Teaspoons: A Story of Abundance and Scarcity

Earlier this year a colleague was bemoaning the availability of teaspoons in our office’s shared refreshment making facility. This had become a regular gripe, but not one that I regarded as critical or one that I should resolve.

This is the same facility that I wrote about some months ago in The Sub-optimal Kitchen – The 10 Steps to Getting a Cup of Tea where making a cup of tea is a challenge at the best of times.

One evening, however, a thought came to me: “I wonder how many spoons I can buy cheaply to resolve this situation for good, and perhaps I can have a bit of a laugh while I’m at it?”

Spurred on by this though I reached for my iPhone and discovered that I could purchase 48 teaspoons for the princely sum of £7. At 14.5p per spoon I decided that it was worth a giggle. I purchased the spoons and arranged to have them anonymously delivered directly to my colleague at the office. The delivery nicely aligned with a week of vacation and hence I wasn’t around when the cutlery arrived which extended the period of mystery. Returning from holiday I, of course, chose to stay silent on the matter which had clearly become a subject of discussion while I had been away.

What happened to the teaspoons?

Initially the teaspoons were retained by my colleague, but eventually a large proportion of them were placed in our Sub-optimal Kitchen for everyone to use.

For several weeks the spoons stayed where they were, in the Sub-optimal Kitchen, being used collectively as a shared asset. We didn’t monitor the number of spoons closely because they were just there. A few went missing, but mostly they resided where they had been placed. People weren’t great at washing them, but that was fine, a few of us undertook the duty of washing all of them from time-to-time. The teaspoons had become a shared utility which was being used as a shared asset for the benefit of all.

In recent weeks that situation has gone through a dramatic change and today there were just 6 teaspoons left in the Suboptimal Kitchen. Within the space of just a few days the abundance of cutlery has been transformed into an asset of scarcity. The occasional washing duty has been turned into a requirement to wash a spoon every time you want to use one. We have returned to bemoaning the lack of teaspoons.

Why the change?

I don’t know what happened to the teaspoons, for sure, but I have some theories.

Theory #1: I suspect that most of the teaspoons are now on people’s desks and they are taking them with them every time they make a cup of tea. They were initially comfortable to leave the spoons in the Suboptimal Kitchen because they were abundant. The abundance meant that they didn’t need to worry about whether a clean spoon would be available so they didn’t need to have their spoon – they had an Abundance Mindset. At some point the volume of spoons reduced to the point where people regarded them as scarce and their mindset shift to a Scarcity Mindset. This scarcity triggered a concern that there might not be a clean spoon available, and worse than that, there might not be a spoon available at all. Once this mindset shift had occurred in a few people it precipitated a rapid depletion of the shared asset as people sought to secure their own access to the facility for the long term and, in so doing, further depleted the asset.

Theory #2: Someone is a teaspoon hoarder.

Theory #3: Someone has taken the teaspoons home to give them an extra-special clean and forgotten to bring them back.

Theory #4: The cleaner has decided to throw them all away.

What are you going to do about it?

There are a few approaches available to resolve this situation:

Resolution #1: I could send an email to everyone in the office pinpointing everyone’s inconsiderateness and asking them to return the spoons. This would be a perfectly legitimate response to an obvious breach of office etiquette, but perhaps this is a little petty. This will be highly embarrassing if someone has taken the teaspoons home for an extra-special clean.

Resolution #2: I could spend another £7 and return the Sub-optimal Kitchen to a status of teaspoon abundance and reestablishing the shared asset. If my abundance mindset theory is correct this will enable the Sub-optimal Kitchen to function a little less sub-optimally for another period of time. If, however, we have a teaspoon hoarder, this approach will give someone the joy of extending their collection. If it’s because someone took them home to wash them, then we will have an over-abundance, but I doubt that will be a problem.

Resolution #3: Forget all about it and leave the Sub-optimal Kitchen in teaspoon scarcity.

What do you think I should do?

6 thoughts on “Teaspoons: A Story of Abundance and Scarcity”

  1. Resolution #4 write a blog post about it and see how many people read it or talk aboout it, just maybe the situation will resolve itself! btw that’s exactly my approach to moaning, resolve it, or stop doing it

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As it is, your kitchen is like a collectivized farm in the Soviet Union, and the people are like kulaks. Collectives are terribly inefficient places (dare I say sub-optimal) where the powers that be dictate the rules and the tools. Given the chance and low risk of being sent to Siberia, any kulak would transfer the People’s farm implements (or spoons) to private property. They quip, “If it belongs to everyone, it belongs to no one. In this place, I am no one. So it belongs to me!”

    Like the Communist rulers, you can try filling and re-filling the collective with tractors (or spoons). But they will break and go missing faster than you can say Five Year Plan. If you really want to solve this economic crisis, then dump communism, embrace private ownership, and adopt capitalism. There are many forms that may take. One possibility: rent the spoons for a penny per use. Rent microwave time for 5 pence per minute with a cap at 25 pence. The person who washes the spoons and microwave at the end of the day keeps the day’s take. It isn’t much financially—maybe treat yourself to a 99? The point is, symbolically this is powerful and works. Another step you might take: paint people’s names on the handles with fingernail polish, or let them do the painting. Suddenly, one spoon in the drawer is “theirs” and they will look after it and take care of it. That’s why the United States Air Force paints the name of the pilot and crew chief on each aircraft. It is symbolic—the jet is not actually theirs, of course—but the sense of ownership changes their emotional investment and consequently the effort and care they put into its maintenance and use.

    I’ve spent years working in an office with a collectivized kitchen. I’ve also spent years where they just rent the kitchen space in our office suite to Starbucks. There were absolutely no messes at the end of the day, no complaints, and no missing spoons in offices with Starbucks.


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