What if you had fewer resources?
What would you do if you needed to operate your organization with fewer employees, fewer facilities, or less equipment?
Jenny Dawson, founder of Rubies in the Rubble, noticed that many fruits and vegetables at her local market were discarded due to cosmetic imperfections. Her company turns this rejected produce into jams and chutneys, both capitalizing on the environmental opportunity to reduce waste and the business opportunity to acquire perfectly fresh and tasty ingredients that would’ve otherwise been thrown away.
“When people face scarcity, they give themselves the freedom to use resources in less conventional ways.”
When you’re serving a community of people, your customers might actually be a resource that you haven’t considered. If your customers value your product or service, how could you encourage them to become informal ambassadors for your organization? Instead of spending on traditional forms of marketing, could you provide resources or have specific conversations that help your best customers spread word of mouth for your organization?
College Summit is an organization that helps students from under-resourced high schools apply to college. They harness the influence that students have on their peers to drive motivation and skill-building for college applications. By training some of their target population to guide their peers, they found a key resource in the very people they were trying to serve.
With a stretching mindset, you’d start by considering the hidden value in the resources that you already have. This discovery process is part of the true value of resource constraints—having fewer resources will force you to be more attentive, more thoughtful, and more creative in how you could use the resources that you already have. When you have abundant resources, you’re more likely to discard what seems useless.
Make a list of all of your current resources, breaking it down into people, space, and connections/partnerships. Start by removing any one of the things on your list—how could you use your other resources to compensate? Then try removing entire categories of resources. What would your organization do if you didn’t have a central location?
What if you had less expertise, experience, or ability?
You’ve probably heard about Malcolm Gladwell’s ten-thousand-hour rule, which states that expertise or mastery is dependent on at least ten thousand hours of practice. Yet Scott highlights research that suggests this is only true for “high-predictability” activities, like running or music. For low-predictability activities (and many social entrepreneurs would certainly define social impact work this way), practice only accounts for 4% of performance.
“As challenges become less predictable—that is, as they become more like what we regularly face in many of our professional and personal efforts—practice doesn’t always make perfect.”
Conventional wisdom would suggest that in a situation where you lack expertise, experience, or ability, you should plan-—plan to approach experts, to strategically immerse yourself, and to systematically educate yourself about that unknown field or topic.
A stretching mindset would not necessarily dissuade you from that planning, but it might lead you to consider what value you already have in being an outsider. Sometimes the best feeback comes from people who aren’t as emotionally tied to the project as we are.
During the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, the freezing effects of Arctic waters made the oil almost impossible to remove. The organization tasked with clean-up opened a contest to anyone who could propose a new method for extracting the oil from the water. A chemist in Illinois cracked the problem, with an idea from a summer concrete-pouring job: just as vibration machines keep concrete from hardening, they could keep the oil from freezing and becoming unmanageable.
“We’d expect, for example, those with the most chemistry knowledge to outperform other scientists at solving chemistry problems. Surprisingly, the researchers found the opposite. The further the problem was from a person’s expertise, the more likely he or she was to solve it.”
What if you had to move your organization to another city or another country? How would you approach your current challenges if you were in the shoes of an accountant, a deep sea diver, or a chef?
From Obstacle to Obstacle Course
In Stretch, Scott discusses the idea of “functional fixedness—an inability to use a resource beyond the traditional approach.”
A stretch mindset overcomes this inability, and instead, enables you to imagine nontraditional approaches to using resources—and to scarcity.
Your constraints and circumstances of scarcity aren’t insurmountable obstacles. They’re actually the obstacle course that is training your brain to respond differently—to be more efficient, more creative, and more resourceful.