Is reputation a new currency ?


Summary :reputation is often mentioned as a new currency in models based on exchange, trust and collaboration. It’ logical to some extent but a too easy shortcut if it prevent from thinking about how to remunerate contributions from people who are not looking for recognition but to satisfy more basic needs. Reputation is rather a new raw material that will be used to build new systems than an alternative money.

That’s something we often hear here and there : reputation is the new currency for a world and companies based on collaboration, sharing, networking. Both a liogical and too easy shortcut.

It’s logical because trust is key in emergent collaboration based systems. And reputations contributes a lot to trust. It does not replace trust but can accelerate it. Similarly, systems promoting empowerment and intrapreneurship, making employees become businesses in the business, need a personal branding approach in which reputation plays a big part. That’s also the same outside of the organization because reputation contributes to separate the wheat from the chaff on an internet where every individual can participate and could need to prove his legitimacy. Last, in a connected world, one’s reputation helps to spread ideas and thoughts.

That’s also an easy shortcut because, in a social or community system that need the contribution of lots of people, reward and remuneration approaches to contribution are still poorly understood and defined (and sometimes even taboo). Hence the choice of the easy way : reputation is the reward. As a matter of fact, who does not like to see his work and contribution recognized and his reputation improved. And what’s more it has been proven right by Maslow : this kind of need strands at the top of his famous pyramid. But does something hide behind this sweet image ?

If we want Maslow’s model to be relevant in this case, the people in question are supposed to have climbed up the first steps of the pyramid. It’s easy to say that reputation equals money when it applies to people who have no problems with their basic needs. That’s true for most of the people (and I’m one of them) that talk about this topic, practitioners, consultants etc.. But when it comes to embark all kind of employees in the system, one need to address people whose opinion is seldom asked, don’t blog or speak at conferences to share their point of view. But that’s the economy of sharing, of donation isn’t it ? Maybe…but it implies people have things to give and to share. And, most of all that they have the means and enough time to do it because that’s not because something is free that it costs nothing. We are not all equal in such situations. As someone recently told me “it’s easier to nicely contribute for free when your job is secured than when you fear to be laid off or don’t know if you’ll be able to pay or rent at the end of the month”. Try to pay your rend with reputation and you’ll measure how wide is the gap.

Being paid with a currency with which you can’t by anything is just like being fobbed off.

Let me also mention the french philosopher Fran├žois Elie, someone very involved in open source communities and I had the chance to met a couple of week ago. Speaking about communities in a conference he said ; “in communities, people contribute and people get money and rewards for the work done. The problem is that these are not the same people. Community bases systems don’t scale if you only pay people by saying ‘thank you'”.

So, is reputation a new currency ? I don’t think so. It’s rather a raw material that will be used to built new models for HR, collaboration etc… and provided that it won’t be use to avoid tackling trust related issue to focus on a personal marketing approach that’s often lead astray and becomes unhealthy and counter-productive.