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get it done for free

On the London underground railway system you may notice the thin yellow line that is about a metre or so from the track at each station. The safety line. It isn’t in every station though, or at least not visibly, as they get worn out from passengers walking over them.

They also cost London Underground an incredible £1000 sterling to repaint. Yep, a single line of yellow, one brush width thick, maybe 200 metres long max. A thousand quid. You could live on that in Egypt for a year.

Of course it’s insane…but factor in the special ‘accounting’, the time, the materials, the admin…and you get a grand.

Fact is- you could ask two passengers if they fancied doing it for free- maybe in return you give them a week’s free travel or something.

That isn’t going to happen. But it does reveal something interesting. Money, which is supposed to make things more efficient, can, in a big organisation make them less efficient and less likely to happen.

Money is very efficient for buying things like newspapers and sweets and restaurant meals. Can’t imagine gifting or bartering taking over there. But money is less efficient when you have services that are hard to cost, together with SPARE CAPACITY. This is a result of the incredibly abundant world we live in. We have empty cars standing everywhere, empty woodland not being used for anything except as an investment, empty houses visited only in the holidays, people with incredible skills playing with the Xbox instead of doing fun stuff with friends that may also be called ‘work’ if looked at in another way. Hey- I can imagine painting that thin yellow line with some of my good friends and having great fun doing it.

When I belonged to a martial arts club I found an incredible mix of people whose skills were on offer to friends. Clubs and social groups can work like that. So can the internet. Now you can search the world for someone willing to do it for free plus the something extra- what I mean is- the great feeling of doing something worthwhile with worthwhile people. It could simply be the chance to actually learn something in return for doing a task of some kind or lend some land or equipment for some purpose and learn something in return. Or maybe it’s just about being of assistance to a worthwhile project. Or just having fun: most 'work' is made to be far more dreary than it needs to be.

I think it makes sense to look at all the ways you can do what you want to do for no money at all, or very little. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes money is the ultimate toolkit, but I think we live in an over-monetised world. Years ago I heard of someone charging a friend because the friend wanted to store luggage at their house…well you can sympathise both ways- houses are small these days at the same time what are friends for? The interesting thing is different from the opinion you may have: the fact is we can monetise renting a cupboard. We can monetise buying a meal- which is impossible for many, even now, indigenous people living in isolated spots to comprehend- for them you just give food when someone is hungry.

Monetisation of absolutely everything has led to thrombosis in many businesses- take the film business in the US- you need, because of union regs and company practices, a crew of people who only work so many hours and only do certain jobs etc etc. In reality to make most films you actually need only three people- camera, sound and director- and everyone should be able to do everyone else’s job if necessary. When a good friend of mine- actually an animator by trade- was filming a big film in the US recently he offered to run a distance of about 3km (across a piece of wilderness) to get something- if he hadn’t they would have waited all day for a helicopter to do the job- no kidding.

The kind of films that get made have to be blockbusters because of the ridiculous costs involved. The same trend is apparent in TV and publishing. Firms have such high costs they need mega sellers to succeed.

Insane. That thin yellow line is there for a purpose. To remind us to be careful and not get hit by a moving train. Paint your own line. Get out of the way of the trainwreck which is modern ‘efficient’ business practice.

Before you lifeshift or engage on a new and maybe costly project think of the Amish people building a great barn in a day and rewarding everyone who helped with a big party at the end.

Harnessing the power of the longtail, of friends, and friends of friends, to getting and giving free help and resources has to be the way forward. Hand the paint brush to someone with a smile, get that thin yellow line done for free!


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