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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Teach a Man to Fish

The old saying is: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime.

But what if it's a woman who doesn't like fish?

More seriously, who is it who already knows how to fish and can teach people? It's the fishermen (er, fisherpersons) of course. They have the knowledge necessary to teach fishing, but they also have the motivation to keep their trade a secret so that they can charge for the fish that they catch.

There is this idea that knowledge is a zero sum game. That if we give up our knowledge to someone else then we lose out on the opportunity afforded us by that knowledge. I know how to use PowerPoint, so instead of teaching people how to use it, I should charge for my skills using it. Because if I teach everyone how to use PowerPoint then I'm no longer special and I'm not in demand anymore. I would work myself out of a job - if knowledge were a zero sum game. But it's not.

Knowledge isn't subtractive, it's multiplicative. When you more people know how to fish, they all improve at fishing and everyone is better off. When more people know how to use PowerPoint we all improve. It helps me for you to be better at using PowerPoint and it makes me better at it too.

Together we're better than we are apart.

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