Scarcity

There has been so much talk about the economy lately, I can’t help but chime in.  And what better place to start than Ms. Sidwhen*, my High School Economics teacher.  Sidwhen was a take no prisoners battle axe of a woman who struck fear in the hearts of everyone who graced her classroom (which was about half of the Seniors at my High School, given that there were only two teachers and Economics was required for graduation).  

Economics has been called the “Dismal Science,” a harsh term, in my opinion, but considering that one of its fundamental tenets is the concept of Scarcity, it does seem appropriate.  Chances are you learned about this in high school economics, at least I did on day one or two with Ms. Sidwhen. If you didn’t I will try and lay it out in layman’s terms (or at least how I understand it) – Scarcity is just another way of saying that there is a finite amount of dollars chasing an almost infinite amount of goods.  

Put another way, here is a mock conversation Ms. Sidwhen gave whilst lecturing on Scarcity (which she pronounced as SCAR-city):

You:  “Do you have some money?”  

Your Friend:  “I don’t have any money.”  

You:  “Why don’t you have any money?”  

Your Friend:  “Because I bought these new shoes.”  

Now before we all start deriding the education system of the early 90’s in this country, let me just say that this simple example made sense to me – and it stuck.

Now obviously this applies to money, but really it applies to anything we use to barter, whether it is money, gold, eggs, or talent and skills.  In the example Ms. Sidwhen gave to me more than a few years ago, if this person hadn’t bought the shoes, he  would have money to buy something else.  If money was in abundant supply (read: never ending) he (or she) could buy whatever they wanted and still have money left over.  Of course that is not the case – no matter how wealthy you are, there is a limit to what you can buy.  

The same goes for skills.  If there is an unlimited supply of skills to perform your role, there is little Scarcity for your skills.  Let’s say you are a programmer and, using Ms. Sidwhen’s example from above, the following dialog occurs between your Boss and their Boss:

Boss’ Boss:  “You need to get rid of a programmer.”

Boss:  “OK, well, it can’t be [Insert Your Name Here].”

Boss’ Boss:  “Why can’t it be [Insert Your Name Here]?”

Boss:  “Because no one else can do what she does.” (Or: Because she is better at this, this and this than anyone else on my team.)”

Assuming that whatever it is that you bring to the table is something that is valued, congratulations!  That is Scarcity!  Of course if your skill set is the ability to open a bottle of wine with a butter knife (I actually knew someone who could do this – it was impressive), unless you work somewhere that serves wine and has a perpetual shortage of cork screws, I don’t see this as being very helpful.  

So, how does this translate to you?  

Looking at your skill inventory, are the skills you currently bring easy to replace?  If so, what are you doing to increase the Scarcity of what you do?  For example, if you are a web programmer:

  • Are you the best web programmer you can be?  
  • Are you in the top 2% of web programmers, or is it a written goal for you to be?  
  • Are you reading Web Programmer Digest?  (I just made this up – the idea is to subscribe to your leading periodical and READ it).
  • Did you join the National Association of Web Programmers (NAWB), as well as the local chapter?  (Ditto here – I am not sure this is even an organization, but you get the idea…)
  • How many web programer specific blogs do you subscribe to?  
  • Do you go to meetings as often as possible (and take an energy shot before you do)?
  • Are you networked with other web programmers through LinkedIn, or some other web programmer social network?  
  • Do you have web programmer certifications, even if you had to pay for them yourself? 
  • Do you volunteer for way-out projects that other web programmers aren’t interested in?  Do you pour out your blood and guts into them as though your very livelihood depended on it?  

This isn’t intended to be an all inclusive list, but rather my hope is to get you to thinking: “is there Scarcity to what I do, or am I expendable?”  

Perhaps you have achieved this indispensable status – great!  What are you doing to stay there?  See above for some suggestions…

*Note: I have changed the name of this beloved teacher more for my own protection than from any concern for her.  Someone who I will only describe as my dearest friend attempted to change teachers after being assigned to her class.  The words Ms. “Sidwhen” said still ring in my ears “ain’t no getting away from me.  No way, no how.”

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