The (social) economics of gift and burying “knowledge is power” once and for all


“Giving a gift makes you indispensable. Inventing a gift, creating art-that is what the market seeks out, and the givers are the ones who earn our respect and attention.” (Seth Godin,).

As I am continuing to listen to this excellent ‘Linchpin‘ book, at least one whole section of

Linchpin (Seth Godin)

Linchpin (Seth Godin)

the book is worth exploring from an agile KM perspective. Godin talks about the gift economy, or rather the gift and the social economics around it. This is a final opportunity to put to rest the idea of ‘knowledge is power’ (among other reasons for not sharing knowledge) and to focus on the knowledge ecology our world can and should replace it with.

Essentially Godin’s point is that we’ve lost the universal tradition of gifts – in most human societies gift had a place and the person sharing the gifts was the person that earned the respect. The commodity-focused capitalism has replaced gifts with economic transactions – paying for a good – and has turned the tradition of gifts to become a tribute. The person with power became the person getting gifts, not giving them away.

However the social economy we are in is now turning this on its head again and making space for the ‘linchpins’ – the indispensable positive deviants that are following their passion, developing their art (regardless of the reactions expected) and thus making themselves indispensable. And one of the things that linchpins do is to share their gifts again as they connect with people around them. All those behaviours are the key to success.

Every successful organization is built around people. Men and women who don’t merely shuffle money, but interest, give gifts, and connect. (Seth Godin)

The social economics of giving in the knowledge ecology

‘Knowledge is power’ states that there is more advantage in hoarding knowledge for one’s advantage than sharing it freely. And that might be true. For a while… A short while.

In the longer run, however, we thrive as we are connected to a vast network of people.

Knowledge ecology - from the archives of 'share fairs'

Knowledge ecology – from the archives of ‘share fairs’

And that’s where the social economics of giving reveals its true advantages:

1. ‘Selling’ knowledge is a zero sum game.

When someone is hoarding knowledge, no fertile work comes out. And when someone systematically and only charges for sharing their knowledge, that person is merely entering into a transaction. Commoditising knowledge, with all the problems that come with – one of them being that knowledge really isn’t a commodity. But if it is considered a commodity, knowledge becomes desacralised, stripped off of its power which is unique and close to only a few other importants things in life, like love. That power is its social nature.

In any case, when we are selling knowledge there is no transformation, there is no(t much) added value here.

When instead…

2. Sharing knowledge transforms our relationships

When art is created solely to be sold, it’s only a commodity. A key element for the artist is the act of giving the art to someone in the tribe. (Seth Godin)

Give gifts (Credits: Neil Cummings / FlickR)

Give gifts (Credits: Neil Cummings / FlickR)

Indeed, when we share our knowledge, not only do we make available that handy knowledge to others, for them to do something perhaps useless but perhaps useful, or even amazing. In addition, and whatever happens with that knowledge, something else happens: when we share gifts (of knowledge or otherwise) with specific people, we are also developing, changing, transforming our relationships with them. We expand our tribes, we bring people in them. We also reach out to the people in the tribes of our tribe members – and so we are connecting to all the nodes of our global collective brain.

Of course, for this social transformation to happen most completely, there needs to be some sense of appreciation from the person receiving the gift too. That’s where the gift of your attention becomes so precious. And perhaps why your engaging in conversations (because that’s the work) is essential too.

3. Sharing knowledge creates power

One of the final points of Godin is that the person giving the gifts is showing that they have plenty of potential to give more, plenty of creativity, plenty of art to share. They show their uniqueness, and that uniqueness is also power – not that I would encourage you to focus on this. But indeed ‘Knowledge sharing is (caring) power‘ – both collective and individual.

This goes to show that even in a knowledge ego-logy, where we are serving (also) our own interests, but out of the principle of sharing our gifts, we are cultivating the knowledge garden and we are cultivating our connections with each other in that whole ecology.

So what can we do now?

There are many lessons one can take from such a rich book as ‘Linchpin’:

  • Develop your art with passion – in the knowledge world this means developing learning approaches that have failed safely and keep on going higher because you drive them with all of yourself.
  • Stop hoarding knowledge – share it and pay it forward instead, as it’s the best way to get that knowledge to lead to grand work, art crafts, masterpieces!
  • Offer your respect in return: part of the ecology is to cultivate it too by paying respect to the artists around us who are sharing their art as gifts.
  • Trust that people are not so interested in buying products, but as Seth Godin points out, they are interested in “relationships, stories, magic“!
  • Turn to ‘Open’ and ‘Working out loud’
  • Read, listen to or watch Linchpin…

I’m on to seek my next Godin book now… Any recommendation?

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Cultivating healthy human systems from the roots of the problem: fear and (lack of) self-confidence


Fear (Credits: Elina Baltina / FlickR)

Fear (Credits: Elina Baltina / FlickR)

Two drives prevent human systems from flourishing in healthy ways: Fear and lack of self-confidence. One of the ultimate ways to make a real difference – in whatever sense – in the short and long term is to cultivate the ability of people to conquer their fears and to gain self-confidence.

 

There lies the challenge. And only our intention to improve this in ourselves and to be generous with helping others do the same can help people co-create healthy human systems.

How to address these root issues?

Addressing fear

We all have fears. From the get-go as babies all the way to the dusk of our life. Some say it’s just a matter of ‘being aware’:

  1. A: Accept the anxiety. Don’t try to fight it.
  2. W: Watch the anxiety. Just watch it and when you notice it, scale your level of fear and start to breathe longer on the out-breath.
  3. A: Stands for ‘Act normally’. …
  4. R: Repeat the above steps in your mind if necessary.
  5. E: Expect the best.

