Part of TEDx Pocklington 2015
Sowing the Seeds of Your Own Success
I was speaking to an MD of a successful firm recently at a networking event and she was telling me about what a turbulent time they had had in the business – leaders had left and the remaining team were working out how to find their feet and their new voice.
During our chat the director was telling me about her passion for rugby and how her firm had sponsored the town’s junior rugby cup. I asked her why. She explained that apart from her stepson being involved in one of the clubs, she loved the sense of fair play, the transparency and hard work that everyone puts in and the extra mile the community goes for the children. I told her what a generous thing that was, not simply on a personal level but on a business level – generous and powerful.
What hadn’t occurred to her was that the ethos of her business, the voice and messages she was looking for, was in everything she had just described to me about her love of rugby and in my mind her business and that ethos were now one. The messages and the ‘voice’, she was seeking were already present, rooted in her and her business’s generosity; not simply through the funding of the event but in the understanding, commitment and spirit of it.
The next light bulb moment for her was the long-term reciprocated generosity from the community to her business.
A copywriter, editor and author, my job involves listening. Listening to my clients and collaborators in order to take their ideas, ambition and information and turn them into words that will attract attention, influence and inform. This means a great deal of my work is rooted in content marketing, which sees businesses sharing of themselves intelligently, individually and uniquely across different platforms, printed and online, in order to build recognition, trust and increased profits.
Give to get
Now, working with a great variety of different clients on how to engage their customers through content marketing means I think a lot about giving to get, but thinking too hard about the ‘get’ is a tempting distraction. The most is often received from giving, sharing and helping with unlooked for returns. Often generosity and simple acts of open-handedness and unselfishness can have a very powerful affect on an individual’s and an organisation’s impact and success.
So, I think it’s important to understand how generosity works. As a species, notwithstanding Darwin’s theory of the ‘Survival of the Fittest’, researchers have identified that we are all hardwired to be generous – to look out for each other, that’s how we find purpose and thrive as communities. Although we don’t always chose this path.
Neuroscientists tell us that the same part of the brain lights up when we are generous, or on the receiving end of a generous act, as it does when we eat a chocolate bar or flirt. Our brain registers wellbeing; we feel pleasure. We’re told that it may also strengthen our immune system and many are promoting altruism as an antidote to distress.
The social contagion of generosity
Work currently being done at Harvard around the social contagion of generosity shows it also has another bi-product – it’s catching. One generous act begets another – it sets a pattern. The same is also true, sadly, of a selfish act.
Being generous is the route to long-term, sustainable success because it helps people make decisions in your favour.
Back to the neuroscientists who have also identified that any decision we make can never be completely objective. The part of our brain that takes millions of decisions for us everyday is called the amygdala. It’s part of the limbic system and it also is the part that governs our emotions. So, making any decision is inseparable from how we feel emotionally and is dependent on our past experiences, our current situation and anxieties about the future. It stands to reason, therefore, that if we recognise and trust someone or something we are already emotionally engaged and will be more receptive and positive towards them.
Generosity and sharing fosters wellbeing, recognition, creates trust, encourages engagement, loyalty and influence. Generosity is good for reputation, results and revenue; it’s good for business, and not just good, it’s powerful.
Now, are you saying to yourself, “If I tell everyone what I know and how I do things they’ll steal my ideas, I’d be a fool.”? Some see generosity as a weakness, a ‘weed’ in their carefully nurtured garden of success. But, I’m not talking about giving away patents and intellectual property necessarily, I’m talking about intelligently sharing our experience and know-how; making connections through our experience in support of others; supporting causes because we can when others are less lucky or less able; sharing in our own unique and individual ways.
In terms of business sharing and content marketing, is this a new development? Far from it… It’s widely thought that the first customer publication came out in 1895 from John Deere the agricultural machinery manufacturers. Some bright spark worked out that if you send your core audience (in this case farmers) useful information (information on how to farm more efficiently) to help them operate more profitably, they will trust you. And, when the time comes to make a buying decision, that decision is pretty much already made. In John Deere’s case when their famers improved their yields and profitability and had the ability to invest in a new tractor or plough, John Deere worked on the assumption that the farmers would buy it from someone they trusted… and they did.
Today, John Deere is one of the world’s top agricultural machinery manufacturers and they employ around 67,000 people. Their early magazine, ‘The Furrow’, is still going strong and is found in 27 countries and around in 14 different languages in print and online. That early generosity was the game changer and the springboard for their pre-eminence, competitive edge and healthy profit.
