I’ve been entranced with economics ever since I took my first course in the subject in college. While my first “love” is still the brain, learning and behavior, finding out there are people like Dan Ariely who merge psychology and economics into “behavioral economics” makes me wish I were younger and could go back to school and study it full time. How people behave, the rational and irrational decisions they make in their lives can be closely tied to this concept of money and exchange value, as well as social values.

Chris Penn has written in some fantastic blog posts that money is merely a storehouse of value. Money represents the concept of exchange, without all of us constantly trying to figure out how many apples we need to trade for an orange, or other exchanges in a barter-only economic system. Money also becomes a way for people to value their work, their input and their knowledge. If I tell you something I had to work long and hard to figure out, what should I charge you for this information and insight? What’s it worth to you? How can we measure this in a way that makes it “feel” fair? And then we step clearly across the line. We’re now into the messy business of using concrete, analytical value placement (money) to validate our feelings and the potential economic benefit you could reap from my sharing of information to you. And all of this is largely intangible. Because you can’t feel it, like an apple or an orange- because you can’t see it- is it still valuable and important?

Intellectual property is going to be the new battlefield in the 21st century- who controls the content? Who controls the information? Who has access to it, and at what price? How can you value information that you can’t see? How can you value information that means nothing to some people, but in the hands of others, it can be truly powerful and life-changing? While we may think that people are no more than widgets in a giant machine and that everyone’s replaceable or interchangeable, I bet we’re going to find out the content of someone’s brain is going to be more valuable to a company than a body warming a chair.

Entrepreneurs and Money

Many of the people I know in the online space can be considered entrepreneurs. They got into business by leveraging their ideas to help others. They figured out what they had to say had value to others, and are now out and about, sharing their knowledge for a fee. Are we all chasing validation for our ideas by placing an economic, monetary value on them? Maybe.

What I find more interesting is that so many people keep score by money. The ideas and the work of an individual seems to be more respected by the more they can get someone to pay for it. Yet this seems like an arbitrary valuation- someone else may have just as good ideas, but if they are not willing to share them, talk about them, or help others use them, the valuation may be less on the open market.

It’s not the inherent value of the idea sometimes that people are paying for,- they are paying for the expert’s time and delivery of the message. It’s like paying for college- the speakers go around and teach day-long courses for company personnel in specialized areas. They are paying for attention and time, not just ideas. They are paying for specific application of ideas to their area- to have someone connect the dots for them.

It’s going to be tricky to find a way to objectively evaluate the power of intellectual property in the marketplace of ideas. Each idea depends so much on how you use it, and how you execute it, it’s not easy to show an immediate return on investment. You almost have to consider ideas and creativity part of the overall infrastructure of a business, rather than the widgets or services they provide. Because without some of those key players- without the people creating the intellectual property, there will be little to execute on.