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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I share because I care!


Sometimes I feel I’m surrounded by rabbits-in-wonderland, running around feeling overwhelmed all the time. Sometimes I am that rabbit, but that’s another story. Those rushing rabbits are bewildered how other people find time to share stuff. Sometimes I am the one wondering how come they are not sharing more.

But then, it makes sense: while everyone philosophically understands the benefits of sharing information, they may not understand what it brings practically, and so changing their sharing habits is all the more difficult.

Sharing is caring to feed others in various ways (Credits - FromSandToGlass)

Sharing is caring to feed others in various ways (Credits – FromSandToGlass)

Sharing is like thinking about gender issues: it is – or rather should be – not (just) for the specialists, it’s a cross-cutting, permanent attention and motivation. And there must be ways to trigger that kind of ‘behaviour mode’ based on practical benefits and reasons…

So why do I share information really? In no particular order… 

  • First of all, although it might feel intimidating to share thoughts or resources and bother other people with it, I have long ago realised that the advantages of sharing far outweigh those of hoarding (except perhaps by email to avoid invading others’ inboxes)… So in first instance I share because I dare. But then also…
  • Because when I find something interesting and share it, I love to see the reaction from other people – do they find this as interesting as I do? If so, what exactly about it? If not, why not? I care for understanding peoples’ curiosity.
  • Because if I find something thought-provoking, smile-inducing, heart-turning, others might experience these beautiful moments just as much or even more… and it genuinely feels good to see/hear someone going through such an epiphany of sorts. I find it important to be carried by your passions (whether intellectual or emotional) and I care for my kin to be seized by passion…
  • Because when I share something specific with someone specific, I hope it helps them in their own life quest and they will appreciate the nudge of help, as much as I appreciate it. In a ‘pay-it-forward‘ kind of way. I care to help people – perhaps with the vague promise that if I’m in trouble they might help me too?
  • Because by consistently sharing information, whether I like to admit or not, deeper down, I hope people will also recognise the quality of the stuff I share and look at me as a trusted source of that information. I guess I care for my name too (knowledge egology again?)
  • Because in the networked (and networkshopped) world, sharing equates extending conversation threads to form connected nets with other people, and reaching out to different people, expanding one’s personal learning network and conversation arena.
  • Because I have a terrible memory so if I share instantly I might remember that information better. If I share it on information repositories it will stick there and I can always find it again. I care for my memory.
  • Because we tend to work in silo’ed groups of interest and conversation spaces and sharing across these silos builds useful bridges toward universal sense-making. I care for our collective capacity to unravel the mysteries of our world. I care for learning and improvement.
  • Because of all the above-mentioned reasons, sharing has actually become a second nature and it isn’t taxing in the least. And really, at the end of it all, the most important of all the above is the deep satisfaction it procures to help and make people happy… It sounds corny but I think everyone experiences this in different ways and knows this to be true.

In other words…

I share because I care!

What are you waiting for?

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