From a scarcity problem to an abundance problem

For thousands of years, the number one killer for human beings wasn’t plagues or natural disasters, it was scarcity. Scarcity from essential resources to sustain life has been the crux of every generation before us.

That all changed in 1804, when a man named Meriwether Lewis was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to lead a team across the Americas to figure out what type of resources were available.

The Corps of Discovery, also known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, would go on to reach the Pacific ocean. But what they didn’t realize at the time, was that their biggest discovery would be the soil conditions in the midwest. Lewis and Clark paved the way for droves of immigrants to settle and pioneer the area and lay the foundation of the mass production of corn.

Fast forward to today, the US is now the largest corn producer in the world. With over 96,000,000 acres of corn being produced every year.

That is absolutely incredible to think about. Over the last few generations, we have figured out how to feed the world twice over from a small corner of the world.

And over the last two hundred years, we have finally solved this problem of scarcity. The industrial economy has created more wealth than any previous generation combined.

So, what’s the problem now?

The problem and challenge we face today is abundance. What do you do with all this stuff?

Deep inside our brain, are two small almond size nuclei called the amygdala. The amygdala, where our fight, flight and freeze reactions originate, functions to chase passions, desires and appetites.

Left uncheck to our carnal selves, it can betray us in a culture where scarcity is no longer an issue.

Because stocking up for a long winter is no longer a necessity with a McDonald’s around every corner. In that case, we have to be smarter in how we approach and design our lives. Our very nature, the chemicals in our brain, still operate as if resources are depleting. Hence, why we are facing the challenges we face: heart disease, obesity, addiction, depression…

Corporatism has turned our needs (not wants) into commodities, and now, those needs are being leveraged by the selfish marketer or CEO for personal gain.

Pornography taps into our needs for procreation and is exploited to the thousandth degree to keep us on the hook.

Social media does the same thing. Facebook leverages and misuses our need for connection, our desire to be seen and heard.

And so does fast-food, sugar, drugs, alcohol. How does big tobacco continue to market poison to the masses year after year?

Why do we allow products to continue to be marketed to us like this? How come it is easier to get a cheese burger than an apple?

The answer is, we still believe that this abundance won’t last forever. Deep down, our brains don’t understand the door that the industrial economy has opened.

Difficult problem to solve. Different challenge than we ever faced in history.

Speed up

The other day, I watched a two year take a pillow and pretend to be driving a sled. The funny thing was the adults around the room were encouraging her to slow down.


The risk of getting hurt in her imaginary world is zero. So, why do we encourage people to slow down?

It’s a habit. A bad one.

And I don’t think most of us even realize it. The status-quo keeps changing so fast. Faster than ever before.

Our initial instinct then is to slow down. We can’t possibly be competent at the new thing today, when we can barely get are hands around the old thing yesterday.

And so, you have those who caution us to slow down. To not fly so high (or you will get burned). To lay low. Blend in. Do what we did yesterday and get better at it.

That might be appropriate for assimilating the masses or for the factory worker who knows what tomorrow and the next bring, but that won’t work for the artist, the dreamer, the curator, the one who believes in a brighter future.

If we are going to prepare our youth for tomorrow’s challenge, encourage them to go faster wherever you can.

Justice and mercy

We live in a culture that favors the demands of justice.

The problem is, justice is a finger pointer.

An eye for an eye.

As we continue to evolve, unfortunately, our view of justice has fallen behind.

Even Steven isn’t enough.

We have to see people as a whole. Why they act the way they do. How they became to be.

The next step for us as human beings is mercy.

(Make no mistake, I’m not saying we get rid of the power to punish. What I am saying is that we should lead with mercy and then follow with justice. Not the other way around.)

The reason is justice doesn’t heal the heart. Only forgiveness can.

When we learn to see the world as it is, when we break this perpetual cycle of this for that, we can start living again.

The “famous” college quarter-inch drill conundrum

Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt has famously said that, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

But that doesn’t go far enough.

They want the shelf they hang on the wall.

Actually, they want the sense of accomplishment of finishing a project. They want the status it brings. They want it to match the story they tell in how they decorate the wall. They want the wall to say something about themselves.

Understanding that, lets step sideways and examine the problem of parents over scheduling their kids.

It has become clear that kid’s schedules today are much more filled than ever before. If you are going to go to one of those famous colleges, you need straight A’s (and not just the regular classes but the honor classes), play an instrument, be captain of the football team, volunteer at the animal shelter, be the next class President and it helps to be part of the prom court—all in an effort to get into a famous college.

But what makes a college famous? Is college algebra so much different at Stanford than it is at CalTech?

Of course not. What makes a college famous is the football team.

There is no data that suggests that by going to a famous college you are going to be more successful.

So why are parents spending a fortune in time, money, energy and hopes that their kids will go to one of the elite schools? Because of the way it makes parents feel to send their kids to a famous college.

We have to understand, that we are not doing these things for them. We are doing this for me.

Parents want the status, the story, the badge, the believe that comes with sending their kid to the best. It signals that you as a parent have done something right. 

The bottom line: Be careful what kind of selections you make to solve your problems. The tools you use is all part of the story you tell. 


Deep in our brains, we are wired to play games. To make something into a competition.

