Category: Better World

The Good Network: Why Paying it Forward Pays Off


I just finished reading Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant. If you’re in business, a relationship, or simply alive this is a must read. Grant’s groundbreaking research in organizational behavior explores how we approach our interactions with other people and contrasts the success of Givers, Takers, and Matchers. By no means will this post spoil the read so once you’re done reading this post (and shared it!) you should definitely pick up the book (e-book, or audiobook), it will likely change or re-enforce your thinking on how interaction style contributes to success.

The central question is;

“According to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck. [But there is] a fourth ingredient, one that’s critical but often neglected: success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people. Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

Outside the workplace, in our relationships with family, friends, and partners Grant argues that we are mostly givers, helping without expecting a win. When our career success is on the line, Grant describes how people are aligned to being either a Giver, Taker, or Maker to achieve their goals.

Takers: Takers have a distinctive signature: they like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs. Takers believe that the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts. Garden-variety takers aren’t cruel or cutthroat; they’re just cautious and self-protective. “If I don’t look out for myself first,” takers think, “no one will.”

Givers: In the workplace, givers are a relatively rare breed. They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them. 

In contrasting Takers and Givers, Adam argues that the preferences in approach are not about money, they’re not distinguished by how much money they make or donate. The difference is in their attitude and actions towards other people.

“If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.”

Grant agrees with and cites organizational behavior research that suggests none of us are purely Givers or Takers but Matchers, and that our personality isn’t fixed but fluid…

“We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you’re a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your relationships are governed by even exchanges of favors.”

“Giving, taking, and matching are three fundamental styles of social interaction, but the lines between them aren’t hard and fast. You might find that you shift from one reciprocity style to another as you travel across different work roles and relationships. It wouldn’t be surprising if you act like a taker when negotiating your salary, a giver when mentoring someone with less experience than you, and a matcher when sharing expertise with a colleague. But evidence shows that at work, the vast majority of people develop a primary reciprocity style, which captures how they approach most of the people most of the time. And this primary style can play as much of a role in our success as hard work, talent, and luck.”

Ok enough with the book citations. As the title of this post suggests; contrary to what the asshole in your office thinks, in ranking the three approaches Givers come out on top…but they also dominate the bottom. Takers and Matchers make up the middle. How is that possible that Givers are on top and at the bottom? The answer is in the strategies givers use and choices they make in achieving their goals. Successful givers leverage three strategies; sincerity screening, generous tit for tat, and being willing to negotiate. Read the book to learn more.

A giver can be a huge pushover and land at the bottom or a smart, well networked person that helps others and builds great re-pour; paying it forward and becoming a trusted asset to the organization manifesting in career success.

You can think less “me, me, me” and not be so much a taker, genuinely not feeling you need to step on others to meet your goals. If you’re a taker and fortunate enough to realize it, treating others with more empathy will make you more a matcher which is where most people sit. Giving without expectation of return is something that can’t be faked; its something that you do because you feel it’s the right thing to do and believe that by helping or working for the benefit of everyone may ultimately come back to be a benefit to yourself. If karma shines on you great, if not that’s fine too. You can’t fake it and people who are pure givers are a rare breed.

In the opening of the book Grant describes venture capitalist David Hornik who is a giver and has a remarkable track record. I haven’t met David but I am fortunate enough to know a few givers and they have selflessly been a tremendous benefit to my career. I like to think that the thousands of coffees I make time to have to listen to aspiring entrepreneurs and the introductions I’m happy to make for them means I have some giver tendencies, or maybe I’m a matcher, others are better to judge. What I do know is that nice guys don’t always finish last because I’ve seen many at the top.

