Pay it Forward: 3 Ways to Create an Economy of Goodwill

Finding purpose and meaning could pay off in the long run

two businesswomen shaking handsReading the not-so-recent, but quite excellent profile of Wharton’s organizational pyschologist Adam Grant in New York Times Magazine, got us thinking about another sort of economy, which I like to think of as a kind of open market for goodwill. Dr. Grant argues in his new book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success that the key to success lies in one’s ability to be relentless about helping others.

But here are three ways businesses, leaders and enterpreneurs can create richness and meaning by giving back. And — let’s just do this now — we’ll ask you to comment here about how you’ve experimented with the practice, and if it’s worked for you.

Deal?

1. Find what flavor of favor suits you. Grant has written and seemingly talked endlessly about the 5-minute favor: which basically means you help someone do something or figure something out at little cost to you, but will help the person immensely. It can be really sound advice in an email. It could be giving someone a glowing reference via phone. I like this idea, and we’ll take it a step further. You should realize — and I think most people do — that tasks that are laborious for some folks are a cinch for others. Can you find out what tasks are relatively simple for you that other people generally struggle with? Can you write a crack memo in just minutes? Are you good at elevator pitches? A good public speaker?

Well find your flavor. And pay it forward.

2. Compliment, compliment, compliment. Don’t you just love when people offer compliments? I met a woman at a cookout recently who recently had the practice down to a science without being overbearing — that is, it seemed very much her character to be complimentary. It paid off. Why? Well, because I remembered her. Getting people to remember you and be familiar with what you bring to the table is a key component to any business person or networker.

The other key is to always think about what you can bring to an individual or an enterprise that is not already there. What are you uniquely qualified to do? What do you do that ‘wows’ people? Find that aspect of your life’s work — the part that complements others — to help yourself and the people you come into contact with grow.

3. Help someone who literally cannot do anything for you. This is tricky, but important. What are we talking about? We’re talking about garnering success by being genuine, caring, giving. But by the standard of creating a culture or economy of goodwill, by the very meaning, there’s something inherently returned, right? Not here. That’s why helping someone who can’t do anything for you is the highest calling in an already difficult sell.

But that’s OK. It’s worth it. It’s not going to be for everyone, and that’s OK, too. Let’s just hope with a faithful few, we can push back a bit on greed, gossip and the divisive nature of competition that often surrounds businesses and workplaces.

So, do you put this into practice already? Let us know how in the comments.

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