This is true whether we’re working for pay or we’re parenting, whether we’re working on something that’s very obviously for ourselves or giving up time, energy and money to serve others.
Even at our best (most generous, most sacrificial) – perhaps especially at our best – we’re working for ourselves. We give up immediate and obvious rewards or pleasures (for ourselves) for the deeper reward (still for ourselves) of doing something for other people.
And this is fine, and by being honest about it we immediately remove a layer of anxiety about our motivations by answering the question “Am I actually just doing this for myself?” with a straight answer: “Yes.”
This leads us to a far more useful set of questions: “What am I hoping to get?”; “Who else is this for?”; “What am I hoping to give?” and “Where am I focusing my attention?”
As in “axis”, plural – sorry if you’re disappointed.
We can’t win at everything.
The good news is that you’re in charge of what you’re competing on.
Kids find this hard to learn, but it’s true: if you’re not racing, you can’t be beaten.
We do well when we remember this when we’re tempted to compare our cars and homes, families and relationships, careers and organisations with others’.
It’s so easy to slip into playing someone else’s game – for example, by starting to compete on “bank balance” with someone who runs their life to maximise for money, or on “shiny office” with an organisation that’s maximising for ostentation, or on “Objective score” with someone who’s maximising for test results.
This always feels bad. But worse, it can fool you into taking your eye off the the things that really matter and forget the game you’re really playing – which inevitably means starting to play it badly.
Think hard – think very hard – about what matters most, about the games (there are always games within games within games) you want to play, and what axes you’ll measure success on. You’ll certainly need to remind yourself of these from time to time, and it will be helpful to remind your team and customers too.
You’ll almost always lose on other people’s axes… which might turn out not to be as bad as winning a game that’s not for you. On the right axes, you might end up delighted even if you lose.
We ask on behalf of others who can’t or won’t ask – because we want their question to be heard by others, or because we want them to have an answer they need.
We want an answer so that we can make something better for someone else.
We ask to show the person we’re asking that we’re engaged.
We ask to give the person we’re asking the chance to talk about something that’s important to them.
We ask to invite the person we’re asking to go in a new direction or consider something more deeply.
These are all fine reasons. What we need to watch out for are the questions we ask for other reasons:
We ask to get attention, so that we look smart to the other people in the room.
We ask to make the person we’re talking to look small, or foolish, or unprepared.
We ask to score points in private arguments.
We don’t really ask at all – we take the opportunity of asking a question to make our own point to the room.
We ask to avoid thinking things through for ourselves.
Not all of these are bad all the time – there’s a time and a place for pointing out the flaws in another person’s thinking. But we’ll rarely win friends or influence by attention seeking or point scoring, and we get the best value of all when we do the harder work of answering our own questions.
The way [of handling fear] that doesn’t work is reassurance. Reassurance doesn’t work because you need an infinite amount of it. Someone can give you reassurance for five minutes and then ten minutes later you go “Ooohh no no no.” So the number of times that you need to be told by someone you trust and respect that you’re going to be fine is too high to even ask for it.
For me, the alternative is generosity. That is an excellent answer to fear. That if you are doing this on behalf of someone you care about, the fear takes a backseat. So if you want to figure out how to make books, go to a charity you care about and make a book for them, because now your fear feels selfish. If you want to figure out how to make marketing work, go and market for an organisation that you believe in. If you can find a lonely person and make them unlonely, a disconnected person and make them feel connected, you can make a practice of that. And the upside is it helps you walk straighter and stand taller.
The hard thing about the ‘soft’ skills of courtesy and consideration is that they’re only partly skills. They’re far more about our attitude: how much we value other people and their purposes and feelings, and the interest and care that we show them as we go about our business.
Consistently showing up for people – seeing, hearing and serving them – is far harder than going about our business focused only on our business. And there is a cost: it takes time and energy and attention to engage with and serve others when your ‘real’ job is doing something else. But it’s worth the time and energy, because this is the right way to be – whether we’re dealing with customers or the CEO or the person who cleans your office.
This means that ‘soft’ skills require us to be better at what we do, so that we have the time and energy to spare when we need them – you need something to be generous with. And if this is important to us, we need to do more than show up in the moment: we need to choose to manage our work and commitments so that an attitude of generous service is built into everything we do.
This is much harder than just doing your job.
Much harder, and much better – now and in the long run.
Note: Links to resources are at the bottom. The footnotes are worth reading.
On Thursday I attended ‘Creative Commons Basics’, a webinar hosted by the Global Reading Network. It was very good.
Cable Green, Director of Open Education at Creative Commons, made an excellent presentation about the basics of Creative Commons licensing, followed by Q&A. I’ve done a fair bit of reading about CC licenses, but the clarity of the presentation and the texture of the examples shared really helped me to get a better understanding of how CC works.
