In Peter Diamandis’ book, Abundance, he tells the story of the discovery of aluminum. According to the tale, around 2,000 years ago, a goldsmith brought an unusual dinner plate to the court of the Emperor Tiberius. It was made from a shiny, lightweight, bright new metal that was the color of silver. The goldsmith said that he had used a secret formula to extract this new metal from clay. Tiberius was very interested in it because he had a massive amount of gold and silver as a result of his many conquests across Europe. He believed that if this goldsmith helped others to extract this rare new metal from mere clay, it could substantially decrease the value of his fortune. Rather than risk that happening, he had the goldsmith beheaded.
Aluminum did not reappear until around 1825 when once again, a complex process for extracting the metal was discovered. Since then, technology has improved the process so much that the price has been drastically reduced and it is easily available. You see, aluminum itself isn’t rare; it’s the third most plentiful element on earth and represents 8.3% of the weight of the world. There’s an abundance of aluminum, but it was initially scarce due to the difficulty in accessing it.
Abundance Vs. Scarcity
The Emperor Tiberius had a scarcity mindset. He feared loss of position and power from this precious new metal that he knew little about. Individuals with a scarcity mindset focus on lack and insufficiency and therefore make decisions based on what’s best for themselves, even at the expense of others.
Had he known the abundance of aluminum as compared to gold (all the gold that has ever been mined would only fill about one-third of the Washington Monument), he might have made a different decision, and somehow harnessed the power of aluminum for his benefit. Individuals with an abundance mindset focus on having an extremely plentiful supply, more than enough to go around.
This mindset of abundance versus scarcity plays out in other ways in our lives. As we face challenges and opportunities in our work, our mindset will dictate the approach we take and impact the results we achieve. It will dictate whether we are inclusive in our approach to problems in a way that invites cross-functional perspectives, and solicits inputs from others who may not normally be involved in particular issues. Abundance thinking invites new ideas and possibilities. It provides a foundation for innovation and creativity based on a positive outlook for the future; and is the basis for solving many of the difficulties we face today. This mindset drives our behaviors.
A modern day example of behaviors that support an abundance mindset is WeWork, a four year old company that provides co-working office space, primarily targeted at startups and younger companies who want (and need) heavy interaction. They lease large blocks of office space and subdivide it into smaller parcels; then charge monthly memberships to businesses who want to work, network and share ideas in a collaborative environment. All office services are provided and planned activities enable them to pitch ideas, gain business from one another, and share advice. The founders, Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, each grew up in communal living (in Israel and Eugene, OR respectively) and thus saw the value of a shared and collaborative environment.
With 31 locations, 15,000+ members and estimated gross earnings of $150 million this year, they have a current valuation of $1.5 billion, with plans to grow 3 to 4 times that size over the next year. In short, there’s a heavy demand (and a waiting list) for this type of working environment. And the companies that rent this space recognize that collaborating and sharing increases their value.
As we consider our U.S. Thanksgiving celebrations over the past week, hopefully this has been a time of reflecting on the abundance in our lives. It also provides an opportunity to enhance our perspective on where we exhibit abundance or scarcity in our mindset and behaviors. It’s not simply about accumulation of financial reserves, friends, or material goods. It’s the way we approach life and behave.
Abundance is driven by a mindset of considering future possibilities.
Scarcity is driven by mindset of complacency with the current state.
Abundance suggests sharing because there will always be enough to go around.
Scarcity suggests hoarding what you have.
Abundance mindsets look for creative opportunities to integrate with the work of others.
Scarcity mindsets believe there is little opportunity for improvement on their work.
Abundance thinkers focus on adding value to others first, and thus add value to themselves.
Scarcity thinkers focus on promoting oneself first, and thus overlook the value of others.
So be abundant in your mindset.
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. www.Abundancethebook.com
Read the story of WeWork in Forbes Magazine here.
