Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

Sharing and buying, what’s our currency?

Posted in online collaborative spaces, self-organization by Bas Reus on December 30, 2010

Discussions about new currencies in this age of sharing are not new. Many have done research about other means of value compared to money as we know it. During the rise of the internet, we exchange value more easily without the need of money. And then there is this other characteristic what really differs from money: abundance. Nowadays there is an abundance of knowledge, an abundance of people who know how to find people for specific needs, or willing to share experiences, ideas or knowledge about numerous subjects like travel, product reviews, music or even business experiences. The latter is rather difficult for many people. Sharing is all good they would say, but about personal stuff rather than professional. Why share all your knowledge about foreign markets, while you’ve spent all your working life to build it up?

That question is an interesting one to answer. Why would you do that? And if you would, with whom? It can represent your competitive advantage, an advantage that you would like to keep intact. As with many seeming threats, it’s better to seek for ways to use the ‘threat’ as new chances, because if you’re not the one who’s willing to share, others will. So as a knowledge leader, someone who really is good in some specific areas, it can be a good strategy to position yourself that way. There are enough examples of ‘knowledge leaders’ that make use of channels to share their knowledge where it can be copied easily. Books are not the only way, the internet provides faster and wider spreading of the valuable information. Protecting the knowledge is not needed when you want it to be shared. It’s your new marketing channel. 37signals is my favorite example here, they try share their knowledge and strategy as much as possible, and with result.

Another interesting characteristic of sharing is its value. Knowledge (is every form, such as experiences or market knowledge) has value. Value for the sender and it’s recipients. But real value is created when people come back to the sender with unexpected responses which can lead to new insights, new ideas, or combinatorial innovation. See what happens in forums like some on LinkedIn, for example. People find each other, discuss topics, and collaborate which is good for all participants and spectators.

Sharing knowledge is not the same as giving up competitive advantages. In an age where sharing is easy, you’d better use it in your advantage. Of course, first things first, you still need enough money to make a living, but on top of that we exchange more and more without the intervention of real money. So you can ask yourself what our currency really is. It seems to shift more and more away from money as a medium of exchange, to an exchange of knowledge, experiences, which builds relationships and trust, and spurs innovation. 1+1=3. Above post is the result of sharing thoughts with a colleague about being open or closed about you business experiences, and at the same time an argument for trying to share as much as possible to encourage new ways of value creation.

Some interesting reads on this subject:

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2 Responses

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  1. John Tropea said, on January 10, 2011 at 06:23

    Hi Bas,

    I’ve heard that before, that compared to scarcity of resources in the physical economy (or however you say it), the knowledge economy is abundant, and further to that the more information is used the more valuable it becomes and also it doesn’t depreciate. ie the same piece of information can be used by various people in various contexts to produce value…whereas a physical object can only be used with who encounters it, and it depreciates with wear and tear. Further to this information can spawn many conversations where it becomes part of new and unintended things…I guess this sometimes happens with physical objects, but just not as amplified eg. at home we just created a sandpit out of an old wooden boat

    This sort of reminds me of what Nassim Taleb talks about when he relates to the repeatable value from stored information compared to labour
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/47375935/the-black-swan-nassim-taleb-p28
    ” [A writer] does not have to write each book again every time someone wants to read it. But this is not so for a baker: he needs to bake every single piece of bread in order to satisfy each additional customer.”

    My friend has an online baking store on Facebook…a comment the other day asked to share her cookie recipe…she said sorry it’s a secret.

    This is in contrast with celebrity chefs don’t you think.

    Apart from fear of losing her edge, maybe people don’t share some things because they don’t want bastardised versions floating around.

    Maybe she didn’t share it cause it’s special that only she knows it…

    I think it depends on what you are sharing…

    If it’s something automated and very easy to replicate then you may lose your edge.

