Scott Sonenshein on Chasing and Functional Fixedness

Chasing is the idea that the more resources we have, the better results we can achieve. Chasing is detrimental because… it takes us off our true goals. We end up believing that if we only had a little more time, or money, or expertise, or connections, we could accomplish more. And when we don’t have access to those resources we have a hard time being able to succeed.

Another danger with chasing is… functional fixedness, which is the idea that you look at resources in very specific and convential ways. Because you can’t expand the use of a resource, you then feel the need that you’ve got to acquire more and more resources.

And as you get more accustomed to solving your problems through more and more resources, you develop a very unhealthy dependence that links any incremental type of performance with additional resources. And when you don’t have those additional resources, your performance plateaus, or… even goes down.

So chasing is dangerous because it not only it gets us off these goals, but it teaches us this really unhealthy dependence that unless we have more, we can’t do more.

Scott Sonenshein – What is Chasing? (from the free Acumen Academy course on Resourcefulness)

I am in favour of more resources, but Sonenshein highlights an important point: the kinds of problems that we solve with additional resources (acquring more money, people, tools) are often secondary to the main problems we want to focus on.

In the organisation I work for, we’re trying to help children to learn to read and to love reading, and to learn to think about what they read. Payroll, publicity, computer infrastructure, having an office etc are all necessary but secondary means that enable us to achieve our end. They’re not ‘the hard part’ or the important part, but they take up a lot of time and attention.

On the one hand, having more resources makes it easier to outsource these things to people or tools that will solve them for us. You can think about a good specialist (e.g. an accountant) as a tool for abstraction: they will run the finance subroutines on your behalf, allowing you to focus on what’s important. You trade resources (money) for time, energy, and focus.

On the other hand, chasing resources to pay your accountant is a tertiary goal – and one it’s easy to get distracted by, spending time chasing funding instead of allowing the scarcity of money drive you to find new ways of doing things.

You can’t escape your need for resources. Generally, more resources – sourced and deployed ethically, efficiently, sustainably – will be better. The antidote to chasing lies in finding ways to make growth pay for itself. If the problem you’re solving is as important and valuable as you think it is, you should be able to structure things so that resources start chasing you.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...