Trust is not a checklist

This is my seventh blog post tagged Karma since I promised to discuss it directly and indirectly on my blog throughout the year after declaring KARMA my theme word for 2010 back on the first day of January, which is now almost ten months ago.


Trust and Collaboration

I was reminded of the topic of this post—trust—by this tweet by Jill Wanless sent from the recent Collaborative Culture Camp, which was a one day conference on enabling collaboration in a government context, held on October 15 in Ottawa, Ontario.

I followed the conference Twitter stream remotely and found many of the tweets interesting, especially ones about the role that trust plays in collaboration, which is one of my favorite topics in general, and one that plays well with my karma theme word.


Trust is not a checklist

The title of this blog post comes from the chapter on The Emergence of Trust in the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek, where he explained that trust is an organizational performance category that is nearly impossible to measure.

“Trust does not emerge simply because a seller makes a rational case why the customer should buy a product or service, or because an executive promises change.  Trust is not a checklist.  Fulfilling all your responsibilities does not create trust.  Trust is a feeling, not a rational experience.  We trust some people and companies even when things go wrong, and we don’t trust others even though everything might have gone exactly as it should have.  A completed checklist does not guarantee trust.  Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain.”


Trust is not transparency

This past August, Scott Berkun blogged about how “trust is always more important than authenticity and transparency.”

“The more I trust you,” Berkun explained, “the less I need to know the details of your plans or operations.  Honesty, diligence, fairness, and clarity are the hallmarks of good relationships of all kinds and lead to the magic of trust.  And it’s trust that’s hardest to earn and easiest to destroy, making it the most precious attribute of all.  Becoming more transparent is something you can do by yourself, but trust is something only someone else can give to you.  If transparency leads to trust, that’s great, but if it doesn’t you have bigger problems to solve.”


Organizational Karma

Trust and collaboration create strong cultural ties, both personally and professionally.

“A company is a culture,” Sinek explained.  “A group of people brought together around a common set of values and beliefs.  It’s not the products or services that bind a company together.  It’s not size and might that make a company strong, it’s the culture, the strong sense of beliefs and values that everyone, from the CEO to the receptionist, all share.”

Organizations looking for ways to survive and thrive in today’s highly competitive and rapidly evolving marketplace, should embrace the fact that trust and collaboration are the organizational karma of corporate culture.

Trust me on this one—good karma is good business.


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The Balancing Act of Awareness

This is my sixth blog post tagged Karma since I promised to discuss it directly and indirectly on my blog throughout the year after declaring KARMA my theme word for 2010 back on the first day of January—surprisingly now almost six months ago.

Lately I have been contemplating the importance of awareness, and far more specifically, the constant challenge involved in maintaining the balance between our self-awareness and our awareness of others.

The three sections below are each prefaced by a chapter from Witter Bynner’s “American poetic” translation of the Tao Te Ching.  I certainly do not wish to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities—I am using these references in a philosophical and secular sense.

Since I also try to balance my philosophy between Eastern and Western influences, Lao Tzu won’t be the only “old master” cited.

Additionally, please note that the masculine language (e.g., “he” and “man”) used in the selected quotes below is a by-product of the age of the original texts (e.g., the Tao Te Ching is over 2,500 years old).  Therefore, absolutely no gender bias is intended.



“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this sentence in the closing lines of his wonderful essay on Self-Reliance, which is one of my all-time favorites even though I first read it over 25 years ago.  My favorite passage is:

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.  This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness.  It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.  It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Emerson’s belief in the primacy of the individual was certainly not an anti-social sentiment.

Emerson believed society is best served whenever individuals possess a healthy sense of self and a well-grounded self-confidence, both of which can only be achieved if we truly come to know who we are on our own terms.

Writing more than 150 years later, and in one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains the importance of first achieving independence through self-mastery before successful interdependence with others is possible.  “Interdependence is a choice only independent people can make,” Covey explained.  “Dependent people cannot choose to become interdependent.  They don’t have the character to do it; they don’t own enough of themselves.”