That’s why Strava is so popular in the mountain community—who has the fastest known time up the mountain?

It is important to understand that in our culture if you are not gaming your life, then someone is gaming it for you.

Social media intensifies this experience. We make it a game with how many likes, shares, views, badges. We trade in our time, energy, attention, money all for a shot of dopamine, a shot at higher status.

Of course, there is no way to win the social media game. It’s a trap.

So the question then becomes, what type of game are you playing?

Is it the type of game that brings joy or meaning to your life?

Is it the type of game that lifts others up?

Does it create possibility or tension?

If it isn’t helping you learn, grow, connect, solve a complex problem than why are you playing it?

Owning it

No one has a problem owning a success.

That’s easy.

Owning a mistake, however, is really hard.


Why is it so hard to own a mistake or failure?

It’s because deep down we fear that we are a failure. When we slip, we now hold evidence. Proof that we are not good enough.

Artist understand that this tension will never go away.

“This might work.”

“This might not work.”

The fact is, every bestseller on Amazon has one-star reviews.

So, let’s be clear. You are not a failure for trying to move mountains. The critic who says he doesn’t like your work is right. The critic who says no one will like your work is wrong.

Your work is not for everyone but it is for someone.

Owning a mistake is having the courage to say, “It’s not for them.”

And you can move on to someone who cares about the change you are seeking to make.

How do you push an agenda?

The aberrant way is to divide the people.

Create a culture of Us versus Them. Take bigger groups and split them into smaller factions. Pin them against each other. Label them as insiders and outsiders.

We have been taught from a very early age that only the fittest will survive. It is a dog-eat-dog world.

But, of course, we don’t run from sabertooth tiger anymore. Our world is safer than it has ever been.

No matter where we stand for on critical issues—religion, health care, gun control, abortion…—we have far more things in common than what we think.

The problem is we do a lousy job classifying each other. Race, religion, wealth, status, politics, height, weight, IQ…we pick these categories because they’re easy to identify and measure.

But just cause it’s easy to measure, it doesn’t tell us a thing about how much someone cares about the people around them. It doesn’t tell us what they believe.

These are signals for us to make assumptions.

The alternative then, is to pick something that isn’t easy to measure. The soft skills like intention, action, posture, charity.

Most of us see ourselves as good people trying to do good things. Yet, it is difficult to assume others are good people trying to do good things.

99 out of 100 times, when given the right opportunity, people will choose to do the right thing. Most people want to do good work.

Wouldn’t it make more sense then to build a culture of better opportunities? Wouldn’t it be better to start trusting people more and give them the benefit of the doubt?

Seems like a better approach than steam rolling the people around you.

The access fund

The greatest luxury that we get to enjoy on a day-to-day basis that those in poverty don’t is access.

Access to capital.

Access to education.

Access to vote.

Access to the internet.

Access to health care.

And so on.

Access is the key to unlocking the bonds of poverty.

By giving this gift to someone, we are giving them the opportunity to raise the bar, to challenge their status-quo.

More importantly, we give someone the platform to do great work.

Great work isn’t limited to gender, age, race or any other demographic. It is limited by the opportunities and tools we have at are disposal.

Impossible to do work that might fail when you toe the line of extreme poverty, when someone at home goes hungry because of your mistake.

Last year, we raised $500 for clean water projects around the globe. The goal was to help #solve1problemfor10, and we ended up helping 16.

This year, we are doing it again.

For $30, 100% of your money goes to saving someone’s life by providing access to clean water.

What. A. Bargain.

What an opportunity to bend the culture.

[Scott Harrison’s new book, Thirst, is now available. Worth every penny to read an incredible journey of redemption. If you don’t know about Scott’s journey to start charity: water, you are missing out. Charity: water has raised over a quarter of a billion dollars to fund clean water projects around the world. His background? A night club promoter. We all have this great opportunity to do the impossible. Act as if.]

Ceremonies and Rituals help us remember what’s important

Days like today, these ceremonies and rituals, help us pause from the hustle and bustle. It helps us shift our focus from the banal to the important.

But why limit that to one day a year?

What if we could make every day as special just as today? What if we could separate each day of the year to give thanks?

That’s a challenge.

What makes today special though is not the Turkey Bowl or the meals, it’s the experiences that bring us closer together.

Experiences like these are worth striving for, again and again.

To lead with generosity. To step with thanksgiving.

Life is a gift. Cherish it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(If you are feeling extra grateful, consider helping someone out by donating $30 to charity: water. 100% of your contribution will go toward saving someone’s life.)

Neophobia and Neophilia

Neophobia is the fear and hatred of new things.

We all suffer from it.

And it is what keeps those in extreme poverty from trying new seeds to improve their yields—it isn’t what our ancestors have used for hundreds of years. (And if we get this wrong, my family dies.)

That’s the problem when standing too close to the edge.

Except, none of us reading this blog are toeing that line. In fact, no where near it.

Our neophobia mostly consists of our fear of downloading the newest iPhone update because we just got used to the old one.

So if the cost of failure is now close to zero to try something new, then why is it so difficult for us to try new things?

Neophiliacs, the love for new tools and ideas, are rare indeed.

In a world that is ever evolving and changing, how much friction do new things cause?