    But just the same a good product is not enough, you need to build a community…that’s why you see less flashier products sometimes do better, as it’s not just about the product, but the experience, the brand, the lifestyle, the interaction…

    Another thing is if she shared her cookie recipe it would still take the receiver a long time to perfect it. When we cook from a recipe it rarely comes out like the Chefs version.

    But still the same a nearly perfect recipe may be a threat, if the new entrant already has a thriving customer base.

    Sharing a recipe is different from sharing skills…which are hard to share anyway eg. the whole KM thing…it’s about conversation and observation that we learn and acquire skills….time to absorb, use metaphor and story and action them in our relevant context

    I reviewed an essay by Patrick Lambe on this very point, see the heading “knowledge secrecy”
    http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2010/03/10/km-is-not-just-information-delivery-and-just-in-time-is-not-enough/

    In this post I say:

    “Some might say it’s a choice: you either hoard so you have an edge, or you share and build a social reputation. When you share you are not just a dynamic performer, but you are also helping everyone else to be one as well, and that is reason for the company to actually hold on to you”

    I share about my experience facilitating CoPs…if my work was in a bad position they may decide someone paid a lower salary can perform the same task based on my past sharing…but still they will need experience to be zen with it…from my post http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2010/04/13/the-fallacy-of-know-how-recipes-and-hoarding/

    “BUT, what could happen in times of trouble is that if the firm considers KM as the same as informal Information Management, they may decide that you are no longer unique now that you have shared, and can get someone else at a lower cost to follow your recipes and be just as proficient.

    We know this is untrue, but even so, the firms ignorance coupled with your sharing is the reason you have been replaced…yes you are still unique, but you are left without a job.

    Happy ending…the company cannot afford the learning curve, the new hire is hopeless, even with your book of spells, and realises informal information management is not the same as KM, and hire you back as a consultant for double the salary

    Even if people are able to follow your thought logs and raw documented experience and do a good job as a result, they are not you, they are not the guru, they don’t have the reputation yet, they don’t have the contacts, they don’t have your charisma. I think it’s more complex than just know-how, people that are competent, amicable, demonstrate leadership and passion, are people you want working for you”

    As for an enterprise knowledge commodity market…I don’t agree, I’m more the ecosystem, rather than market…competition in a market system in not as sustainable, it does not lend to cooperation and resilience as well as an ecosystem (connected and intrinsically motivate people)

    Here are my thoughts:
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/2394433917/fixed-reward-incentives-vs-floating-market-or-ditch-the

    I like how Charles Leadbeater talks about how markets are based on specific problem-solving and lack dialogue for the sake of innovation and sustained creativity
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/2679450813/crowds-need-meeting-places-neutral-spaces-for-creative

  2. Miet Lust said, on March 1, 2011 at 16:04

    Beste,
    Ik ben een masterstudente Communicatiewetenschappen aan de universiteit van Gent en ben nu aan het werken aan mijn thesis. Mijn onderzoek gaat over ‘product customization’ en meerbepaald op het internet. Tijdens een eerste onderzoek naar literatuur kwam ik uw thesis tegen. Aangezien uw e-mailadres niet meer geregistreerd staat, en ik niet ben ingeschreven op LinkdIN, dacht ik hier een berichtje achter te laten.

    Ik probeer nu nog een vernieuwende en interessante invalshoek te zoeken om mijn onderzoek op te baseren.
    Ik ben nu al reeds gestart met een aantal verkennende diepte-interviews met personen om wat meer te weten te komen over de opvattingen van de consumenten die al dan niet gebruik maken van het concept productpersonalisatie.

    Maar door de veelheid aan literatuur zie ik even het bos door de bomen niet meer, en misschien zou u mij wat meer klaarheid kunnen geven. Ik had gehoopt dat u mij wat verder kon helpen door een aantal tips of ideeën te geven omtrent interessante hiaten of invalshoeken waarop ik zou kunnen verder werken.
    Alvast bedankt voor uw tijd.
    Mvg
    Miet Lust


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