Nothing Works

Why gifting what you’re good at pays well.

7 years ago Good for Nothing was born. An experiment, a side project, it was a response to a collection of itches and intuitions.

A dissatisfaction with the status quo - a commercial culture obsessed with big thinking and talking and not much doing. A frustration that so much amazing talent was occupied exclusively by the pursuit and slog of often soul-less corporate work. Awe for the grassroots innovators tackling the gnarly issues in our places and spaces and doing so with virtually no resources. A realisation of the pressing need for more civic participation and social innovation, and an appreciation, curiosity and desire for a new way of working and collaborating, more open, playful, experimental, emergent and creative.

So we scratched these itches and one day, with a gifted space and a half baked formula, we gathered a crew of talent and introduced three social innovators doing epic things (on thin air) and challenged the crew to see how far they could help them go in one day, for no money, powered by generosity, doing good for nothing.

And nothing works.

The idea had energy, and it grew, a city chapter model was formed, it spread to other cities and countries, funding from NESTA’s Innovation in Giving supported the development of a web home, tools and support to help chapters organise and land GFN in their hoods.

New formats followed 48hrs, socials and an evening pub format.

The GFN approach is abundant and generative, the self organising, time constrained approach has helped spawn loads of ideas and possibilities — apps, campaigns, product prototypes, films, business models, community owned spaces- some have gone on to engage hundreds of thousands of people and are living out in the world today.

“The young members in our project saw first hand at the Good for Nothing gig the incredible creativity and intelligence that primarily goes into making money”

Good for Nothing is also social, a way of connecting with others and learning together, sharing new skills, ideas and perspectives, diverse groups connecting around common purpose, good stuff invariably emerges down the line for participants.

But one of the most interesting learnings for us in the GFN Mothership, has been the impact of doing GFN on the giver, the gifter of skills, ideas, time, energy and connections.

MOTHERSHIP

The impact of being generous, of doing Good for Nothing, for many, including us, has been transformational.

We believe a big part of the challenges we face today come from living in a monetary paradigm, dominated by a narrative of economic growth at all costs and where consumerism is the core idea in our society.

Money is the dominant story in our culture on our watch in the early 21st century.

Whenever you speak to anyone about most things, you get to money pretty fast, it’s the blocker, the issue, the barrier to development, the destroyer of ambition and personal fulfilment, to meaningful work and seemingly the reason for so many issues, pain, disconnection and inequalities in our societies.

Almost all human transactions have now been monetised, many relationships that supported people in communities have been turned into services.

Communities of place are suffering, we are told from a young age to get ahead of everyone else, in our education systems and our work places, we are led to believe that personal development is through economic success, where we meet our needs through getting more stuff, better stuff. This means many of us invest much of our time, energy and attention into these very personal quests.

We start to withdraw from our communities as we focus on ourselves.

At a time when we need to be waking up to the interconnectedness of everything, to be more open, we’re often shutting down.

Governments are less and less able to support citizens and in turn the communities of place where they live.

Witness what is happening in the UK and other highly industrialised countries with austerity cuts, the systems that have been providing communities with health care, education, environmental protection, public transportation, provision of civic spaces are breaking down which means more and more social and environmental issues are under-served.

There is enormous need for a surge in social innovation and civic participation and for creativity and human energy to flow into it.

A more generous participative culture, where more of us gift what we’re good at to those who really need it is now our focus with Good for Nothing.

We are at the peak of separation, many of us no longer participate in the world around us, we move between home and work (if we have it), we are battered with commercial media and advertising from morning until night, and we often have very little involvement in the communities we live in. There is a sense of powerlessness. Social media gives us a feeling of participation, but it is selective, compartmentalised and passive.

Over the last ten years, I’ve witnessed the emergence of extraordinary innovations at the grassroots, tackling difficult social and environmental challenges and starting to imagine and design localised solutions, participatory ideas which involve people, open ideas that can spread and be shared and adopted in other places, ideas with new forms of enterprise and ownership models, ideas that are regenerative in nature, looking to exist with community at the centre.

While they give hope they tend to be in urgent need of oxygen and often non monetary support to keep them alive and developing, they are often driven by the passion and energy of one or two individuals and they are often too early stage, or radically different to fit with the market economy model.

This is where Good for Nothing often seeks to play.

Alongside this we are seeing the emergence of generosity, gifting and giving behaviors which are only just starting to take shape.

Championed by the likes of Wharton professor Adam Grant in his book Give and Take, developed by the New Economics Foundation’s 5 ways to wellbeing and actioned by organizations like NESTA through its innovation in giving fund, the importance of giving and generosity is starting to influence the way individuals and organizations perceive a whole range of issues, from happiness and community resilience to human talent development, from reputation to innovation.

Born from a sense of generosity, the gift economy plays with a different motivation, in favor of giving rather than getting. With people often transformed through the practice of small acts of gifting to others.

