The Most Important Resource


Imagine you’re flying from New York to San Francisco in a plane that requires 7000 gallons of fuel to make the trip. Which of the 7000 is the most important gallon? The obvious answer is the gallon currently powering the engine, so long as there are at least 7000 gallons in the tank.

Of course attempting the flight with less than the required number of gallons renders the question of a most important gallon senseless. Either the total amount of fuel required to complete the flight exists or it doesn’t. It should be obvious that the same kind of thing is true for a company, campaign, or charity.

And yet, we’re regularly asked, “What is the most important resource required to bring about success?” Our answer is always the same. There is no such thing as the most important resource. For any given circumstance, a resource is either necessary or it isn’t. That means all necessary resources are of equal importance; a fact that requires close inspection.

The word “resource” is often used interchangeably with the word asset. But resources are not the same as assets. Resources are the elements with which assets are obtained. Further, when one examines the resources available to an organization, any organization, all organizations, and reduces those resources to their fundamental irreducible parts, it becomes evident that an organization has only three resources: time, money, and talent.

At a basic and invariable level every asset can be expressed in terms of time, money, or talent. An organization deficient in any given asset need only spend some of its time, money, talent, or some combination of each, to acquire the asset in question.

For instance, product development, polling, and trash removal are assets that any organization can obtain in exchange for time, money, talent, or some combination of each.

By its nature, trash removal will likely demand less time, money, or talent than product development or polling. This does not mean trash removal is less important than product development or polling. This means only that procurement of trash removal service will likely place less of a demand on time, money, or talent than will procurement of product development or polling.

We use the adverb “likely” because while some combination of time, money, or talent can always be traded for assets, they cannot always be traded for each other. Indeed the degree to which time, money, and talent are interchangeable varies greatly based upon circumstance.

A San Francisco bound plane, sitting on the tarmac in New York, with 6850 gallons of fuel in its tank, will pay the going rate for the 150 additional gallons of fuel required to make the trip. It simply doesn’t matter if the money to acquire the additional fuel is much less, much more, or about the same as the per gallon cost of the fuel already in the plane’s tank. Without the additional fuel the plane will not reach San Francisco. Nothing can change this circumstance.

Circumstance freezes time. A failure to acknowledge circumstance almost always leads to the ill-fated “we’ll worry about it when we get there strategy.” By definition, “when we get there” is a circumstance — a moment of frozen time. Indeed circumstance dictates that there will be no time available to “worry about it when you get there.”

Assets can always be expressed in terms of the basic and invariable resources: time, money, and talent. Asking the importance of each is exactly the same as asking the importance of each gallon of fuel in the tank of an airplane. Either there is enough to make the trip or there isn’t.

The Most Important Resource
March 17, 2014 by Bob Manna & Matt Manna
Version: 6A24A6C8(R01) • Mar 17, 2014
Photo © alphaspirit —

The Most Important Resource (PDF)

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It’s common for an organization that’s running out of steam to try and get it back. Less common is the ability to discover what to do to get it back.

The usual attempt to regain steam is to store and evaluate data that not only suggests, but “proves,” what to do. This effort is flawed because data, and the “proof” it advocates, are past happenings, and knowing what has happened in the past is irrelevant to knowing what can happen in the future. No organization would ever run out of steam if this was untrue.

Organizations run out of steam when the people running them stipulate that a course of action will be considered only if it is proven to achieve a predetermined, predictable, result. This tyranny of proof is literally unfortunate in that it destroys existing fortunes. Happily, the tyranny of proof can be avoided. The key is to acknowledge the proper meaning of intelligence.

It’s very common (and very wrong) to think of intelligence as an ability to store, recall, and evaluate data. Of course the ability to store, recall, and evaluate data is impressive. We reward it in schools and on game shows. But storing, recalling, and evaluating data are retrospective acts, and retrospection is incapable of depicting what can happen in the future. This is not merely an academic statement.

Most organizations are well staffed with individuals capable of storing, recalling, and evaluating data. These folks can explain, in exquisite detail, why an organization is running (or has run) out of steam. Few can predict the event before it occurs, and none can offer proof of what will prevent it.

To transcend the tyranny of proof, intelligence must be held to a standard that begins where retrospection ends. We call this standard of intelligence Unusual Mind — the talent to achieve success in the absence of, and sometimes in opposition to, proof. Unusual Minds seek to answer a single question: What will it take to change the mind of a customer, voter, or philanthropist?

This is a scary question because one possible answer is that nothing is capable of occasioning such a change. In such circumstances the best thing to do is stop trying and save resources for another day. Happily, circumstances are not usually so dire. Most seemingly immutable situations are nothing more than myopia. The cure is to look beyond existing messages, products, candidates, and causes.

For instance, it is probably impossible to topple Heinz from the top of the market by offering a competitive brand of ketchup. But Heinz’s dominance of the ketchup market does not make it impossible for a different condiment to supplant ketchup.

Also, most products, campaigns, and causes run out of steam gradually. There is usually time to react. Sadly, it is precisely during times of decline that proof’s translucency is most pernicious.

The Unusual Mind is different. The Unusual Mind accepts that the existing state of affairs (that which is proven) is incapable of uncovering what must change in order to acquire, reacquire, and importantly, maintain success.

Whereas the tyranny of proof dictates that a course of action can be seriously considered only if it is proven to achieve a predetermined, predictable result, the Unusual Mind accepts that it’s impossible to prove the future. This distinction is not hypothetical, it’s real.

It’s trivially easy to recall any number of once great organizations that gradually declined to a point of obscurity. We won’t reveal our list in order to keep from appearing as though we stacked the deck in favor of our next two questions.

Do you believe organizations are ignorant of their decline? Do you believe proof of decline mitigates decline? Of course not. Organizations decline because no one knows what to do to reverse or avoid the decline! If you take one single thought from this article it should be this: The fact that an organization stands in a place of dominance today, does not prove, or even suggest, the potential to maintain that position.

There are only three elements that generate success, and every organization is in direct control of two of them. The first element is the product, service, candidate, or cause on offer. The second element is/are the message(s) used to promote the product, service, candidate, or cause. The third element, the public’s reaction, is a direct result of the first two.

It is only by attempting to parlay with patrons through the development of products, candidates, causes, and their attendant messages, that proof can emerge. The attempt comes first, the proof comes second. The tyranny of proof demands the exact opposite order.

The tyranny of proof is not merely opposite from the intelligence of an Unusual Mind, it is often directly opposed to Unusual Mind intelligence. Worse yet, the opposition is, in some respect, correct. There are always aspects of the current environment that can be demonstrated to have some value. This does not, in any way, prove, or even suggest, future value.

The plain fact is that proof is subordinate to the existing convictions of patrons. The only question when it comes to acquiring or reacquiring success is: Do current offerings, and their attendant messages, parlay with the existing convictions of customers, voters, and philanthropists?

The fact that proof is subordinate to the convictions of customers, voters, and philanthropists can be an uncomfortable realization. But discomfort does not imply inaccuracy, or dismiss reality. The only way to harness the steam that powers success it is to elevate the intelligence of an Unusual Mind above the tyranny of proof.

March 3, 2014 by Bob Manna & Matt Manna
Version: 6AF9901D(R01) • Mar 3, 2014
Photo © nikkytok —

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