Scarcity Is The New Black (no one wants to wear)

I don’t usually recommend books but every now and then there’s an exception to that rule and in today’s case, it’s Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.

Drawing on cutting-edge research from behavioral science and economics, Mullainathan and Shafir show that scarcity creates a similar psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need. Busy people fail to manage their time efficiently for the same reasons the poor and those maxed out on credit cards fail to manage their money. The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation, why students and busy executives mismanage their time, and why sugarcane farmers are smarter after harvest than before.

While there are numerous examples related to the ways scarcity of resources impacts decision making, I found one of the most applicable chapters is how scarcity of time impacts professionals.

Given that the orchestra sector has a long history of staffers and managers being overworked, it’s good to have examples from Mullainathan and Shafir that quantify the dynamic impact of making this environment the norm.

If you’re looking for a condensed version, you can walk away with a number of key points in a 36-minute podcast NPR’s Shankar Vedantam published on 4/2/2022 where he speaks with the authors at length about several of the core concepts from the book.


If you’re a board executive, I strongly encourage you to read the book and purchase copies for your administrators and staff. It’s a good vehicle to begin talking about the sensitive topics, like scarcity of resources, with empathy.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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Scarcity Is The New Black (no one wants to wear)