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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?

lifemuncher's picture

How can Merlin be so smart?

I don't have anything new to say about scarcity (though I will definitely be thinking about it), but I wanted to add that the example of the chips reinforces something that I've noticed lately, which is the value of using actual physical tools rather than online ones.

Whether it's using paper for my GTD system, or carrying around a Hipster PDA, I'm finding that having tangible things to deal with makes me understand and use them more effectively. Somehow by having an actual physical thing to move from my inbox to a file or list or pile is far more meaningful to me than if I tried to do it online.

It's also been a real boon to my reading comprehension to print out articles rather than trying to read them on the screen. I imagine having a physical pile of chips to touch and count and give to someone would make the question of allocating meeting time much clearer as well. Unfortunately, I could never convince my coworkers to go along.




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