🤝 Engineering Scarcity Mindset
There was a study done in 2019 which had the goal of showcasing how poverty impacts our brains and the choices that we make today.
Here’s a short summary of the findings that were made:
Neuroimaging results suggest that a scarcity mindset affects neural mechanisms underlying goal-directed decision making, and that the effects of scarcity are largest when they are compared with previous situations when resources were abundant.
This means that if you were always poor — you function differently than those with abundant resources. But if you were rich before and then suddenly plummeted to poverty — your brain goes into a full-on scarcity mindset.
One great example I’d like to introduce is the toilet paper incident when the pandemic hit. It’s not like everyone needed so much of it in their homes, but suddenly everyone was buying full carts full of toilet paper. It even sounds funny when I write it. This behavior stems from the scarcity mindset — when we’re in a defensive mode about a scenario that might happen.
The toilet paper is just an example. The scarcity and abundance mindsets have far broader implications than just hoarding toilet paper — they affect your job, investment strategies, and overall decision-making.
What’s a scarcity Mindset?
So the definition of a scarcity mindset is when your brain is obsessed with the resources it lacks. For most people, it’s time and money. You always worry that you don’t have time and try to utilize it as best as you can — because how else are you going to live your life if time is so fleeting? Or you worry about money and deny yourself any comforts, hoard stuff even though you're doing well financially — because you never know what might go wrong.
You can think of a scarcity mindset as a zero-sum game. If someone is winning, I must be losing, and there won’t be enough “resources” for everyone.
Cheatsheet to understand if you have a scarcity mindset:
- You believe that your resources constrain you. You don’t have enough of them.
- You think people are winning in life by having an abundance of that resource.
- You say yes to opportunities that do not match you because you’re afraid of not getting another chance.
- You try to squeeze as much “value” as possible from a “resource” that feels scarce.
- Your responsibilities pile up because you take on too much because, again, you’re afraid if you say No, the opportunity will not come again.
You might catch yourself budgeting every penny for the next month or thinking about what you need to do to survive this week rather than planning 5-10 years. As you might see, the choices you make to “survive a week” are much different than those you make if you’re planning the long game.
A scarcity mindset is when you are so obsessed with a lack of something — usually time or money — that you can't seem to focus on anything else, no matter how hard you try.
Scarcity in IT
Imagine you’re a DevOps or a Release Engineer. For simplification purposes, let us assume, you take care of the daily releases of your software that happen under your control, and this is all your daily job is. Your boss decides to automate the release, hires an external consultancy to make the transition, and you’re there to help with the process.
The scarcity mindset in this scenario would be to see this as a threat. “They’re going to automate me away” or “I will become useless.” Your decisions will be defensive. You will not be collaborating or helping with your know-how — you will be protecting your expertise, skills, and job. And that’s understandable — nobody wants to lose their job.
Another excellent example of a Software Engineering scarcity mindset — is a lone wolf programmer. In their mind, they don’t need anyone, and they consider everyone else to be less capable (and also sometimes put down other developers to showcase that they’re more talented). But you know what they fear? They fear being outshined by other developers. They’re afraid of becoming irrelevant, as that’s their only selling point — working alone better than any other single developer.
But they forget that in Software Development, the highest point of dependence is not being 'independent' but rather being 'interdependent.’ A Software Product succeeds because the developers can rely on each other. You don’t need someone to be screwed for you to win.
There’s another side to the coin which helps us make decisions long-term, based on the idea that the resources are abundant for everyone and everyone can get a piece of the pie. People with the abundance mindset play the positive-sum game.
In the example above about the Release Engineer losing his job — the correct way would be to help automate all the boring stuff and rise to the challenge of leading this automation transformation not only for his department but everywhere in the company. He would learn new tools and make the company more efficient. Win-win.
And in the example of a lone wolf programmer, accept that amazing products are not built alone, and there’s someone more capable than you who can teach you something. In the best-case scenario — you start accepting help, and you grow. You grow your social capital, become more friendly, and become more valued at the company and the community. Win-win.
Here's how you know if you have an abundance mindset:
- Your relationships are based on trust. You don’t have to control everyone around you to ensure they do what’s needed with the scarce resource of time.
- You focus on results and make plans based on assumptions that you’ll be able to get enough resources or that there are enough resources available.
- You see opportunities to grow instead of hurdles to overcome. Nobody is trying to take away your resources or make you redundant. You also know opportunities will come to you, and you shouldn’t say yes to shady stuff.
- You’re not afraid of losing your job / your wallet / your day.
Instead of protecting our fiefdom because it could mean losing our job — we create an environment where everyone can prosper. “How can we make this work for everyone?”
You can only grow if you can leverage resources that are available to you and maximize your synergies. You can’t constantly worry about the lack of your resources, as that’s counterproductive.
You need to figure out what to do with the resources that you have, keeping in mind that there’s enough out there for everyone.
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