Building social businesses and helping others to do the same is grounded in the power of sharing. People willingly share their knowledge, their insights, their experience and their time to allow others to learn and grow. It’s a reciprocal arrangement too, so just like any productive social interaction, everyone benefits. That’s good, right?
Of course it is. However, it brings to light a little conundrum. The conundrum best expressed in the story about the plumber and the techie.
We all know the old tale about the plumber and the techie don’t we? No? Well allow me to tell it.
The plumber and the techie lived next door to each other with their families and were pretty good friends. From time to time they’d pop round to each other’s house for a coffee or a bite to eat and to catch up.
On one such occasion, the plumber mentioned to the techie that he was having problems invoicing his customers as there were some problems with his printer drivers and he couldn’t get his printer to do anything. He then asked the techie if he’d mind taking a look. The techie said sure and nipped into the plumber’s home office and spent the best part of an hour searching for, downloading, installing and testing new printer drivers and tidying up a couple of other obvious glitches preventing the plumber from printing. On his return to the lounge, the plumber expressed great thanks and even topped up his coffee.
At their next get-together, the plumber mentioned a problem with his wireless router and again asked for a little help from the techie. A half hour’s messing with cables plus a couple of calls to the ISP’s support desk later and the techie had everything ticking over again for the plumber. The plumber expressed his thanks again and offered the techie and extra Jammie Dodger with his cup of tea.
A couple of days later, the techie was at home when a pipe burst behind the washing machine and started filling his kitchen with grimy water. Quick as a flash he ran next door and asked the plumber if he could help. ‘No problem!’ came the reply as the plumber grabbed his tools and followed the techie round to his house. Fortunately, 15 minutes after switching off the water at the mains, the plumber succeeded in effecting a quick pipe repair and get the washing machine back in business. The techie, expressed his gratitude, with a cheeky bottle of beer for the plumber.
Nice story huh? Well, that’s not quite the end.
The next day, the letterbox rattled at the techie’s house. Reaching down to the doormat, he groaned at what looked like a bill. That’s right, you’ve guessed it, the plumber had sent him an invoice for his time based on a minimum one hour call-out charge.
So, why is it that people think nothing of charging or paying for transactions that involve some sort of traditional, physical service but people think that knowledge has less value or no value at all? Certainly, this story is an apocryphal one to hammer the point home, but there is definitely something going on here.
How do we patrol the border between honest-to-goodness, well-intentioned, heartfelt sharing vs holding out a tip jar every time we answer someone’s question? I’m not sure I know the answer. I love listening and learning from others as much as I love telling stories and sharing news, but how do we quantify the value associated with these exchanges? Is there a meaningful mechanism for trading support, advice, tips and guidance… more microbegging than microblogging?
Maybe you know.