Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Gift Economy: Shifting Paradigms (Guest Post)


Photo credit: cohdra from morguefile.com

Today's piece is a guest repost from Janet Brent. I have been reading Janet's blog for a few years now, and have found her experiments in new ways of working and living to be vibrant and engaging. I contacted Janet about the Indiegogo campaign my girlfriend and I are currently running, and she was happy to share an article about our health care vision with her readers.

In return, I'm excited to offer you all a glimpse into an experiment Janet is doing this summer. She's operating her business as a gift economy to see what it's like to live and work in this way. Giving her skills, talents, and effort to those who need them, she opens the door for whatever gifts people receiving those services will offer in return.

This is exactly the opposite of the scarcity mentality that global capitalism drives through us at a young age, tethering our hearts and minds to an endless chase to stay afloat, or maintain what we have. The separation that Buddha and other great teachers speak to on a spiritual level is codified in our economic system, and so in order to liberate ourselves and our communities from its oppressive weight, we need to experiment, and pay attention to our minds and hearts in the process. So that we can create new ways of living and working together.

Here's Janet's current contribution to this.


I am typing this outside on the auspicious full moon on Friday the 13th. I glance in front of me as the moon slowly rises, peeking its way above the trees that are covering its full view. I have already done a release ritual that involved burning a list of things I want to ‘let go’ of and a prosperity meditation. These seemed appropriate on today’s Friday the 13th full moon. Whether you believe in it or not, creating meaning in meaninglessness is part of the magic of life, and ritual and intention give things we can’t grasp a sort of tangibleness.

Today I’d like to talk about the gift economy. Shifting the way we work and create into the new economy. A new paradigm. It’s part of the shift.

I am currently operating 100% of my business in the gift economy, and it’s a ‘scary’ leap. Even though a lot of my friend’s and mentor’s advise to reconsider, I am doing this in full force. I will give it a full three months, until the end of summer to see if it works. If not, I can consider it an experiment, and move on.
What exactly is the gift economy? What does it stand for?

Remember Napster? Remember how it changed the music industry? It’s kind of like that.

Remember how Radiohead gave their music album, In Rainbows entirely for free and empowered fans to ‘pay back/give back’ whatever price that felt good to them? It was a success.

“I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘Fuck you’ to this decaying business model.” -Thom Yorke, Radiohead

A Disruptive Business Model

The gift economy is a disruptive business model. I saw a Facebook meme once with a picture of a full on garden in the front lawn of a suburban house with the caption “Rebellion – It’s not what you think.” It’s kind of like that. Rebellion can be peaceful. It’s choosing a different way of life in spite of “normal” way of life happening all around you. It’s boldly choosing to be the change and creating the type of world you want to be a part of. Living it.

I am part of the shift. A new economy, from consumption culture to creation culture. Not all who operate in the ‘New Economy’ work in the gift, but the gift is part of the new paradigm.

I give my design services to you as a gift and in exchange, I trust that you will gift me back a fair value. This could look like a fair money exchange, a barter/trade of services, and/or bringing me word of mouth referrals.
Why work and create in the gift?

The gift economy represents a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance and isolation to community.

– Charles Eisenstein

The gift economy empowers you, a prospective client, to choose the price that feels good to you, and to give me value that makes us both feel good about the exchange.

Truthfully, I’ve been operating much on the gift economy for a long time, but never had the words to describe it. I’m open to negotiation, barter and trade, and I gift back my earnings to a non-profit.

Q: Why did you decide to work in the gift economy?
A: I’ve always been interested and intrigued with it, but never had the ‘guts’ to go all out or make it an official “thing”. Then I started paying attention to my friend, Tom Morkes’ work with a pay what you want model, and from there found out about Adrian Hoppel, a web designer/developer leading the way. It all resonated with me so much that on impulse, I decided to start using the gift economy business model as well. It’s been working with me so far, and now I’m even part of Adrian’s design/developer team! I’ve always been interested in this softer shift towards the ‘divine feminine’. Business IS changing and more and more women are choosing to work for themselves. The gift just feels good to me. I hope it will feel good to you too.

Q: Do you just not like money? How do you survive??
A: While it’s true my relationship with money has been a long path towards releasing blocks and learning how to get out of ‘poverty consciousness’, and I’m still working on mending my relationship to money so that I can create financial freedom, I absolutely LOVE money and want more of it! I have ambitious goals to become a six figure business Goddess. I just happen to think the gift economy (and the type of creators/messengers who will be attracted to it) is the right vehicle to get me there. If I’m wrong, after this three month experiment is “over”, I can always change my mind.

I live my life in a very ‘disruptive’ way from status-quo as is. I don’t pay rent, and I slow travel the world living entirely off of a suitcase. For two years, I lived in an informal dwelling (AKA slum) in Manila and only paid $50/month for a decent sized studio. Technically, I don’t have a home. It frees me up from normal payments that people have (rent, gas, cell phone, cable, etc.). Despite the travel, it actually keeps my lifestyle and expenses lower than most and I am able to bootstrap in this way, building my business and doubling my income each year (albeit, coming from humble beginnings of less than $500/month; you’ve got to start somewhere!).

Q: What if people take advantage of you and pay you peanuts, or nothing at all?
A: This is the scary part. This is why most people hesitate to take the leap, even if gift economy appeals to them. This is why most people look at me like I’m crazy, and tell me to reconsider. The thing is, gift economy, when done right, doesn’t mean “take advantage of me”. One of my current clients tells me he is a fan of the fair economy. That’s what gift economy is and should be. It’s not to take advantage of. Gift economy is a mutually agreed upon relationship. If I do not feel you will offer me a fair value for my services, I can simply choose not to work with you. The gift economy is based on trust. Trust that you will gift me a fair amount, or a fair exchange. It is entirely fair. If you want to pay me through bartered services and I feel your services don’t give me much value, I can always say no. Part of business, in general, is choosing whether a prospective client is the right fit or not. The same is true for gift economy. I’m not at the mercy of everyone’s requests. I can choose to say no.

Q: I’m nervous. How do I know what a ‘fair price’ is to even pay you? I know nothing about graphic/web design/branding services and what typical prices are.
A: This is a great question, and it gives me the challenge of educating you, as a prospective client, before agreeing to work together (or not). I will keep track of my hours, tell you how much my services are valued at (price point), and give you price analysis, from low-end to high-end, of typical going rates in the industry. I understand this may give me more initial work in the preliminary stage, but I’m willing to do this. Essentially, I’ll give you a proposal (like a ‘normal’ design business model) of all this information in a PDF, as well as an overview of what I can do for you.

Does this sound good to you?

If you’re interested in working with me through the gift economy, or just interested in having a conversation, I’m also gifting free, no strings attached, 30 minute clarity conversations to help you grow your business. Just fill out my questionnaire and I’ll get back to you with a scheduler link!

Here’s what Charlene, my most recent clarity conversation, had to say:

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me yesterday – you gave me some really valuable advice and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. Thank you again just SOOO much and I can’t wait to come back to you for my website design!

Be helpful, and give value. It works. So far, the gift economy is working for me. Maybe it will work for you!

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