“Private victories precede public victories,” wrote Covey, explaining that the private victories of independence are the essence of our character growth, and provide the prerequisite foundation necessary for the public victories of interdependence.

Of course, the reality is that self-awareness and independence cannot be developed only during our moments of solitude.

We must interact with others even before we have achieved self-mastery.  Furthermore, self-mastery is a continuous process.  Although self-awareness is essential for effectively interacting with others, it provides no guarantee for social success.

However, as William Shakespeare taught us by way of the character Polonius in Hamlet:

“This above all—to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”


Empathy, which is central to our awareness of others (i.e., other-awareness), is often confused with sympathy.

Sympathy is an agreement of feeling that we express by providing support or showing compassion for the suffering of others.  Empathy is an identification with the emotions, thoughts, or perspectives expressed by others.

The key difference is found between the words agreement and identification.

Sympathy is the ability to relate oneself to others.  Empathy is the ability to see the self in others—not your self, but the unique self within each individual.  Sympathy is about trying to comfort others.  Empathy is about trying to understand others.

“Empathy is not sympathy,” explains Covey.  “Sympathy is a form of agreement, a form of judgment.  And it is sometimes the more appropriate response.  But people often feed on sympathy.  It makes them dependent.  The essence of empathy is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.”

Although both sympathy and empathy are important, empathy is more crucial for other-awareness.

We often simply act sympathetic when in the presence of others.  Therefore, sympathy is sometimes all too easy to feign and can easily remain superficial.  Empathy is less ostentatious, but can exert a far more powerfully positive influence over others.

In the words of Roy Schafer, who emphasized the role of narrative (i.e., the interpretation of our life stories) in psychoanalysis:

“Empathy involves the inner experience of sharing in and comprehending the momentary psychological state of another person.”

Balanced Awareness

Although it is easy to be aware of only our good qualities, while at the same time, only be aware of the bad qualities of others, these convenient blind spots in our awareness can also become our greatest teachers. 

Borrowing the wise words of Socrates, which thankfully were recorded for us by Plato:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Examining our awareness, and shifting its focus when appropriate between self-awareness and other-awareness truly requires a delicate balancing act. 

When we become preoccupied with self-awareness, our consideration for others suffers.  Likewise, if we become too focused on other-awareness, we can neglect our own basic needs.

Aristotle wrote about such challenges using what he called the Golden Mean, which is usually simplified into the sage advice:

“Moderation in all things.” 

Obviously, there will be times when self-awareness must be our priority, and other times when it must become other-awareness. 

I believe that there is no such thing as achieving a perfect balance, but if we remain true to our own character, then hopefully a consistency will flow freely throughout all of our behaviors, our actions, and our communication and collaboration with others.


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The Challenging Gift of Social Media

I recently finished reading (and also highly recommend) the excellent book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. 

Although it’s not the subject of the book, in this blog post I’ll focus on one of its concepts that is very applicable to social media. 


The Circles of the Gift System

Godin uses the term “Gift Culture” to describe an emerging ethos facilitated by (but not limited to) the Internet and social media, which involves what he calls “The Circles of the Gift System” that I have attempted to represent in the above diagram.

In the first circle are your true real-world friends and family, the people that you would never interact with on the basis of trying to make money (i.e., the people you freely give “true gifts” while expecting nothing in return).

In the second circle are your customers and clients, the people that you conduct commerce with and who must pay you for your time, products, and services (i.e., the people and organizations you don’t give gifts because you need them to help pay your bills).

In the third circle is the social media and extended (nowadays mostly online) community, where following the freemium model, you give freely so that you can reach as many people as possible.  It is in the third circle that you assemble your tribe comprised of blog readers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and other “friendlies” — the term Godin uses for our social media connections.

It is the third circle that many (if not most) people struggle with and often either resist or ignore.  However, as Godin explains:

“This circle is new.  It’s huge and it’s important, because it enables you to enlarge the second circle and make more money, and because it enables you to affect more people and improve more lives.” 

However, dedicating the necessary time and effort to enlarge the third circle doesn’t guarantee you will enlarge the second circle, which risks turning freemium into simply free.  It is on this particular aspect that I will focus the remainder of my blog post.