Steve Ballmer has a new lease on life. After more than three decades at Microsoft as employee number 30, he retired as CEO in February 2014 and is looking toward the future. He’s also number 18 on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans with $22.5 billion, so he discussed his plans for the future with George Anders for that magazine’s recent issue.
First, Ballmer’s purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this year will take a large chunk of his time. This was the third time he tried to purchase an NBA team. Many believe he overpaid for the opportunity, but it aligns well with his love of the sport, and focuses him in an entirely different direction. Second, though he’s no longer involved with the company, as the largest individual Microsoft shareholder (333 million shares!), he will continue to closely monitor his investment. He’s also using his vast experience to teach MBA students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This is part of evaluating his legacy as they analyze the successes and failures of his former company.
Finally, and more importantly, he and his wife are researching how to use their formidable wealth to positively impact society through philanthropy. He’s surrounding himself with a group of advisors to understand issues and problems around the world as he formulates his next steps in this arena. Ballmer’s legendary energy level, evidenced whenever he met with employees at Microsoft, and with Clippers fans at his first game as owner, seems at an all-time high as looks toward the future. He’s making a shift and strategically reinventing himself.
Ballmer’s exit from Microsoft came at a time when investors were calling for change. Given the pressures on new product development and revenues, it was time for a shift in the company. He had reached a senior level of professional maturity and accomplishment, and it was time to look for the next shift in his own life. But Ballmer is just one example of the many people who reach that point. Granted 99.99% of the people aren’t quite as rich or accomplished, but nonetheless are similarly passionate about their past and their future, and find a time in life where they need a shift…a strategic reinvention.
IBM is facing a similar pivotal moment. In their 2014 third quarter earnings release, CEO Virginia Rometty acknowledged a need to reinvent the company just twenty years after their strategic shift from hardware, to software and computer services. Now after revenues have declined for the 10th straight quarter, those business lines are lagging and the company is admitting they will miss an earnings target. Some describe it as an “old technology company” that needs to quickly move into cloud computing. And while opinions may vary, they are obviously in need of a shift…a strategic reinvention.
Making a shift or strategic reinvention is characterized by several phases.
Discomfort – When individual or organizational results are no longer as favorable, and the tried and true strategies to improve them don’t work, this is a warning signal. There may be an uneasiness that the environment is changing, stakeholders want different outcomes, and competitive requirements are fluctuating. The ability to develop plans to meet future needs becomes more difficult as the environment lacks clarity. This is like shifting gears in a vehicle with an automatic transmission where there’s a momentary pause in the speed of the vehicle, but the ultimate benefit is that it can move faster once the shifting is complete.
Direction – Strategic reinvention requires thoughtful evaluation of where you want to go, what you want to become, and whether you have the resources to get there. It requires careful assessment of the competitive environment, the financial requirements, the skillset of your team, the time required for change, and future perspective. This requires a level of resolve by the leader(s) to make tough decisions unencumbered by the past, to head in the right direction.
Destination – After a strategic reinvention, where you end up will look different from where you were. The people who were with you in the past, may not follow you into the future because they don’t want to, or are not capable of making the shift; they’re not invested in the change. Your destination can represent a fresh start, a new beginning, a different approach to how you add value to others. It’s important to take advantage of the momentum you gather along the way and carefully construct the environment crucial to your success.
Winds of Change
Former Intel CEO Andy Grove’s book, Only the Paranoid Survive, makes the point that we all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change. These winds at some point will require us to shift gears, and experience a strategic reinvention, so that we can move further faster. It’s rarely easy. Often a coach, advisor or consultant with specific expertise in the area of focus can help to guide you on the pathway, to help as you shift gears. Steve Ballmer seems to be finding his pace and enjoying the process. Microsoft, IBM and other organizations similarly positioned will be pushed forward by less patient stakeholders. Ultimately all of us will reach a point where we need to shift. How will you handle it?
Read the Forbes story on Steve Ballmer here.
Read the Wall Street Journal story on IBM here.
