Pay It Forward logo for blogThe concept of paying it forward is one which can truly benefit many and was featured in a great movie from 2000 starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt & Haley Joel Osment. It reminds me of a commercial from the 1970s for Faberge shampoo in which they had the expression “if you tell two friends and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on…”.

Well, the idea of paying it forward is really a good one. In fact, Benjamin Franklin demonstrated the idea of paying it forward in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 22, 1784:

“I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.”

In business, there are SO many ways in which this concept can take hold. But to me, the greatest impact of this wonderful approach to helping can be done at the grassroots, or individual, level. I myself have experienced both sides of paying it forward. I have had the great fortune of being helped by many people along my career path. And to be clear, these folks did not do so with the expectation that they would receive anything in return; but rather for the sake of helping me out at a time when I was in need of assistance. I have had a few great mentors who took me under their wings and guided me through then-uncharted paths within my career. I am humbled by the unselfish nature in which this help was given and greatly benefited from it. It is, in large part, the reason I am where I am in my career.

So, in the spirit of paying it forward, I now offer assistance to others whenever I can so that they too can benefit from outside perspectives and guidance. I participate on the board of a non-profit [Reading Partners], I mentor colleagues both within and outside my company whenever I am able to, and I encourage those in my village to do the same. There are a couple of great commercials from Liberty Mutual insurance company that totally inspired me to write this entry and to shine a light on the notion of paying it forward. These commercials show how one person witnessing someone helping someone else, can find that helpfulness within themselves to pay it forward.

If each person who reads this blog entry, thinks about one person they can help with the explicit ‘rule’ that that person must repay the favor by helping someone else, imagine how quickly this valuable concept can generate massive good. Think about it, mathematically it doesn’t take long for things to grow incredibly fast as shown in this great piece by Alan Yu called “A Penny Doubled Everyday“. Starting with just one penny on day 1 and doubling the number each day, in just thirty days, you’d have over $10 million dollars…$10,737,418.23 to be exact.

As leaders, we must be sure to foster a culture in which people understand the value of helping one another. I try to do this as often as I can and those who work with and around me, are always welcomed to ask for assistance or the time to assist others. We all have times in our lives where we need(ed) help. The greatest thing we can do with what we have learned is to share this knowledge with others in our networks so that they too can benefit. It’s like, as Wally Bock asks, “what do you want to be remembered for?”.

Nina Nets It Out: Be sure to take every opportunity to help others and to ask them to do the same for people within their network. If we can create an atmosphere in which this type of behavior is commonplace, recognized and encouraged, the limits we have are boundless. And in these difficult times, helping others will be appreciated tremendously by all involved.