Are You Afraid To Give It Away?

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I don’t know who first said it, but the idea of an open platform and being an active authority is that by equipping people with the best resources that aren’t your own – by sending them away – you get them back.

This is the premise that most of the digitalls on Twitter follow. They share links all day long, because by being active in their area and telling you where to go, the idea is that you’ll look to them as the authority. Beyond that, there’s a bit play in open innovation with co-creation too.

An Open World

It does, however, go a lot deeper than this. The idea of open platforms is one of open source, of creative commons, of open innovation. This isn’t giving information away in such a context that people can directly see where the source was – like a ReTweet – it’s a place where you are giving people to take your work and use it, and there’s no guarantee people won’t use it for their own gain without attributing you as the source.

It’s one thing sharing someone else’s content and then getting a kick back if someone likes the link. It’s another sharing your own content for free and not knowing what’ll happen with it.

I can tell a story from both sides of this fence. Being honest with you, I’ve been the one who has ripped the work off of others (back in my HTML days), and I’ve also been the one who has been too afraid to share my creations for fear of it being ripped off.

Last Saturday, on our discussion of “Together“, a friend I made in Helsinki, Johanna Kotipelto, made an exceptional statement with regards to people being too afraid to collaborate together. Joanna said, in what I think is a highly quotable phrase, “Sharing is still a threat: it’s like taking a Mona Lisa to an exhibition – unsigned.

Johanna wrote more about it in her post on Man 2.0 where she examines some of these themes more – it’s well worth a read.

The thing is – do I agree? Do I believe that sharing is a threat?

The Fear is Laziness and Ego

I think the ultimate display of this fear (in the blogging world at least) is when bloggers never link to other blogs but there own (or rarely do it), and keep writing about their experience, their ideas, and never our experience or our ideas.

I consider this fear to actually be laziness and ego. When I read a feed for a few weeks and find they never link out and talk about anyone but themselves, I think that they are too lazy and too self consumed to actually focus on others and curate conversation for others.

This same laziness and ego, in my opinion, is also what stops people from sharing – because you know what – if you talked about what you consider to be your intelectual property enough, you’d be generating so much discussion about it that people would know you’re the source. I’ve started to see, for example, a lot of the ideas that we’ve discussed here talked about on blogs I’ve never heard of and from people I don’t know – but they know where the source is, and the conversation keeps coming back here. (Also, we need to loosen up a little – we often think our ideas are better than they actually are!)

And I think the people on the other side of the fence – who take other people’s work and pawn it off as their own – it’s laziness and ego on their own side, but it says I’m too lazy and too good to work hard and get this myself.

Your Leading Thoughts

  1. First of all – which side of the fence are you on? Where do you sit on this issue?
  2. What is the FIRST example that you think of where ‘giving it away’ has caused a win? (Mine currently is Guardian’s Open Platform)

Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk

Archived Comments

  • http://twitter.com/alexthegreen Alex Green

    The hand that is open to give is also open to receive, you can’t receive anything if your hands are full!
    (not my own words but true all the same)

  • http://emmens.co.uk tobit

    hey Scott – a great piece. Yesterday I spent some time with our new HR director chewing the cud over the traditional approach to IP and a Creative Commons approach. the Creative Commons approach is quite alien to most in the public sector, despite us being publicly funded, public servants, sharing / giving away is too scary a step for many to take. As you say when you give away, it often comes back. BUT more importantly, when you give generously, without expecting it to come back, it comes back better, with ‘peer support’, ‘peer review’ and so on. it comes back refined, added too and made better.

  • http://www.tee-dp.com/ teedp

    Yeah – I think the open source community is a great example of this – platforms such as Joomla.

  • malcolm12boxes

    Scott, I think you have put your finger on something that many people are wrestling with – but my hunch is that much of the agonising is misplaced. If people are clear about their own value, and what they value, then decisions become much more straightforward.

    It comes down to understanding where your true added-value lies, understanding the value in sharing, and sharing on the basis of enlightened self-interest and personal values.

