Artificial Scarcity

The assumption or assertion that a resource is rare, when in reality it is plentiful.

The instant reaction to almost any new idea is to claim it cannot be pursued because of limited resources. No matter how innovative or valuable the suggestion, someone will almost invariably say something like “we don’t have the money or the time or the expertise or the staff.” People automatically shoot down proposals because the change required to even merely begin the new work might threaten the balance of resources. Often, that fear has no basis in fact.

Slaughter Development recognizes that the most important component of organizational change is fostering belief among stakeholders that something new and better is possible. This perspective cannot form if people assume that change will necessitate a dangerous redirection of existing resources. The term artificial scarcity claims that the purported overcommitment of current assets is actually a misconception.

Reversing the Argument

Any project for a company begins with some cost, which includes allocating time, money and talents. No matter the suggestion, some will immediately fire back that resources cannot be reassigned. But obviously, the other half of a cost-benefit analysis is the benefit! If a project would recover more time than it required to build, reduce net expenses more than the total outlay, or improve overall quality and productivity enough to offset a temporary furlough of expertise, then the program is worthy of consideration. In fact, no positive change that fails to meet these criteria can be considered a worthwhile suggestion.

A presentation of new ideas based on benefits rather than the costs can help lessen concerns from naysayers. Offering a benefit but admitting a price tag is much better than the reverse. The sales process for change inside the organization requires understanding all sides, including those who are fixated on the supposed scarcity of current resources. Projects built through consensus instead of compromises are more likely to succeed.

Starting A New Conversation

We all know the old model for tossing out an idea:

Mary: “I think we could really improve our filing system by using some color-coding.”

Fred: “Maybe, but it would take forever to switch over. We just don’t have that kind of time!”

In the example above, Mary’s thought is immediately cancelled by Fred because of artificial scarcity. Note, however, that Fred has a second unsubstianted belief. He thinks that implementing Mary’s suggestion would be time-consuming.

Although Mary could detect this by listening carefully and retort with the details of her plan, she is more likely to feel rejected and slink away defeated. Consider an alternate approach, where Mary tries to find out more about Fred’s perspective before making her pitch.

Mary: “I just finished filing the Johnson records. Wow, that was exhausting! It took so long I thought I must be doing something wrong.”

Fred: “Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m sure there is a way we could improve that system, we just don’t have time to work on it right now.”

Mary: “You are right that we cannot afford to do a big overhaul with the caseload this quarter. But I think— just for my own sanity—I  might take a few extra minutes the next time I do a set of files and affix some color-coded tabs.”

Fred: “That is not a bad idea. Which colors are you are going to use?”

In this revised version, Mary’s phrasing avoided any broad claims and revealed Fred’s thoughts on overall workload. Although she chose to put her plan into action through small steps, she could also have asked Fred about scheduling a “big overhaul” for the near future or adding the project to budget for next year. Mary also might have pushed Fred to estimate how much time people spent using the current system. Data which supports a new plan is always helpful, especially when the source of the most powerful evidence is the people most likely to resist the proposal.

Recognizing Artificial Scarcity

Slaughter Development helps organizations to determine if their resistance to change is based on actual or merely percieved rarity of resources. This analysis occurs primarily as part of our of Workplace Diagnostics offering as well as when assisting with direct challenges through Service Integration. Although these services require payment, this too is a resource which we understand intimately. Learn more about your own beliefs on organizational assets. Contact Slaughter Development today!

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