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The Other Side of Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk

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How badly do you have to want something before you’ll ask for help?

Does asking for help make you feel like you’ve failed?

What if you could see your asking for help as a kind of giving?

As I write this, Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk, The Art of Asking is creeping up on a million views. She only had twelve minutes, but she covered a lot of emotional territory and, in an uncharacteristically gentle fashion, drove her point home.

As I listened for the second time, I started wondering about the other side of the give-and-take equation. Having less than a quarter of an hour at her disposal, Palmer obviously had to keep her topic tight; but there is a whole other side to the art of asking that didn’t get much air-time: the art of giving.

Palmer is experienced at asking. Whether it’s a piano to practice on, a couch to crash on, or money to support her record-setting Kickstarter campaign, Palmer asks her fans for things all the time. And they respond – willingly, happily, enthusiastically. It’s a testament to the relevance of Palmer’s closing question. Instead of focusing on how to make people pay for music, she asks, “How do we let people pay for music?”


That’s quite a shift in perspective.

How do you transform a commercial transaction from being coercive to being a privilege? How do you switch someone’s mindset from “have to” to “want to?”

The piece that Palmer didn’t directly address in her talk is what she gives to her fans. Yes, she asked. Yes, they gave. But, she gave, too – in profound ways over the course of their long relationship. Palmer touched on this lightly when she shared how she questioned the fairness of the exchanges between her and her fans after crashing with a poor family of undocumented Honduran immigrants. The mother took Palmer aside to tell the musician how much her music had helped her eighteen year-old daughter, and to thank her for staying with them

Even the second time watching, I got a lump in my throat.

Palmer gives her fans much more than her music. She gives them connection – to her, to the ideas she embodies, to each other, and to themselves. She gives them the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves – to be seen, to contribute, to make a difference. She gives them permission and support and community. She gives them courage and compassion.

Palmer is an artist, but she is also a brand. She combines her personal humanity with the Big Ideas and values she stands for to create the message, experience, and community that are Amanda Fucking Palmer. She’s done it so skillfully and so authentically that her fans line up to help her keep doing what she does. People give not just because she asks, but because she gives.


That’s the piece many people miss.

Too many people will watch Palmer’s talk and rush to embrace the art of asking. They will assume wrongly that all they have to do is ask and they shall receive. That isn’t how it works. First, you have to give. You have to give of yourself and your ideas, your time and your energy, your attention and your empathy. Whether you are an artist or a house painter, a software developer or a writer, a dog trainer or a barista, you have to give first

Successful brands are not about coercion. Successful brands are about inclusion. They are about creating something that other people want to be part of. They are about creating a space where other people want to be. They are about being, as Palmer said of artists in days gone by, “connectors and openers.”

Your brand is never about you. It’s bigger than you. It should be. It’s about all the people you touch with your work, all the differences you make for them and the differences they make for you. It’s about giving so that you have the right to ask, and making asking a way of giving.


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  1. Spot on Jamie. To do the ask should always be preceded by the Give. To be of service, to give with heart and soul, to give with no expectation of return actually allows you to do the ask authentically. Because the give isn’t tied to the ask: the give is given. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Jamie Lee

      Oh, that’s an excellent additional point, Kaarina!

      Giving with ulterior motives doesn’t work the same way. People who try to manipulate their relationships this way may see short-term response, but the strength of the connection will not be the same.

      It’s more difficult to develop a no expectations approach in a business context, but when a brand figures it out they’ve really got something.

      Thanks for coming by. So nice to see you! :)

  2. Powerful, thought-provoking post! I am on the receiving end of a lot of the manipulation unfortunately so this hit home!

    • Jamie Lee

      Thank you, Mark – for taking the time to read and for the compliments.

      I felt strongly about sharing my thoughts, which dovetailed nicely with your excellent post about “cheating” in the internet space.

      The landscape is always in flux. We need to be careful how we shape it.

      Hope you’re having a good one!

  3. Abe

    “Palmer gives her fans much more than her music. She gives them connection – to her, to the ideas she embodies, to each other, and to themselves. She gives them the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves – to be seen, to contribute, to make a difference. She gives them permission and support and community. She gives them courage and compassion.”

    good stuff. really nice post Jamie.

    • Jamie Lee

      Thanks so much, Abe. Nice to “see” you here. Been missing the Ruzuku crew!