    1 Understand where your true added-value lies.

    For me, the first step in resolving the sharing dilemma was to understand where my true value-added lay. This understanding came from the free exchange of ideas with other people, and the slow realisation of what made my offering different and special. For me, sharing was inseparable from realising my own value.

    To those who are reluctant to share, I would say that if your idea is so good that it changes the game it’s probably going to be rejected and not stolen – ask James Dyson. Simplifying slightly, Dyson found that people were reluctant to take up his game changing idea, so he took a huge financial risk and made the idea real – suddenly the idea had value and all the money he had earlier spent on patents proved to be a good investment. As Thomas Edison said, “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

    In my experience it is really hard to ‘give away’ my true added-value. The value is in enabling people to use my ideas, not in the idea itself. Delivering the process takes know-how, work, resources and mutual commitment.

    But, to get to a level of trust where I can begin the process of gaining commitment, I need a way to engage with people, which brings me to the other aspects of sharing.

    2 Understand the value in sharing.

    Sharing makes it easier to earn a share of mind. My IP is not diminished by suggesting how people can do some small but important thing better in an article that I don’t even get paid for.

    In reality, many of the things experts ‘give away’ are intended to educate people in the value of what they do. The other things they offer in the mix keep people interested in them as a source. If only a few people make the transition from passive consumers to active clients, they are still winning. Ideas are seeds. Nature is wasteful. In the end it doesn’t matter because we all return to the earth.

    True experts know stuff they don’t even know they know – so there is no way they are going to be able to tell you everything. And anyway, you would have to have achieved a certain level of understanding to make proper use of what they are telling you.

    In other words, by helping you they are not losing. They still have their competitive advantage and can afford to be generous. In sharing, they are gaining in reputation and becoming known, liked and trusted. This does not mean that others suddenly want to start sending them dollar bills. There is no place for Twitter followers in the company balance sheet. But the perceived value of their activities earns a bigger share of attention/mind, they become an authority by default, and the value of their brand is enhanced – which means that people are more prepared to pay for their advice and services.

    So when I share ideas with others, I am hoping to earn a bigger share of their mind. When, in return, I give others a bigger share of my mind, I am rewarded with access to resources, contacts, ideas, inspiration, and opportunities that I simply did not know about before. My current personal example is the #likeminds club and all that flows from that.

    3 Share on the basis of enlightened self-interest and personal values

    Having achieved some confidence in my value, it then becomes relatively easy to decide whether my interest lies in (a) giving away an idea to help others or for mutual benefit (b) sharing it with relatively few people for money, or (c) keeping it to myself and gloating over it.

    If you want to give an idea away, then treat the satisfaction of giving as its own reward. Don’t agonise about the selfishness of other people in not giving you credit. It is very hard to predict what others will value and you will become richer emotionally and financially by learning what they do value.

    If you are really worried that giving ideas away will affect your financial or commercial well-being, then consult an intellectual property lawyer.


    P.S. Incidentally, I don’t find the example of ‘taking the Mona Lisa to an exhibition unsigned’ particularly compelling. A similar experiment has already been carried out in the real world of literature by at least one famous author (citation please if you know it). She (I think it was a she) submitted a manuscript to her regular publisher under a pseudonym. As far as she was concerned it was just as good as all her other work. The only difference was in the name of the author. Of course, it was rejected out of hand. Value = nil.

  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – “not my own words”

    It’s true – but we often keep our hands closed, right?

  • / Scott Gould

    It does come back – but illustrating this is hard. How did you manage to get around this?

  • http://twitter.com/alexthegreen Alex Green

    I didn’t want to take credit for someone else’s thinking / soundbyte!

    We keep them closed all too often, I have found this year that the more I have given / tried to give away, the busier I have become in what I get paid for.

    One example of many: I started a free clinic from church after Easter and every other clinic has been really busy since then.

  • / Scott Gould

    Alex – awesome business innovation there!