I credit my father with teaching me that much of a person’s ultimate success is not in their own hands but rather comes from working hard, being good to others and, as I’ve found, serendipitous events that you couldn’t plan for or control. I’ve never met anyone more selfless than my father. He ran a travel agency and one year had booked hundreds of people on Yugoslavian Airlines, collecting thousands of dollars in ticket fees that he passed onto the airline for them to issue the tickets (this was the mid-90s) and get his small commission back on each ticket. Then the Balkan War broke out and Yugoslavian Airlines stopped flying and went insolvent taking all the ticket fees collected with it and stranding passengers that had already paid. Every other travel agency I’m aware of simply explaining to these passengers that had lost their money and their tickets that its not the travel agency’s fault, their money is with the airline and there is literally nothing that can be done. People lost their money and tickets and agencies lost their commissions. All of this is well within normal but my father did something different and remarkable, he dug into his own funds and refunded all of his customer’s money. Thousands of dollars that spelled a very tough time for his travel agency that would take years to recover from. I asked him why and he simply said that it was more important to be good and fair to others, even if it meant some sacrifice to yourself, your rewards will come.

My father was a very intelligent, faithful, and welcoming man. When he passed I overheard someone saying to another person at the funeral; “he’s the only person I know that I have never heard someone speak badly of”. Your shoes are impossible to fill but thank you for being a giver and giving your all so that I could succeed. I’m by no means perfect but hope I’m making you proud.


The Death of Bitcoin & The Future of Digital Currency

bitcoin-crackThe value of Bitcoin has been all over the map. It’s the new currency one minute and a failed experiment the next, but isn’t that how may great inventions began? Much like technology inventions that have changed our world, Bitcoin is the manifestation of computer science genius, as Marc Andreessen deftly describes. Wasn’t it once said that no one would want a personal computer at home? That no one could make money from the internet? That TV would fizzle and die? Yes to all. But Bitcoin is different from these life changing tech marvels. Bitcoin may prove to be the start of something but may not be the thing itself.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, President of IBM, 1943

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

Mobile transactions and payments have been common place around the world, especially in the developing world. Safaricom’s M-Pesa, DonRiver, and other providers and integrators have been making sure laborers, civil servants, and others have been getting paid reliably using mobile digital credits in societies where fraud and corruption would have otherwise sucked money out of their pockets. Bitcoin is different from these systems in that although 1 BTC = $502 (as of this writing according to Coindesk), much like cash is (kind of) backed by gold but you carry cash not gold bars, the aim is to position Bitcoin as the currency itself and not simply something to be traded for cash; a significant disruption to the financial system with the promise of a currency by the people for the people. Problem is that Bitcoin wasn’t made by those in charge and hit the established system so fast that it scared the powers that be and also didn’t come with the fraud protection, security, and controls to ensure that your money is safe. Just today there are reports that Mt. Gox, one of the largest BTC exchange is insolvent with as much as 700,000 Bitcoins unaccounted for. That’s $351.4M as of this writing. That’s serious money. Worse, without protection measures, if your Bitcoin wallet is hacked tonight there really isn’t any real recourse to take tomorrow. But as the growing pains continue for Bitcoin, the promise of a viable digital currency is alive and well.

Bitcoin has been banned in China and Russia. On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Royal Canadian Mint, Canada’s manufacturer of coins has just passed another milestone in bringing to market MintChip, the first government-backed digital currency. Interesting to note that The Canadian Mint also manufactures coins for smaller countries such as New Zealand and Luxembourg and there is talk that once in market, the digital platform can power digital currencies for these nations as well. Where Bitcoin is today an unregulated digital currency for the masses, MintChip is more akin to the work done by the likes of M-Pesa; a digital credit system backed by hard currency, but differs in that MintChip won’t be something you take to a bank to get “real money”, the hope is that it lives on as the transactional currency itself fulfilling the promise started by Bitcoin.

