When Sharing Makes Perfect Sense

What makes you share something with others? It’s a simple question. Yet, as is the case with most simple questions, it’s not that easy to come up with simple answers. Doing exactly that, however, is the beauty of “sprezzatura“—a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.

I have yet to master the refinement of sprezzatura, but I can share with you some of my simple answers to simple questions like this one.

So, why do you share anything of value with others, freely and out of your own volition? My simple answer is this: you don’t hesitate much to share what you have as long as the value of which doesn’t diminish through the act of sharing. By the same token, the more value you generate, it is all the more likely that you share what you cherish.

The real answer, to me, lies in four drivers: fun, fame, fortune, and fast innovation. Let’s take a look at each of these four incentives of sharing what you have (assets and resources), what you know (expertise and answers), or what you do (volunteer or pro bono services).

Fun: self-expression

Now more than ever, having fun is the name of the game. It’s all about experience and expression. As Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group, once put it, “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”

It’s not just business that has to be fun. Fun is a critical factor in deciding whether or not to do something about what you care. Fun is at the heart of what we care to put our time and attention into. Even a simple act of (social) book-marking a Web page, using Delicious or Digg tells a little bit about who you are, what you like, etc. It’s part of an action to express yourself.

The proliferation of user-generated contents that you can see on the Web, from blog posts to movie clips on YouTube, are the results of your self-expression. In the process, you share your experience or expertise with others who are interested, or who want some fun.

Fame: reputation and attention

You can’t buy real fun and fame with money, or money alone. It’s all in your interaction and experience, which can be pretty much personal for each individual. With the Web and mobile computing all around us, we enjoy a plethora of contents and, from time to time, contribute some contents ourselves. What’s significant about the Web is the fact that you leave your footprints wherever you go, from site to site, or blog to blog.

Technorati can be a good example of a Web census bureaus that allows you to find the most relevant news content or blog posts, in order of authority. In other words, as the Web’s “coffee house,” Technorati lets you know “who’s saying what, right now.” That’s the power of digital and the Web. You are what you do rather than what you think you are.

People love lists. From American Top 40 to Fortune 500 companies, we really like to have a list of everything, including ourselves. If you have a taste for getting more popular among the group of people who really matter to you, you’re in for the list. Almost every Web 2.0 sites or platforms offer statistics and analytics to let you know how famous you are at the moment.

Fortune: more value and rewards

Money is still and will be an incentive that drives people to share with others what they have, what they know, or what they do. Even in this case, however, monetary rewards are not the only compensation for your hard work. You’ll be basking in the sensation that your contribution really matters to somebody or some organization. It’s always great to know how other people appreciate your help from the bottom of their hearts.

Take Prosper for instance. Prosper is a Web site for personal loans which are funded by other people who bid with what little they have for a better return of investment. It works like a money market fund (MMF), in that Prosper collects the awarded bids and sum them up to fund a business that a single mom, for example, plans to run. Prosper collects the principal and interest from her and distribute the amount to the members of the fund.

What’s so special about this new approach is that Prosper is actually a platform that connects distributed supply to demand, with no direct supervision from the platform itself. A platform is like a playground, where you set your own rules of the game and play by the rules. Likewise, you set the interest rate and bid with what little money you have and get a better return for your investment. In the process, you put what you have to better use, for more value.

Fast innovation: open collaboration and reuse

InnoCentive is an open innovation community of smart, creative people who provide solutions to tough problems in business, science, product development, math, and computer science. You can put your ideas, knowledge, skills and expertise to good use and solve real-world problems in a large-scale project through InnoCentive and yet2.com, for instance.

Coined by Henry Chesbrough, a professor at UC Berkeley, the term open innovation advocates that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions (e.g. patents) from other companies. In addition, internal inventions not being used in a firm’s business should be taken outside the company (e.g., through licensing, joint ventures, or spin-off’s).

If you’re an expert in your domain, you can now be more famous, earn more money, and help make the world a better place, all in one go. You also generate more value in the process. In a world where connectivity rules, what’s connected is more meaningful than individual parts. It’s like connecting the dots is more valuable than having the dots to yourself.

When Demand Meets Perfect Supply

Perfect supply is actually a collection of partial supplies for a specific demand. In a world of connectivity, no single supply can meet all the needs or wants of a customer. You need to open up and connect what you have with what others offer to share, be it intelligence (as in open innovation communities), money (as in collective personal loans), or something of little value to you (as in selling used books and games online as if it’s a new flea market).

Collective supply requires an intermediary to meet the demand. Think about the music CD industry. They used to sell a CD (a packaged product). With iTunes Store, it’s more about selling music tracks and small chunks of application software. What you need for this system to work for you is to have a playlist that caters to your tastes and preferences. It’s like connecting the dots in a whole new way that’s more meaningful to you.

Demands are getting more and more varied and personal. To meet these needs and wants, you need to offer as many dots as you can, with the help of a creative community of people who are willing to share what they have. Then, offer a tool or a platform that monitors what your customers do and make the offering that makes more sense to them.

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