January 23, 2011

The Free and the Fee

money

‘Look love, you either know what you want or you don’t here, and you either want me or you don’t’. This is what I should have said when talking to a potential client on the phone recently – but did not. Instead I supplied heaps of useful information acquired over 22 years, for free. In the City in London this would rack up about £500 – in rural South Wales: nada.

Now I wouldn’t be writing this post, if I didn’t believe in working for free. And at WordPress (host here) alone, there are 16 million people doing something similar. You can read here about the value of this freemium. People like to pump out that 80:20% ratio: you do 80% for nothing then the 20% makes money.

So is working for free for mugs and the desperate, a social obligation or some sort of web mass hysteria? Putting aside the huge collective benefit, working for free brings us as individuals:

– less isolation and appreciation of different types of contribution (emotional labour for instance, like enthusiasm and hope). We get wanted.

-we get opportunity to express opinions and advice – big motivators for some of us…

old folk who socialize and contribute are happier and healthier than those who don’t

-we can learn loads working for free – skills, how systems work, how humans function…

Not getting all Big Society on you, I know free workers get exploited, job seeking graduates at particular current risk : but in the post-grads I work with, the benefits of connection and gaining work experience (when temporary and monitored) seem to outweigh the disadvantages. Also:

Free Work is Creative Work

To produce creatively we need to immerse ourselves totally in what we are doing, and keep going at our enterprise until it reaches desired standard. If we regularly stop to analyse the cost/value benefits of what we are doing, we will be snookered and usually give up. Indeed I’ m sure some people claims to be ‘completely uncreative ’ come from being raised to do this.

Tech businesses sometimes run ‘skunk camps’ where innovators are left alone together to create and get smelly, with bean counters kept well at bay. Corporate speak would call it using spare capacity for speculative activity. All creativity takes a chance – that the emotional and physical labour involved will produce something others want to connect to. We work as explorers and creators in blind faith and trust of others.

But What About The Fee Then?

Our politicians are sidestepping profound questions about the value of work and institutions – regarding banking especially. Decorporatizing Douglas Rushkoff has some interesting ideas about this. Maybe we could start with an experiment where bankers do half years for free and half for fee ? (principle could prevail over the practical)

Much of what bothers us in life and work is to do with ‘how much control do I have?’ and ‘how am I appreciated ?’. We can help ourselves with both issues by putting in boundaries and structure of any description, and reminding people of our worth.

The potential client who started this post was single-mindedly trying to solve her problem and I was her means of doing that, without appreciation. So do get in touch here – but if you do, take no affront at the announcement ‘You’ve got 20 minutes of free consultation and then my meter starts running’.

Wish me luck, please.

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