      Hope all is well in your world. Thanks for coming by & taking the time to drop a note. :)

  4. “They” say it’s better to give than to receive. And then as you wrote, some folks might take Amanda’s talk as a reason to focus on the asking and receiving. But they’re all missing the point that one’s not better than the other. In fact, one can not work without the other!

    Great post Jamie!

    • Jamie Lee

      Thank you, Sandi.
      You’re so right – one is NOT better than the other and neither works without the other. They are two sides of the same coin and they have to be balanced.

      So nice to “see” you. :)

  5. Tanya Harris

    Spot on, and beautifully thought out!
    Thank you, Great Post.

  6. I love this piece, Jamie. Several months ago, I had a conversation with my cousin about the art of giving and receiving. And we stumbled into the idea that we cannot truly give of ourselves, without judgment or a hidden agenda, if we cannot also truly receive. In other words, if I have a hard time receiving because I don’t feel worthy of the gift or feel that it is a sign of weakness, then my ability to give without judgment is also compromised. Giving and receiving are two sides of what can be a beautiful human interaction. If we approach both with an open heart. Thank you for another thought-provoking piece.

    • Jamie Lee

      What a wonderful discovery, Erica. That’s a whole different post, isn’t it? (Perhaps one for you to write?) :)

      There is such a delicate balance between the two halves of the equation. It’s a dance of give and take that becomes stilted and awkward unless both partners are able to surrender to the bigger picture and let go of any personal agendas. In the end, we have to admit that it’s not really about us.

      Thanks, as always, for adding another dimension to the conversation.

  7. Loved this post. Honestly, I have not heard AP’s TED Talk yet but I certainly get your point. Funny thing is that many people don’t even ask.

    So, let me ask you what software do you use to post your audio? :-)

    • Jamie Lee

      Hi, Ralph! I’ve missed you. :)

      I hope you do find time to watch Amanda’s TED talk. I don’t know much about her (though I am an unabashed and raving fan of her husband, Neil Gaiman), but I was transfixed – especially by her opening.

      RE: the recording – I used Audacity to record (via my MacBook Pro’s built-in mic … yes, I’m totally low tech) and then Jon Buscall, bless him, told me about the plug in called “PB oEmbed HTML5 Audio – with Cache Support” (which makes audio files automagically appear via that little player that’s embedded in the post.

      Will we be hearing your voice on blog posts soon? (… she asked hopefully …)

  8. Hi Jamie,

    I finally got around to watching this talk. It reminds me of the Alex Day story, if you’re familiar with that. She’s an incredibly skilled speaker too.

    Anyway, this is the way forward, really. There is a new paradigm and anyone who doesn’t get ahead of it all will be sorry.

    When it comes to the music biz on a large level, it makes me think of the Dave Matthews Band. They sure aren’t a radio staple, but I think they might pull in almost as much long green as Justin B. The record business is dying. So is traditional publishing. Bye bye, gatekeepers.

    In the choose yourself era (Seth keeps warning us), one of increasing transparency AND self-employment, this kind of practice is becoming more important than ever.

    • Jamie Lee

      I agree, Craig. It is a wild new frontier – full of possibility for those willing to “cowboy up.”

      I am excited by the direct-to-consumer prospects for all kinds of businesses and artists. It’s so interesting the way that relationship is coming full circle. We used to do business with our neighbors, and then industrialization and big business took over, and now we’re starting to come back to the practice of more intimate relationships and 1:1 selling. Ironically, it’s technology that enables this kind of connection.

      I’ve been self-employed for more than five years now. I will never go back to any other kind of life.

  9. Jen

    Love this post. It’s funny because I’ve been thinking a lot about give and take in business even before re-launching mine. Sometimes it feels like you’ve got to give until it hurts until suddenly you see what you’ve grown and established. I’d rather give a little too much and get burned than not at all.

    • Jamie Lee

      Hello, Jen. Nice to “meet” you. :)

      Your comment opens a bit of a Pandora’s Box, doesn’t it? What should you give and how much and until what point?

      I haven’t got any answers, but I’d hazard that it has more to do with how things “feel” than anything else. No relationship is always a bed of roses, and there are some relationships that seem perfect and then bite you in the arse. It’s no difference in business. The trick is learning to trust our instincts, and – when even our instincts fail us (which they will, from time to time) – learn to bounce back the same way we would in a “real life” situation.

      I’m rambling a bit, but your comment has set my mind off on a tangent. Thanks for that!


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