Most people I know, myself included, are a bit obsessed with getting the latest, greatest, newest, best-est, most-est whatever. I heard a funny statement in a podcast recently that said, “The problem with ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ today is that thanks to social media there are ten million Joneses!”
We hear lots of empty rhetoric and platitudes urging us to “want what we have”, “need less”, “love and serve others more” (this one’s not a bad piece of advice for its own sake), “focus on the things that matter”, and so on. These are good and well, but they don’t really help us understand why we are attracted to new and more to help us combat the root causes.
At its heart, new and more is largely (not entirely) about scarcity. Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence, defines scarcity as “opportunities [that] seem more valuable when they are limited”. Scarcity is attractive because it allows for uniqueness, but scarcity also pushes us toward “zero-sum”. The primitive human mind, which, unfortunately, we still carry around loves zero-sum because for the primitive mind life is all about reducing decisions to “do I eat this, or does this eat me?” The more decisions we reduce to that level, the happier the mind is. So, zero-sum is very attractive because it’s easy and it appeals to a deep-seated way we operate. Scarcity makes things zero-sum: if there’s only one of these and I have it, you can’t.
Marketers, influencers, people on social media, large corporations, and even your kids know how to exploit scarcity quickly, easily, and early on (in the case of kids with parents) to play on zero-sum mentality to get you to buy or do what they want.
Recognizing this fundamental tendency and sales approach gives us a totally different perspective on how to address our desire for new and more. To overcome the desire, we have to address our scarcity mentality. Rarely are things truly as scarce as they seem. It may be hard to find again, or again soon, but few things are truly limited. Those that are make the decisions much easier.
So, as a fellow fool for scarcity, attacking the underlying cause is a much better strategy than telling ourselves to “want less” or “love what we have more”. Instead, ask questions like “How badly do I really need this?”, “Will I never again have an opportunity to get this?”, or “How difficult will it be to find this again?” Even better, adapt this mentality to managing a team with questions like, “How irreplaceable is this team member?”, “What are the unique skills we need to create a competitive advantage?”, and “How can I help my team develop unique skills to serve our customers better?”
Perhaps my attack on platitudinous statements is harsh, but I prefer advice that is actually actionable. Find the root cause and address it, and you probably don’t need that new whatever-it-is because there will probably be another new or unique one in the future!
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