Friday, August 20, 2010

Gifting with Completion

In our current world, much of what we do in service of each other is conditional upon receiving value in return. Usually this value takes the form of a claim on goods or services from someone else in the economy. We call these claims money. Money has served impressively to coordinate our economy in modern society. However, new forms of large-scale coordinated production are beginning to emerge that transcend conditionality in our giving.

Imagine a world where every time you expend your time and effort, the interaction is complete at the time of the interaction. In other words, your contribution isn’t conditional upon receiving value at some time in the future. You simply contribute because you make a sovereign choice to.

Think this sounds too pie-in-the-sky to be realistic for a global economy? Believe it or not this basic social contract is already working to enable large-scale group projects. When an expert on a giving topic chooses to spend her time writing or editing an article for Wikipedia, she doesn’t expect monetary compensation. The interaction is complete as soon as the article is. When a musician chooses a Creative Commons license for his work, he doesn’t expect royalties. Again, the interaction is complete as soon as he chooses the license. In both these cases, the contribution is based on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.

These social patterns have been very successful in the domain of information, where your gift can be replicated at virtually no cost. So, what kinds of communication tools would be able to support this kind of giving in other sectors of the economy? Instead of choosing where to gift your energy based on a future obligation, you might base your choice on information about what has happened in the past. You are always free to decide where to give your time and energy, so what information would you want to help you make those decisions?

I can’t tell you how to direct your gifts, but I can tell you some things I might consider.

  1. Values: How does this gift I am about to make support the values I care about. Does this recipient spend their time to better the world (according to my values), or to degrade it
  2. Karma: If I choose to give here, does that energy dissipate or does it make a cyclical pattern? How does this gift get returned to me? In material form? In the form of a safer or friendlier neighborhood? In the form of a cleaner environment?
  3. Efficacy: How much is my gift appreciated? I don’t want to give my gift if the recipient doesn’t appreciate my time and effort in a way that is consistent with the energy I put in.
  4. Satisfaction: How do I feel when I make this gift? Have I felt good in the past giving to this person? Or did I feel exploited? Have I learned something in the process?


  1. Some would argue that considering some or all of the above four "returns" constitutes a sort of commerciality that countermands the intentionality of gifting.

    I think everyone integrates at least one of the four, mostly subconsciously, when giving any kind of gift. And that people will spend more time considering the angles when the size of the gift is much larger.

    In other words, I'd be willing to wager that the degree to which people consider each of those points, and whether they consider all of them or just a few, maps linearly with the size/value of the gift they're considering giving.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts! To me the difference is whether people expect something in the future, as if the universe owed them, or whether they are basing a decision on something that happened already.

    For instance, if I am offering consulting, I can look at whether the client has similar values as mine based on their past actions. It would be different if I offered consulting on the client's promise to adopt certain values or perform certain actions in the future.

    Perhaps this is nitpicking, but to me acting from a place of completion more fully respects the sovereign individual choices of those around me.

  3. Interesting correlation here suggesting sovereignty to be a pre-condition for gifting based on completion rather than on co-dependent future obligation. This also gives rise to a basis for operating from abundance rather than scarcity.

    Also worthy of note that the Wikipedia contributor and Creative Commons contributor examples both represent gifting from the place of one’s skill and personal passion. Would living from the fullest possible expression of one’s innate capability and passion create an environment where the four steps enumerated in this post are more naturally present regardless of the scale of the gift?

    It seems that as relationships deepen - the opportunity for gifting within the balance of the four metrics increases without the need for a corresponding “ask"...working together on a jigsaw puzzle with the emerging shape suggesting the next fitting contribution.