    We must arrange a call sometime, catch up

    :-)

  • http://blog.ecairn.com Laurent Pfertzel

    Malcom
    I really like your 1) and the fact that the understanding of the value comes as a product of the sharing; It’s especially valid when you start something new (a career, a startup, a new life). You know so little, there’s so much to learn. The best is to ‘ask question’, ‘observe’, ‘listen’, ‘give ideas’ with a focus on learning with an open mind and not on ‘showing you’re better/know the answer’.
    Laurent

  • malcolm12boxes

    Thanks Laurent. What you have said is so true. I can’t emphasise too much how much faster my progress became when I stopped pretending I knew the answers and was up front with people about not really knowing how to describe what I did.

    The nice thing about it is that people then feel they have a stake in what you are doing and continue to help you. All a bit humbling when you step back and think about it…

  • http://twitter.com/lesb3 Lester Bryant III

    (This is the same comment I posted to a link to this story on (Facebook)
    Wow, I was just thinking about this at breakfast. I write and I hold back alot (writing abbreviated versions of stories or ideas) because I know people steal. If you only take and never give or vice versa, it shows. In order to glean useful info you must do both. You have to put your fears and ego aside. The trick is knowing the difference between great ideas and perhaps musings. I am lousy with musings, that is to say unrefined ideas and opinions. I agree it is of the ego to think that everything you write is important, most of it is not and someone has already said it better too.
    For me, I believe it boils down to why you are here. I am an information person; I love knowing and gathering good information but more importantly, knowing where to go to find out what I need to know. It is not my objective to look smarter or more authoritative than someone else. I therefore believe that information is something to be shared and not squirrelled away for personal gain. -That said, I also need to keep a bit so I can go on eating well.

  • / Scott Gould

    Malcolm.

    You are quickly becoming one of the favourites names I love to see comment here – you bring such rich insights – thank you.

    Your opening remarks are certainly the experience that I have had and have helped shift my thinking:

    “If people are clear about their own value, and what they value, then decisions become much more straightforward.

    It comes down to understanding where your true added-value lies, understanding the value in sharing, and sharing on the basis of enlightened self-interest and personal values.”

    So your point 1 – I would agree – your “true value” or “real asset” doesn’t really leave you. This is why even if you tell someone everything that you know, you still know more because you know how to use that knowledge, it is within you.

    Your point 2 – I do like how you say that most people’s sharing is ” intended to educate people in the value of what they do”. Certainly, I think a lot of bloggers write sales pitches more than things that can practically be used.

    I agree that by them helping us they don’t loose their competitive advantage.

    Your point 3 – Totally, this is very good. Your tip of watching what they do and how they react is then very, very good because it gives you valuable feedback.

    Malcolm – I’d like to repost this comment as a blog next week – ok?

    Scott

  • malcolm12boxes

    Thank you Scott for your kind comment.

    On point two, I take your point, but I didn’t mean that educating people in the value of what you do has to take the form of a sales pitch.

    It can be indirect as in: “If you were to think about doing something in my field of expertise, these are the things you should think about” or “If you were to hire someone in my field, this is what you need to bear in mind”. These will often have intrinsic value to the reader, but they also imply that the writer works to high standards.

    Another education route is to take an issue that people are dimly aware of and crystallise it as a problem. (Of course this can be abused. Pharma companies are often accused of medicalising aspects of the human condition in order to create demand for new treatments. Kids that were once “fidgety” now have “attention deficit disorder…”)

    The knack – if you don’t mind me calling it that, because I think you are rather good at it – is to start a dialogue which attracts people who are interested in what you do, but is not about what you do. It can take a little while to get your head round that before you can do it well. I’ve certainly not mastered it.

    Malcolm

    P.S. Of course. I would be honoured if you posted the comment as a blog.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Malcolm

    Thanks for helping to clarify this – much appreciated.

    I must say the best person that I know at this is Robin Dickinson. I know I say this a lot, but I do highly rate him. He manages to nurture and serve a community, without at any point puttings his stuff first – but then also managing to get business and never loosing his expert status.

