Why Share Your Knowledge?

We see many big names in all industries that seem to just give away information, real knowledge like it’s going out of fashion.

I see the example of people like Seth Godin, David Armano, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, Mark Pesce, Wayne Schulz, Heather Smith, Robin Dickinson and Darren Rowse all of whom give away knowledge. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it is a list of a few A-Listers, a few well known in the local geographic area and a few that are well known in their field.

How can they give so much away and still make money? Should you do the same?

Let me state right upfront that I believe we should share our knowledge freely.

I’ll tell you why I believe that by relating a story told to me about four years. A mentor related this story to me. Listen to it and see what you think.

If I told you that by riding a skateboard to work you could solve the entire worlds pollution problems, would you do it?

No, you wouldn’t. Why not? Because you don’t own a skateboard.

Ok, so let me give you a skateboard. Will you ride a skateboard to work now?

No, you won’t. Why not? Because you don’t know how to ride a skateboard.

Ok, so let me give you a skateboard, let me give you lessons on how to ride the skateboard. Now, will you ride the skateboard to work now?

No, you still won’t. Why not? Because it’s too far, it might rain, part of the journey is uphill and it just takes too much effort.

The lesson here is that you can give someone the solution to a problem, the tools required and the education on how to use the tools and they still won’t go out and solve the problem for themselves.

This is a normal thing that happens everyday. I pay others to grow my food, process it and transport it to a place convienient for me to pick it up. I pay others to fix my car, wire up new lights in the house or make a fancy meal. We all do it. It’s too much effort for me to do all those things, it’s easier for me to pay someone to do them for me.

What people want is to deal with someone that does know their stuff, someone that does have that intimate knowledge of the subject, someone who is an expert. More often than not, others, like me, are prepared to pay for others to do those things I’m not expert at. Often the only way they or I find out if you know your stuff or not, is by trial and error, at our cost.

But if we were to give away knowledge, it makes it easy for people to know what it is we know, what our expertise is. They may not understand all the subtleties of what they read, or maybe they do, but either way, by telling them what we know builds their trust in us. With that trust comes their patronage.

I can hear some that say “but what if they take that knowledge and apply it themselves?”. Well, there are two answers to that:

  1. Firstly, if they are not an expert in your field, they will take the knowledge you gave them and try it for themselves, make mistakes, spend more time doing the job that you would, they’ll either wear those extra costs or come back and engage your sevices.
  2. Secondly, if you can’t find a market amongst seven billion people, in a market in which other experts operate, then your marketing needs an overhaul. Perhaps you should give away some of your knowledge and give them a reason to invest their cash with you.

So how does one give away knowledge? Here are few ways:

For a contrary view, read this article on Six Pixels of Separation titled Free Content is Killing Media – I’d say that perhaps he has a point with regard to the media, but free content can definitely build your business.

So, what do you think? Are you going to give away some knowledge?

6 thoughts on “Why Share Your Knowledge?”

  1. Contrary view? I’d say my view is exactly in-line with yours. What you’re leaving out is strategy. My strategy (similar to the people you mention) is to to establish myself and my company (Twist Image) as a recognized authority. I am not attempting to monetize my content in a direct fashion (like the traditional media outlets). My Blog post the other day was about them and their strategy to charge for valuable content (and the perspective given by one of the world’s leading media players). It was not about people like you and me. In fact, if you read the first chapter of my book (which you would have to pay for) or even dig deeper into my Blog (which is free), you’ll note that my agency business and all of the amazing opportunities that have come from that have roots in the Blog and how it has helped establish my name and that of my agency by sharing with people our thoughts on new media.

  2. Mitch, you’re right, your post is about what Sir Martin Sorrell said about media outlets.

    As far as media companies surviving, I agree they either need to charge for content. Or adapt in some other way. I don’t believe that getting a goverment subsidy is an acceptable business model, ok for a short term, unforeseeable event, but not as an ongoing business model.

    Aggregating content is worthless without thoughtful curation. That is, unless a deliberate bias is introduced people won’t be interested. To use my example above, people won’t stick at a site that aggregates content about anything to do with skateboards. But the site that aggregates content about skateboards and curates that list so that it’s bias is toward reducing pollution, that will appeal to that niche, better again is curation that add’s commentary, thought provoking asides or shows application/use of the information.

    I believe the media industry is undergoing an ‘adapt or die’ phase now. How it turns out is anyones guess. Perhaps Sorrell can foretell that future than we can. But either way, as you point out, we’re not in the ‘media’ business, and sharing our knowledge is essential if we’re going to prove to our prospective and existing clients that we know how to do our thing well.


  3. In a message to me, @karolinecumming raises a question that I’ll answer here in the comments:

    The question (paraphrased) is: If a persons skills or products are their value, they can share (give away) knowledge for free. But if advice is their product how can they not charge for it?

    To answer that, take the example of Mitch above, he gives away knowledge on his blog Twist Image, makes money from his book Six Pixels of Separation and consulting fees.

    Others do the same, like David Allen (famous for Getting Things Done) who gives away knowledge via twitter, his blog and podcast. He makes money by selling other products, books, seminars, kits etc.

    I’ve heard it said “that if content is king, context is god” (link?). Sharing knowledge is the content. Just because you’ve shared it, doesn’t mean the reciever ‘gets’ the context, the application to them. They may get a glimpse, but they’ll pay for you to explain the context, explain and show how it applies to them so that they can benefit from it.

  4. Thanks Ben for fielding my question :) and providing a great answer – you are right, there are many people out there who balance giving out *knowledge* (content) for free, while making money for their *skill* (context) in other ways.

    I think a key for me that you mentioned in the reply to Mitch is niche. Even though you were talking about media and aggregating content, I think that does apply to business owners (particularly micro/sme)… there is so much competition in every industry, and now that the likes of social media, blogging etc have made the world so much smaller the competition is even more fierce.

    By finding context in our own niche, we can find ways to become needed by that niche (and therefore have value they’re willing to pay you for). I see many business owners trying to spread their net too wide, hoping to catch anything and everything and not being specific enough to be truly deemed an expert. People will only pay for what has value specifically to them (that goes for both on- and off-line).

    So Ben, I totally agree that knowledge given for free helps to establish the level of skill you hold (and that can’t be a bad thing?). Your skill – whether it’s advice, ability, product, service etc – then needs to be set in a valuable context to be able to sell it. It seems to me that in business, value is determined by your niche, rather than the wider audience.

    Thanks for helping me see this more clearly – you’ve helped me clarify my point of view on this subject!! :)

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