Since Shelly and I began our journey to nomadic running hobos, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves. A large chunk of this knowledge came from a fairly systematic process of “lifestyle” experimentation. One idea we’ve been playing with came from Seth Godin’s excellent book Linchpin. One of this themes involves the idea that all of us should create art. He broadly defines “art” as anything that causes a change in the recipients. He persuasively argues that we should freely give away our art without expectation of anything in return.
The entire premise of the idea is exactly the opposite of how our society normally works. Gift-giving is usually based on the idea of reciprocity- I give you something, I expect something in return. It’s based on an idea of scarcity. We have a limited amount of resources. We obsessively focus on hoarding as many resources as possible.
Godin’s idea is based on the principle of abundance. We obsessively focus on creating great art that makes a tangible difference, then give it away without expectation of anything in return. Determine what you need to survive, then give away the rest.
At first, the idea may seem absurd. How can you make a living by giving everything way?
Simple. Giving things away allows your ideas to spread. The Internet is the key to this spreading, it’s a medium that removes all the traditional gatekeepers. The more your ideas spread, the more opportunities you get.
Here’s the tricky part- you don’t collect the opportunities to amass and hoard fame and fortune. That’s based on the scarcity principle. You leverage the opportunities into more giving. The result is an upward-spiraling cycle of being able to give more and more gifts, which affects more and more people, which leads to more and more opportunity.
It sounds a bit hokey, but I really believe we have to be the change we want in the world. I want to live in a world based on generosity and mutual support, not based on competition, exploitation, and hoarding. Godin’s “art as a gift principle” seemed like the ideal means to start creating this world.
In practical terms, this is my experience with the idea:
I first read Linchpin early in 2011, right around the time Shelly and I started eliminating our excess material possessions to begin our travels. The idea fit perfectly- we were lowering our cost of living AND getting rid of stuff (literal gifts). We had been selling most of the stuff. Instead, we started donating it or placing it by the side of the road with a “FREE” sign. It felt good.
Around the same time, I decided to give away the PDF version of the second edition of my book. This had been a significant source of income, and I knew I’d lose a big chunk of that. I did. Some people wanted to somehow return the favor. In that case, I suggested they pay it forward by passing the PDF on to anyone else that may be interested OR do some selfless act for someone else. This was also my first experience with giving opening up new opportunities.
Since releasing the free PDF, the book has been spread far and wide. Lots of opportunities have popped up. As of right now, I haven’t taken many because they would require a lot of time- time I’m spending developing other ways to give. In short, the new opportunities would decrease my ability to give. If that changes down the road, I will be much more willing to take them. For now, I will continue to give, receive what I need to survive from the opportunities the giving presents, then using the rest to create and give more art.
Some other examples of giving include giving away the “swag” I get for reviews, giving away the freebees I get from running and outdoor stores, giving advice to my blogger friends, giving advice to other runners (barefoot or otherwise), taking pictures at races then posting them on Facebook so people can use them as they wish, and writing this blog.
The blog thing is especially interesting. I suspect many people write for one of two reasons- either they love writing OR they are trying to get attention, fame, swag, followers, advertising dollars, or other such “material” things. Those that write for the first reason do so because of the intrinsic drive to create. That’s good. Those that write for the second reason do so because of the extrinsic drive to get more.
I’m think there’s a third option- consider your writing to be a gift to your readers. If you already write for the first reason, it’s not much of a jump in perception. If you write for the second reason, I think you’ll find this suggestion to be much more fulfilling. And effective.
I’m lucky. I already have a lot of blogger friends that write to give. Some may not even realize it, but they do. And it shows in their writing. They are a constant source of inspiration to continue doing what I’m doing.
Of course, I also know a fair number of people that blog for that second reason. It shows up in their writing, too.
For another case study, check out my friend and functional fitness master Pete Kemme. He decided to start writing workouts and posting them on his Kemme Fitness site at no charge to his audience. Then he made videos. And free ebooks. And guides to make your own homemade gym equipment. Pete put a tremendous amount of emotional labor into producing this stuff… then just gave it away. It’s no surprise that he is experiencing incredible growth and exposure… which he’s using to produce even more gifts. He’s making a difference by giving his art with no expectation of reciprocity.
I don’t suggest you give away most of your possessions and become a semi-homeless hobo, though I think many of you would LOVE the lifestyle. I’m suggesting you begin reframing how you view interactions with others.
Start creating art.
Give the art away.
Don’t expect anything in return.
The key- make most of your decisions by asking a simple question- will this allow me to give more?
Give it a shot. Try it on a small scale. See how it feels. The giving will invariably result in some sort of opportunity. Don’t hoard that opportunity, turn it into an opportunity to give more. Repeat.
I have to warn you, however… it’s horribly addictive.
What are your thoughts?
If you think the idea is worthy, please share wherever you feel would be appropriate.