The Intriguing Opportunity of Social Media

It is difficult to imagine a business topic generating more widespread discussion these days than social media.  That’s not to say that it is (or that it even should be) considered the most important topic.  However, almost every organization as well as most individual professionals have at the very least considered getting involved with social media in a business context.

The intriguing opportunity of social media is difficult to ignore—even after you ignore most of the hype (which is no easy task).

But as I wrote in the Social Karma series, if we are truly honest, then we all have to admit that we have the same question:

“What’s in this for me?”

Using social media effectively can definitely help promote you, your expertise, your company, and its products and services.  The primary reason I started blogging was to demonstrate my expertise and establish my authority with regards to data quality and its related disciplines.  As an independent consultant, I am trying to help sell my consulting, speaking, and writing services.


The Sobering Reality of Social Media

A social media strategy focused entirely on your own self-promotion will be easily detected by the online community, and could therefore easily result in doing far more harm than good.  Effectively using social media for business requires true participation, sustained engagement, and making meaningful contributions to the community’s goals—and not just your own.

The sobering reality of social media is that it’s not something you can simply do whenever it’s convenient for you.

Using social media effectively, more than anything else, requires a commitment that is mostly measured in time.  It requires a long-term investment in the community, and the truth is you must be patient because any returns on this investment will take a long time to materialize. 

If you are planning on a quick get in, get out, short-term marketing campaign requiring little effort, then don’t waste your time, but much more importantly, don’t waste the community’s time.


The Challenging Gift of Social Media

Godin opens his chapter on “The Powerful Culture of Gifts” by joking that he must have been absent the day they taught the power of unreciprocated gifts at Stanford business school. 

In fact, it’s probably a safe bet that the curriculum at most business schools conveniently ignores the fifty thousand year tradition of human tribal economies based on mutual support and generosity, when power used to be about giving, not getting.

Although we maintain some semblance of this tribal spirit in our personal lives with respect to the first circle, when it comes to our professional lives in the second circle, we want money for our time, product, or service—and we usually don’t come cheap.

Therefore, by far the most common question that I get asked (and that I often ask myself) about social media is:

“Is it really worth all that time and effort, especially when you aren’t getting paid for it?”

Although I honestly believe that it is, truthfully there have been many times when I have doubted it.  But those were usually times when I allowed myself to give in to the natural tendency we all have to become hyper-focused on our own goals. 

The paradox is that the best way to accomplish our selfish goals is—first and foremost—to focus on helping others. 

Of course, helping others doesn’t guarantee they’ll reciprocate, especially with financial returns on our social media investment.  Returning to Godin’s analogy, enlarging (or even just maintaining) the third circle doesn’t guarantee enlarging the second circle.

However, true service to the social media community requires giving true gifts to the third circle. 

Godin explains that these gifts—which do not demand reciprocation—turn the third circle into your tribe.  Giving gifts fulfills your tribal obligation.  Recipients pay it forward by also giving gifts—but perhaps to another tribal member—and not back to you.

And this is the challenging gift of social media—it is a gift that you may keep on giving without ever getting anything in return.


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True Service


True Service

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

— Arthur Ashe

Service Providers

As I wrote at the beginning of the year in my blog post declaring karma as my theme word for 2010, we all have some way of expressing the concept of what we expect to happen when we help other people—when we provide a service for them.

In one way or another, in both our professional and our personal lives, we are all service providers. 

The most commonly used differentiation between professional and personal service is the exchange of money.  Your employer pays you to do your job, and not because you’re a wonderful human being—even though you are.  Your friends and family will help you whenever necessary, and not because you’re paying them—nice dinners, birthday presents, and other gifts don’t count.


Service Contracts

Whether it is a formal written document or an informal social agreement, all service is based upon some type of contract.

Once again because the exchange of money is typically involved, a professional service most commonly uses a written document, whereas a personal service most commonly uses a social agreement, which is often unwritten and frequently also unspoken.

