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Vox Pop: Re-creating scarcity

I have a friend who told me he was thinking about giving his project managers a weekly pile of chips that could be redeemed for person-hours in meetings. So, to schedule firewalled, group face-time, the PM would need to cough up the equivalent number of tokens from her pile. Thus, one, long, all-hands meeting might require the whole week's stack. While, fewer, shorter meetings with smaller groups made the pile go further.

It was just an idea, and I'm pretty sure he never implemented it, but I think it's a fascinating concept. Why? Because I love the idea of re-introducing scarcity into systems that lack boundaries.

Think how the internet in particular (for better and worse) is working to erase any sense of scarcity in our lives -- at least in terms of access to people and ideas. You can email anybody any time; you can divebomb onto someone's radar screen with an IM or SMS; you can have Amazon deliver almost anything to your door tomorrow morning; you can find and download from millions of files instantly; and, given the right tool, you can locate almost any fact in seconds.

But what about the very real (and truly limited) resources that involve human time and attention? Do we want to make ourselves as available as Google and Wikipedia are? Do we want our entire staff to be "always on" for anyone who wants them? What if, for example, emails to a distribution list cost something?

The Question to You

Have you thought about ways to re-introduce scarcity into your life and work? Are you or your team using any homemade systems to govern resources that might otherwise become overtaxed or abused? How would you solve the “too many long meetings” problem?

dude.abides's picture

How about Opportunity Cost?

Another thought along the lines of scarcity value...

I have boys ages 12, 10 and 8. Let's say I take them to Borders so that I can sit around, have a cup of coffee, read a magazine, and let my hair down, at least for a moment. In the olden days, I'd tell them that after I was done, I'd buy them a book or CD or something. That something, a few days later, would be littered in some corner of some room, never to be a gee-gaw that was treasured, but rather a figurative dust bunny scrapped to a shadow life and doomed to a quick end as landfill.

Too often, I played the role of executioner, throwing many things into the garbage. I realized that this stuff was rarely missed; my boys simply didn't care for these idle thingies. I did know that they could care for the money that provided for this stuff. So now when I go to Borders with my boys, I tell them, "you can either have $8 or you can buy something." More than half the time, they take the $8, and still enjoy wandering the store looking for something of interest. If they buy something, it actually matter to them. The item is enjoyed not neglected. In the end, I save money, I have less to clean up, and most importantly there isn't some abused, abandoned gee-gaw that otherwise could have been a piece of treasure to some other person.





An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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