    It’s amazing how he does it!

    Scott

  • http://twitter.com/LaKotipelto Johanna Kotipelto

    Thank you Scott,

    first of all, for your kind words! Definitely a LikeMind here =) I was a bit sad that I wasn’t *here*, when your post first came.

    Your thoughts led me to think a bit further: are there really two different ankles we can look at, in this not wanting to share business? On one hand, there is “in-house” when your role is a worker, in charge of something. On the other hand, there are hobbies, these more-loose-ties, or communities sharing similar values (social media tribes, if you will).

    My question is, do we act differently depending on which one of those two we are in?

    My example comes from public sector. There officers govern their extremely narrow niches of expertise. If I am in charge of, say VAT, I should cover the whole range of happenings around it: changes in legislation from EU and nationally and then putting those into effect. That entails the whole procedure, guidance leaflets and website info, customer service, prepping our staff etc. And if we are to build another eService on VAT, I get to say on everything (a bit gross generalisation, a real worst case scenario).

    The problem is, that my niche expert’s view and loyalty tends to lie with the law and its endless interpretations, instead of service. And if another expert comes to the project, someone “in love” with customer service, there will be a conflict of interest. Building a common view can be very tough – that is, if there are no incentives for the customer’s benefit.

    Judging by my experiences of this summer, I’d say our public sector drags a bit behind when it comes to the big change from faceless government official to an interpreter aiming to serve people (as we should, says I).

    However, those same arrogant, shy, cautious and timid officers can get wings in their back when they are dealing with, say, a dear hobby of theirs. Passion makes the trick!

    Passion as love for something they value, passion as a force making them forget about themselves in order to reach higher good for the cause, passion as unselfishness: it’s not about me (who invented it), it’s about us winning together.

    So everything is connected: a niche expert can’t afford to fail, because then he would lose his face as an infallible expert. Hence, he suffers from fear of failure, which can be fought against with utmost cautiousness: let’s say No to all new proposals. There goes collaboration, too: I can not be in charge of something someone else has made – so let’s keep to ourselves.

    I guess it all calls for a revolution in our heads, in how public sector is being run..

    Does this hypothesis apply also outside the public sector? In other countries? Am I perhaps missing something essential from the beginning..?

  • http://twitter.com/LaKotipelto Johanna Kotipelto

    Thank you Malcolm for expanding the Mona Lisa metaphor!

    I think that brings us to the topic of personal branding. Anonymous has no value, it cannot be trusted. A new-comer is as good as anonymous, after all, the establishment hasn’t heard of him.

    And this, I think, is where social media is a great tool as it empowers anyone outside the inner circle in power. What counts, is the value of your thoughts to that community. – Literature made the previous revolution on this sector with inventing the printing press: spreading thoughts came possible.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Lester

    Thanks for your thoughts – funny how you were thinking the same thing at the same time!

    I agree – you must put your fears and ego aside and get it out there and add value to people.

    I like how you say it boils down to your “why”. I posted the video yesterday where Simon Sinek talks about this, and i think it is such a powerful shift of thinking. When you know WHY, you know you can share!

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Johanna

    Glad you could catch up with the post now at least!

    I would agree that sharing is seen differently by what sector you are in, and I guess what role you are in too. Some roles / jobs / sectors are all about sharing, and others not so.

    I must be quite honest through, some of what you’re saying is deeper than I can understand without a clear example, so I’m finding it hard to fully respond – could you maybe write a clearer example on your blog?

  • http://twitter.com/LaKotipelto Johanna Kotipelto

    Hi Scott,

    Sorry for the tricky example, you know VAT happens to be the most trickiest of them all =)

    Sometimes sparing with words is not the thing to do: you miss the reader. So thank you for your honesty. I think that would be a good idea. I’ve been a bit shy to write about things very frankly, but this “English speaking community of mine” is separate enough..

    Have a nice day!

  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – Thanks Johanna – catch you soon : )

6th August, 2010

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