But mostly give
You are probably familiar with “gains from trade”. The notion that society is based on give and take. You help me, I reciprocate, and together we benefit.
The idea is a powerful one and forms the basis of the free market economy.
The invisible hand of market forces, as Adam Smith put it, enables market participants to work for their own benefit, and make society better off in the process. The profit motive fuels competition, from buyers and sellers, resulting in better products and lower prices.
But what if you help me, and I can’t reciprocate? What if you have the capacity to give, and we don’t have the ability to repay you right now?
You write a blog post that helps us, and we’ve never met you. You sing a song that makes us smile, and we never thank you. You write an ebook which changes our world view, and you gave it away for free.
Welcome to the Information Age and the Gift Economy, where the cost of helping one more person is now zero. It’s now easier than ever to give, if you choose to do so.
The problem with this new state of the world is that it requires new thinking.
The people who benefit most from your work may not be the ones who are able to pay you for it. In the world of tech startups, B-School Professors call these people “users”. On one level, this helps to distinguish them from paying customers. But words are powerful things. On another level, this term is used to pigeon-hole. These people can’t reciprocate. They can’t uphold their side of the implied social contract. These people are “users”.
This is old thinking, and the term offends us. You would do much better to think of people who benefit freely from your work as friends.
In a world where you have the capacity to give, and the cost of sharing with one more person is zero, what are you waiting for?
You can’t wait for permission, because nobody will give it to you. And you can’t wait to be paid, because there is no money.
But by giving generously, and creating something remarkable, you can earn the permission to do it again. All the while turning strangers into friends and, if you’re lucky, turning friends into customers, and customers into loyal customers.
It’s a process, and it starts with giving.