On money, and missing the point

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There are oftentimes when I talk enthusiastically about sharing my skills, techniques, and knowledge with other people. Usually this is greeted with enthusiasm in return, but sometimes I get a strange reaction… Whether it’s improving one’s codebase, or creating a spectacular outfit, or simply getting interesting people to meet and share their ideas, I’ll occasionally have a friend ask me if I really want to be doing that, because I’m giving away my “secrets”.

I appreciate that in business, a competitive advantage is a good thing. Being able to differentiate yourself from your competition is vitally important, and sharing one’s secrets with those who might use them to compete with you isn’t always a wise choice.

My problem with this attitude is that it assumes that money is the point of the exercise. It’s easy to think this, and from a business perspective it might be true, but thinking of money as the goal kind of misses the whole point of living.

Without boring you with technical terms, the whole point of living isn’t money, it’s happiness. Money certainly has utility in providing hhappiness, but it’s not the exclusive source. In fact we’ve got plenty of studies that show us that money isn’t what makes us happy, it’s just that being poor makes us unhappy. After a point, the utility of money drops off very sharply indeed.

The idea of me keeping trade secrets is even more amusing because my entire livelihood for the last decade has been based purely upon working in open source. Almost everything in our business that we can give away, we do all. All the tips, course notes, software, ideas, and everything else invariable gets released under an open source license. The business model isn’t about keeping fragile secrets which must be guarded, the business model is about being so obviously and outstandingly awesome that people will pay for our services.

So when I talk about sharing skills, I most sincerely want people to learn from that. I want them to be able to do the things I can; in fact, I want them to do them better than me. I’m not worried about competing with other people, for the simple fact that I’m not competing. The world is a better place with more free software developers, more public speakers, more artists, more fancy costumes, more collectives of clever people, and more fun.

Knowledge transfer is one of my most treasured and beloved activities. To everyone’s who’s taught me to give a massage, tie a celtic knot, write a program, sew fabric, administer a system, identify cognitive defects, go diving, ride a bike, play with contact juggling, make a cocktail, play music on a leaf, use a camera, talk like a pirate, and all the other skills that slip my mind right now. Thank you. Thank you so very, very much. You are way more valuable than money.

– Paul

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