Here are some highlights:
Education as sharing
Among other things, education is fundamentally about sharing.
Knowledge is an interesting kind of public good: once shared it’s non-excludable (it can’t be taken away) and it’s non-rivalrous (you having it doesn’t stop me from having it).* We didn’t get into how knowledge benefits from network effects (your knowledge can make mine more valuable), but that’s worth mentioning too.**
A moral imperative
Given the non-rivalrous nature of knowledge, Cable argued for the moral imperative to share it: if we can help people by sharing knowledge at (next to) no cost to us – something the internet enables – then we’re morally obliged to do so***
The internet enables; copyright forbids
Almost all educational resources are created digitally (text, audio, video)
The internet enables the sharing of digital resources at effectively no cost****
Copyright restricts or forbids sharing and therefore, Cable argues, restricts education either directly or indirectly (see below)…
Free as in libre
Cable discussed the key distinction between free as in gratis – at no cost (the traditional internet description of this is “free as in, ‘free beer.'”) – and free as in ‘libre‘ or ‘at liberty’.
The difference is important: there are lots of resources available online that are free (no cost), but copyrighted, meaning that ownership or use is
precarious, in the sense that the copyright holder can revoke the right to use it, and has legal means to enforce their ownership
rigid, meaning that users don’t have the freedom to adapt and re-purpose the original material, or to give it away.
The clearest examples of these things are probably in the world of proprietary software where the source code isn’t accessible to users, and where licensing agreements expressly forbid editing and sharing with others.
The 5 Rs of Open Education
The antidote that Open Education offers to these restrictions are the five Rs (courtesy of David Wiley), enabled by Creative Commons licensing:
Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage);
Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video);
Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language);
Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup);
Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).
CC licenses are a free, open public framework intended to make it easy for creators to share their works widely while still retaining ownership of the work – that is to say, without transferring them entirely to the public domain (i.e. giving up their status as owners of the work).
CC Licenses are made up of combination of the following yes/no options:
BY: If you use it, you have to attribute it to the original author in the new text. More on attribution here.
SA: Share Alike means that you have to share any derivative works under the same license as the original
NC: Non-commercial. You can redistribute it as long as you don’t make a profit doing so. Note that charging for work to cover reasonable reproduction costs and overheads (e.g. getting the work printed by a commercial printer and selling it for the cost of printing) has been ruled acceptable practice by a court in New York. Note also that this does not prevent others from making a profit from a service based on the CC:NC work (e.g. by charging for a course using the work, or a performance of the work).
ND: No derivatives. You are allowed to use the work for any purpose, but are not allowed to re-mix or change the work in any way.
For any of these licenses you are not required to contact the licensor for permission to use it
These restrictions are not binding on the holder of the copyright – that is to say, if you share your own work under a CC: NC ND license, you are free to use it however you wish, including making a profit from the work and remixing it: “The NonCommercial limitation applies to licensed uses only and does not restrict use by the licensor.”
Note also that once a work is (legitimately) released under a CC license, the license is irrevocable – the work can’t be “un-CCed”… but the creator can make a different (revised) version of the work and keep it under any restrictions they wish.
Materials shared with any kind of CC: ND license do not fulfill the criteria of the 5Rs outlined above.
A Hierarchy of Free-ness
Links and Resources
Cable finished off by sharing a set of links to resources or interesting use cases of CC. Here they are:
Case study (video): What happened with the Netherlands’ Rijksmuseum CCd / open sourced its collection
Phew. Thanks again to Cable Green of Creative Commons and the Global Reading Network for an excellent seminar. In the spirit of Creative Commons and Open Education Cable is sharing the presentation under a CC license – I’ll share a link to video and slides if and when I have one!
Update: Here’s a .pdf of the slides form the session:
*I say “an interesting type of public good” because until it’s been shared it’s scarce and excludable.
**There are negative network effects to some knowledge too (you having them makes mine less valuable)
*** We didn’t get into cases where the fact that people have paid for resources makes them more useful – more likely that they’ll have an impact because a better quality of attention will be paid to them so that they’re more likely to be understood deeply, used and spread – and make it more likely that more resources will be created. Seth Godin is doing interesting experiments around this with the combination of his blog and free materials , podcast, and the Akimbo workshops.
****At no cost unless, in some cases, making them free reduces their value.*
Your desire to be generous to others is a great motivator to excellence: if you’re serious about ensuring that the externalities of your project are consistently positive, you’re going to need to be doubly good at what you do.
You need emotional energy and time to spare to listen well, to be gracious under pressure, to be the kind of employer or customer that helps your team or partners to do their best work.
It takes discipline to do this kind of emotional labour day in, day out. You need to be clear about what you’re doing and how and why, plan for it, and be deliberate about doing it consistently. You need to find ways to articulate your values to people inside and outside your project.
You need to be hard-headed about being soft-hearted.