I am convinced we all agree that information is extremely valuable. The right information at the right time in the right place can change our lives. How can we really attach a value to that?
Stewart Brand said at the first Hackers Conference in 1984 that information wants to be expensive because it is so valuable. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.
In 2018, 34 years later, it is no different. These two forces are still fighting one another.
What does ‘free’ really mean?
Does it mean that we must create and share information without charging for it? Or does it mean that information must be freely available? That it must be easy to access and share with others? These two concepts are not the same.
There is also a new kind of free. The free where we can get something that we know we should be paying for, but we don’t have to. The its-too-good-to-be-true kind of free. This is where we decide to get something just because its free, not because we need it.
Intention and relevance
It is important to distinguish between when something is free to offer us an opportunity to evaluate it and determine if this will solve our problem, or when something is free to lure us in so that we can be sold something else and which we often don’t need (or want).
We must always ask the question: “Why is this free?”. We must then answer the question in such a way that we can determine the intention of the free offering and the relevance of the specific offering in relation to our problems and needs.
When is free good?
In the financial planning profession, for example, newcomers to the industry find it hard to get going quickly. They have a high need for the right information that is relevant to where they are in their new career and that will help them move to the next level.
Their challenge is that they often do not have the finances to attend workshops, enroll for courses or to invest in coaching. Offering free quality information that is relevant to them with the intention to help them build their practice from the right foundation, is good.
When they find their feet in a couple of years, they can progress to more advanced content or courses for which they can then pay. In this context “free” was relevant and the intention was good.
Free is good when it allows us to evaluate something, to determine if it addresses our needs, to experience the service, and to help us get going when it may not be so easy at the point.
When is free not so good?
When we are offered something for free and the intention is to obtain our contact details so that we can be sold something else that is not related to the free offering or our needs, then free is not so good anymore.
For example, I need to learn how to budget properly and gain control of my debt. I have the choice between a paid course in budgeting and debt or a free course.
The paid course is offered by a company that focuses on financial education, the free course is offered by a financial services provider.
Both courses are relevant to my need, but what happens after I sign up for the course is where the real intention may reveal itself. Was the intention of both companies to help me gain control of my finances, or to sell me something else?
Let’s say the company offering me the paid course sends me additional information that helps me stay the course but the company that offered the free course bombards me with emails, phone calls and texts to promote and sell their products. In such a scenario, whose interest did each of them have at heart?
There is no such thing as a free lunch
We must be wise when it comes to free information, programs, courses, workshops, events, etc.
A clear danger sign is where the person or company offers free information that is not related to their core activities or business.
We must do our homework and try our best to determine whose interest is at the heart of the free offering before we sign up.