This is Elizabeth Warren, American Senator, ex Harvard professor, who is ‘not running for President’ (as most future runners say), hope of American liberal democrats and ‘scourge of Wall Street’ (The Observer, 28 December 2014):
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved the goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate… Now look, you built the factory and it turned into something terrific? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along…”
And the winner of my New Year’s Behaviours Award goes to ‘Pay it Forward’. That’s right. Or pay back by paying forward, if you will. You get something good?, don’t return something good to the sender. Give something good to others. Forward. Do once. Repeat.
I call these single, well defined, robust behaviours,. They’re catalytic. They have the power to create a chain reaction. You don’t have to agree with Warren’s political arguments to see the power of ‘paying it forward’. In fact, in behavioural terms, ‘paying it forward’ would perhaps travel equally well across all societal and political spectra. Well, with the exception of the social-Darwinian tribes.
The concept is not new, but it has been buried in many places, achieving limited visibility. In societal terms, if multiplied and scaled up, it would be dynamite. Inside the organization it would spread collaboration, for example, at the speed of light and would shape an entire culture in weeks. Want a label? Pick one: a culture of help, people alignment, collaboration, purpose, engagement… Come on, don’t be shy, carry on.
Most catalytic behaviours, such as this one, are extraordinarily simple. And because of that, they get dismissed and overlooked in the quest for complex, painful and expensive ways of creating change and culture.
My test for a ‘powerful (catalytic) behaviour’ is very simple. And I have articulated it in Viral Change. It is the ‘Imagine’ test. Imagine for a second that, today, a hundred, or more people in your organization practiced this. Simple mathematics will tell you that, in a week, you would have a revolution.
Happy New Year!
Welcome back and happy 2015!
Like so many things, “paying it forward” can work on many scales, from major public works, to raising kids with life skills and good values, to smaller things that are easier to get started.
In the research lab that I ran for a time, we discussed the problem of keeping our lunchroom clean and attractive. (Not all computer nerds are compulsive cleaners — some are quite the opposite.) The only non-researcher/non-programmer in the place was our business manager, who had many duties. We certainly didn’t want to burden her with this sort of thing, and the janitors came only occasionally.
We agreed to adopt a simple rule: “Clean up your own mess, plus some extra — maybe 25% more.” Everyone was quite good about this, and the room actually did stay tidy. We could all see that this would not have worked if the rule was just “Clean up your own mess” because too many little “orphan messes” fall through the cracks that way.
And I think that this rule became a metaphor for may other behaviors that people followed unconsciously — the seeds of a culture, perhaps.