So where does this leave Bitcoin and all the start-ups and exchanges clamoring to own a piece of the Bitcoin ecosystem? Well, every new currency type needs exchanges and trading desks, fraud protection and security, banks and wallets and digital currency is no different. Coinbase, for example, an international digital wallet that allows you to securely buy, use, and accept bitcoins has likely built a platform that can power other digital currency not only Bitcoin should a new leader, or multiple international digital currencies emerge (I’m not connected to Coinbase in any way but I trust they’re smart guys that think big and I know their investor are and do). The early champions of Bitcoin-supporting technologies will be the front-runners to power the digital currencies of the future. As for Bitcoin itself, two things can happen; (a) the people truly have the power and with entrepreneurs building for Bitcoin, merchants accepting it, and people using it the currency actually goes mainstream forcing the financial system to respect it and all its new-found security. Or (b) Bitcoin will be remembered as the forefather and catalyst to the financial-system approved, government backed digital currency that my kids and grandkids will carry in their phones (or wristbands or watches or eyes) when they buy a Coke, coffee, or whatever new cool things haven’t been invented yet.

Digital currency may not take over as quick as some may like. It’s no question that moving away from the gold standard resulted in a financial system that has less “real value” and is open to market manipulation than if we were still based on a tight dollar-to-gold ratio. Likewise, fear of manipulation, intrusion, and coersion by governments abound with a non-physical currency where all of your purchases can be traced and governments can punish and bankrupt each other or otherwise gain political advantage by hacking finances. The hope is that these concerns will be checked my systems to ensure they don’t happen and digital currency will bring greater equality to the masses and not accelerate the divide between rich and poor. Whatever side of the fence you’re on, Bitcoin has started a train in motion and there will be many more pitfalls along the track but it seems inevitable that software will again eat the world.  and the day of your leather wallets and money clips are numbered.

Speech2Tweet or Why I Love Google

Over the weekend Google and Twitter worked together (as well as with SayNow, a company Google acquired) to launch Speech2Tweet, a service that lets people call a number and leave a message that gets tweeted to the world. You can either look at this as a cool little project, or you can see it as something more – Google helping people who are being oppressed and censored in the world.

From the Official Google Blog:

“We worked with a small team of engineers from Twitter, Google and SayNow, a company we acquired last week, to make this idea a reality. It’s already live and anyone can tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855) and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt. No Internet connection is required. People can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to”

When you consider Google’s stance on human rights over the years it’s admirable; not bowing to China, moving quick to provide information to aid the Haiti Earthquake response and floods in Brazil, Australian, Pakistan, and other major crisis situations over recent years, and now giving a voice to the brave people of Egypt who have had their internet cut, isolating them from the world by the stubborn dictator they are fighting against for freedom.

I hope Google’s efforts to help those in need around the world lead to more start-ups and companies living up to their responsibility as well.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people in Egypt and all those that are in need around the world.

I’m not Superman. A Buick Saved My LIfe. Thank You.

Something extraordinary happened to me two days ago. I wish I had my phone to record it and post pics but it seems fitting that the words tell the story.

I’ll never forget May 21, 2009, 8:30pm. This post is a break from the industry commentary and thoughts that you’ve grown to expect (and love) on Digital Hello. It’s about always remembering that every moment is a gift and your life is yours to do with it what you will. You see, today is another day I can spend with my wife, family and friends. It could have been the day of my funeral.

So, I’ve set the stage. Keep reading and you’ll know what happened to me, the amazing people that helped, and the way I’ve been profoundly affected both personally and professionally. My overall lesson. Phrases like “I should”, “I wish”, “if only I could”, are no longer in my vocabulary. I’m sharing this because, who knows, maybe we can all learn a few things to make life special.

I’d just spent two very productive days with a client in Syracuse, NY and was headed back home to London, Ontario along 1-90 (amazed at how used to the 4.5 hour drive I’ve become). Along the way I stopped by the Premium Outlets and bought a few things including a kick-ass Under Armor hoodie and a nice leather jacket for my wife (outlets are great :)). Happy with the crazy deals and full from an over-mayonaised tuna sandwich from Subway I hit the highway to finish the long trek. Somewhere near Rochester, where you’ll find a Mobil service station, I saw it.

