How do we look at resources? A fun example is a scene from The Gods Must Be Crazy, the 1980 comedy film. In this scene, the Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert encounter an empty bottle of Coca Cola, thrown out of an airplane. They simply assume that this strange artifact is a “present” from the gods and go on to find many uses for it. They employ it as a crafts tool. They blow on the top of the bottle to make music. Basically, they find a ton of uses – all except using it to store a liquid, which is its intended purpose.
And while we must have all laughed our guts out while watching that scene, it is interesting to note that the only reason we find that scene so funny is because our thinking is very rigid and our view of resources is extremely static. In most cases, we find it almost impossible to cognitively process the fact that a resource—any object or person—might have an application other than its intended purpose.
If you see a wooden chair, for instance, your mind immediately processes it as ‘something to sit on.’ But the chair is equally effective as a weapon to defend yourself in an emergency, right? As a resource, it has additional capabilities than we generally attribute.
The Founder’s Struggle with Limited Resources
In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about a common affliction of all start-ups—not having enough resources. I also argued why resource constraints may actually be a good thing in entrepreneurship. In fact, I argued that you should be worried if you have too many resources, not too few. One reader found the argument tenable, yet had the question: Just how do I make do with fewer resources?
This article takes a step toward answering that question. If we place these two aspects—resource constraints and our static view of resources—side by side, we can begin to connect the dots and see how we might unravel the resourcing issue.
The Miracle of Resourcing
One of the most exciting aspects of entrepreneurship is that resources transform and expand dramatically depending on how you use them. Dr. Martha Feldman, a well-known organization theorist, puts it beautifully when she talks about the need to move from ‘resources’ to ‘resourcing.’ It’s about the mental shift from ‘what do we have?’ to ‘what can we do with this?’ In her view, resources are not just things, they are things in use. The way you use something makes it a particular kind of a resource, just as the chair—usually a piece of furniture—becomes a weapon!
Oftentimes our aspirations are far beyond the available resources. And yet, time and again, we see that somehow a missing resource appears when needed. A software developer, for instance, will self-test the code with extra care when a test engineer is not available, essentially transforming temporarily into another type of resource.
Once you put resources to use, they become qualitatively different depending on the context in which they are put to use. Consequently, you will find that you have access to more resources than those you think you have. Let’s call it the miracle of resourcing.
An Example of a Resource Appearing out of Nowhere
A Wharton researcher recently told me a remarkable story of leadership development at a large professional services firm in New York. The VP of Learning and Development of the firm was trying to organize a leadership training summit for senior employees. Unfortunately, scheduling was proving to be a major challenge because most attendees—top executives of the firm—cited the lack of time as a reason for not signing up. They were too busy serving their customers, they said. After trying in vain to attract attendees with the promise of a plush venue, a great line-up of inspiring speakers, and a gala dinner, the VP came up with a unique approach that struck at the root of the issue. He decided to invite key customers to the event too, in addition to the internal executives. And voila! Everybody showed up, sensing a great networking opportunity. Who would have thought that a customer could become a new resource for attracting attendees to a training event?
Here is a simple reflection exercise for you. Go back in your own history to a similar situation when you saw a resource transform or expand in ways that surprised you. Now fast forward to the present, and write down one place where you are really stuck due to resources. Finally, ask yourself: Where might the miracle of resourcing be at play next? Is there something—like the empty bottle of Coca Cola the Bushmen found—hidden in plain sight, waiting to become just the resource you need?
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to know what you think.