either professionally or personally. Leaving aside extremes (sudden deaths), I would be hard pressed to find more than a couple of examples of things that really really mattered even after the ten month period.
Be a “time stretcher”
One of the managerial styles that I most admire and have tried to emulate is “time stretching” bosses who have really do have limited time and may start meetings late but will make you feel as if they have time for you. Result being that you are not rushed, you think clearly as you are making your points and the meeting actually takes less time than it would if you were getting cut off and panicked about your briefing. Does that mean you won’t adapt ten minutes of presentation material to the five you have available? You absolutely will need to but you don’t need to have your words clipped to remind you that time is limited.
I apply this thinking when I am tutoring young kids to improve their reading. I have a deep interest and commitment to literacy but minimal training as a tutor. And the greatest gift I can give a kid learning to master their letters or read better may just be time. Puzzling out words is gruelling and though I can offer strategies, I probably offer more spaces to think and scan the page than actual talking. I think that the quiet space may also function as a confidence giver to tell the seven year old that he already knows lots already to help puzzle this out without my continual commentary in the background.
And for the instances in my life when I really didn’t have enough time – sudden deaths in my immediate family would be the prime example – I still rely abundance thinking as my solace for these difficult passages. I want to commit even more to reframing my mind to think abundance in the moment and be present for the time I have with people I care about including the people I love to work with.