Giving away Gold

“What kills me is that I know that I’m right. I just wish I could get them to see it.”
“That, my friend, is the key to leadership – not only knowing you’re right, but convincing everyone else. If you can do that, the world’s your oyster.”
Clark and Lex in “Smallville”

One of the assertions I really detest in psychological research is the assertion: “It is not for me, but I know people who could profit from it.” It is very easy to think of interventions/products/services that might benefit others. But the real question is — does it really? And are they willing to accept it?

Personally, I have been in the situation (and seen it in others), where people try to give away gold — at least in their opinion. They have a service, a product, that might really help others, e.g., to think more critically, or to improve their performance in certain areas of their professional or personal life. For example, offering an App that logs what you do on your computer and supports you to improve your work behavior. It should be attractive to a lot of students — after all, who does not want to be more efficient? Unfortunately, it was not all that attractive. Getting enough student participants was a hard task (in this case for my diploma student).

It gives you the feeling of giving away gold, and people are — righteously(?) — skeptical to ask you not only to verify its value but also carry it to their bank.

Strange thing is, I can understand this behavior … we are skeptical of anything offered for ‘free’. After all:

TANSTAAFL*
*There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
“The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” by Robert A. Heinlein

Another aspect is that it is rather condescending … knowing what is best for someone else. Saying “I know what you need”. It reminds me a little of censorship …

Did you ever hear anyone say, “That work had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me?”
Joseph Henry Jackson

… which usually “aims” to protect people who are not asked in the first place. In reality, knowing what is ‘best’ for someone else is hard, and knowing how to suggest a ‘better’ course of action is even harder. You need to be in a certain position to do so … either because of your recognized(!) expertise or your status. Otherwise, it’s too easy to ignore you:

But Wang-mu said nothing, because this was one of the first lessons she learned from Master Han. When you have wisdom that another person knows that he needs, you give it freely. But when the other person doesn’t yet know that he needs your wisdom, you keep it to yourself. Food only looks good to a hungry man. Qing-jao was not hungry for wisdom from Wang-mu, and never would be. So silence was all that Wang-mu could offer.
“Xenocide” by Orson Scott Card

And there is always the question … do you eat your own dogfood? Or drink your own champagne? Or are you “beyond” that? Are you really on a skill level way way way beyond the level you want to teach? Really? And do other people accept that?

I wonder — perhaps one possible solution is to change the target group, get to people who are more amendable to suggestions or feedback (e.g., beginning students or doctoral students/post-docs). Perhaps you have to make clear that you are giving away gold (for the person receiving it), but values vary and you are getting platinum (or Rhodium or Palladium) in return.

What do you think?

Categories: Inspiration, People



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