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Pay It Forward with Five-Minute Favors, by Kare Anderson and Adam Rifkin - Forbes

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Kare Anderson and I talk about five-minute favors in this 7/17/2013 Forbes post:

The Forbes article evolved out of this PandaWhale conversation:

I include my favorite parts of the article below.

Five-Minute Favor is discussed by Adam Grant in his book:

Adam Rifkin taught me that giving doesn’t require becoming Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi; we can all find ways of adding high value to others’ lives at a low personal cost. The five-minute favor is my single favorite habit that I learned while writing the book. I particularly enjoy looking for ways to:

1. Share knowledge

2. Introduce individuals who might benefit from knowing each other

These five-minute favors have broadened and deepened my relationships, injecting greater meaning and satisfaction into my life.

Great examples of five-minute favors:

In just five minutes you often can:

  1.  Use a product and offer concise, vivid and helpful feedback.
  2.  Introduce two people with a well-written email, citing a mutual interest.
  3.  Read a summary and offer crisp and concrete feedback.
  4.  Serve as a relevant reference for a person, product, or service.
  5.  Share, comment or retweet something on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+ or other social places.
  6.  Write a short, specific and laudatory note to recognize or recommend someone on LinkedIn, Yelp, or other social place.
  7. (Add your own personal favorite five-minute favor to this list.)

Five-minute favors are the currency of Silicon Valley:

Rifkin discovered the deceptively simple concept of the five-minute favor by watching and benefiting from masters of the art such as Rajeev MotwaniBrett BullingtonOmar AhmadCraig JohnsonJeff Barr, and Kevin Compton. When he was a new entrepreneur fresh out of Caltech, many people helped him but expected a quid pro quo.

At first he was puzzled by why these brilliant, busy, successful people would have any interest in helping an unknown stranger from whom most of them would never directly benefit. His mentors were CONSTANTLY doing small favors through phone, email, and in the coffee shops of Palo Alto. And this was happening to others like him. Why would these geniuses and millionaires do something that would be considered a waste of time by many?

It took years of observation to conclude that the five-minute favor was a big reason for Silicon Valley’s competitive advantage. Entrepreneurial engineers and their associated professional colleagues come here from all over the world to start great things. We didn’t have as many of the traditional structures and ways of living through which people became friends and colleagues elsewhere, such as geographic stability, family ties, religious organizations or alumni associations. We do have more now but the practice of giving, even to strangers, introduced through people we know, became widespread as it is vital to the DNA of a community of start-ups, and re-starts. Give back and forth is vital to growing, finding the right teams, getting vital feedback and more.

Some excellent stories of five-minute favors:

Rifkin learned that favors in Silicon Valley can be extremely relevant because the skill sets and experiences are so specific. A drink could buy you advice on your API from Jeffrey McManus, who had evangelized among developers for Ebay, Yahoo, and Twilio. If you had concerns about the HVAC in your server hosting facility, you might make a quick visit to a cigar shop in Redwood City to get Omar Ahmad’s advice. He’d signed datacenter contracts for @Home, Netscape, and Napster. Sometimes you’d almost feel silly at the small scale of the problems you had compared to scope and erudition of the person helping you.

Stanford professor, Rajeev Motwani, the brain behind much of the theory of web search, would gravely discuss your puny graph database as if it were the seed of something much bigger.

But many five-minute favors fall more into the realm of the everyday transactions of life — hiring and starting careers, learning new skills, maintaining relationships — albeit with a Silicon Valley twist. Ahmad, for example, gathered up all the holiday strays for his famous Muslim Christmas, which mostly entailed eating Chinese food with Jews, Hindus, and atheists, watching Hollywood movies, and participating in a discourse on Islamic principles.

Anyone could play this game; even the youngest intern Rifkin ever trained, Yi Shi, eventually became comfortable arranging informational interviews for her career-changing friends, including one who switched from erotic photography to systems administration.

Adam Grant wrote in his book that people are starting five-minute favor clubs:

Students at Wharton often describe the five-minute favor as life-changing. It challenges their assumption they have to choose between helping others and their own success, allowing them to find ways of giving to others that don’t demand enormous acts of sacrifice.

Over the past year, Adam Rifkin’s approach has inspired three different students to start five-minute favor clubs. They report that bringing peers together to help each other has enriched their abilities to achieve their goals while building a stronger sense of community.

What we mean by community is a group of people building trust.

Five-minute favors accelerate and amplify trust:

Let me reiterate that “community” doesn’t have to mean some kind of touchy-feely kumbaya hand-holding — and in fact, as in the case of Professor Grant’s students or Silicon Valley denizens, there can be a fundamentally competitive aspect to the group. For a new industry to move forward rapidly, you need to take a group of strangers and quickly build a certain level of trust between them — or rather to allow for the rapid assessment of each individual’s trustworthiness. This can happen much more quickly when leaders emerge who volunteer to reduce the friction inherent in a system without much organizational structure. My mentors were those leaders, and the five-minute favor was the means by which new members were tested for trust.

Trust is conveyed (or not!) by observing whether new members pay it forward in small but meaningful ways. All new people need are the commitment and follow-through of small regular blocks of time. If we each do something every day, we develop a fabric of trust that is self-organizing, emergent, and truly benefits all.”

My current phrase: "startups need to hunt together"... this seems to apply in all aspects of startup life: from customer introductions, sharing resources and expertise, advice and guidance, offering alpha products, using alpha products, promoting other startups products... and the list goes on to pretty much any aspect, even where you may be competing, sharing can be mutually beneficial


Good point and cute picture.

Tony Stubblebine on competition:

A few five-minute favor quotes I love:

“No gesture is too small when done with gratitude,” said Oprah Winfrey.

Successful entrepreneur Nick Sullivan said in Adam Grant's book, “Adam always wants to make sure that whoever he’s giving to is also giving to somebody else.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”, said Martin Luther King, Jr.

What a pleasure to think of a few of our mutual friends quoted in this piece — sadly, dearly departed, but all great examples of loving-kindness (and great givers of favors as well!)

Rohit, I agree. I tried to pay respect to the things they've taught me. Glad to see you saw that.

Everyone else, here's the whole article:

Great article--I love that now that I've made some great and visionary friends, I realize that it's a culture of intentionality. That was one of the first things I noticed about this world... ", everyone's so kind." I noticed that the rest of the corporate/business world did not have such a culture. In trying to collaborate one day, I offered to use my colleague's materials, even though in that case I preferred my own. He liked his stuff. "What, you want to take all my stuff?"  Then in Corporate America, I've experienced so much competitive edge... This world has been entirely different. I've been lucky. People open, sharing, kind... Maybe I just met all the good people, like you guys, but it was the first thing I noticed, before I even knew I was being drawn in...and I reflected about how happy I feel to be able to do things for others as well. It is a big part of happiness. 

Thank you Dawn, and I agree.

More on five minute favors:

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