But the world of work runs on a completely different set of values where the giving principle is rarely present.

This is one reason why we often feel torn about gifting our skills and ideas, we’ve been taught not to. But once we experience it, something often profoundly shifts.

the deathstar, a bit like the industrial consumerist machine

Generosity barriers

We live in a fast, always on world which demands much of our time. We are led to believe from a very young age and mainly through corporate controlled media that stuff and consumption is how we satisfy our needs, and we are battered daily through multiple communication channels with a story of getting ahead of everyone else which has eroded many peoples awareness of others and the world around them.

Many people feel money is a barrier which prevents them from flexing their creativity and giving to others.

The ego often struggles when giving away, we’ve been programmed to look for assurances of a return on our efforts. When it comes to rolling up our sleeves on social issues — social media bubbles and clicktivism create a false sense of action through ‘likes’ and shares.

But the cracks are appearing in this story, more of us are realising that the institutions are failing us and the old story no longer stands up. More people are looking for deeper meaning and connection in their lives, civic participation can be a pathway to that, but access is still not easy or that engaging.

Creating generosity infrastructure

Imagine what might happen if instead of putting ourselves first every day, we asked “what can I do for you?” How can I help you?

What can I give you instead of what can you do for me seems radical in today’s highly commercial and monetised world. But this is not a new concept, it has deep ancient roots in community, in contrast to the modern pursuit of the individual and self.

Good for Nothing is about open creative generosity pointed at civic participation and social innovation — it’s fun, social, personal, local, and massively generative.

It’s a simple idea, bring creative energy and ideas to those already innovating on social issues but doing so with very limited resources. The transaction is generous, a gifting of gifts.

“It’s about making a difference, giving without expecting anything in return. And doing good for nothing is about saying to the universe there is more than enough for everyone. :-)” Gfn-er

Generosity and giving has transformative energy and potential, because by helping others, we begin to transform ourselves. This is particularly potent when we tap our own interests and skills.

When this combines with helping agents of change, something deeper occurs, we are more connected to the issue and we see possibility and potential in our contributions. This is powerful and generative, and starts to grow agency in people as citizens.

This is exciting as it begins to shift how we see the world and our role within in. It’s a glimpse beyond just passive consumerism, to a world where we are active, co-creators and architects of our futures.

And when we focus on communities of place, we can start to catalyse new diverse relationships. New networks of hope and possibility emerge.

To be creatively generous, to gift our time, ideas, energy, skills, connections to people and projects in need and who are showing the way to a better, more open, equal and beautiful world. And in doing so start to shift away from just passive consumerism as the core idea in our society to true active participation in the world.

When people gift what they are good at, and what makes them feel alive, tremendous energy flows.

We would love to see communities that are generous and wide awake to what is happening around them. And building local competence and self reliance through an open participative approach.

For a new world to emerge, to be birthed, we all need to play a part in that, the need to participate and contribute to the ascent of the new.

If we always want to be paid to play a part in anything, unwilling to contribute our gifts through expectations of monetary rewards, or believing someone else will do it, we will continue to be disappointed.

“The world feels like it’s on a slippery slope to disconnectedness. I’d like to help tip the balance back.”
Gfn-er

That is why we believe that we need to create new types of infrastructure and experiences for civic participation, true participation that goes beyond likes and sharing and occasional volunteering. We need infrastructure and mechanisms which help make civic participation and social innovation, accessible, engaging, fun and social.

With Good for Nothing we’re interested in generosity infrastructure with a focus on gifting creativity, — ideas, energy, skills, connections.

After 7 years of experiments, with immense highs and serious lows, and where we’ve often been very close to packing it all in, we find ourselves today with a ton of learnings, a community of about 5000 and essentially a beta product — a creative generosity engine. Now we want to make it easier and more accessible to do Good for Nothing, shifting from big immersive gigs to shorter, more frequent formats and in time a better web based product. This next phase starts now.

So we’re beyond excited to launch our first brand collaboration with ethical cafe chain Boston Tea Party. BTP are a soulful chain of 20 cafes across the south west and midlands in the UK. Their spaces are big, interesting, laid back and right in the heart of city communities. They attract wonderfully diverse people into their spaces. And they serve up amazing food and drinks from beautiful local suppliers. And they want to find more ways to serve their communities.

This partnership is about making it more accessible to do Good for Nothing, giving a chapter a physical home in a cafe, with support and communication channels. Introducing new fun short formats and experiences that offer more ways to more people to get involved. Providing creative ways to raise awareness of issues in the community, of projects and people innovating around them, and bringing different networks together on and offline.

If you’re based in Bath, Bristol, Exeter or Birmingham in the UK, please do come and get involved, all details here.

Coming to a hood near you soon.

Dan Burgess