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Archive for the “Goodness” Category

My old friend Fred Klein, founder of one of the older business networking organizations in the US, Gotham City Networking, taught me many years ago about business Karma.   That is, it’s better to give than receive and what goes around comes around.   I was only briefly a member of his organization, but his simple philosophy dovetailed nicely with my instinct about sales.  Which is to always be giving, educating, informing, and serving without worrying the end goal—In other words, be giving away everything you are and know at all times.

20130412_inq_sales12-aWhat this does is create an unthinking penumbra around you of practiced habitual generosity.  People like goodness.  They see it.  And they buy it.

Hence my own frequently voiced mantra “Good Is Greed.”  Being genuinely open and unselfish from the depth of your being is ultimately the selfish way to be.  Such is the wisdom of  many historical religious figures.  This is not altruistic.  Nor is it naive.  It is practical.

Now comes some serious hard science support for this proposition.  Note an interesting article in the NY Times Magazine by Susan Dominus last month (March 27, 2013) titled “Is Giving the Secret of Getting Ahead?“.  It’s about the work of Dr. Adam Grant of Wharton.  Grant’s research is soon to be published  in an new book called Give and Take.

Dominus neatly sums up Grant’s work as, “Nice guys finish first!   Now there’s research to prove it.”

Grant argues that our greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others.  Grant has done a number of experiments on this over the years.  For example, one of his many experiments focuses on motivating simple hospital hygiene.  As recounted by Dominus, Grant simply put up two different signs at hand washing stations in a hospital.  “One sign reminded doctors and nurses, ‘Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases’; another read, ‘Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.’  Grant measured the amount of soap used at each station.  Doctors and nurses at the station where the sign referred to their patients used 45 percent more soap or hand sanitizer.”

Grant’s work divides the world into three types of people.

  1. Givers – Give without expectation of immediate gain.  They are never too busy to help.
  2. Matchers – Give when they see themselves getting something back of equal worth.  (Most people are Matchers, according to Grant.)
  3. Takers – Seek to come out ahead in every exchange.

In his research, Grant notes that the givers are over represented on both ends of the spectrum of success.  The failures in the giver category are those who equate giving with being a doormat.  The successful givers combine their concern for others with self-interest and discipline.  Grant terms this “efficient giving.”

annefrankGrant’s efficient giving does mean managing and planning your time.  (He apparently applies his theories to his own life.  In addition to being a nonpareil scholar he is the highest rated professor by students at Wharton and is known for always saying “yes” to all requests.  In other words, he personally walks his talk.  Successfully.)  Dominus describes Grant’s “bright-line rule”:  Unless the person on the other end is a proven taker, just do it—collaborate, offer up, grant the favor.

I recently read The Diary of Anne Frank with my daughter.  This sentence leapt out at me.  “No one has ever become poor by giving.”   Thanks, Anne.

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I was quite touched by a short article that appeared in AdWeek this summer.  (Tim Nudd, August 14, 2012)  It’s very sweet and I want to share it, if you didn’t see it.

The story concerns Brandon Cook, who posted the following on his Facebook wall this summer:

“My grandmother is passing soon with cancer.  I visited her the other day and she was telling me about how she really wanted soup, but not hospital soup because she said it tasted like ‘shit.’  She went on about how she really would like some clam chowder from Panera.  Unfortunately, Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday.  I called the manager Sue and told them the situation.  I wasn’t looking for anything special just a bowl of clam chowder.  Without hesitation she said absolutely she would make her some clam chowder. When I went to pick it up they wound up giving me a box of cookies as well.  It’s not that big of a deal to most, but to my grandma it meant a lot.   I really want to thank Sue and the rest of the staff from Panera just for making my grandmother happy.  Thank you so much!”

Obviously this is a simple story of a small kindness.  But what is interesting is not the story itself but the fact that this ingenuous tale of the love of Brandon Cook for his granny and the generous spirit of the Panera manager, which was reposted on Panera’s fan page, has generated over 750,000 “likes” and uncountable thousands of passionate comments since its appearance two months ago.  Mr. Nudd reports Brandon Cook being taken aback by the spontaneous viral reaction to his short post, saying, “If my grandma even knew what a Facebook page was, I’d show her…My grandma’s greatest fear is dying with no friends.  I wish I could show her how many ‘friends’ she has out there, and how many prayers people are saying for her.”  Aah.

