Humility

Subtitle: Get over yourself. Great business ideas are usually created by others. Are you ready to receive them?

Humility

(Source: Flickr)

IF you counsel a young child (or grown adult) on the merits of humility, we will not raise an eyebrow. Humility is an admirable quality and has an endearing appeal, much like a puppy dog or a baby in a bassinet.

We approve, and quickly move on.

The lip service paid to the benefits of humility is widespread, and is not just a product of a secular market-based economy. When your author was in high school, his headmaster (a religious fellow) expounded the virtues of pride in oneself and pride in the school. This could have been taken as a friendly suggestion but, hold on a minute Father, “isn’t pride one of the 7 deadly sins?” 

When challenged on his teachings the cleric promptly clarified that by pride he merely meant “self-respect”, even though the word “pride” is more commonly understood to mean “a feeling of special pleasure in one’s own achievements and the achievements of ones close associates”.

So what!?, you might be thinking, what is so bad about deriving special pleasure from your achievements and the achievements of colleagues?

The problem is a subtle one, easily missed, and if you are a business leader or an entrepreneur it could prove costly over the course of a long life.

The reality is that the world now contains more than 7 billion people and, as a result, more likely than not, the really great ideas that will be able to transform your life and your business will be invented by complete strangers.

Harbouring a special pleasure for your own ideas or the ideas of your firm is problematic because it goes hand in hand with an aversion to the ideas of other people, you know, the other 6.999 billion of them.

A disdain for “foreign breakthroughs” is a prevalent trait, so much so that behavioral economists like Dan Ariely have given it a name. They call it “the not invented here bias”.

The problem is that people become attached to their own inventions, and are therefore inclined to disregard the work of others. This happened to Thomas Edison when he disregarded Nikola Tesla’s invention of alternating current as a form of electrical power.

It can also happen to you.

In an apparent response to this problem, prolific blogger Seth Godin has encouraged people to steal his ideas. He says that he is fine with people taking his ideas because if you adopt the good ones and build on them then you will be better off, he won’t be worse off, and so society will be richer overall.

His appeal is both helpful and at the same time problematic.

It is helpful in the sense that when you encounter a good idea you should adopt it. You should remain open to good ideas and when you have the good fortune to find one, try to have the good sense to know it. As we learnt last week, it is entirely natural for people and organisations to learn from experience.

At the same time, his request for us to steal his ideas is problematic.

We have two objections.

Firstly, by encouraging people to “steal his ideas” Seth is implying that the ideas he shares are a form of property, his property. While it is true that his form of words are protected by copyright, and rightly so, the ideas that those words convey are not. Ideas are not property, and they are certainly not his.

A good idea is freely available to anyone who has the good judgement to see it and the humility to take it up.

He then further muddies the water by asking us to “steal his ideas”. In doing so he is making the same mistake that we are specifically trying to avoid. Namely, attachment to our ideas based merely on the fact that we came up with them.

Great ideas can come from anywhere, and they invariably do: young children, taxi drivers, grand parents, or fierce industry rivals.

Some of Seth’s ideas are great, but others of them are less so.

By fostering a sense of balanced humility we can ready ourselves to receive good ideas, rather than basing our fondness for a new idea on our affinity for the person who came up with it.

Give and Take

But mostly give

Give and Take

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.

Seth Godin

Seth who?

SETH Godin is an American marketing guru born in 1960 in Mount Vernon, New York. Seth is an entrepreneur, author, public speaker and agent of change. Seth is widely regarded as America’s greatest marketer.

Seth is always starting new initiatives, some of his more remarkable contributions are highlighted below.

Companies

Yoyodyne, his first internet company, pioneered the use of permission marketing to reach customers online, and was sold to Yahoo! in 1998 for US$30 million.

Seth’s latest company, founded in 2005, is called Squidoo. Squidoo is a community website which allows anyone to build a page (known as a ‘lens’) about any topic they are passion about. The site raises money for charity (pays royalties to its members) and is currently ranked 120th in the US (by traffic) by Alexa.com.

Blog

Seth writes the world’s most popular marketing blog. You can read it here.

Books

Seth has written thirteen books, all of which have been best sellers. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. His most recent book is called Poke the Box, a call to action about the initiative you’re taking in your life. You can learn more about Seth’s books by browsing his books here and reading some of the Amazon book reviews.

Free Downloads

Here are some manifestos, ebooks and other PDFs that Seth has gifted to us for free.

  1. Poke the Box: The Workbook – This work book asks one basic question, “What would our world look like if more people started projects, made a ruckus, and took more risks?”
  2. Unleashing the Ideavirus: Read and Share – This manifesto answers the question “how do we get attention to ask for permission from the consumer”?
  3. Money for Nothing (and your clicks for free) – Three Secrets to Web Traffic
  4. The Bootstrapper’s Bible – There’s never been a better time to start a business with no money
  5. Brainwashed – Seven ways to reinvent yourself
  6. Knock Knock – Seth Godin’s Incomplete Guide to building a website that works
  7. Who’s There – Seth Godin’s Incomplete Guide to Blogs and the New Web
  8. What Matters Now – Big ideas from Seth and others
  9. Flipping the Funnel – Giving your fans to power to speak up
  10. Seven Type Rules for Amateur Designers
  11. On the future of the music business

Talks

You can view lots of Seth’s talks but clicking the “Seth Godin” hot tag in the Consulting Forum.

Dunbar’s Strategy Group – limited places

[70 places left]

I just read Seth Godin‘s post on Dunbar’s Number.

Dunbar’s Number is thought to be around 150, and represents the number of people that we humans can place in a group before stable social relationships begin to break down.  The thinking is that we simply lose track of new people when the group gets bigger than this.

Last week I created a Facebook group for people who are interested in business and investment strategy.  Members are able to create discussions, share ideas, and post interesting links, photos and videos.  I am hoping this new group will be a good learning experience for everyone involved.

The group is called “Dunbar’s Strategy Group“, and when it grows to a size of 150 it will be closed to new members.

If this sounds like a group you would like to be a part of, please consider joining.