Profit + generosity = sustainability
So, long-term successful business isn’t just about profit… Profit is very important of course. It feeds into wealth creation and reinvestment and allows growth. Yet, importantly the transformative power of generosity and sharing feeds into sustainability – something that, when the profits are taking a hit and the economic landscape is looking rocky, forms the long-term health and wealth of our businesses and the possibilities and opportunities are huge.
Just think for a moment about all the different ways we connect and share today. This connectivity came about through possibly modern times’ greatest act of generosity, that of Tim Berners Lee when he give the world the World Wide Web – royalty free technology for the people. This connectivity means that content marketing and social media are now completely intertwined and pretty much inseparable. And, it’s worth remembering that young people, digital natives, are growing up in a world where sharing is second nature.
So, generosity, this ability to understand an audience and share with them in terms of business voice, action and engagement plays a key role in the building of sustainable good business and establishing trusted brands.
Ikea and ‘social relevance’
Ikea has a mission statement but it’s not “Furnish the world”, as you might imagine. No, it’s to: “create a better everyday life for the many people” – they have a very smart business idea that supports this in the shape of affordable, flat pack furniture, but their mission for their business is not simply based in coffee tables.
Still a family controlled firm they want to be intrinsic to communities, they want to support, not simply take what they can get. Remember we don’t just survive but we thrive through mutual generosity. People relate to it, they appreciate it. They trust it and they buy in their millions, helping Ikea create more clever furniture but also funding substantial and lasting change through their independent charitable foundation and renewable energy initiatives around the globe. Ikea’s sharing of what and how they do things combined with their strong social responsibility forms, what’s been termed ‘social relevance’; an embedding of an organisation within communities for the greater good.
Today, because of social media, social relevance will not be the preserve of the reach and budgets of the big multi-nationals, any business of any size can make an impact though the way they share within communities and the world with powerful results.
Derek Silvers and individual impact
In 1997 Derek Sivers lived in California. He was a professional clown and independent musician. He needed a way to get his music out to a wider audience and from his bedroom he created the website CD Baby. An online music store for his own music it soon developed as a platform for other independent musicians to share and sell their music with the world. He would listen to every CD he received and, based on his own experiences, he ensured that the musicians on CD Baby would be paid every week and they wouldn’t be delisted for not reaching a required level of sales.
Over the next 10 years CD Baby became the largest seller of independent music on the web, with $100million in sales for over 150,000 musicians. In 2008 Derek bequeathed CD Baby, worth an estimated $22million, to a charitable trust for music education and he has gone on to focus on new ventures to benefit musicians and other entrepreneurs all over the world. Supporting them with his wealth of experience.
About the time Derek was planning to move on from CD Baby, in the UK over in Leeds, a small group of entrepreneurs got together and put together the finance to refurbish a large derelict school in the heart of Harehills, one of the UK’s most deprived areas. They had an idea around creating a hub for enterprise, business and community and that idea was Shine.
Shine and social relevance at the heart of business
Shine’s business idea is a conference, training, office and exhibition space, launching at the beginning of the recession, today Shine is outstripping its competitors through its combination of iconic venue and intelligent generosity around how it presents itself as a business and the very real impact it has when engaging with customers and suppliers, businesses and the wider community. Shine’s community programmes include work with ex offenders and an art gallery to showcase local artists’ work. A large part of their content marketing is the sharing of stories around their diverse client and community base and generosity around making connections with and for people – passing on the intelligence that supports others’ growth that feeds back into their own reputation and success.
Shine now welcomes many large corporate and public sector clients, including NHS, Aviva, Yorkshire Water, British Gas, Google and Microsoft, as well as SME companies and entrepreneurs who are all contributing to and changing perceptions of Harehills and its diverse community.
And what about us? How can we be first in the minds of people that matter most to us?
We need to be courageous.
Be the ‘good guy’.
Be in it for the long haul.
In our aspirations for ourselves, our families, communities and businesses I believe it is our generosity and humanity, as well as our determination, our ambition and our skill that will ultimately mean we flourish or fail.
In the very act of our generosity we sow the seeds of our own success.
(c) Jacky Fitt 2015 – This was the basis for my TEDx Pocklington talk on 28th May 2015.
Photographs courtesy for rradar Legal
John Deere: https://www.deere.co.uk/en_US/industry/agriculture/our_offerings/furrow/furrow.page
Derek Sivers: https://sivers.org