And certainly one of the lessons of meditation is that being aware of what controls us is 50% of the solution. This other post puts awareness on top too.

This judicious post gives us some tips to tackle our fear: accept our vulnerability, lower expectations (right down to ‘expect nothing’), embrace the possibility of success, let go, be present in the moment, trust yourself.

In addition to that, and specifically for agile KM initiatives, I would add, at a collective scale:

  • Inspect our collective fears and vision a world without them
  • Keep enriching your grand visions, but take baby steps – breaking large challenges in tiny chunks is one way to outsmart your brain using the science of fear
  • Cultivate taking risks (safe-fail and all that) a.k.a. learning in the service of success

One important key to success is self-confidence. A key to self-confidence is preparation. – Arthur Ashe

Addressing self-confidence

Self-confidence can be related to fear, when it’s about the fear of not being up to standards, fear of failure etc.

For general self-confidence, the great website Zen Habits proposes 25 tips that surely can help you improve.

But from an agile KM perspective, here are some perspectives to help us gain self-confidence:

  • Seek, give and cultivate feedback – knowing how to provide and how to receive good feedback is essential for all of us and for our collective enterprises. Feedback is the learning loop that doesn’t require structured processes and can happen at any time. And when it comes to self-confidence we both need positive and constructive feedback.
  • Seek and provide opportunities for growth (slightly) outside the comfort zone: When we take risks and do things that seem like challenges, and when we succeed, we grow immensely. We need to be given these chances, and we need to give these chances to others when we can too.

“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone. – Seth Godin, in ‘Linchpin’.

 

  • Abandon toxic attitudes that kill self-confidence: Kill cynicism, trade judging for trying to understand, stop making fun of peoples’ efforts to do good or better, stop mocking idealism. All these negative traits are keeping people down and unable to grow. The result of the lizard brain, and the contrary to what we should be doing… It’s all in the attitude.

This is potentially only the first post on this topic because working on these two levers of human systems has dawned upon me as being really essential to whatever we do.

Timothy Ferriss What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do (Credits: Pictoquotes / FlickR)

Timothy Ferriss What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do (Credits: Pictoquotes / FlickR)

And I’m now going back to my meditation practice, because all of the above is much easier said than done. But healthy human systems where love, happiness and peace find an easier way through are well worth the effort.

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The delicate balancing act of collective decision-making, between transparency and trust


Any group of people – and by extension any organisation, network or more complex form of such groups – needs to have a clear decision-making process – a ‘decision rule’ – in order to attain agreements that people genuinely subscribe to and that lead to effective implementation.

Decision-making, no simple matter (Credits: Nguyen Hung Vu/FlickR)

Decision-making, no simple matter (Credits: Nguyen Hung Vu/FlickR)

Good learning and knowledge management depends on it just as well as anything else.

Any group wishing to establish a clear decision rule is however confronted with a dilemma:

  • Establishing a transparent decision-making process that guarantees that all people OR…
  • Not really establishing a full proof decision-making system and rather relying on the trust that exists between people, or the trust that people bestow upon a decision-maker.

The second option is tempting: Not many people establish clear decision-making processes to start with (and clearly leaders could innovate in this respect); it feels like an overkill for many of them; and if people know each other what is there to fear, right? Besides, if there is that trust – whether in the group or in the leader – why bother having a transparent procedure?

Well, trust certainly helps and eases decisions in, but is it enough when:

  • Turnover means new people could always come in and not guarantee the same level of trust among the decision-makers?
  • External actors are (legitimately) wondering how decisions are being made?
  • Any specific dispute could actually throw the trust off balance?
  • People outside the decision-makers are also involved and concerned but they may not know about the tacit agreement to making decisions?
  • There might be a risk in relying too much on a good and trusted leader?

For all these reasons, while trust is the truth and it’s an excellent basis for any group to move ahead with its decisions, defining a transparent decision rule is a guarantee that the group can crawl out of misunderstandings and disagreements in a fair and commonly accepted way.

WRAP - a model for better decision-making (Credits: JamJar/FlickR)

WRAP – a model for better decision-making (Credits: JamJar/FlickR)

Trust is the soil that lets the tree of cooperation grow, but a good decision rule or decision-making process is the tree support that lets it flourish until it has such strong roots that it doesn’t need support any longer.

What are you waiting for to install your decision rule?

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Getting to ‘wow’ with public speaking and presenting


Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

My current work environment is academic. Which means people around me produce a hell of a lot of information. And presentations.

I would have thought their presenting and public speaking skills were very good, considering… uh uh… not quite the case. And there are many reasons for that. But I guess many people around me are actually busy undertaking their research, not spending (so) much time fine-tuning their presentation. “It only takes a few minutes to put together a presentation”, right? UH UH!!

This a real pity, because it means entire years of research can see their future use be wasted by one single badly designed, or badly delivered presentation (or both). So after thinking about this for a while, and encouraged by a couple of colleagues who wanted to get this kind of information out, I put together a presentation about what it takes to give well-designed presentations in an effective way.

There are many good presentations about how to make good presentations out there. I put some of these in the links at the end of this presentation. But I needed something combining it all for the sake of my own audience.

SO here it is – and please let me know what you think…

Oh and a disclaimer: I’m hereby presenting a beta version of this presentation so I might upload an updated version at a later time.

And with a zest of serendipity, here’s what John Stepper just blogged about on the topic of getting better at public speaking!  The links are very good.

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