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Necessity vs. Scarcity

| On 22, Jun 2011

A recent discussion on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network highlights a discussion, started by Teresa Amibile and Steve Kramer promoting necessity, as opposed to scarcity, as the mother of invention. They discuss the pros and cons of “starving” as an incentive to innovate and examples such “EInk” which illustrate the opposite.

One of these days, the Harvard Business Review, and maybe Harvard itself, will discover the fundamentals of TRIZ thinking, where a few of the good points made in this article ( are well known. However, there are many bad ones as well.

The tool of “trimming”, where a part of a system is arbitrarily withdrawn and then its “function” retrieved through clever use and/or modification of other parts of the system, is a well known process. This is not the same as budget cutting or withdeawing funds from a project. It is a deliberate design and redesign process.

We also understand the evolution of a system into its super-system and the concept of the Ideal Final Result (something performs its function and doesn’t exist). We don’t need the accidental incident of someone running out of books to read on the beach to develop the concept of an EBook (the story as reported in the HBR article).

Throwing money at ideas is not the answer. Structured, stimulated thinking is what is required. Then we know what to go “invent”. My guess is that if the MIT Media Lab was trained in TRIZ, we would have had the EBooks a lot sooner. But when you wait for just you to think of something new, you just have to wait for the accident or accidental observation.

It is stated in this article that “artifical scarcity can make people creative at finding resources, not at solving the cential problem. Moreover, it kills their motivationby making them feel that they and thier work are devalued”. I have rarely seen such a mistaken statement about innovation in my 40 year career.

Yes, it is possible to starve the development of an idea, but not its original inception.