Ann Marie Sastry has a big idea. With over 70 patents and 80 scientific publications to her credit, she describes herself as a “happy warrior who’s driven by doing the next new thing.” That drive leads her to put in 100 hour work weeks and spend over two decades in pursuit of developing new battery technology application for use in electric vehicles. She’s scrapped the traditional chemical lithium technology to rethink the basics of energy, power, mass, volume, cost and safety, all in search of a new approach. She’s also raised $30 million from a variety of backers in support of her grand idea.
Sastry has an entrepreneurial zeal for her product that compels her to pursue any and every approach and perspective to accomplish her goal. She has a passion and optimism for success that propels her forward, and expects that within a year or two her product will be in full production. But for every successful entrepreneur, there are many more whose dreams never turn into reality. That’s because the same passion that propels her forward with a clear focus on success, can be blinding to others and cause them to miss the obvious cues that unfortunately their grand idea won’t get off the ground.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal on How an Entrepreneur’s Zeal Can Destroy a Startup by Noam Wasserman provides perspective on the negative effects of such passion. It’s displayed in the many mistakes founders make in starting their business including lack of technical or scientific experience, management experience, and connections with investors and potential customers. They significantly underestimate the time and resources needed to get the business running, and the toll it will take on their family relationships.
Interestingly, one study showed that when 800 founders’ startup ideas were assessed and given feedback on the feasibility and next steps of their business, of those who received a recommendation that their ideas wasn’t commercially viable, 29% continued to invest money, and 51% continued to invest time in developing their ideas. The obvious question at this point is why someone would continue to pursue a venture when they’re highly unlikely to succeed. The authors suggest that these individuals had overwhelming optimism in their potential for success, coupled with a reluctance to give up after already investing so much time and money. In short, they were blinded by their passion.
Founders are often driven by a desire to make a mark in their world. They believe that their idea will play an important role in their environment or society, and feel compelled to pursue it. Their passion becomes the focal point of their thought process as they guide their lives to accomplish their dream. Passion managed appropriately can have a positive impact; while unchecked and unbalanced passion may lead to negative behaviors and consequences. Passion for an initiative can open one’s eyes to new possibilities, but it can also blind one to the potential difficulties of pursuing it. Passion can drive entrepreneurs to sacrifice the presumed comfort of a steady paycheck to pursue their business startups, but it can also put their finances, families and future at risk.
Thus, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. So how do know if your passion is out of balance?
• Do you have the support of your family? Or are you sacrificing too much time with your family to pursue your passion? Is your significant other supportive, or asking you to redirect your time and energy? Many entrepreneurs fail to be honest with themselves and their loved ones about the commitment required to pursue their dream.
• Do you have the resources to support it? Do you have sufficient finances for your personal living expenses? Are you draining your retirement savings? How are you funding this venture, and how much are you willing to invest and borrow to determine if it has a chance of success?
• Does it help build positive relationships? Or, do your friends and colleagues avoid you because this is the only thing you talk about? Engaging in conversations on a variety of topics with individuals from various backgrounds can serve as a creative catalyst, versus being singularly focused on your project.
• Do you have the skillset to accomplish it? Or are you able to gather others around you with the right skillset to support your efforts? Too many entrepreneurs try to do it all when in reality they need to surround themselves with a people who possess a variety of skillsets and needs that will evolve over time.
• Does it meet a need, fill a void, or satisfy a desire in the marketplace? What may seem like a wonderful idea to you, may lack sufficient value to others. Are people really willing to invest in it or pay for it?
If you responded “no” to any of these primary questions, this is the time to think carefully about what you’re doing and find a way to balance your passion. This is the time to make sure your zeal is not overshadowing reality, and focus on initiatives where you CAN be successful, where you CAN fulfill your responsibilities to family and friends, where your talents CAN be most valued.
Never give up on your passion. Simply maximize it and apply it where it will be most beneficial. Whether your passion is focused on an entrepreneurial venture, a great new idea for a process or product within your organization, a pastime or hobby, or a business initiative, balance is the key.