A long time ago, when I was a wage slave in a computer company, I figured out two things.
1) People will always be around and therefore I should work in a field that involved communication and people. (Teaching and writing became important parts of my life subsequently.)
2) I should, as much as possible, do things once and get paid lots of times. (I subsequently entered the publishing world – magazines first, then software.)
These activities have, to varying degrees, determined the trajectory of my life for the past 33 years. And a jolly fine life it's been, thank you for asking.
But, somewhere along the way, things changed. I found myself giving more and more of my stuff away. I (wrongly) bombed the price of my niche software too far. I found myself cheerfully handing out information and opportunity leads to others. At some point I moved from hoarding and dribbling out my knowledge in exchange for largish sums of money to giving away more and receiving something else in return, friendships and business relationships based on trust and transparency.
I'm not totally stupid, I realise I have to sell something and that something tends to be what's between my ears, my native talents or what I can lay my hands on and package more skilfully than others. It makes for a good life in which all the bits join up rather harmoniously. People, fortunately, know about me and are happy to pay me when they think they can get some value out of me.
I was prompted to write this by a tiny, three-minute, interview conducted in a noisy restaurant by one Suw Charman. She, incidentally, was partly responsible – along with Adriana Lukas and Jackie Danicki – for acting as midwives as I entered the world of blogging at the end of 2004. Her interview was with JP Rangaswami, a man who is a paragon of knowledge sharing. He gets hardly any sleep so has a ton of time to do his job (a very important one at BT), to keep up, to engage with all the 'greats' of the social computing world, and to reflect very deeply on our world, much of which ends up in his blog.
To paraphrase the (short) interview, he pointed out that capturing and keeping knowledge is part of the incentive system in many organisations. But the new generations coming through (and the more enlightened of the older generations) have a more sharing attitude. The core question is: do people want to share? And, by implication, he believes the the answer is, increasingly, "yes". It shows in his behaviour. The benefits show in his reach and influence. And little of this could have happened without him deciding to reach out and share.
And, as I've written many times before, inside an organisation, the benefits are potentially huge. Rangaswami believes that the decision (should we implement social software?) that organisations need to make is akin to deciding whether or not a company should have a telephone exchange. In time, it will become obvious. Like email and mobile phones before, it will take a while to bite (he thinks the transition could be ten years or more) but it will happen without question.
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