Monthly Archives: July 2013

Generosity

I recently took a trip to Maui. While we were there, we took a ferry ride to Molokini to do some snorkeling, and as we were getting off, we came across the all familiar tip jar. And I was faced with one of those classic tipping dilemmas: You can only tip in cash, but the denominations you have are more than the amount you want to tip. To tip more? Or not to tip at all? Or to awkwardly ask for change?

Tipping is one of those social customs that I find deeply fascinating. Especially when someone from one tipping culture is dropped into a different tipping culture. It is a moment when who-you-are, is laid a little bit bare. Do you tip the minimum considered appropriate, or do you tip more? You tip only when you’ve received excellent service or tip the same no matter what? Do you do complicated math to make sure it is a multiple of ten? How do you tip when you are on a date? How do you tip when no one’s watching? Why do you tip the way you tip? To show off? To feel good? To be ‘fair’?

I also think tipping is a measure of how generous you are. And generosity applies to things beyond money. I was talking to one of my friends whose boss is apparently stingy with praise. The boss would say (and I am paraphrasing), “Why do people always want a pat on their back?”. I think the subtext there was that “No one is giving me a pat on my back, why should I pat someone else?”.

I think the that is the way I, and I’d imagine many others, approach giving: Once I have enough myself, I will give some away. When I have enough money, I’ll be more philanthropic. When I have more money I’ll get nice gifts for my friends and family. When I have enough success, I’ll be appreciative of others success instead of being jealous.

And yet, I am coming around to the thought that the way to have more, is to give more. So the order of business is to give first and get later instead of the other way round. One context in which I have learnt that to be true is business. One of my best business lessons was with one of my worst clients. We set the wrong expectations, I severely undersold myself and then when the work turned out to be more than I had budgeted, we were unable to renegotiate the relationship (until much later). There were two lessons there, one was to not undersell yourself, but another was also to give some without any expectation of getting anything. My client did not know what she wanted, could I have helped her think through that when we started our conversation? Could I leave her asking the right questions? Even if she would have chosen someone else, would she be better off having interacted with me?

A lot of businesses have the concept of “free consultation”. And yet most time that feels like a long advertisement, but there are some where the person solves your problem, and you are left wondering, ‘You sure? This is for free?’. I’ve had both experiences recently. A free fitness consultation at the gym where every question was answered with, ‘I can tell you that when you sign up for the full class’ and not one, but two visits to a bike shop where a guy solved my problem and didn’t ask for any money (even when I was willing to pay them). Next thing I knew I went and bought something from that bike shop, just because they had been generous. (Or maybe it was just reciprocity at play).

The big challenge is to figure out where to place yourself on the continuum, (of course everything is a continuum to a design thinking student). To not be so generous as to undersell yourself, and not to be so thrifty that you turn into a miser. My favorite analog is Subway stores. There are Subway stores where some servers put generous helpings of lettuce on your sandwich, and then there are others who act like every strand of onion is costing them a rupee. And then there will always be those who will abuse your generosity. But don’t let some of those change you. Here’s a useful talk by Mike Monteiro (and a book) on not underselling yourself.

So I am making a new rule for myself: “Be generous today”. Not on some future date when you have more, but right now. Tip generously, help generously, give generously. Without expecting. Leave people feeling better off having interacted with you.

Just as a note to myself, I am also writing down some of my other rules, to be perhaps blogged upon another time, “survive the grimace”, “if recognize, say hello”, “maximize karma, not profit”.

So what did I do in Maui? I tipped the larger amount. It felt a little weird, usually I would not have tipped at all. It will take some time to get used to.

Advertisements