An Ode To Stephen Covey Sr. and The Abundance Mentality

Yesterday, just before I took the stage at the CEMA annual conference, I got the news.  Dr. Stephen Covey Sr. had passed away at the age of 79.  It devastated me.  Over the last 15 years, he’s done so much for me, it’s hard to put my gratitude for him into words. 

We shared the same agent, and when Love Is the Killer App came out, he was one of the first people to endorse the book.  Of course he would – I was one of his progeny of thought (more on that later). Later, he recommended me for a convention (one of my first big ones) and to a training company. He was that kind of person.  

Of all contributions he made to me, my life and my work…identifying the Scarcity Mindset and introducing me to The Abundance Mentality moved the needle the most.  Way back in 1996, just before I went to work for Mark Cuban and joined the Internet Revolution, I was reading The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People in bed one night.  A passage from the book jumped off the pages and clobbered my way of seeing the world: 

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.

The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flow out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”

Wow.  I had a choice, and the more self-confident and faithful I became, the easier it would be to choose Abundance – making it my first response to adversity or plenty.  It harkened me back to my days on the farm, raised by Billye to choose giving over hoarding. 

Over the course of the next 15 years, I’ve told hundreds of thousands of people that they’ve had a choice, a final freedom and it would define us forever.  Through two major meltdowns (dotcom bust, Great ’08 Recession), I’ve counseled leaders to be aware of the impacts of Scaricty thinking and to ‘give their way out of lack.’ 

What I’ve learned since then is that scarcity thinking is a natural response to life’s downs.  It invades our psyche, creeps into our langugage and eventually determines our actions.  We start to hoard when we should be sharing.  We respond to change with ‘what about me’ instead of seeing the bigger picture.  We compete at work when we should be cooperating.  It is the great equalizer, ensured by the business cycle and life’s uncertainties. 

I’ve given pretty simple advice on how to beat it: Feed your mind good stuff, Give to be rich and Excercise your gratitude muscle.  I’ve received thousands of emails from people who have resonated with the message, and made great strides in their life.  All of this due to a single passage in a wonderful book by a significant man I adore.  

Dr. Covey frequently used the funeral metaphor to help us “start with the end in mind.” He challenged us to visualize our funeral and our tombstone, and what people would say about us.  Would they say we were effective, generous and significant?  I suspect that later this week, at his wake, the talk will echo this post.  While he often acknowledged that “he didn’t come up with anything new”, he did change the way we saw the world with his clarity and prescriptions for life. 

The last time I saw him, it was in Salt Lake City at a Skillsoft taping a few years ago.  He tossled my hair, encouraged me to expand my work beyond speaking at conferences and left me with a final thought: “People are great as a result of the small, but cummulative habits they develop.  There’s no one thing that makes a man.  Its the combination of your ambition and attention that makes all the difference to others in your life.” Amen. 

From 2009, here’s a video of me talking about the Scaricty Mentality.