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When Being Bootstrapped Becomes a Benefit: 3 Surprising Ways Scarcity Helps

Grace Flack
  • Nov 13, 2020
  • 4 minutes

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

You’ve probably heard this phrase from Plato and others like it that hint to a reality where we discover our true possibilities and creative limits when they’re under pressure. The old pearl in the oyster metaphor that reminds us that good things can come out of hard times.

This year has been a test of these theories, but it’s been interesting to see research come to life and prove that when we’re bootstrapped and low on resources is when we can really shine.

We’ve seen this time and again with our operations heroes who have banded together to do what they have had to do: work extra hours, tighten safety protocols and put processes in place to protect us all from the pandemic spread.

We recently heard this feedback from clients about their COVID-19 operations and successes: 

  • “COVID is changing the way we think, and we have to stretch resources.” 
  • “When your CEO says, I can’t believe you guys got it done, that’s pretty good.” 
  • “We’re smarter now than what we were.” 

Research on scarcity 

And research proves this phenomenon.

According to a 2015 study by the Journal of Consumer Research, it’s scarcity that creates and feeds creativity.

“In other words, scarcity drives creativity. When we aren’t surrounded with ready-made solutions to problems, we have no trouble coming up with our own,” Fast Company says of the study. 

We not only thrive when resources are scarce, then, but we actually require this kind of challenge.

 In fact, Dr. Scott Sonenshein has even written a book all about this, Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less – And Achieve More than You Ever Imaginedif you want to dive into this theory even more. 

What this means for ops pros 

So, what does this research and theory mean for operations professionals like you? 

Well, you’re certainly not new to the concept of doing more with less. Stretched budgets, resources, staff and equipment are all things that you deal with daily.

The question is not only how you can solve some of the areas where you’re under-resourced, but also how you can do your best with less today.

Here are three benefits of being bootstrapped that you can embrace: 

1. Improved problem-solving skills 

You’re used to being scrappy and finding solutions for issues, so take a look at how you’ve grown recently in this area.

Think about: 

  • What quick decisions did you have to make this year that worked out well?  
  • What decisions could have been better but gave you the chance to pivot? 

When you have fewer resources and options, you are forced to make quicker decisions and get to the heart of what needs to be done and why. In fact, you may have to make those decisions so quickly that you seek out the easiest path to making them, avoiding cluttered thoughts that might usually slow you down.

2. More focused goals 

When you are low on resources and time, you are forced to ruthlessly prioritize what you can get done.

Think about: 

  • What work did you do this year that really made an impact? 
  • What projects did you not do this year that were OK to de-prioritize? 
  • Where did your team really excel in times of scarcity this year? 

Goal setting is a great exercise to help you look at your organizational or departmental goals and ladder them down to what your team can do to contribute. Consider the time and resources you have to dedicate and only commit to what you can truly make an impact on.

This exercise can also help you better understand where you might be wasting time or doing work that doesn’t have as much impact. This should force you to prioritize work that really matters.

3. Innovation thrives 

Not having enough (of whatever resource it is) creates a space for you to take inventory of what you do have. And that’s a good mindset to start in. From there, simplify everything: processes, workflow, communication – because you have to.

Think about: 

  • What new processes have you had to put into place this past year?  
  • In what ways have you been forced to simplify and what were the outcomes? 
  • How has your team been more nimble and agile? 

Scarcity provides the opportunity for not just simplification but also innovation. When you are forced to think differently, you have space to solve problems in a different way, to explore new options, to brainstorm within your team for fresh ideas.

According to Science Daily, this is a common outcome. "If you look at people who don't have resources or only have limited resources, they actually end up being more creative with what they have," says Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration at Illinois, in the article.

Doing your best with less 

The next time you’re faced with challenges that come from limited resources and feeling bootstrapped, take it as an opportunity to put these theories to the test.

Strive to not just survive but thrive. Use the resources you do have as best as you can to empower efficiency in new ways. Tap into your creative thinking and problem-solving skills to see obstacles as opportunities.

Our communities are counting on you to.

Discover more ways to do your best with less in our Guide to Operational Efficiency

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