Free Gift for Every Reader

If you clicked on the link looking for a free gift. You're in the right place. It’s coming, just a few paragraphs further down.

In the new ‘free economy’, made possible by the Internet's near-zero distribution costs, learning how to master the business of generosity is a vital part of learning to thrive in the modern world. Hopefully this post will help you on your way to sowing and reaping generously.

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

- 2 Corinthians 9:6

Chris Anderson’s excellent book Free opens with a great story of the history of Jell-O, which, for all its current day fame and glory, had a rather ragged start in life. Invented in 1895 by Pearle Wait, a carpenter looking to get into the then-new packaged food business, the product just wouldn't sell, even after Wait’s mould breaking idea of selling powered gelatin fruit flavored and ready to mix (it originally came plain for greater flexibility for the cook). Dejected after 4 years of trying, Wait sold the company lock-stock and barrel to a local businessman, Frank Woodward for $450.

Woodward himself travailed for a further three years to flog Jell-O for all its worth but failed to do so. He was faced with so much unsold stock that he even tried to pass the company on for a measly $35. But then, in 1902, he struck upon the idea that would change everything. With a failing business he knew he couldn't afford to give away his product for free and he couldn't go door to door selling his stock without an expensive license but he struck upon a way to give something away for free that, within a few years, would bring in millions of dollars in annual sales. So what did he give away?


Woodward would hit a town going door to door giving away free Jell-O recipe cookbooks and then target the local stores in town telling them they had better stock up for a coming wave of people looking for ‘America’s most famous desert’ – Jell-O. And it worked every time. Today over 300 million boxes of Jell-O are sold in the US each year.

In organisational psychologist Adam Grant’s new book Give and Take he also highlights the critical importance of a generous nature in creating career success.

According to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck. [But there is] a fourth ingredient, one thats critical but often neglected: success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people. Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?

As the opening biblical quote points out, and these recent books back up, if we want to get ahead in life and in business, we need to be ready to give freely, even if that might feel counter intuitive to our short term goals. There’s no point stock piling your seeds when you need to get out there sowing. Ideas like these obviously aren't radical these days, as most everyone expects to get a free sampler, trial or demo before they hand over their hard-earned money. But failing to think about how you can apply these ideas to your own business or career could be incredibly costly. Grant’s point is about developing a generous nature when dealing with people, not just projects. That those who give and succeed tend to bring others success too, where as takers tend to prosper at the expense of others.

Givers and takers differ in their attitudes and actions toward other people. If you're a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you're a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you're a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.

What can you give for free?

In 2010 Blackmagic Design announced DaVinci Resolve 7, a software only color correction system priced at $995 down from at least $200,000, if not over $800,000. One year later they release DaVinci Resolve Lite, a marginally stripped down version of the same software, for free. In the past two years the adoption rate of DaVinci Resolve has gone through the roof (why would you use anything else?) and with the recent release of their pocket and 4K cameras they've cemented their place in the pipeline from production through to final delivery.

This kind of ‘free’ business model, as promoted in Anderson’s book quoted above, works when you have something you can afford to give away for free because you're going to get back something so much greater in value. The distribution cost of free software is practically zero so hooking people on that software to then widen the market (even if just by a few %) for your $30,000 control panels will reap great rewards. DaVinci Resolve Lite is BMD’s Jell-O Cookbook. What’s yours?

And more importantly, how will your free gift lead to greater engagement with your customers? What would the most radical extrapolation of that be? What would be the equivalent of giving away $200,000 worth of software for your business and how would you make it work? A big part of BMD’s success is their long term plan; software and cameras that interact seamlessly and giving away software before the cameras have even been created. Hardware up-sells that make the free entry price sustainable and also ensuring that their software interacts seamlessly with every NLE out there; even FCPX grades will carry across into Resolve. Of all the filmmaking companies out there Blackmagic Design are setting the pace.

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac McPherson, 13 August 1813


My free gift to you is the gift of ideas and information. But as with any gift it is only any good if you use it. Take what the ideas here and make them work for you and your business. Think as radically as you can about the core assumptions in your industry and disrupt them in as generous a way as you can.

Ok so it’s not a great free gift, so here is another good idea to get your imagination going:

In a final volume to add to your reading list Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus posits the idea that if we could combine just a fraction of the world’s free time and harness that into productive endeavours – together we could create amazing things.

For example Shirky estimates that creating Wikipedia took about 100 million hours of human effort. To put that in perspective Americans watch roughly 200 billion hours of TV every year, absorbing around 100 million hours of commercials in a single weekend. If you could persuade everyone to stop watching commercials and do something useful with that time we could easily have another Wikipedia scale project in a weekend!

When you think in terms of this level of abundance even tiny changes can have a huge impact:

Imagine that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people continue to consume 99 percent of the television they used to, but 1 percent of that time gets carved out for producing and sharing. The connected population still watches well over a hundred trillion hours of TV a year, 1 percent of that is more than one hundred Wikipedia’s worth of participation per year.

For a great example of just what’s possible, check out Luis Von Ahn’s excellent TED talk on how he’s been able to put 10 seconds splices of time to good use and digitized over 2.5 million books a year, just for starters.

Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration