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The Knowledge and Ideas Paradox or If It's Contrarian It Might Actually Work

Mar 17, 2008
I recently met a colleague I had not seen for some years. His life work has been in a somewhat esoteric branch of the financial industry.

We had a pleasant chat which eventually turned to the discussion of each other's work. He freely brought me up to date on what he had been doing the past few years.

He inferred that his business had not been doing very well at all but he remained optimistic that he could turn the corner. I told him that I was fascinated by his industry and had been putting together notes and data for an article in a closely related field. He wished me luck and we parted.

The next day he sent a rather surprising e-mail. He stated he had been working in his field for almost 10 years and was having to struggle. He added that he really did not appreciate some 'clown' like me writing about something they did not know about and 'taking his material.'

He specifically gave reference to copyright, trademark and patent infringement. He stated this would include concepts and ideas and added that 'even a thought about using one of his ideas would bring dire consequences.'

The obvious message was that he had spent a lot of time on something he had received very little compensation for. Maybe it was sour grapes or maybe envy that my business was doing well and his was not.

Maybe it was he had grown bitter and cynical in a world that he was finding more and more difficult to do business in. Maybe he had become a true jerk and was just showing his true colors.

Through the pettiness and anger another message began to emerge: a knowledge/ideas paradox.

My friend felt that if he hoarded his knowledge and ideas he would somehow get a financial reward. On a certain simplistic level it made sense; he had worked hard for many years and did not want to give his work away. How was he going to get paid? He perceived that by giving it away he would lose it.

The Bible says it's better to give than receive especially if you get back more than you give, no? Or something like that. The Buddhists would agree any strategy to receive more has to be tied to greed and ego, the big obstacles to enlightenment. But that's what it is.

In the old days the giver got back the intangibles such as a warm, fuzzy feeling for doing good deeds or a ratchet up on the self-esteem chart. This worked very well especially for those with guilty or dysfunctional consciences. By giving away something the giver would get 'good vibes' coming back to them.

That still is the case most of the time but today we have an added twist to the formula. By giving away something of value to one that is not expecting it, there is a sort of implicit understanding that the receiver owes you a little favor. After all, despite the protests from the Buddhists, it still is all about me.

Perhaps this act of charity establishes some rapport where there was none. Whatever the dynamics it's all an incredibly complex set of mental gyrations. Rather than focus on the cerebral intricacies, we would be better served if we just look at the net result.

My friend was struggling and he thought his problem was that he just wasn't able to convince the decision makers to buy his wares. Rather than say 'here are the many reasons why my wares are so expensive', he might have said 'here's a few pointers on how to get what you want.'

A totally different scenario, no?

The strategy here is that if you give it away, it will come back. At least this appears to be true on a certain level for knowledge and ideas. I decided not to write my friend a nasty e-mail reply, not even something slightly sarcastic; instead profusely thank him for his honesty and concern and wish him good luck.

He sure is going to need it...
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of Jack D. Deal Business Consulting, Santa Cruz, CA. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog/ideas and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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