Death to The Lunch Economy
Jun 11, 2012 Clay Johnson

The Lunch Economy is an economic marketplace by which high-value expertise is traded for food, alcoholic beverages, or in some cases, even coffee. Anybody that's ever been an expert at anything has at least dipped their toe in the lunch economy. At first it's flattering -- someone you know or respect sends you an email saying: "Hey, I really like what you're doing with XYZ, can I buy you lunch and pick your brain?"

After awhile it becomes irritating. You find yourself with a fully booked lunch/coffee/drinks calendar, dispensing advice that you're otherwise paid for, in exchange for a coke and, at best, a steak salad. Most don't mind the lunch, but left unchecked, the lunch economy can suck the soul right out of you: you spend day after day saying the same thing, dispensing the same advice, to people who then provide little or no value back. It's a cost of doing business for people who make and do things, but the return on investment for the lunch recipients in the lunch economy is remarkably low compared to the value they're creating for the lunch buyer.

The worst thing about the lunch economy is wasted time. The lunch buyer wants to ask a few questions from the lunch recipient, but has to spend time and effort to get to a place, suffer through polite small talk to get to what he or she wants out of the expert, and probably ends up not getting all the answers or value they were looking for in the first place. The recipient, feels like they must be polite, but after awhile feels taken advantage of: nobody wants to say "no I won't have lunch with you, pay me $200 for an hour of consulting instead."

The Lunch Economy exists because there's a bit of information that people want that's worth less time and knowledge than what a consulting agreement would cost, but more than the value of the person's time that's going to lunch. But it's a tax on everybody's time and patience.

So I'm experimenting with trying to end the lunch economy by releasing a minibook called How To Run Apps Contests for Government Agencies and Non-Profits. This is what most people want to take me out to lunch for -- to talk about how they can run an apps contest. Instead of going out to lunch, over and over again and dispensing the same advice, I've now got something to point to that costs everyone less time and money. If you want to pick my brain about running an apps contest, you can instead buy this book for what you'd pay for that lunch, and get way more work out of me than you'd get watching me chew.

Is it arrogant or a little obnoxious? Maybe. The goal is to make it better on both sides: to give the person looking for information what they need, and to make it so that of the 15,000 or so lunches we both have left can be spent not out of obligation, but out of genuine enjoyment. Time is our only non-renewable resource, and this answer saves us all a little bit more.

Information Diet © 2011 Clay Johnson