A gift in simple terms is something that is given but I’m sure you know there’s a little more detail to it than that. Why something is given also makes all the difference. If a friend gives you a gift but expects something in return or if you feel there’s an obligation to give a gift, there’s a degree of barter going on behind the scenes that by definition is not a gift. So let’s say a gift requires it be given sincerely and without obligation or expectations attached.
Not everything is a potential gift
Say I pick up piece of old food wrapping and gave it to you, would that be a gift? You probably don’t want it as there’s nothing of value in it for you. To be a gift it needs to be something the receiver actually wants or can use. It needs to have value. That means a gift can’t be just anything. This doesn’t mean it has to have material value, a simply act of kindness is a very valuable gift for instance.
There’s many examples of what could be gifts such as things, money, time, knowledge, help, skills, experiences, problem solving, ideas etc. If these things have value and are given without expectation or obligation, they are certainly worthy of being called gifts.
The best projects I’ve ever worked on had teams of people that had been really helpful. All the help I received was valuable and in an environment of collaboration there’s little feeling of expectation or obligation. I love working on those types of projects. When you find a team like that, good things are sure to happen. One of those teams I was in won a lot of awards for the work achieved. So gifting not only gives value, it gets things done very well too.
Without giving, we have a management problem
“Yep I can help you, but we need to negotiate what you will give me back in return first. I need to know it will be worth my while…”
Imagine every time you ask for help outside of colleagues designated work tasks that happens. What would it be like working with people who had to evaluate all possible interactions you could have with them?
It would definitely be frustrating, but imagine all the calculation and forecasting needed to be done too. Every bit of help given would have to be measured, compared and approved before acted on. Or a manager would need every conceivable interaction as part of everyone’s job description and designated work tasks but imagine the management overhead of that. I doubt it’s even feasible.
If you ever read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there’s group of aliens who are the bureaucrats of the Universe – the Vogons. They are serious bureaucrats! Everything they do has to be signed, stamped and approved. When I think of this scenario I was describing above, in an environment without gift giving, I imagine the Vogons. I don’t think I’d enjoy much working on a project with Vogons…
Without gift giving we need bridges
So we know a gift needs to have value, we also know that when giving gifts, value moves around too. With collaborative teams, value is exchanged in multi-directions and great things happen. However, there’s another way that value gets moved around in multi-directions, do you know what that is?
You probably guessed it, it’s our monetary system. In simple terms, value gets represented in money and allows us to exchange things. So we have a money economy, which we are all really familiar with and we also have a gift economy. Both economies distribute and exchange value. So what is the difference?
It is said that money is an instrument of trust. What this equally implies is that a condition must exist where trust is lacking if money is required. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying money is a bad thing, it’s a tool, an instrument and it serves a vital purpose. It allows people to exchange value with people they just don’t know enough about to trust. In this way money acts like a bridge and replicates trust.
Gift giving makes the wheels turns
In a gift economy, there’s already an underlying sense of trust, it’s not about getting back but it just happens anyway. I believe we right at this moment have a thriving gift economy in place, it’s just something we rarely think about.
Gift giving happens in workplaces, communities, randomly on the street, in shops, in cafes etc. etc. all the time. If you take the definition of a gift being something of value given without expectation, a simple and sincere smile mets that criteria. The fact that projects all over the place are running and really cool stuff is created, means gift giving in some degree is happening. I just don’t think the Vogons have it in them to create cool stuff.
We might say then that even in a money based society, a gift economy can thrive and I’d even suggest that in order for a money economy to thrive, it needs a gift economy making things happen. Gift giving I feel is like the oil makes the cogs turn in any society.
The gift giving sweet spot
What we are saying is that we have gift economy behind the scenes. Lets call it an implicit gift economy. It’s implicit as it’s not something we really think about but it’s part of the fabric of what makes a society function. What we are experimenting with at Giftuu is how we can turn that implicit gift economy to an explicit one. What interests me here is where does that happen? What is the gift giving sweet spot that brings a gift economy out in the open?
Remember we talked about how gifts don’t come with expectations / obligation attached? Well it’s not easy to know when or how much expectation / obligation someone has when we interact with them but when it comes to gifts, I feel there’s a simple method of figuring that out.
Gift giving occurs when our personal desire to give is higher than the expectation to get something back or is higher than that feeling of obligation we have to give something.
Gift = Desire to give > expectation / obligation
So what we’re looking at is where the desire to give is high. Or equally we’re the feeling of obligation or expectation is low. What conditions or circumstances can you imagine that might happen? When are you just happy to give?
I’d say that sweet spot is when people are doing what they enjoy, when it’s something they are passionate about. Often people are just bursting at the seams to share their passions, think about when you strike a conversation about someone’s personal interest or hobby, they’re usually happy to share as much about it as they can. What’s even better is that when people are in their passion, it’s what makes them shine, it’s what shows their uniqueness in multi-colour, it’s the place often where you really get to know that person. In many ways, having the opportunity to give our passion, is what helps us come to know ourselves.
What is your gift?
At Giftuu, all of us feel that there’s something unique and something valuable that everyone has to share.
So, what is your gift?
Well, I don’t feel we need to even know for sure, what we’ve made is a place to experiment with the idea, a place to try something new. Just to give what you know you like spending time doing is more than perfect. You don’t need to consider yourself to be an expert or even great at it, because what’s more important is this connects you to your story and it is that story, which makes you – authentically you. Everyone likes a good story! Sometimes it’s all about just having the opportunity to give it.
This post first appeared here: http://giftuu.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/what-is-a-gift This also comes from an outline of a presentation I made to AMP staff and leaders about gift giving last year