I was rolling on cruise control in the Buick Allure I’d rented from Enterprise Rent-a-Car when I came up over the slight elevation in the highway and was faced with tractor trailer tire debry. Now I’m no rookie on the highway and I’ve seen broken tire pieces before but this was different. The debry wasn’t off to the side or in one lane, it was like a minefield. I moved to avoid one big piece only to be confronted by another and BOOM! The biggest piece of tire head-on, taking out my tire and smashing my windshield. I tried by best to keep control of the car as it careened across the highway toward a massive metal structure. I thought, “if I hit this thing I’m a goner”, so I steered away and prayed. Next thing I know I hit something and felt the car flipping before I crash landed, hands glued to the steering wheel. I was in shock, and thankful that nothing came through the windshield. I kicked into survival mode, turned off the car and tried to open the door to get out in case there was fluid leaking and the worse was yet to come. What happened next was a story of the goodwill in all of us, and “assholeness” in some.

I tried to open the car door only it wouldn’t open, so my thinking was that I must be trapped. I look through the piece of unshattered windshield and saw two men running towards me. I realized that the car was laying on its passenger side so I pushed the door harder to fight gravity and started to crawl out….ya, imagine what it looks like seeing a car skid, flip, and smash then seeing a guy emerge from the top unscathed.

Great bystanders: Are you ok? Anyone else in there? Are you sure you’re ok? Really, are you ok?  Man, wish I had a camera that was amazing. That shit should be on YouTube. Are you sure you’re alright? Wow, you’re superman. That was crazy. I called 911 they’re on the way.

Me: Ya, I’m alright I think. A little shocked. I think my adrenaline is going. Wish I grabbed my phone so I can call my wife.

In a nutshell, the car was totaled. But I came out all good. Got checked out by the very nice EMTs who were looking at me in disbelief. Blood pressure was high but nothing broken, alive and thankful. True to what they said, the shock wore off and the soft tissue stiffness in my neck and back had set in, but after I got home I had some x-rays, checkups, and a physiotherapy assessement and I’m all good!

Thank You…to most

Thank you to the Mobil service station attendant that along with truck driver Juan Ruiz ran to help me. Thank you to the EMTs that made the situation easier. Thanks to the tow truck driver and fireman who did their job.

Thanks to the NY State Trooper for showing up…and trying to “protect” the state from a guy that hit something in the road and was lucky to be alive. It amazes me how some people work toward the right thing in any situation while others revert to ‘I need to do my job and protect my interests and those of my boss”.  Can’t wait to read your accident report, but glad Juan was there and gave an eye witness account of what he saw making sure you didn’t screw me. So officer, don’t worry I’m fine and I’m not going to sue your boss. My reward is being alive.

Thanks Juan.

Juan was cleaning the lights on the front of his tractor trailer when he heard a loud bang. He turned to see a Buick skidding across the highway, smash into the grass embankment, flip twice, land vertically straight up in the air on its fender, then crash down on the passenger side. He called 911 and started running towards the car.

Juan, I’m not superman, you’re the good guy. Juan helped me understand what happened and told the real story to the trooper. He stayed on scene and made sure I was ok, and then gave me a ride in his truck to a hotel in Buffalo so I wouldn’t be left by the roadside (again, thanks for asking officer!). Hope you buy that truck and your dreams come true. Enjoy that kick-ass hoodie!

People are inherently good.

And above all, thank God for blessing me to remember that each day is a gift. For again showing that people are inherently good, and for giving me the gift of life to live my dreams, be with family and friends, and pay if forward.

If you read all this, wow. Thanks for caring and hope you take away any lesson you may. May lessons? Live life, work hard, and have fun. If you’re not happy then get happy….and help others in need as you never know when you might need the help.

Oh, and buy a Buick Allure. That thing is a tank and saved my life (not to mention the smooth drive and couch like interior…glad you’ve keep it around GM!)

All the best,