A written document details the terms of service, which is the service level agreement that contractually binds the service provider to whomever they are providing service.  This service contract allows the parties involved to discuss any dissatisfaction or dispute in a relatively straightforward and civilized manner—or if lawyers get involved, in a needlessly complex and expensive manner.

Professional service contracts tend to focus on the minimum requirement necessary to fulfill the contractual commitment and therefore normally do not engender either party to go beyond the specific terms since nothing would be explicitly gained.

However, the party that is paying (i.e., “the party of the second part” for my lawyer readers) will normally attempt to exert subtle pressure on “the party of the first part” (i.e., the service provider for my non-lawyer readers) to deliver above and beyond the minimum requirement dictated by the service contract.  This is one aspect of what I like to refer to as “service psychology.”


Service Psychology

First of all, everyone prefers to get as much as possible without paying anything.  And when you do have to pay for something, everyone wants at the very least to “get what you paid for” while getting more than what you paid for is considered even better. 

These truths are universal and they do not automatically turn all of us into bad people (or all companies into evil corporations).

We also usually want to provide good service whether or not we are being paid, but when we are, there is a general tendency to be concerned about providing value worthy of our compensation.  This is the aspect of service psychology that can cause us to be receptive to the subtle pressure to exceed the minimum requirement dictated by the service contract.

Employers use it on employees.  Customers use it on companies (or more precisely, on their customer service representatives).  Business partners use it on each other.  And of course, this aspect of service psychology can be reversed to exert subtle pressure for encouraging acceptance that the minimum requirement dictated by the service contract has already been met.

We can also condition ourselves to resist these subtle pressures and even claim that we are simply defending ourselves from being taken advantage of by the other party—and regardless of which “side” of the service contract we currently find ourselves.

Such “service psychological warfare” will sometimes escalate until the lawyers eventually come crashing through the skylight, rappelling down ropes with one hand, while holding the original signed copy of the service contract in their other hand, and quoting aloud the terms, conditions, warranties, and indemnification from page 13, section 8, sub-section 3, paragraph 5.


Social Agreements

Since money is typically not involved and barring a few exceptions (e.g., a divorce or a contested will) no lawyers come into play, we tend not to view our (often unwritten, unspoken) social agreements with friends and family as “personal service contracts.” 

However, the underlying principles of service psychology apply just as much to social agreements where perhaps paradoxically, we have both a much higher expectation for those that serve us and a much greater sense of obligation to those we serve.

Therefore, our social agreements truly are personal service contracts.  There are terms and conditions, minimum requirements, and constant measurement of our costs, risks, and returns.  We all have a natural tendency to “keep score” one way or another.


All Service is a Stage

All service is a stage, and all of us are merely players, each having our exits and entrances, and in our time playing many parts, some professional and some personal, in many “service dramas” seemingly fraught with equal potential for tragedy and comedy. 

Forgive the Shakespearean flourish, but all of our narratives tend towards the dramatic and service is certainly no exception. 

Although we can easily turn our professional services into a drama (even without rappelling lawyers crashing through skylights), our social agreements generally involve more “emotional service” and are therefore far more inclined to become dramatic.

However, all service dramas are often simply a crisis of perspective—specifically our preference for our own above all others.


True Service

I began this blog post using only the second sentence from a famous Arthur Ashe quote, which in its entirety reads:

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

Although I am very fond of the original wording, I will end this blog post by paraphrasing the full quote:

“True service is remarkably rare, very undramatic, totally unconcerned with personal benefit, and completely content to serve others at whatever cost.”

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The Game of Darts – An Allegory


Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons License) by: Mike Burns

The Game of Darts – An Allegory

“Other than the people involved, what else do you need in order to play the game of darts?”

With this question, so began another one of grandfather’s life lessons. 

“Darts . . . a dartboard . . . and a scorecard,” I said slowly.

“Very good,” grandfather responded.  “Why do you need each one of them?”

“You throw the darts at the dartboard in order to score points and the scorecard keeps track of who’s winning,” I said.

“Excellent,” said grandfather.  “Now which do you think is more fun, keeping score or throwing darts?”

