"You keep saying that. I don't think that word means what you think it means."
That was my favorite line from the movie, The Princess Bride, and it fits my experience with teaching and learning about generosity in business. To be honest, at first, I wasn't sure what Erich was talking about. Over the years, I've slowly learned that generosity is just as important a value as the others. In the long run, I only work with generous people.
From day one, I totally understood how running a business takes courage - you have to step out from the safe job you have, quit being like everybody else drawing a paycheck and take the chance on failing. I see how courage is required.
Perseverance - sure, you have to work a lot of hours, not quit the first time (or the second time) you don't get a contract, you get blindsided by some expense you didn't expect, an employee you really counted on leaves.
But - generosity? Sure, it's good public relations if you donate to events in the local community. Being generous with your employees - in salary, in praise, in good working conditions - is a good way to attract and keep good people. If you come late, don't do your share of the work, spend your days on your cell phone while your co-workers pick up the slack, that's selfish. The opposite of generosity.
It really hit me today, though, as I was talking to someone about a new joint venture we were considering. In putting together the proposed staff, I thought about a young man I know who is very bright and talented. Let's call him Bob. I didn't even suggest Bob as a possibility. Why? Because any project is all about him, what will Bob get out of it in money, recognition, future contracts.
What's wrong with that? Isn't that what capitalism is about? Getting the most money you can? Isn't anything else being a sucker or just giving your work away?
Well, there you are back to generosity. I think it is okay to give your work away. I write a blog on statistics that has (sometimes!) useful information, and I do it for free. I present at conferences, not for free any more, but for less than my normal rate. I do that because I attend conferences where it is possible for me to learn from other people. I read lots of useful web pages. I don't believe in just taking and never giving.
Sometimes I do extra work for clients that is not in the contract because I think it will deliver a much better product. I'll create an on-line survey, too, even though they only paid for a mail survey. I'll test out different software for their website or put them in touch with a person I know who does newsletters who can do a great job for them. I can just hear Bob's voice asking me,
"Isn't it fair then, that if it benefits you, you'd pay me a little bit for the referral for the newsletter guy, and since he's getting business, he'd pay me a little bit, too. I wouldn't charge that much, so I make some money, so do you and the newsletter guy. Everyone wins!"
It sounds so logical, but it doesn't work that way. It is a waste of time. For an introduction that would take ten minutes to make, Bob needs to first be sure he gets an agreement from me to give him a cut, then he needs to get an agreement from the newsletter company. All of this extra effort from everyone is so that Bob's needs can be taken care of.
Then, there are those times when there is no benefit to be had. If my client only has a certain amount of money in the budget and I need to test out some new software anyway, why not test it creating a cool survey for them? Why not use it to do some analysis of their data?
Bob's answer would be that surely, they could find some way to pay for it. They could move money from customer service, classroom supplies, employee salaries or somewhere else so they could afford to pay him to do a better job for them.
The thought of doing a better job at no cost to them, since it isn't costing him, wouldn't even come up, because it's all about Bob.
It exhausts me even to think about having these conversations. Which is why, even though he is smart, educated and capable of doing great work, we're never hiring Bob.