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How to Build a Company Culture of Abundance

Over a decade ago, a select group of Apple’s most exceptional employees were called in to interview for a classified project. The team leader could not disclose a single detail about the project or the product it would produce. His only promise to the recruits was that this was an opportunity to make mistakes and struggle, though he hoped the venture might become something they would remember for the rest of their lives. Only those who immediately embraced the prospect of new, difficult challenges ended up on the development team for what indeed turned out to be a life-changing product: the iPhone.

Though this interview process might seem a bit odd, it was actually perfectly set up to screen candidates for a very important characteristic: what experts call an abundance mentality or abundant thinking. Instead of approaching challenges through the lens of what is scarce or lacking — such as time, money, resources — abundant thinking looks past preconceived notions and limiting beliefs, focusing instead on expansive possibilities. The Apple employees who ended up working on the iPhone demonstrated abundant thinking when they jumped at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stretch themselves without worrying too much yet about the nitty-gritty of how the project would get done. That’s not to say abundant thinking always means jumping into new endeavours headfirst; however, it does mean looking past potential challenges to see the full scope of what can be accomplished.

This kind of willingness to reach outside of one’s comfort zone can be a rare trait in many workplaces. In today’s competitive, fast-paced environment, many feel immense pressure to avoid challenge and minimise risk in the name of producing consistent results. But companies that can successfully build a culture that values process over product — and personal growth over individual achievement — profit in the long run. So how do we move ourselves out of a place of scarcity and into one of abundance?


Encouraging Abundance

Like all aspects of human personality, mindsets can change. In the right environment, people can learn to let go of scarcity-based thinking and approach life and work more abundantly. Organisations can smooth the way to this transition by rewarding learning, exploration, and growth rather than results, as well as by actively promoting collaboration between workers.

Sought-after executive coach Katia Verresen, who has counselled leaders at Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter, and a number of prominent startups, advises her clients to seek the perspective of others in order to think more abundantly. Verresen recommends forming “giving circles,” groups of five to seven people from different departments, fields, or industries. People who are not “mired in the same culture” are especially effective at helping each other to solve problems and point out unseen opportunities.

University of Michigan researchers developed a similar model they termed a Reciprocity Ring, in which a group gathers to fulfill one another’s personal and professional requests. One pharmaceutical executive saved $50,000 when a fellow participant offered to synthesise an alkaloid free of charge, using his slack lab capacity. When employees get into the habit of asking how to help each other, rather than how to get ahead, the entire company wins.

There’s a reason why at The Working Capitol we’ve structured regular opportunities for the community to get together at both our locations, and it’s precisely this. From The Scoop, a lunch session to hear another member’s latest business pitch, to Away from Keyboard, an evening-time mixer with the occasional beer pong tournament, these are little ways of cultivating abundance for the businesses in our spaces.

The temptation of “grabbing a quick bite” or scarfing something down at your desk can loom quite large in the face of a bottomless email inbox or tedious administrative tasks. But experience has shown us that the effort to meet and talk to strangers can actually pay off in beautiful, exponential ways, like the discovery of a client, business partner, even friend.


The Bigger Picture, And A Bigger Pie

On a larger scale, letting go of the idea that business has to be a zero-sum game can empower companies to work together to expand and disrupt markets, build industry awareness, and learn from one another in order to grow.

For example, the retail sector is seeing more partnerships between e-commerce startups and established retail brands: Nordstrom has leveraged its superior locations into exclusive partnerships and distribution deals with online-only brands like Baublebar and Bonobos. The online brands reach new markets, and Nordstrom now generates 21% of its revenue from digital sales. By working together, these retailers grow the pie for everyone.

Similarly, our membership in the Coworking Alliance of Asia Pacific and our participation in the annual coworking “unconference” have given us collaborators with whom to pool knowledge and experience. As a result, better practices and a stronger industry can emerge.


Abundance Is A Long Game

Building a culture of abundance doesn’t happen overnight. Old habits really do die hard, particularly in the midst of stressful situations. The pressure of deadlines, cash flow, and eleventh-hour crises can drag us back into a place of scarcity. But these are precisely the moments when an abundance mentality is needed most.

When abundant thinking has been built into the underlying structure, it becomes a force that gets people back on track and refocused on the long-term vision, rather than getting bogged down by moving reactively from crisis to crisis. Companies that actively work to cultivate abundance will find themselves more resilient and better able to recover from difficulties quickly. Even in the most challenging periods of a company’s life cycle, abundant thinking breeds actual abundance.


With contribution from the Hippo Thinks research network.

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