It’s a buzzword that pops up in hundreds, if not thousands, of articles, speeches, and books: “culture of abundance.” But what exactly is it?
In theory, it’s a culture where everyone feels that there is no need to covet money, resources, time, power, recognition, advancement, relationships, opportunity, security or anything else because they see all these things as plentiful. In turn, people can focus all their attention on teamwork and on their best work because they are not distracted with thoughts of internal competition, feeling underappreciated or believing they are living or being treated sub-optimally.
But unfortunately, that’s fantasy. To be clear, I do think that the basic thinking underlying the concept of a “culture of abundance” has value. It’s just that the concept—including the use of the word “abundance”—represents an ideal that does not, and probably cannot, exist in modern times. As such, striving for a “culture of abundance” is likely counterproductive.
I’ve been a CEO for 15 years now, which, is a pretty long tenure for a CEO. When I began my term, we had a good amount of scarcity with which we had to contend. Now, all these years later, we’ve grown dramatically and are many times the size we once were. We have great people, clients, relationships, technology, space, consultants, recognition and access to resources. And, along the way, we have done quite well for ourselves economically, too. Incomes are way up, along with benefits, opportunities for advancement, and, of course, equity returns.
I used to say that we therefore had a culture of abundance – but I’ve come to realize that even we have never really had a culture of abundance. How do I know this? Because it’s normal, if not instinctive, to want more. Our people, just like most others, want more. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that even I sometimes want more.
We as human beings are almost always going to want more, even if we’re not talking about money. Be honest about it. Do you have an abundance of time on your hands? Do you have an abundance of friends? Support? Opportunities? Resources? Safety and security?
I think we need to change the concept of, and language around, a “culture of abundance” to a more realistic and highly achievable “culture of enough.” If people can learn to realize and appreciate that they already have enough of everything they need, they can have awareness of, and even control over, their natural feelings of scarcity and competition, allowing them to achieve the same benefits offered by the purely theoretical culture of abundance.
Said differently, take some time to reflect on your life. Are you healthy? Do you have freedom? Do you have equal and fair opportunities? Are you safe? Do you have a job that you value? Do you have enough money to live comfortably? Do you have people you love and who love you? Do you have friends? Do you have time to focus on the things that are most important to you and that make you happy? And do the people you love have these things? If you can answer these questions affirmatively (and I recognize that many cannot), then you probably have enough of everything you’ll ever need.
It doesn’t follow, however, that if you answered yes to each of the above questions, then you don’t want more. It’s natural to want more. We’re built that way. If, however, you can approach your natural desires from the perspective that you already have enough of everything that’s really important, then I submit that your perspective, and all of your insecurities, will look and feel different the next time your instincts tell you that you need more.
Companies that seek to foster optimal conditions for teamwork and employee focus should strive for conditions in which, to the extent they have control of those conditions, everyone can feel that they have enough of everything that’s really important. They should also be prepared to challenge those that are not aware of this reality when it exists and be supportive of others who, in fact, might not have enough of everything they need. In this type of “culture of enough,” internal competition becomes much less overwhelming and team members can position themselves better into focused, win-win thinking instead of distracted, win-lose thinking. By doing so, they also can frame their individual quests for more as cooperative in nature, thereby maximizing their chances, and those of their companies, to find the very abundance that eludes so many others who already claim to have it.