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Free: why not?

March 8, 2010

After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Priced to Sell”, I felt compelled to combine some of the gems from his article with some other thoughts.

If we are to believe in what Dan Pink —so adamantly— presents as the latest findings of Social Science, then, we should be doing whatever we want at work as long as we deliver the goods…

And also, that managers are an invention that is obsolete—so we can do away with them too.
(So far, I like it.)

In essence, studies show that people perform worse with financial incentives, except on mechanical tasks. It seems that focus hinders the harvest of the more precious creativity crop, which requires an open “walking on the edge” frame of mind.
(Too bad, that hurts. Let’s keep this between you and me.)

We are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. The urge to do things on our own, to feel that we are conquering our skills and that we are doing something for a higher purpose.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we should work for free. We should get a fair reward for our labor, but, from there on, it’s these other motivations that drive us to do our best —fascinating stuff!

Here’s where I see that trained journalists should act as community ring leaders, to harness blogger stories that evoke that sense of higher purpose in doing some good for their community.
(I’m sorry, I smell cheap, but gratifying work.)

Bloggers with a natural high interest in their communities who get published in their local newspaper, may be a great way to help the bottom line. Which would fit nicely within the hybrid “Microsoft – open source model” I’ve been promoting, where high quality journalism sits behind paid subscriptions and highly engaging community blogging is free.

Malcolm makes a great argument to debunk the “information wants to be free” statement, citing as an example the $500 million spent in research by a biotechnological company on one project.

He also points out that there are always two sides to this issue. One, like Amazon, that would love to get books for free, but a second, the authors and publishers, who need to charge a fair price to survive.

If content is free, ask yourselves, why are authors going to write music, books, report news, do scientific research..?

Are we all going to go out on concerts and sell T-shirts?

Finally, there is an underlying major ethic issue at stake.

If Google News or anyone else gets content for free, isn’t this piracy, isn’t this the equivalent of robbing someone’s labor..?

Are we all going to be treated like idiots in this new technological paradigm? Are these the moral standards that we will teach our children?

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