It was in 2010 when I went with a small group of people to Ecuador. We landed in Quito and after a week in Galapagos Islands and another week traveling in Ecuador we headed to Cuyabeno wildlife reserve in Amazonia.
Amazonia is a vast area spread across several countries, and since we had only a week, we were content with visiting a small area in Ecuador. Amazon forest is sometimes called the Earth’s lungs and to a big extent, still unspoiled by civilization.
Because of the river system of Amazon, you get water all around you. Depending on the season a vast area is covered by water. In a dry season, the water level drops, and there are huge stretches of muddy shoreline difficult to cross.
We spent a couple of days exploring the environment on large canoes during the day and on foot during the evenings and even nights. Nothing compares a night walk through the jungle and muddy waters when you see in the darkness, the red glowing eyes of alligators waiting for their prey.
The nights were also fun as we slept in local huts often infested by various Amazonian fauna. After trying to persuade large tarantulas and other curious insects to vacate our beds, we often decided that we don’t really need to sleep that badly.
The most interesting part was seeing the life of the Siona tribe that lives in the area. Those we saw were already used to tourists and happy to give us a glance into some of their daily struggles.
Are you hungry? Do you want bread? And there is no crop? No problem. You can plant a yuca stick in the ground, and eventually, the roots will grow. You dig them out, peel, grind on a primitive grater and squeeze the water out. What is left is a yuca flour that is a bit sticky so you can make an excellent flatbread that is great with some fruit jam.
The people there don’t have modern technologies, but they learned how to utilize anything and everything at their disposal. They also learned to trust each other and to understand that in the jungle you help those in need as otherwise, it can mean their death.
So how does this apply to your professional life?
The more difficult the struggle and the more limited resources, the more you are forced to be creative and to make do with what you’ve got. In the world of technology, creativity, smarts, and technical abilities are highly praised. In fact, especially the intelligence and technical skills are rewarded so much that software engineers are pampered like royalty.
If someone gets treated like a king or a queen, he or she soon start thinking of themselves in these terms. They start feeling entitled to better treatment, bigger compensation, more benefits, and better work.
They are no longer willing to do the mundane tasks and expect others, to do it for them. They get lazy. They get less creative. They lose touch with reality. The abundance of resources doesn’t necessarily lead to better results and better, more cohesive teams.
It is the lack of resources that makes you creative. You are forced to come up with new, ingenious ways to do things. Obviously, there is a threshold that will inhibit you from getting things done. You need the minimum of resources, being it time, money, or people.
However, if your standard way to solve problems is to throw money and people at it, you are not using your resources efficiently. Yes, the issue may get resolved, but you are spending unnecessarily too much on it. Getting a smart individual and giving him or her the task to solve the problem that may stretch their abilities will often lead to innovative solutions that wouldn’t be required with an abundance of resources.
Lack of resources also makes you appreciate what you’ve got. If you experience the hardship and sacrifices, you need to make when things don’t go well, and when resources are limited, you become better at using these resources efficiently. The chances are that you will take these habits with you to your next task, job, or a company.
The most interesting example of these habits is when you give a team some budget to spend on a social event or teambuilding. It is incredibly visible who came from an environment of abundance and who came from a background of lack of resources. The ones coming from more prominent, thriving, and growing companies with abundant resources will try to negotiate for a bigger budget and ultimately use it to the last dollar.
Those coming from failing companies will be appreciative for anything they can get and often don’t even use all the allocated budget and return portion back with words that they didn’t need it all and someone else may use it. Curiously, it is often the second group that has more fun and is more satisfied with the results of the team activity than the first group that spends more but was also more entitled and had bigger expectations.
Lack of resources makes you focus on what matters. If you are running out of time and out of money, or you don’t have enough people on your team, you start cutting the low priority activities. You get rid of anything that is not important for the mission. You start focusing on only that what matters.
During my career, there were periods when I had no one else to turn to, not much support, and if I didn’t do the task, I wouldn’t get paid. That is how most of the freelancers and self-employed work. You have imaginary freedom, but it doesn’t come free. You also have a finite pool of resources. It makes you focused. In bigger organizations and bigger teams, you have tens or hundreds of people around you working on the same stuff so there is always someone who can pick up the slack. You are not required to focus so much, and you get more easily distracted by things that are not that important for the mission.
That is why you often hear people in growing startups complaining that there are too many processes, too much bureaucracy, too many meetings, and no one gets anything done. It is not that they wouldn’t see the benefit of the new methods. It is that there is no longer the single-minded focus on getting things done with the little we have at our disposal.
Lack of resources can also have a dark side. If you are not strong enough, you don’t have the integrity, and your moral compass is skewed you may resort to unethical or even illegal way to solve your problems. The mindset you may adopt is very dangerous, “Not enough money? Let’s steal some. Not enough time to finish the project? Let’s cut some corners and deliver poor quality.” You should never use the lack of resources as an excuse of why you resorted to something that isn’t right.
If you realize that the lack of resources is so dramatic that you can’t get the job done, you need to go back to your boss or your customer and explain the situation. Ask for more time, money, or people. You need to change the game. You either learn to play with the cards you’ve got, or you change the game. But should never ever cheat.
The same as the Siona tribe in the Amazonia it is only up to you to stop making excuses of why something can’t be done or why you need to break the rules and learn to make the best out of the resources at your disposal. If you learn to play with the cards you’ve got you will derive more satisfaction from the results, you will become more effective and efficient, and ultimately you will be more profitable and build a robust and resilient team that will stick with you through ups and downs.
What are your thoughts on how lack of resources impacts creativity and performance of the teams? Would you rather join an organization that just gives you whatever you wish regardless whether you actually need it or not, or one where money and other resources are spent carefully with a focus on what the return is?
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