The interesting part of this story is not it’s heart-warming essence, but rather the phenomenal response to it.  I see many marketers, digital advertisers, and public relations-types making triumphalist internet cacophonies about the efficaciousness of social media, per this story.  However, I wonder if these often smug I-told-you-so commentaries on the dawning power of social media (in this case Facebook) may be suffering from a self-congratulatory hubris that is not at all really the essence of the popular response to this story.

The multitudinous self-congratulatory comments I see from so many marketing mavens may be missing what the vociferous reaction to this story really is.  Certainly the marketing professionals chest-thumping brings out a certain Luddite disquiet in me.

There is a cynicism to the celebration of how this feel good story has boosted the Panera Bread brand.  Not because the tale isn’t true and honest and good, but because of the marketing assumption behind many comments on this story, which is that people will respond to marketing spin through our new communication mediums.  Yes, new media is good at rapidly spreading this charming and ingenuous recounting of Brandon Cook’s appreciation for a small act of commercial kindness.  But I believe what people are responding to is an ineffable realness and human care that utterly transcends and defies the manipulations of new media, even as it is spread by them.

In a time when major articles in the Wall Street Journal (Joseph Walker, 9/20/12) and the Harvard Business Review (October, 2012) extoll the engineering prowess and hegemony of Big Data and quantification analysis, I see the outpouring of response to this small human story as a rejection of the manipulations of the magical new media gospel.

There is an obvious and appropriate celebration of goodness that can and should be disseminated effectively via the internet.  But there is no true substitute for elemental goodness in business.  Simple goodness is a winning business strategy.  Ask Zappos, ask Starbucks, ask Whole Foods, et. al.  There is nothing more compelling than a company that really is what it purports to be, that walks the walk of its talk. A million small acts of service and customer care ultimately create the most efficacious brands. Good is greed, not the opposite.

The world is being stalked by a relentless coldness that is a sad bit of baggage, seemingly inevitably attached to technological advance.  Brandon Cook’s story reminds us that  many small acts of kindness may be more ultimately powerful then a trillion email blasts and phony buzz manipulations.  People ultimately know the real thing.  By your works ye shall be known.

As Albert Einstein said,  “It has become appallingly obvious our technology has exceeded our humanity.”  Amen, Albert.

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Being “good” is the most selfish action an entrepreneur can take.  I believe in goodness because I am selfish.

To cite but one shining example, I heard Tony Hsieh, CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos, address the Inc. Business Owners Council a couple of years ago in New York.  He was promoting his (then) new book Delivering Happiness.  What I remember about Hsieh’s appearance was a simple annecdote on service he shared.  About pizza, of all things.

As background, Tony’s unique success at Zappos came from imbuing Zappos with a ubiquitous corporate culture focused on nonpareil service and customer care.  His company succeeded by branding itself around, customer service, corporate ethics and dependability of deliverables.  This became so embedded that Zappos’ service ethic extended way beyond normal good service.

The story he told in 2010 was this.  Hsieh was at a sales conference in Santa Monica, CA and, after a night of bar hopping, came back with a group of friends to his hotel.  The group decided they wanted a pizza.  The hotel kitchen was closed.  In a fit of drunken braggadocio, Hsieh recounts, he dared his friends to call Zappos customer service and ask for a phone number for a local 24 hour Santa Monica pizza delivery.  They did and within two minutes were supplied with several numbers by the Zappos employee.  Such was the broad-minded, unscripted service orientation Hsieh branded throughout his firm.

Creating a practical ethical, customer-centric company is about little actions, not grand idealistic mission statements.  It is about making service like breathing.  It’s about becoming habitually “good.”  Tony Hsieh understood this in spades.

Michael Douglas, as “Gordon Gekko” in Wall Street, famously said, “Greed is good.”  He had it exactly backwards–“Good is greed.”  For the long-term entrepreneur, goodness and service make the putative rewards of business greed—money, success, status, and happiness—much more likely.  Customers sense and smell goodness.  They want to be around it and touch it.  They intuitively trust it more than all the quantification analysis and sales explication in the world.

In a world frequently populated by rogues and thieves masquerading as benign capitalists, and in a world increasingly dominated by coldly efficient technology—oriented toward dehumanizing, distancing, and quantifying those pesky customers—branding one’s company as humane and caring in all the simplest human interactions is invaluable.  It builds trust, reputation, good will and value for the long term.  This is not Pollyannaish.  It is really practical greed.  It is the ultimate selfishness.

Per creating a culture of goodness,  Aristotle said, “It is easy to perform a good action, but not easy to acquire a settled habit of performing such actions.”   Thank you, Aristotle.

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