Category Archives: Baillie Lumber

A Baillie Lumber Blog.

Generosity

The subtitle of the book The Paradox of Generosity says it all: “Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose.”  In this book, authors Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson present their extensive research on generosity.  The authors define generosity broadly, including financial giving, volunteering of one’s time, and relational generosity.  As the title suggests, the results of giving are often the opposite of what we might expect.  In short, according to Smith and Davidson, generous people usually get back more than they give.

When faced with a decision as to whether to be generous, we often unconsciously assume it’s a zero sum game.  If I give away my money or my time, I’ll have less of it for myself.  Giving is good, we think, but it’s a sacrifice.  I’ll be relatively worse off after I give.  Not so, say the authors of The Paradox of Generosity.  Over and over their research showed that generous people tend to get back more than they give.  More specifically, generous people usually get back four things:  happiness, health, a sense of purpose in life, and personal growth.

Let’s take happiness first.  The research showed a clear and statistically significant relationship between giving away 10% of one’s income and a greater probability of being happy in life.  In general, Americans who consider themselves the most financially generous also tend to be the most happy.  On the other hand,  happiness declines as generosity decreases.  In the case of volunteering, on average very happy Americans volunteer ten times as much as very unhappy Americans.  Clearly giving through volunteering leads to happiness.  And finally, the research showed that Americans who practice the highest level of relational generosity (helping or taking time with people) are also those who report being the most happy.  Without going into all the detail, the authors note similar correlations between generosity and health, having purpose in life, and personal growth.  They also point out that health includes both physical and mental health.  Although it’s hopefully not our only motivation for giving, being generous clearly pays off in many different ways.

The last chapter in the book talks about the “lived experiences” of generous Americans.  Generous people almost always end up genuinely enjoying giving, according to the authors.  It’s not a burden, but rather is something that makes them “light up”.  Interestingly enough, a high percentage of generous people end up simplifying their lifestyles and living more modestly.  They see the power of what their resources can accomplish, and they choose to consume less themselves.  The recognition of “having enough” is a common characteristic of generous people.  Generous people also tend to take time to exercise and eat well.  They eat more healthy home cooked meals, take more walks with loved ones, and go on bike rides with their kids.  And finally, generous people tend to face problems and setbacks with more grace, even humor.

Generous people end up getting back more than they give in a variety of different ways.  In the moment, giving can seem like it’s only a sacrifice; but in the end, we’re better off when we give, and give regularly.  We end up happier, healthier and better connected to those around us. I encourage you to think about how “the paradox of generosity” applies to you.

Learning From Failure

Losing a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly is one of life’s most traumatic experiences.  Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, had that experience almost three years ago.  Her husband died suddenly while working out in the resort gym where he and Sheryl were vacationing.  Some of you may know Sheryl from her first book, Lean In.  Several months ago she released a second book titled Option B in which she describes coming to grips with, and attempting to recover from, her husband’s death.  Major themes of the book include the power of resilience in the face of adversity and the capacity of the human spirit to persevere.  I highly recommend it to anyone who has gone through a life changing tragedy, or to anyone who would like to help a friend who has.

Beyond Sandberg’s personal story, the book also contains a remarkable chapter titled “Failing and Learning at Work.”  I’d like to devote the rest of this blog to that chapter.  Just as people need resilience, Sandberg says, organizations need to develop resilience as well.  How an organization responds to failure is typically a great indicator of its level of resilience.  In this chapter, Sandberg recounts some totally counter-intuitive research regarding predictors of success in space launches (she got interested in space launches after visiting Elan Musk’s Space-X headquarters in Los Angeles and watching rockets being launched).  While most people would expect the success of an organization’s previous space launches to be the best predictor of success in its future launches, exactly the opposite is true!  Surprisingly, the data shows that the more times an organization has failed at a rocket launch, the more likely it is to successfully put a rocket into orbit on its next try.  Furthermore, chances of a successful launch increase even more after a spectacular failure (such as a rocket exploding) compared to after a smaller failure.  So not only should we embrace and learn from failure, but that we actually can learn the most from our biggest failures.

Unfortunately, our natural instincts generally push us in exactly the opposite direction.  We are often too insecure or too proud to admit mistakes, or we get defensive and shut down.  A resilient organization helps its people resist the temptation to react this way, and creates a culture where owning and learning from mistakes is embraced.  Organizations that embrace, study and learn from their failures outperform their counterparts that don’t.

One organization that does this particularly well is the Marines.  A visit to the Marine Corps Base Quantico drove this point home to Sheryl.  As she tells the story, she was surprised to discover that after every mission (and even every training session) the Marines do a complete debrief.  What went wrong, what went right, and what can we learn.  The results of the debrief are recorded so that everyone can access them and learn from them.  The Marines clearly have a culture where failure is seen as a learning opportunity.  Organizations like the Marines that focus on learning from failure consistently outperform those that don’t.

At Baillie, one of our values is “To Encourage Risk Taking.”  We do pretty well at that.  But along with taking risks inevitably comes failure.  We probably don’t do as well at embracing and learning from our failures and then going out and risking again.  Our pride gets in the way.  We may even want to hide our mistakes. We need to get better at embracing learning from failure.  It’s hard, but shining the light on and learning from failure is one of the characteristics that makes already successful organizations continually improve and thrive.  Risk, fail, learn, risk again, fail, but eventually succeed.  That’s the formula for sustained success