Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Getting the most out of what we have!

In a world where growing knowledge confronts as much ignorance, the idea of scarcity offers clues on managing our lives better during abundance.

When an economist and a psychologist come together to undertake an intellectual endeavor, the outcome shatters many myths about everyday living. Together they manage to merge academic rigor to explain the most fundamental problems in all walks of life viewed through the science of scarcity, which the authors claim is still in the making. The lonely are lonely, dieters are plump and busy are busy because they are in the ‘scarcity trap’ and lack the capacity to organize their lives.  

Scarcity captures every mind but the authors stretch the notion of fiscal scarcity to include social scarcity and cognitive scarcity as well as scarcity of time and calories to name a few. The multiple implications of scarcity not only make us dumber but cloud our cognitive abilities to come on top. Far from making people more effective, as many would believe, scarcity leaves us with reduced fluid intelligence and more impulsive actions. Not without reason, scarcity leads us to borrow and pushes us deeper into scarcity. Using stories from daily existence and studies from diverse social settings, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir conclude that the feeling of ‘less’ distorts our vision and judgement. 

Scarcity is loaded with fresh insights, helping the reader pull comparable moments out of one’s own experience. In a world where growing knowledge confronts as much ignorance, the idea of scarcity offers clues on managing our lives better during abundance such that there is no slackness when scarcity confronts us. Scarcity can make us wiser provided trade-off thinking is thoughtfully applied. Afterall, scarcity is largely an outcome of environmental conditions that can be managed. Scarcity should make us experts, even if in a limited manner.

Don’t we all become experts when it comes to managing scarce space in our suitcases before undertaking a journey? Mullainathan and Shafir wonder why can’t this expertise help the poor know the value of a dollar, the busy the value of an hour, and dieters the value of a calorie? In a way, the idea of scarcity offers good news because it can help us organize our lives better and design efficient systems around us. Because, like poverty scarcity is unlikely to go away as abundance and scarcity co-exist in an unholy alliance.  The trouble with scarcity is that it not only captures the mind but perpetuates itself.    

Scarcity is a real page turner, overflowing with fresh insights and simple suggestions to transform the way we live and manage ourselves. If you think traffic on the road is clogged in a scarcity trap and that there is no way out, you may need to put on your ‘scarcity cap’ to wriggle out of it. The authors argue that should all the cars were to go at the same speed, not only will the traffic flow be smooth but more cars can be accommodated on the road as well. It is the variation in speed of cars that causes congestion, as drivers vie for limited space (a reflection of scarcity) on the road. 

Scarcity is often associated with dire consequences but not when it comes to Mullainathan and Shafir who consider it as a perfect trigger to enhance our abilities to make better choices. Scarcity is a must read, brilliant and engaging.   

Scarcity: The True Cost of Not Having Enough
by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir
Penguin, UK
Extent: 288, Price: £9.99  

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