Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Escaping the Scarcity Trap

Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir recently published their book, "Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much."  I even wrote about them when I pointed out that busy professionals, like the working poor, face a scarcity--but of time, rather than money.

I wish I could say that I've already read their book, but alas, I face my own time shortage!

I did find the time to read a Washington Post interview with Mullainathan:

In this article, he says something very insightful about escaping the scarcity trap:
"People think they're in the scarcity trap because they have too little money, or too little time. That's sort of true, but it’s not exactly true. It’s not exactly true because you're always accomplishing the same work. You're just accomplishing it later. If you could just somehow get one step ahead, that's it. It's not that you have too little time. You have the same amount of time; you're just one step behind."
I love this insight, because it is both true and profound.  In my own life, I've referred to it as "getting ahead of the curve."  Once you fall behind, it's almost impossible to catch up, but once you get ahead, it's easy to stay ahead.

Startups face the same challenge--money is always short, but expenses are largely the same (you pay your people the same every month).  Too many startups focus on short term firefighting rather than getting ahead of the curve.

If you find yourself thinking, "If only I had more time/money/whatever," challenge yourself to take radical action to get ahead of the curve.  This may mean focusing on one thing to the exclusion of others; it may mean working harder for a sustained sprint.  But regardless, the difference between being ahead of rather than behind the curve makes almost any sacrifice worthwhile.

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