Not Risk But Trust

In her warm and enjoyable TED Talk, Amanda Palmer ends with an exceptionally important comment.  She says (at 13:08):

I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is how do we make people pay for music. What if we started asking, how do we let people pay for music?

As Neil Gaiman says, her talk is about much more than just music. Palmer says earlier (at 11:29):

For most of human history, musicians, artists they’ve been part of the community,  connectors, and openers not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance; but the internet and the content we are freely able to share on it are taking us back. Its about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.

When Palmer speaks of Celebrity, she’s describing an artists view of the industrial-style society —  a society of mass centralised production and physical delivery. That industrial society had a natural scarcity that allowed monetisation by control of the pinch-points of production, delivery and payment. The sheer volume focussed through narrow pinch-points created opportunities for massive wealth. But Palmer is speaking a heresy here; she speaks not of unbounded wealth, but of sufficiency. Something has changed.

While plenty of opportunists are trying to grasp the effects of the Internet as if they were just another artefact of an industrial society, a few — like Palmer — are conducting brave experiments to determine new models that embrace both the human connection that arises from a mesh of peers and the scale that the Internet draws together. Palmer says (at 12:01):

So a lot of people are confused by no hard sticker price; they see it as an unpredictable risk. But the things I have done – the Kickstarter, the street, the doorbell – I don’t see them as risk. I see them as trust.

You can see why the winners of the 20th century industrial society hate this. Corporations can’t trust and models that embody trust are largely unavailable to them. If Trust is the key, it’s the brave experiments that are the future.  The successes among them are not the few making industrial volumes of money but the ones who are able to sustain a life that’s rich and enough.

Those experiments succeed to the extent they embody a reliance on humanity — reputation, influence, trust. The Internet, along with the collapse of control-point-based capitalism, are propelling us to a place where we need a new approach trading control for influence. Social business, whuffie, reputation economy, singularity; call it whatever you want, but it’s just about real enough to see its outline now.

3 Responses

  1. The 2009 Nobel Prize lecture by Oliver Williamson was all about trust being the actual defining value determinant of the firm. Those companies that don’t get it are fighting against economic gravity.

    See Williamson’s thesis in the context of open source software and cloud computing here:

    Deming, too, talked about the importance for companies about building relationships based on loyalty and trust, not price. Again, most US companies ignored Deming, and so many of those companies no longer exist.

    The answers are right in front of us, if we only have the courage to open our eyes and see them.

  2. Thanks for your read on Ms. P’s TED talk. You are correct, I think.

    I would add that I suspect that people who have found the joy of “enough’ have been with us all along; they’re just not as visible in the intensely capital-focused society we’ve become. If we measure a person in monetary terms alone, then we tend to not see those with less material wealth, even if their spiritual value is quite elevated. Or we treat them as special cases — exceptions that prove the rule — and relegate them to “oddity” status.

    As we approach retirement age, and find that we’re not as wealthy as some, my wife and I are pondering what real success really means. As the Lovely KAren keeps reminding me, “it’s quality of life that matters.”

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