One of the powerful dynamics of successful entrepreneurial networks is the use of complex reciprocity (or what anthropologists call a gift economy) to keep knowledge and resources circulating in a way that results in extraordinary economic value. The dynamic starts with network weavers sharing generously—providing important information about trends, markets, people and so forth. Entrepreneurs quickly translate this information into economic gain: they buy a piece of used equipment for much less than they had expected, they draw on the know-how of an experienced entrepreneur to develop superior products, or they gain entrée into a large grocery chain very quickly because someone shares the name of their key contact.
Next, staff encourage entrepreneurs to share generously among themselves, knowing that this behavior primes the pump of exchange and results in much more knowledge and resource sharing by others back to them. It is amazing how quickly the transition to this type of mutual sharing behavior occurs, even though entrepreneurs continue to compete fiercely with each other in many ways.
Network researchers, how do we measure this kind of complex flow? How do we track the shifts in values and behaviors that take place in a move to a gift economy? At what point does a phase shift take place, transforming the whole economic system?