Scarcity is a brand-new book – ‘captivating’ is what the coauthor of Freakonomics calls it – by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, eminent professors at Ivy League Schools. The title, subtitle and authors are listed on a tiny drawing of a book in the very bottom right hand corner of this white-covered book. The subtitle is Why Having Too Little Means So Much.
One of the authors, Professor Eldar Shafir, is a Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, was the keynote speaker at the annual Community Development Summit of the Cleveland Fed this year – and he generously provided a copy for each participant! No scarcity there.
The other author, Sendhil Mullainathan, is a professor of economics at Harvard University, and the winner of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. These two work are cofounders of ideas42, a nonprofit that designs behavioral economics solutions to social problems, says the book jacket.
I have been pretty much blown away by this book. I grasped the primary ideas in the Introduction and first couple of chapters, plus one of the last chapters. But it was so intriguing that I went back and re-read the entire thing – something I almost never do.
Basic ideas of the book : scarcity – lack of something important, whether money or time – reduces our bandwith (mentally, physically, emotionally) so that we tunnel into our current crisis, and are able to put only a small amount of attention / problem solving / reasoning ability toward anything except our current crisis. So anything that is merely important (taking your prescriptions, meeting a book deadline, taking advantage of a great financial deal in a timely fashion) simply never makes it into the tunnel.
They have done lots of testing of these ideas, creating situations where, for instance, even MIT students, playing a ramped up version of Family Feud, begin to reap the problematic rewards of scarcity, and borrow against their futures in reckless and non-functional ways.
The quick solution? And you’ll really want to read the whole book anyway – is Slack. Building slack into situations and scenarios and even into your physical circumstances. You won’t get everything done today, anyway – so don’t plan to. And emails will show up to be attended to, as will phone calls… so don’t fill every moment with a task or meeting.
Give your brain / your Self a bit of unoccupied space – and problems you haven’t even had time to move on to your plate will be solved before they hit crisis stage.
I’ve been playing with these ideas – and continuing to think about them – while building slack into the day. I have occasionally arrived at meetings with a minute or two to spare. Feels like my brain has expanded. A good feeling.