Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir

On a relative scale, we probably are in the most abundant era of civilisation. And yet, we struggle to manage with less than what we need. Sometimes it’s money, in other cases time or health, and then there are emotional needs like love and affection. But there’s a common thread that connects all of these – the scarcity mindset. A feeling of having less than what one needs. And scarcity, as the authors repeat many a time in the first few sections captures the mind.

This framing suddenly brings up patterns that are common across vegetable sellers in India and the authors of this book, two sets of people vastly separated by geography and lifestyles. It then allows the formation of concepts and constructs – bandwidth, focusing and tunneling, choking, slack are a few examples – that offers explanations on how scarcity is created, how it forms its own vicious cycles, and how far reaching its consequences are. Complicated as the subject may seem (and it is!) the fantastic use of examples (tests, experiments and real life scenarios) explains things in a way that the reader can easily grasp.

Not only is the framing done well, the authors have also suggested ways to ‘design for scarcity’. Though primarily focusing on poverty, there are excellent suggestions for tackling scarcity at not just societal levels, but organisational as well as individual.

I really liked the book on multiple counts. In addition to a better understanding of human behaviour, it gave me explanations of not just my behaviour during specific events in my life, but also my attitude towards resources, and my worldview. I also picked up some understanding of the behaviour of others, which will help me look at causation beyond the superficial, and hopefully make me more empathetic. Lastly, the perspective of allocating one’s time vs one’s bandwidth was also an excellent learning.

This is one of those rare books which I think I will read again after a while because I really want to internalise many of the points and suggestions it makes. A fantastic read, recommended by someone I respect, for which she has my thanks.

Scarcity