Must Read Weekend Reading

Does Being Nice Pay Off?

Two interesting research pieces crossed my desk in the past few weeks. One, from Stanford, argues that while people want to hang out with generous, kind, honest, sincere, and trustworthy people, they often select (hire or buy from) people who exhibit competitiveness, effectiveness, intelligence, and confidence. The other, from Harvard, argues that “nice guys can finish first”. Specifically, that social networks aid in cooperation and discourage selfishness and that groups will eliminate people or break connections by those who behaved selfishly.

Jennifer Aaker, of Stanford, and two colleagues document 3 experiments that show consumers perceive non-profits as being warmer than for-profits, but as less competent. Further, that consumers are less willing to buy a product made by a nonprofit, than by a for-profit because of their perception that the firm lacks competence. More here on her work. I can think of many companies that are both competent and good because they manage to share their purpose while being efficient (REI, Patagonia, Starbucks, Nike, as quick examples).

David Rand, of Harvard. says that people were more willing to make new connections or maintain existing connections with those who acted generously, and break connections with those who behaved selfishly. His result focused on when people had choice; in those situations generosity won. In closed systems, selfish people did better and selfishness itself spread. More of his work here.

This raises an important set of questions about what to emphasize: nice or competent. I often get people asking me this question about “am I too nice”. (More often it is asked as, “Do I need to become an a**hole to get xyz done?”) Personally, I see no conflict in being generous, kind, etc AND also being wickedly competent and confident. (It’s like apologizing for making money even if you’re doing a social good.) The research shows it’s important to FIRST make an impression of competence if the goal is to have someone select you as someone worth listening to, or to pick you for something.

I see (and I’m sure you do, too) tons of people focusing more on espousing and advocating only their own opinions (spiking on competence) rather than participating in solution creation together (spiking on collaboration), and they get plenty of followers / love / PR from that activity. Which would lead me to discount Rand’s findings for work settings. As I clicked through the research, it is quite possible that Rand’s work is capturing a generational shift or of a group that believes in a non-zero game.

How Big Is Your World?

I was really touched by this idea, and what it says about our culture:

And then it hits you that your mind and soul, until now, had been colonized. You had so completely relinquished the notion of ever demanding a better world, a better life for yourself and for those who suffer alongside you and more profoundly than you, that you would simply prefer that your imagination shut down entirely. Instead of occupying the spaces that cause you to feel pain, to be isolated, to be lonely, instead of believing that a better world can exist, you have hidden away from those spaces, pretended they didn’t exist, masked them with cheap wine and internet chat and downward dog.

From this essay which is partly about the Occupy Movement but more about getting engaged with the world and having a broader horizon of meaning in the world, rather than a complete focus on personal happiness.


Kutcher Gives Up 2 Things This Week.

Kutcher made a major faux pas on social media by tweeting about the Penn State situation, without knowing enough. Well, he’s had a hard week with the news about Mrs. Kutcher. And then decided to turnover management of his twitter account to an agency. For a guy who seems to get social, this makes no sense to me.

Ashton Kutcher
Ashton Kutcher (Image via

Today Kutcher — who’s TV’s biggest social media star — says he’s handing over the management of his account to the social marketing firm he co-founded. “While I will continue to express myself through @Aplusk, I’m going to turn the management of the feed over to my team at Katalyst Media to ensure the quality of it’s content,” he writes. “A collection of over 8 million followers is not to be taken for granted. I feel responsible for delivering an informed opinion and not spreading gossip or rumors through my twitter feed.”

More details here. We will each mess up cause this social thing is relatively new. We’re all neophytes in the social arena. In my opinion, we ought to learn how to do this stuff better, not give up our voice.

6 Replies

  1. Nilofer- I always love reading your posts, as I think you’re both wickedly smart and very sweet. That said, your post hit a chord with me this week. Ever since the new Steve Jobs book came out, I’ve noticed a growing number of A**holes emerging. I’d like to pool all my funds and buy a billboard off the 101 that says:

    “To act like an A**hole does not make you Steve Jobs– it just makes you an A**hole.”

    I feel like everyone is trying out the “steve” dictatorship of management and are entitled to manage like this to stroke thier disillusioned egos that it will make them like Steve Jobs. Please write a post on how his legacy is changing management styles- for the worst. I may need to go drop some LSD ( as Steve did ), to deal with this new level of arrogance and at times, evil.

  2. Amazing Must Read Niofer The best stance is where being generous ( giving without fear ) meets powerful ( defined as the ability to get things done). That’s also when innovation flourishes. Too many entrepreneurs fail to recognize that or to prepare themselves to be what I call conscious, collaborative leaders. You want to build an empire? Learn to deeply connect.

  3. Its Official, you are my favorite read! Thanks for the Must Read Weekend Post and i thought it was important to share that you are my favorite, “must stop what you are doing” read every week. Keep doing what you are doing for the world needs more voices like you. In gratitude, Gina Rudan, Author of Practical Genius and Curator of TEDxMIA.

    1. I am grateful to have you participate in the yes and know community. Thanks for the kind words…

  4. Hi Nilofer. Just want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this post, especially this bit: ‘In my opinion, we ought to learn how to do this stuff better, not give up our voice.’ I so agree. And I also think that as humans we are bound to falter, so rather than relish in the moment, others should dust us off and help us get back on our feet.

  5. I think that being nice is important, but being fair is important too. I can be nice when treating subordinates but later I can make decisions that could affect their payments, morale, health, etc. I managed operations in a large corporation in the past and fair treatment was not as rewarded as high productivity to reduce cost. I do not know who ‘s fault it is, probably eveybody’s since customers mostly buy when things are cheap but that usually imply sacrificing workers payments, health,etc. I think the wall street movement is more about fairness and there is no clear message that it is really about this. They seem to like small businesses rather than large businesses but not all large business are bad and not all small busines are good. I think the message might be more
    meaningful if it addresses the real problem that is unfair payment/treatment of workers rather than sizes of businesses that, to me, really does not represent a problem itself. I think being nice is important for any manager but being fair/ caring is more important to me.

Leave a reply

Leave a Reply