Money Isn't Everything, Not Having It Is

What would you do if you won Lotto? I bet you know the answer to that question, and that you've had this conversation at least half a dozen times before in your life. For fun, try extending it a little further and ask the question - if that's what we really want to do with our lives... what's truly stopping us?

Friends and family that I tested this thought experiment on told me they would travel the world, or work with charities. Which is interesting, because if that's the thing they most dream of - odds are they could make the decisions that get them there now.

One of the least helpful framing mistakes that we make when try to solve problems or plan for the future is to put false constraints in our way. We assume something isn't possible, or that money will be a problem, or that because it hasn't been done before, it can't be done. So we unnecessarily limit our own understanding of what's possible.

I don't know how I feel about the Law of Attraction, but I do know that I believe strongly in cognitive framing. This is the effect where your own understanding frames the things you're able to identify and process. Ever bought a new car and suddenly noticed them everywhere?

The same thing applies to strategy - once you make a decision to do something, the things you need tend to start "appearing" in front of you - or more to the point, you can see them in a new light, because you've removed the false constraints in your way. 

"Having money isn't everything - not having it is. " - Kanye West 'The Good Life'

I work with a lot of Councils, particularly in the strategy phase of investment decisions. One of the most common constraints that I encounter is money. Provincial Councils in particular have spent so long being fund-constrained, that resourcing becomes the fallback position on why they can't make strategic progress. Much like the Lotto dream, there is an assumption that funding constraints stand in the way of big goals, which is a convenient way to stay comfortable rather than make scary choices. 

Nicholas Taleb says that "abundance is harder for us to handle than scarcity" which is a more elegant articulation of a personal favourite - "mo' money, mo' problems". I've seen this first hand lately working with Councils putting together proposals and ideas for Provincial Growth Fund initiatives. All of a sudden the funding constraint has been eliminated, leaving uncomfortable questions about the root causes for social and economic slowdown, and the big goals that might be possible with some change-making.

When it comes to business cases, investment planning and strategy development we should generally remove funding issues from the discussion at the strategic definition phase. If you have a compelling proposal with solid benefits, you WILL find funding. Community and NGO initiatives show us this time and time again.

Challenge your own thinking whenever possible, and be aware of false constraints and assumptions that have the power to hold you back from truly understanding your problems. Money is a common one here, but there are other ones too - a fear of risk, innovation and public perception can be even more restrictive. Your whole frame can change, making space for genuine change and innovation.

Or as Kanye would say - "welcome to the good life!"

How To...  Uncover False Constraints

  • Practice paranoid skepticism

  • Take funding out of the equation to start with

  • Identify and challenge assumptions that might be holding you back.