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Published 05 September 2012 06:18, Updated 05 September 2012 15:34
Do you remember your parents telling you that it feels better to give than it does to receive? It turns out they were right – although it may have sounded like hogwash to a child’s ears.
Academics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business have been examining why people are motivated to give things away to strangers, which is important to understand if you are trying to promote co-operation in your business.
Professor of Organisational Behaviour Francis Flynn says people are inspired by the benefits they receive when the giver is expecting nothing in return. When this is part of a system, such as the goods exchange service Freecycle, a sense of solidarity is created.
As social animals, it feels good to be a part of a group.
Freecycle is an online community of almost 9 million members who exchange diverse items such as furniture, children’s clothing, computers and even cars.
“Users of Freecycle make contributions to other individual users, but cannot request payment or ask for any other form of compensation,” he says.
He contrasts Freecycle with Craigslist, where people pay for transactions.
Flynn calls the Freecycle sort of giving “generalised exchange”. These are the random acts of kindness involved in giving blood donations, providing online restaurant reviews and flashing your headlights to warn other drivers of a police trap, he says.
With his colleagues, Robb Willer and Sonya Zak, Flynn found that generalised exchange does foster more solidarity than direct exchange (where a payment of some kind is received) – partly because people are inspired by the social benefits they receive.
“People tend to attribute this enhanced value to the ‘special’ nature of the community ... which leads them to experience further elevated feelings of cohesion and loyalty toward that group,” he writes.
Being the beneficiaries of selfless giving encourages them to also give.
Surveying more than 1000 users of both services, the researchers found that Freecycle members had a greater sense of solidarity, which grew along with the number of items they received.
Flynn says many business leaders hope to encourage selfless giving among employees to increase co-operation and recommends they set the tone by building a strong group identity: “one that is likely to promote a pattern of freely providing help and assistance without any expectation of direct compensation”.