Being Generous is Being Generative
And so what do we do about that?
I found that being generous was generative in my entrepreneurial gigs–perhaps not 100% of the time, but much more often than not, so I tried to lean into generosity whenever I could.
When we started Cellular One of the Triangle in 1985, introducing cellular telephone service to Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for the first time, we decided we would be on the lookout always for places where we could be generous with our market and our customers.
We took the time and expense to educate them about this new technology as we were building our network, so they would be more likely to make the best decision for them.
And in every operations decision we made we’d look for ways to provide another increment of network Quality or customer Service or Value: QSV became our rallying cry.
For instance, at a time when billing software wouldn’t allow real time billing but could only bill a customer in predetermined increments of seconds, the industry and our competitor were billing in full minute increments; if a call lasted two minutes and two seconds, they billed for three minutes. We chose the smallest increment our billing company offered, 10 seconds, and so that same call on our network would be billed for two minutes and 10 seconds.
And it turned out the marketplace was generous in return—we had a 65% market share two years after launch, our average revenue per customer was comfortably above the industry average, and this was with a competitor that had a whole lot more money than we did.
In all my ventures I learned there was no more effective strategy for recruiting the very best talent to deliver their best work than to be generous with them, and for them. That application of generosity is often called servant leadership.
I learned servant leadership without knowing it as a teenaged fishing guide back in the late 60’s. I took 50 year old lawyers and doctors and bank presidents out on the English River in Ontario for a day of fishing and I discovered that the more generous I was in my service, in my care, and in my commitment to their success, the more generous they were with me. First, they gave me more and more authority over them that I in turn used to serve them even better, and at the end of the trip they gave me such generous tips that over four summers I made enough to pay for most of of my college. (In the 60’s that was still possible.)
I coach students to be generous when a friend brings them that most fragile thing, a brand new creative idea. A new idea for a startup or an innovative product or a social solution has more holes than substance so it’s easy to point out its flaws. I tell students that if they practice generous listening, if they intentionally take on a generous appreciation of the idea, they are assured of a generous return on their investment.
First, your creative resources have grown, as you think deeply about the patterns in the business model or the strategies of this new idea. Now those patterns are yours, your generous listening imprinted them in your subconscious, and are there to serve your subsequent creative ruminating and executing.
Second, after a generous appreciative listening, it becomes more likely that the first things you will say to your friend are rooted in your appreciation, and will be thoughts that will improve the idea.
I think it is so cool that appreciating an idea can appreciate its value.
Third, maybe you become known as a great person to go to when your friends or associates want to bounce a new idea off someone. Not a bad place to be, at the center of all the new ideas being talked about.
Finally, since you first showed your generous appreciation you’ve created some common ground, so when you now critique the idea and point out some of the flaws or oversights it’s much more likely your comments will be heard in a helpful manner.
Being generous generates. They are the same, actually, coming from the same Latin root, generos, to produce, to create.
Going into a semester break, when my students would be traveling, I would urge them to bring to their trip a mindfulness about the generative qualities of being generous, and suggest they look for examples of generosity as they travel and watch for its outcomes, and to practice it themselves whenever they could.
Intentionally practicing being generous is one more way, and another simple one, to grow your creative capacity and develop your entrepreneurial instincts.