“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
-George Bernard Shaw
Business models over the past hundred years have evolved based on a manufacturing world where the product is tangible: it is a physical thing that we can feel and touch. Tangible things are finite, and therefore operate on a basis of scarcity. If I have an apple and you don’t, I can give it to you, in which case you have the apple and I don’t. Or, I can share the apple with you. I might give you half the apple, in which case we each get less than the whole apple. Knowledge is an intangible, so it is not bound by properties of scarcity. If I share an idea with you, I don’t have less of the idea than I did before I shared it with you. In fact, if I share an idea with you, you might offer another idea or perspective that enhances the idea and now we both have more than we started with. Love is another intangible that operates on a principle of abundance. Consider a couple with their first child: they feel a strong emotional connection with that child. When the second or third child arrives, do they have to love the first child less in order to love the second and less again to love the third?
Knowledge operates on a principle of abundance - the more we share the more we learn. Knowledge is the by-product of an interaction or experience, and no one leaves an interaction with less knowledge than they came in with. Abundance is a powerful and disruptive principle for business. The success and impact that open source software has had on business is an example of how we have to rethink our business models and be more thoughtful about when a principle of scarcity makes sense and when a principle of abundance makes sense. This is not an either/or situation; it is an "and" situation.
KCS is based on the belief that the best people to create and maintain knowledge are the people who use it every day: the knowledge workers. The larger the audience of knowledge workers engaged in KCS, the richer the knowledge base will be and the knowledge that is being used will be of higher quality.
While the abundance principle shows up in many of the KCS Practices, recognition is a key area where it applies. If we acknowledge that there are numerous skills required in a healthy knowledge practice, we need to recognize individual competency in each of those skills. Recognition programs designed on an model of abundance ensures people's strengths and talents are acknowledged based on their contribution. Recognize people for what they are good at based on their ability to create value, not based on a comparison with their peers. Most of our performance and recognition models are based on a model of arbitrary scarcity. Glaring examples of this exist in the practices of stack ranking, leader boards, or calculating aggregate scores that create a competitive environment. KCS is only successful in a collaborative environment. By recognizing the diversity in what people are good at, we will encourage them to do more of it.