Most religious and ethical traditions have a prescription to make the world around you a better place. Whether it’s access to divine rewards or the awareness that you’ve done what a reasonable, ethical human should, there’s generally been a moral or religious benefit to spreading value throughout the world.
I’m going to reframe these prescriptions into the single idea that you should leave more value on the table than you take from it. I’m doing this simply to avoid the overwhelm that some people feel by the prescription to change the world – the world is so huge, there’s so much to do, and where do I start? It’s simple enough to start by leaving more value than you take, and doing so, at the very minimum, overcomes the natural inclination towards greed.
But humans aren’t just consumers; we’re creators, as well. The people we call creative – or who self-identify as creative – are the people who actively change the world around them. But the ability to create is not inherently valuable, for we can create things that add value to the world or we can create things that take value from the world. So the onus to leave more value on the table may seem especially burdensome for creative people precisely because creatives are the ones who are most able to take more from the table in the long run. It doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to steal a TV; it takes loads to embezzle millions from people for years without getting caught.
With power comes responsibility, indeed.
The truth, though, is that you are better off if you create more value in the world than what you take. If you focus on creating value in the world and sharing it with others, then you end up being more creative and productive than if you focus your creative energy on extracting value from the world. The days of strip-mining value out of people are over, for that only worked when people didn’t have knowledge or options. It doesn’t take long for people to find less coercive options now, and when they do, they’re gone. No more value for you (at least from them).
If, instead of harvesting the fields of value that are already here, you focus on planting seeds of value in new fields, you can nourish yourself with some degree of autonomy while nourishing others at the same time. When the economic costs of growing ideas, products, and services approaches zero, the situation becomes such that there are more opportunities for more yield than any single person or family could ever consume on their own. So, teach yourself to fish, and you will feast for as long as there are fish; teach yourself to farm, and you will feast for as long as you live.
This is not a suggestion to give everything away for free – that’s unsustainable, counter-productive, and doesn’t honor yourself as a person. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Instead, this is a call to focus your passion and creativity on creating value that you can share with others, for brilliant, creative, and compassionate people lose more by withholding what they have and not exchanging value than by leaving more of what they have on the table.
Create awesome stuff, share it, and leave some value on the table. It’s good, yet good for you.
Charfish Charlie says
Dig it, Charlie. In the business world, especially for us bloggers, it’s been suggested so many times that the best way to grow your blog, your list, etc. is to give away great content. Flagship content, Pillar posts…whatever. And it’s definitely true.
But I think this same advice, as you’re pointing out, goes overlooked as far as our human footprint goes. It’s all well and good to make our fortunes, but at the end of this life, I’d rather have known I helped people out.
Sonia Simone says
Such a great observation, and I love diving into that one element: “brilliant, creative, and compassionate people lose more by withholding what they have and not exchanging value than by leaving more of what they have on the table.”
And I’d add to that that we are all brilliant, creative, and compassionate, although sometimes we get deeply confused and/or broken and we forget. Then again, I am a giant hippie, so I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Sonia Simones last blog post..Objection Blaster #4: Why You?
Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it. I think you’re completely right that leaving value on the table is a better way to increase the value you get than trying to take it away. Your example of treating employees well is a good example, as are things like open source software and social media. When you give of yourself, people will return the favor to you tenfold.
kballs last blog post..Fighting my Internet Addiction
Mike Stankavich says
Charlie, you are so right. People quickly recognize when you’re trying to squeeze them and find their way to the exit. Plus giving away solid value for free strengthens your reputation as an authority in your chosen niche, which makes it easier for potential customers to see that they will actually receive value from your paid products and services.
Mike Stankavichs last blog post..Short Sale Auction for my Previous Home
Cody Dream-Life-Coaching says
As it states in “the science of getting rich”, every man must give more in use value than he takes in cash value. A very valid point, particularly if you wish to become wealthy.
Cody Dream-Life-Coachings last blog post..Attitude Of Gratitude
Catherine Cantieri, Sorted says
Beautiful post. I’ve tried to structure my business around creating value for my clients, and it’s an approach I’m taking to networking, too: what can I do for others? Not only does it feel Right, it helps relieve some of the anxiety I sometimes feel in groups (born introvert). And I like that there’s the balance in perspective that you have to take care of yourself first, so you don’t get too far out of balance in the other direction.
Catherine Cantieri, Sorteds last blog post..Electric April: Managing your email
Matt Blair says
You make some excellent points, including this line:
This is a key argument for sharing ideas: if your “idea yield” is greater than your capacity to act on them, why leave ideas hidden away, out of sight? Why let them rot in a fenced-in field? Who benefits from that?
The value of a hidden idea is nil. The value of an idea that you don’t have the time or energy to grow and craft might be zero, but it might be far more than you ever would have thought. The only way to discover and realize its true potential value is to share it and see what the community makes of it.
Shake the trees, give away the apples you can’t eat, and someone might just bake you an apple pie.
Thanks for a great article.
Matt Blairs last blog post..Peculiarity over Productivity