The volunteer economy

My post on enthusiasm generated a great post by Anne Zelenka: On Enthusiasm Volunteering, and Making Money. Anne focusses on some of the pitfalls:

Is it true that big companies are taking advantage of enthusiasm and volunteerism? How do you ensure that the volunteers don’t get treated like suckers?…

We previously put so many intermediaries into our commercial transactions that then when we start disintermediating we no longer have the etiquette or guidelines to know how to behave. Used to be that you’d go buy stuff from your neighbor the grocer or your other neighbor the butcher and they’d give you advice and they’d try to sell you stuff. You wouldn’t come home and complain to your spouse about them turning conversations into money.

How do we get back to a place where we can be authentic as ourselves and yet still do business together? Enthusiasm and volunteering don’t pay the bills, wanting to make money doesn’t mean we’re inauthentic or prostituting ourselves … what is the answer?

I like that down-to-earth example of the neighbour/butcher and I suppose that, as usual, we’ll muddle through somehow.

Anyway, Anne’s post sent me googling the definition of volunteer, which often suggests doing something for free. That’s not what I really intended when I talked about a volunteer economy. I quite liked this wikipedia definition of volunteer in a botanical context:

In gardening and botanical terminology, a volunteer is a plant that grows on its own, rather than being deliberately planted by a human farmer or gardener.

I think that’a bit closer to what I was aiming for: volunteer as in a bit more spontaneous, self-directed. And I realise that all this may sound a bit wide-eyed, but I’m just casting seeds in the wind (apols for labouring the botany).

3 thoughts on “The volunteer economy

  1. Mark McGuinness

    Ah, the dark side of enthusiasm… I think it’s a combination of obsession (on the part of the workers) and exploitation (on the part of the company) – and the end result is burnout.

    It’s a particular problem in situations where people work for love as well as (or instead of) money. Lots of ‘creative professions’ – theatre, fashion, film etc – have a venerable history of expecting the juniors to work for peanuts while they learn the ropes, and if you’re not careful you can get very used to the peanut diet.

    It’s a hot topic in the video games industry, where it’s common to expect people to work crunches and long hours. I interviewed David Amor at Relentless Software where they have a novel solution – everyone works 9-5 with no overtime allowed, evenings or weekends. Apparently this is practically unheard of in the industry, but he says it works really well to stop people becoming the victims of their own enthusiasm.

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Yes, I think there’s a point where enthusiasm gets mixed up with obsession. (I crossed that line with World of Warcraft last year and am now in recovery).

    If we think of enthusiasm as presence rather than enthusiasm as being adrenalised we might avoid the burnout issue. And the bounded behaviour at Relentless probably helps them be more present and less obsessed/workaholic.


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