In-house Issues: Abundance or Scarcity

At the most basic level, there are 2 ways to engage in business – from a place of abundance or one of scarcity. Designers are inclined, fortunately, to come at their professional endeavors from a mindset of abundance. Maybe this is because of the infinite amount of ideas and solutions to problems we know are made available to us through our talents, intelligences and discipline. If you live your life and work your job this way, hold on to this worldview like your life depended on it (which it does). If you don’t – look for ways to change your perspective.


Conversely, most businesses embrace the scarcity paradigm. It’s not hard to justify the sweeping statement that the business community looks at the world as a zero-sum game. Just look at their collective behaviors. Most corporations would never consider partnering with competitors (designers do it all the time), they primarily make incremental imitative changes that could hardly be considered innovative (designers are all about bold ideas and solutions), they manage their staff from a position of mitigating legal risk – not employee empowerment – and they only grudgingly adopt policies for the greater good of society and then only as a public relations strategy.

Companies hoard (witness their reluctance to hire new employees in the midst of high unemployment when they were flush), they exploit their customers (Goldman Sacs illegally foreclosed on active servicemen) and they conceal (take Enron for just one example). These behaviors are all fundamentally driven by a belief that there is only so much of anything and everything in the world and that to survive as a corporation they had better get and hold onto all this anything and everything that exists in the world.

Going with the premise that most in-house designers operate out of abundance, the challenge then becomes how best to function in corporations that often are infected with a culture of scarcity. The first imperative is to not be brainwashed or coerced into drinking the corporate kool-aid of fear and paranoia. The heritage of a company and the sheer number of co-workers who buy into a perspective of poverty can make it difficult to hold onto a belief in bounty. Know that just because you’re the only one in the room who holds a belief, opinion or is promoting an action predicated on abundance doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Most likely, in this case, everyone else is.

The next action to take is to stoke your passion and actively take on the role of change agent, provocateur and evangelist. If you’re truly committed to serving your company and society then your functions go beyond the creation of design artifacts and move into the realm of effecting organizational cultural change. It can be done – there are many powerful stories of individuals achieving this in “Switch”, a book by Dan and Chip Heath and “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Finally, in order to be effective at initiating change, hone your communication skills and find others who can support you both from within your company and from outside it. Find mentors, take professional development courses, join industry organizations and network them for all they’re worth. There is no group better positioned and able to shift the way corporations operate than in-house designers. The implications of effecting a dismissal of the worldview of scarcity and the adoption of a mindset predicated on abundance will have an impact far beyond the walls of the corporations where you work.