Why We Gain So Much by Giving the Right Things Away

In the new economy, giving away our most precious commodity isn’t a weakness. In fact, I’d say it’s our biggest opportunity.

In the olden mindset, it was a problem if someone took something of yours. Now ideas are a currency, and trading them can bring so much more back in return.

I liken this to apples and ideas. If you had an apple and I had an apple, and I took your apple, I’d have two and you’d go hungry. With ideas, if you have an idea and I have an idea, and we shared ideas we would each have two ideas. And those two ideas when combined could spark many many more.

Sharing ideas is a non-zero-sum gain. It costs nothing to give information, yet we could both benefit by receiving information. Or alternatively you gain that information and nothing changes.

Ideas create different value for different people. Your insights might be worth more or less to you than someone else.

There’s often more than enough cake to go around, but our scarcity mindset prevents us from always realising that. Especially if it feels that some parties are getting more cake than you. But I feel closing off means it’s less likely you’ll get any cake at all.

There’s another mental model at play here: reciprocity. Reciprocity is one of those undervalued qualities that keeps us honest, but can also commit us to bad decision making and toxic relationships.

If we take something, we feel obliged to give something of equal or higher value. This continues in what is known as “an honored network of obligation” (Richard Leakey). It’s believed to be a crucial element in creating functional society.

But reciprocity can also be abused — something I’ll write about in a future post on how to avoid being tricked.

In idea sharing, reciprocity can lead to us sharing equally valuable insights, but can also be used as a manipulation tool when someone shares something juicy with you in the knowledge that it will make you more likely to open up.

Going back to the apple analogy — you can only trade the apple once. With ideas you can trade them over and over, and continually enrich both parties.

Another important thing with sharing ideas is having the mental schemas that allow these ideas to land. If you have developed your understanding and viewpoint over years or decades, it isn’t likely that someone can tacitly understand where you’re coming from in one interaction. They might explicitly understand what you’re saying, and likewise what someone else tells you, but truly understanding is a different level.

It’s like when someone says starting a business is hard. Most people can understand that statement, but you don’t really understand what it means until you’ve experienced certain ritualistic aspects. I’ll write more about this in a future post.

I’ve found this is extremely effective when pitching for work, especially if superficially what you do seems quite easy to replicate.

In our industry for example, there’s a perception that as long as you have a building, some desks and wifi you can open a coworking space tomorrow — and sure, you would be opening something — but there’s depth to every sector, industry and experience that you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve immersed yourself.

Giving someone your idea or secret sauce won’t harm if they don’t have the ingredients or the technique. Knowing something is only half of the challenge. Even if you are sharing ideas with someone in the same industry, with the same resources, you still are likely to have different values, incentives and passions.

There are some ideas that you need to keep close to your chest while waiting for the right time, and instinctively we tend to recognise these. But by being a little more open, I find you gain far more in return than you could ever lose.

Which kinds of ideas do you keep under wraps? Is there something that you hold as fundamentally important about your industry or sector that other people just can’t appreciate?

I’ve had a lot of emails in after last week’s post — please keep them coming. I’m also mindful to feedback that if you’re reading this newsletter you’re probably not the subject of it — and for those who’ve asked it isn’t appropriate to say who without descending to that level!

Tweet me, and remember it costs nothing to give a post a couple of claps!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store