Human beings. We aren’t as rational as we’d like to think.

I know a CEO who moved the company to a large new office space. The idea was to grow into it, but despite a much more spacious office, efficiency quickly took a nosedive. So, he or she divided the space up and crammed all existing employees into less than half the available space. People literally had to get in early just to get a chair. And just as quickly, efficiency soared back up again.

When I run monthly editorial meetings for clients, I bring an engraved trophy to the meeting and I give it to the person whose editorial contributions brought most value to the brand (traffic, leads, shares etc.). We typically make fun of the whole trophy thing, but it usually doesn’t take long before even a room full of engineers become highly engaged blog contributors.

I remember playing tennis with my dad as a kid. There was no booking system for the court we used to play at, so we were always hoping that it would be available. At a distance, we could sometimes see a pair of players finishing up. However, as soon as the players was made aware that their court was “in demand”, they would more often than not stop packing up and keep playing for an additional 10-30 minutes.

What’s going on here?

The principle of scarcity

This is a strange bias that makes us anticipate regret, compete for resources, and work harder.

We tend to react to scarcity (or the lack thereof) the same way we react to the illusion of it. In our consistent strive for control over our lives, the freedom of choice is vital to us. if something seems to be (or become) scarce, we anticipate possible regret and work harder to attain it. This bias makes us want want scarce things even more. The principle of scarcity is well-defined in scientific literature.

I wish I could deny the inherent cynicism that seems to go hand in hand with successful project leadership, but I can’t. We’re not a bunch of well-behaved Taylor-machines, after all. A balanced amount of cynicism is probably only useful.

Photo by Giorgio Parravicini on Unsplash.