How losing a client helped me find better ones

Posted on June 7, 2021.
assorted puzzle game
Ensuring the right fit is key to an abundance mindset

Last month’s blog post about the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe as it’s known) not being agile was a real barn burner. Across multiple platforms it’s reached over 100k views and continues to be the most popular thing on my blog in recent memory. I didn’t write it to get clicks. I wrote it because I believed in the idea and decided it was time to share it broadly after repeated requests for my opinion on the topic. I also knew there would be backlash. And there was, though it’s been fairly mild. The most serious result of the backlash was a lost client opportunity with a large American healthcare company. The prospective client, who I’d been chasing for a couple of months for a commitment, wrote me back declining the proposal and closing the email with, “That’s [whether SAFe is agile or not] a debate I’d love to have with you, but it’s not one we’d want to pay for.”

It’s never fun losing gigs. It made me second guess whether I should have published the article in the first place. Coincidentally, earlier that day I read this article, 5 Ways to Go From Scarcity to an Abundance Mindset. The article discusses Steven Covey’s definition of these concepts from his legendary book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey defines the terms this way:

“Scarcity mentality refers to people seeing life as a finite pie, so that if one person takes a big piece, that leaves less for everyone else.”

“An abundance mindset refers to the paradigm that there is plenty out there for everybody.”

This concept got me thinking about the application of these ideas in my own life. While many of us have been trained by the corporate world to have a scarcity mentality — there are only so many promotions, so much money in the pool for raises, this many job openings, so many customers in a given market, etc — is it possible to shift to one of abundance? One that truly believes there’s plenty of opportunity out there for everyone. 

As a consultant I’ve learned over the years that this is a cyclical business. There is always that one point in the year where the pipeline goes dry for a bit and those inevitable thoughts creep in that culminate with the panicked internal scream, “No one will ever hire me again!” After losing the gig due to my article the scarcity mindset kicked in. Can I find another lead? What if that hole in my pipeline never gets filled? Leaning into this conversation with some colleagues they quickly helped me see that I’d actually dodged a bullet. An organization whose approach to work varies significantly from the one I teach is not a good fit. Letting them go — whether their decision or mine — makes room for a future client who will be a better fit. This is the abundance mindset. And this is the goal. 

There are situations where a scarcity model is the only one that makes sense and is the main driving force towards personal and professional goals. In Olympic sports there is only one gold medal. There is only one “best”, “fastest”, “strongest” athlete. But the majority of us aren’t Olympic athletes. We’re knowledge workers and in knowledge work there is infinite abundance. 

We’re knowledge workers and in knowledge work there is infinite abundance.

The pace of change in technology, consumer consumption habits, new delivery channels, innovation and creativity ensures that our audiences and markets are always expanding. There’s always something new to pursue, consume and share. People have multiple photo sharing apps on their phones. They carry multiple credit cards. They read multiple online writers and listen to many podcasts. Look, you’re reading this email newsletter right now. How many other newsletters are available to you? And this is good news for writers, podcasters, product people, companies and creators in general. 

Shifting mindset from scarcity to abundance is hard. There’s a belief that you have to do that first before your actions can change. The truth is that the opposite is true. As John Shook, Lean transformation expert, said in his description of how he helped transform the culture of GM’s fabled NUMMI automotive plant, you have to “act your way to a new way of thinking.” In other words we have to act like we have an abundance mindset before we can actually develop one. Sometimes that means having an external event happen to us — like my prospective client rejecting my proposal. Sometimes it means critically looking at the work you’re about to do and asking yourself whether this is the best use of your time. Yes, it will get you paid but if you didn’t do it, what else could you do? What opportunities would that open up for you?

If there are infinite opportunities out there for all of us, how can we deliberately shift our practices towards doing the work we actually want to do in an effort to create the space to do more of it in the future?

What’s worked for you?