Generosity is cool. It is a winners' trait.

In Eddie Yoon's HBR article this week, "Why I'm Happy Netflix Raised its Prices" he makes an important comment about corporate generosity:

I don't like spending money...but as a consumer, I have no problem being generous to companies that have a track record of being exponentially more generous to me. A generous company is one that has repeatedly given me far more benefits than the dollars I have paid. A generous company is one that values the importance of stewardship and takes their talents, technology and profits to enrich their consumers versus just consume their riches. Netflix is consistently one of those companies.

The idea of generosity in business often scares people: When I talk about it I often find people saying things like: "Generosity? Are you suggesting I must give stuff away, forgo profit, overpay for goods and services?" Yet generosity is truly the most fundamental of all business drivers.

Think about it: Business is about giving customers more value than the cost of their purchase, giving investors back more than they invested and greater returns than they could get elsewhere; it is about giving employees more than their salaries or wages, returning more to creditors than they leant you. All of this is generosity: giving back more than you take.

Giving more than you take, is counterintuitively what makes individuals and companies secure. People and companies are valued when they are seen to be giving more than they are taking, just as Eddie Yoon sees Netflix. They become attractive to others who want to be associated with them. Generosity is for winners, generosity is cool.

Generosity is not philanthropy and it doesn't mean that you get nothing back from what you gave, nor does it necessarily need to be unconditional. Generosity simply means "showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected," even if it is just a little more. Generosity is simply about over-delivering; over-delivering to all of your stakeholders; in fact generosity is over-delivering all the time in all of your interactions with all of the people you engage with.

Does this mean some people will take advantage of you and exploit you? Absolutely! But just ask yourself whether the total outcome of an ever-generous disposition is positive or negative? As with any investment strategy, if you have no disappointments, you are being too conservative and risk averse. if you are losing more than you gain, you are being negligent. Investing in people is no different: take a chance on people, give them more than they expect...and watch them reciprocate in ways that will surprise you.

Start with these baby steps:

  1. Identify employees, family members and friends who are generally appreciative of what you do for them.
  2. Seek opportunities to surprise them with something they didn't expect.
  3. Notice their responses.
  4. If positive, try a little more risk: do something generous (give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected) for people whom you don't know as well, or whose level of appreciativeness is not as great as others.

  5. Notice their responses.

As you gain confidence in the fact that most people are appreciative and do reciprocate generosity, expand your gestures outwards. Paradoxically, it is what you give that makes you secure, not what you get. Generosity is for winners - use it generously!

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