The Money Divide

On Why Reciprocity and Negotiation are Critical for Creatives and Businesses Alike

 

One of the foundational tenants to Hopi and Incan society is that of reciprocity: all actions must be done in a way that ensures an equal balance of energy between the actors. In the modern day Incan tribe of Q’ero, when a person wants a blessing or ceremony from a shaman, they must provide a llama in return. In Hopi, if one goes to speak with the elders, offerings of tobacco and meat must be given. These things are not supplied with the intention of getting a good omen or better advice, but as an exchange of what one person has (material goods) with what another has (spiritual guidance).

 

In our society, businesses are good at this. They tell customers what they have to offer and what amount of money must be given to receive it. Its up to consumers to decide if the price is worth it – remember money is a physical representation of a person’s time and energy. Creatives, however, have a much harder time doing this. It is often because finding the right audience is very difficult with few pieces of highly original work. Yet even when a customer is found, it can be a bittersweet process to decide on a value for one’s creation. When an artist, musician, writer, healer, even an intern, community volunteer or anyone else who sits outside of the tight bounds of modern commerce provides something, it is critical to understand the time, energy and materials that went in to the creation as well as the value provided to the consumer. Just like for a business, these two values need to match up in order for the provider to be able to continue their process.

 

Sometimes the exchange is non-monetary: references and experience for an intern, exposure for a new musician. What is important is that both parties feel they have been adequately compensated for their efforts. This means having an open conversation about the trade, which requires each person to understand and communicate his or her own values and expectations. This is the most basic concept behind all negotiations.

 

And how does one value such intangible, personal phenomena as expression, exposure or experience? There are a few ways. You can try a bottom up approach, starting with the tangibles – hours spent, materials consumed, funds spent (on such things as food, rent, etc. that supported the process). Or you can try top down, asking what similar things others have valued or what it is worth to the other party. Then you simply have to leave it to your gut. Do you feel like what is being offered is fair? Does it leave you with the energy and resources to repeat the process, hopefully making it a little easier the next time?