Professional Development

How to take advantage of the allure of scarcity

Yesterday morning I decided it was time to brave a trip to the grocery store. We still had enough food for a week or two, but given the news lately I knew I’d kick myself later if I didn’t try to stash a few more non-perishables. I rationalized that an early morning, middle of the week trip would be perfect to avoid the crowds, participate in social distancing, and allow the grocers enough time to restock after the weekend. Surprise, surprise – I was wrong on all counts.

Nevertheless, I went in bravely, sanitizer in hand. While I had a few specific items in mind, the intent was mostly to choose foods with a long shelf life. But what did I actually do? I glanced down every aisle, and if it was full, I kept walking past. If it looked empty, down the aisle I went. I had to see for myself what was so important in those empty aisles that everyone cleared out. That’s the allure of scarcity.

I know this is not front page news. For weeks, grocery stores have been running on skeletal crews that can’t keep up with demand. People are hoarding non-perishables and stockpiling the harshest chemical versions of cleaning materials that they can get their hands on. I’m always a fan of creativity, but there’s something to be said when Tito’s had to issue a press release to discourage people from using vodka as hand sanitizer.

For the entire rest of the day, I kept wondering why I was drawn to walk down these bare aisles to see what all the fuss was about. Stick with me for a moment. The pasta aisle makes sense. The soup aisle makes sense. No further explanation needed. But, toilet paper? If anyone can explain to me why toilet paper has become the new currency of 2020, I would be forever grateful. If (the virus that shall not be named) gave you the runs, I might understand. But, so far as I know, that’s one of the few symptoms that it isn’t known for. 

The allure of scarcity & tunnel vision

I wasn’t the only one walking down those empty aisles either. In fact, there were a lot of people doing the same exact thing. Gone were the woes of social distancing – we were all too curious. So, why is it that human beings are drawn to scarcity? At least in the context of toilet paper, much of this is certainly due to the simple bandwagon effect. If a new “run on toilet paper” article didn’t show up on your news feed every few hours, you wouldn’t know toilet paper was in high demand, and therefore have the urge to jump on the bandwagon. But there’s more to it than that. Simply put, scarcity has the psychological effect of giving people tunnel vision. It makes things seem more desirable and more valuable, while simultaneously acting as an increasing barrier to our attainment. And that makes us want it all the more.

Photo by Payson Wick on Unsplash

If you think about this in the larger scheme of life, that’s how we all want to be seen. We want to be uniquely valuable and sought after for the individual skills and expertise that only we possess. We want to be more desirable and more valuable such that employers will seek us out. I hope you’re reading this and thinking through what particular skills you have to offer that make you distinctly different. The truth is that no one can really tell you what it is about you that makes you valuable. You have to figure that out all on your own.

Don’t google “unique skills to include on my resume”. Don’t do it. Because if you do, you will see a generic list of things like:

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Problem Solving

Does that really sound unique to you?  FastCompany shared a study that nearly 70% of respondents felt they were particularly good at problem solving in reference to a job application. Still feel like a unique skill?

Do what makes you nervous

Now, I’m not downplaying those skills and characteristics. Truthfully, they are very important and employers do seek out people who are proficient in those areas. But if you are up against 30, 50, 100 other applicants – that is not going to be the make or break point for you.

Remember, you’re trying to take advantage of the allure of scarcity for yourself. 

If nothing is easily coming to mind, now is the time to take stock of what you are truly good at.  Better yet, be honest with yourself about what you suck at, and what you’re scared to try. Chances are that what makes you nervous, makes a lot of other people nervous too. Here’s a word of the day for you: glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. Around 75% of the population has a fear of public speaking. How about you work on getting yourself into that 25%?

Be that person who’s mastered a skill that seems daunting to everyone else

You’ve heard this same sentiment before, I’m sure. It’s one of those pieces of advice that someone told you growing up and you nodded in agreement. It goes in one ear and out the other, and you don’t do anything differently. Instead you rationalize the fact that at least you know this fault about yourself and that’s good enough for now.

Mind you, I am not saying this from a point of, “I am better than thou”. I also had a fear of public speaking. So what did I do? I took a job that forced me to talk in front of people all the time. By no means am I now one of the greats. I started out as the shaky hands, shaky voice, big pit stains person who had no business standing in the front of a room. I still have nerves, but now I’m a calm, more confident public speaker. And every time I present I get that much better.

Feel free to sign up at your local Toastmasters Club, but your new skill doesn’t have to be public speaking. Just to name a few – business and financial acumen, information technology, data analytics, media, and telecommunications are all currently skill and talent shortages across the globe which are only expected to grow by 2030.

Need some further inspiration? Why is it that you know the name Neil deGrasse Tyson? If you’re an astrophysicist nerd, his might be a household name regardless. But the reason the rest of us know his name is not because he is one of the most impressive scientists of our time. We know it because he mastered a unique skill in his field. He took advantage of the allure of scarcity and mastered the art of communication. Tyson has published multiple books on the New York Time’s Best Seller List and has appeared on countless TV shows and movies, further inspiring our curiosity of the universe.

So, go take a class, jump in on a new project at work, join a mentorship program, get a certification. The beautiful thing about the time we live in is that so much of this information is available online, either free or incredibly cheap. Microsoft, Yale University, Princeton University and Udemy are great places to start. The only thing standing in your way is you, and it’s time you start taking advantage of the allure of scarcity for yourself.

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