This is part two of a limited series where I explore the unconventional principles behind Ungated. By weaving these ideas into the fabric of my business, I hope not only to build something I’m insanely proud of, but also nudge the broader culture of internet business in a healthier, more delightful direction.
Here’s an overview of today’s principle (which is by far the scariest one), along with my reasoning for it.
- The Principle: Default to generosity
- The Core Belief: When I give generously, without expectation, not only do I build deep trust with my peeps, but the world reciprocates, often in unexpectedly delightful ways.
- The Personal Vision: To build Ungated on the idea of the Gift Economy, so that it deeply serves every creator who comes into contact with it, no matter where in the world they live, or what their financial state is.
- The Collective Vision: To demonstrate that generosity can indeed result in financial abundance, instill that value into the next generation of creators, and create a groundswell of trust on the internet.
Now let’s explore more deeply.
The trust deficit
If there’s one thing we need more of on the internet—and in the world more generally—it’s trust.
When I look around and take stock of all the business “best practices” that make me cringe, distrust is always lurking just beneath the surface.
When a business refuses to offer refunds, or charges a premium for customers who need a payment plan, what they’re really saying is “I don’t trust you not to steal from me.”
When a marketer uses aggressive scarcity and urgency, what they’re really saying is, “I don’t trust you to make your own decision, so I’m going to coerce you.”
This “trust rot” is at the core of so much of what’s broken with the internet, with business, and many of our cultural and governmental institutions at large. Not to mention it often reaches into our personal and professional relationships as well.
When trust between two parties disappears, our most selfish, antagonistic impulses run the show. And that, of course, leads to a downward spiral, marked by further distrust, and further antagonism, until the relationship crumbles.
On the flip side, humanity’s best attributes—connection, curiosity, generosity, empathy—come out to play when we trust each other. At a fundamental level, trust is the emotional glue that makes widespread collaboration and flourishing possible.
To shape the internet into the place we all want it to be—an open, generous, life-sustaining web of connection—trust has to be at the very center of how we operate.
This is partly what blockchain and crypto are about—scalable, decentralized systems of trust. But as individual creators, we can do just as much, if not more, to heal our broken digital ecosystem, and inject it with some much needed trust.
And it all starts with defaulting to generosity.
How trust grows
Trust is an inherently vulnerable act. To trust someone or something is to run the risk of getting hurt. It’s an act of faith. It’s scary.
That’s why it’s so rare. We’re all wired for self-preservation. And when we feel, often rightly, that the “other side” is likely to abuse our good will, then it’s perfectly logical not to trust them in the first place.
But like I mentioned before, this dynamic can only spiral in one direction—towards alienation and conflict. When both parties wait for the other side to lay down their proverbial weapons, while themselves acting from a place of suspicion and aggression, no healing can ever take place. In this dynamic, a better world isn’t possible.
And it sure feels like the world is headed in that direction. Trust is becoming ever more scarce, and tensions are rising. Between businesses and their customers. Between governments and their citizens. And increasingly between creators, the platforms they use, advertisers, and their fans.
Here’s the hard truth about restoring cultures of trust; someone has to be courageous enough to go first.
To break the cycle of distrust, someone has to embrace the hard, scary, vulnerable act of giving generously without any promise of return. To be trustworthy, we must first trust others. To receive, we must first give.
That’s why defaulting to generosity is at the core of how I’m running Ungated.
I’m not naive enough to think I’m going to solve all the world’s problems by trusting people a bit more. But I do know that I can make my little corner the internet friendlier, and vastly more generous, and chip away at some of the distrust people feel (often rightly) towards online business.
And by working in public, and hopefully demonstrating how this mindset can lead to larger impact and financial abundance, perhaps other creators will jump on board as well. If they do, over time we can create a groundswell of generous creators, in diverse niches, all working to change the emotional dynamics of the internet.
Perhaps, by defaulting to generosity on this site, I can be one domino that topples a few more, and starts a chain reaction the evolves the internet into something amazing.
How I’m applying this principle
Ok, I realize I’ve just laid a lot of fluffy, theoretical trust talk on you. Let’s get into how I’m actually weaving this principle—default to generosity—into the very fabric of my business.
For starters, I believe every last touch point in my business is a chance to serve and delight. Every tweet and DM, every piece of content, every email, every course, every 1-on-1 interaction, etc is a chance to be generous in some way, large or small. And every one of those touch points matter in the quest to earn 1,000 True Fans.
So whenever I’m faced with a new decision, or a new point of interaction, one of the questions I ask is “what’s the most generous or delightful option available to me?” It’s a lovely little heuristic, and it’s led to me pouring everything into my content and products, as well as creating fun little easter eggs (often with silly animated GIFs) that exist all over my business universe.
That said, I’ve been doing that for years, and I’ve always wanted to do more, to go bigger. And so I am.
Starting today—May 12, 2021—I’m entering a new phase, where increasing portions of Ungated’s paid offerings will be shared openly in the spirit of the Gift Economy.
What is the Gift Economy, you might be asking? Check out this video.
Or if you want to go deeper on the concept, I heartily recommend Charles Eisenstein’s book, Sacred Economics, which has singlehandedly uprooted my entire economic paradigm in the last few weeks.
Anyhow, I’m going to play with giving significant portions of my work away for free, as a gift to the burgeoning creator economy. No strings attached, and no expectations of anything in return.
To start, I’m piloting this with one-off coaching sessions, much like the guys from The Stoa. But eventually, I’d like to get to a point where my workshops, courses, paywalled articles, consulting, and whatever else I dream up will be available on a “pay what you want” basis.
And for people who vibe with my approach, and who’d like to share their gifts with me in return, there will be all sorts of ways to support Ungated, both financially and otherwise.
Again, I’m still figuring out what this looks like. And it definitely scares me a little bit (or a lot). But it feels right. It feels aligned with how I want to operate in the world.
Back when Covid sent the world into chaos last year, I experimented with giving my first course, the Filmmaker's Guide to Success, away for free, along with a “pay what you want” option. Over 650 filmmakers took me up on the offer, with damn near 10% opting to pay for it, netting me just over $2.5K during the week I left it open. To say I was stunned and delighted would be an understatement.
Then last week, I ran my first coaching session on a Gift Economy model. And lemme tell you, it was great. Unconstrained by financial narratives and expectations, I felt free to show up and just serve, instead of worrying about whether my client would find the session “worth the money.” As such, I showed up more generously, and it was an all around great call. And then my client gifted me a number right around my hourly rate.
So, I’m going to keep leaning into this. First with my 1-on-1 coaching, and then with everything else.
I’ll tell you right up front that this is the principle that scares me most. After having been immersed in the business and marketing ecosystem for the last decade, this feels like the one that’s most likely to backfire financially, or make me a pariah in those communities.
But like I mentioned at the bottom of my post introducing this series, I’m learning to embrace and love strategies that “might not work,” because that’s where the spice of life is. Without that tension, without that dose of uncertainty, the only thing that’s guaranteed is mediocre work that affirms the status quo.
In this case, the worst case scenario is that my work spreads much further and wider than it would otherwise, because people love free shit. And if it doesn’t pan out financially, I can always throw everything back behind an enforced paywall.
But the best case scenario is that this changes everything. It’s entirely possible this will work beyond my wildest dreams, and start a chain reaction in the creator economy that results in a much lovelier internet 10 years from now.
So yeah, this might not work. And I’m cool with it. Because the potential upside is way too damn high not to give it my best shot.
And hey, if you want to chat about a Gift Economy coaching session, just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’d be my pleasure to guide you in your creative business endeavors. 😊