Some meetings have practical outcomes: an introduction, perhaps even a new client. Other outcomes are a little vaguer. That was the case when I had coffee with a senior member of the alumni team at the University of London. She mentioned, in passing, something called Abundance Theory. Intrigued, I questioned her.
It seems that the term Abundance Theory was originally coined by Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Basically, it’s the notion that there is plenty to go round in the world. Plenty of jobs, recognition, information, help. And that we all benefit from being generous, and helping others, rather than jealously guarding our knowledge and contacts
Think for example, of what geographers and urban planners call clustering. You would think, wouldn’t you, that one jeweller in a neighbourhood (or one florist or shoe shop) would be sufficient. So how to explain Hatton Garden, London’s jewellery district where literally hundreds of jewellers cluster in just a few streets? Or Silicon Valley? Or London’s Silicon Roundabout or Cambridge’s Silicon Fen? Why on earth should similar, and competing companies, accumulate in dense clusters, living cheek by jowl and (very probably) poaching each other’s staff?
The answer is because they all benefit from abundance. Access to the latest thinking at a nearby university (Stanford in California or Cambridge in the UK), a pool of talented individuals and a buzzy atmosphere full of new ideas and innovation. The more the merrier actually is true in the case of clustering.
Now transfer that concept to the individual level. In certain instances, clearly, there may be only one job to be filled. Or one contract to be agreed. But take a step back, and use a broader perspective. You don’t get this job – but by helping someone, you are introduced to an even better job (which, with any luck, you get). Or by talking to your network, you get the lowdown on a company and realise that the contract you were chasing wasn’t that great in the first place. Next time round you are far savvier and knowledgeable.
I’m by nature sceptical about touchy-feeling approaches to life. If keeping a gratitude diary works for you, that’s great. To my eyes, though, our world is not made of cotton wool, and you will have some hard landings and learn some tough lessons. But that doesn’t mean that you have to adopt scarcity theory and ruthlessness as your approach. In the final analysis, life isn’t a zero sum game. My gain is not necessarily your loss. And vice versa, of course
If you’re also a sceptic, try it out for a while, and let us know what happens. I know full well that changing attitudes isn’t easy, but there’s no doubt that it is worth trying. Some suggestions:
• Seek out people who see the glass as half full (aka positive people),
• Share more of whatever it is that you need (help, encouragement, introductions….). That’s also known as ‘paying it forward’.
• Try to see things that scare you as opportunities not threats. For example, a room crammed full of people you don’t know: it’s not the lion’s den, but an opportunity to meet some new people and make some new contacts. Who knows where that may lead – but serendipity should be the subject of another blogpost.