“Since I’m still too young to throw darts, I guess I’m supposed to say keeping score,” I sarcastically replied.

Grandfather gave me an icy stare.  He wasn’t a fan of sarcasm.

“Sorry,” I said quietly while looking down at my scuffling feet.  “But throwing darts is obviously more fun.”

“Yes, obviously throwing darts is more fun,” grandfather continued, “but keeping score is important as we previously established.  Now, which do you think is more fun, throwing darts or being the dartboard?”

“Huh? I . . . um . . . I’m sorry,” I stammered.  “I don't understand the question.”

“Do you think it would be fun being the dartboard?” repeated grandfather.  “Obviously, I do not mean you or any person for that matter, and I want to be very clear on this—especially if your parents ask—NEVER actually throw darts at anyone!  I am asking you to use your imagination and think about what the game of darts feels like from the perspective of the dartboard.”

I quietly stared at the dartboard while my eight-year-old mind struggled to make sense of the question.

“Don’t hurt yourself by thinking too hard,” grandfather joked.

“I don’t think it would be any fun at all to be the dartboard,” I answered in a soft and serious tone.  “I bet the dartboard doesn’t like this game at all.  I bet the dartboard thinks this game sucks—er, I mean—stinks.”

“Yes, the dartboard probably thinks the game is cruel,” grandfather replied.  “After all, it’s not like the dartboard ever gets to take a turn . . . and throw itself at the darts.”

Grandfather gave me a goofy grin and then he laughed out loud.  He was a big fan of laughter.

I giggled uncontrollably while my eight-year-old mind played a cartoon-like image of the dartboard throwing itself at the darts.

As we both slowly regained our composure, grandfather continued.  “Now, let’s imagine that the game of darts is an allegory, another way of thinking about something, such as three people having a conversation.  For example, you, me, and your brother.”

“Um, okay,” I replied.

“Let’s say your brother is upset and yelling at me about something,” started grandfather.

“Ha!  That’s easy to imagine,” I interrupted.  “Sorry, you were saying?”

“Your brother is upset—yes, easy to imagine but not the point—of the three required things necessary in order to play the game, which one is your brother?” asked grandfather.

“The darts!” I replied.

“And if he is yelling at me, which one of the three things am I?” asked grandfather.

“The dartboard—and that makes me the scorecard—why I am always the scorecard?” I whined.

“Settle down, I’m trying to make a point here,” grandfather retorted.

“You can’t make a point—you’re the dartboard—not the darts,” I mumbled.

“Very good smart ass—er, I mean smart aleck—yes, I am the dartboard and being the dartboard isn’t any fun, remember?” grandfather replied.

I quietly nodded my head, knowing not to push my luck with another sarcastic remark.

“But if nobody’s the dartboard,” grandfather resumed, “then your brother and I couldn’t be playing the game of darts, could we?”

I had previously been through enough lessons with grandfather that I knew what was coming next.

“So, what’s my p—what am I trying to say?” asked grandfather.

“Um, that when three people are having a conversation,” I slowly responded, “and one of them starts yelling at another, the one who is yelling is the darts, the one being yelled at is the dartboard, it’s no fun being the dartboard, no one likes getting yelled at, but . . . everyone needs someone to yell at . . . and needs someone else to keep score?”

“That’s pretty close,” grandfather replied.  “In most conversations, everyone is simply waiting for their turn to speak—their turn to throw the word-darts.  When it’s not their turn, they become the scorecard in order to track how the conversation is going.  The dartboard is usually the topic of the conversation—what they’re taking turns throwing the word-darts at.  However, when the conversation turns into an argument . . .”

“Then they start throwing word-darts at each other,” I interjected on cue, “taking turns turning each other into the dartboard, and nobody likes being the dartboard!”

“Correct!” said grandfather.

“But you also said that if nobody is the dartboard, then you can’t play the game.  I’m a little confused,” I responded.

“Yes, that is the most challenging thing about effective communication,” continued grandfather.  “Although no one likes being the dartboard, sometimes a dartboard is exactly what the other person needs you to be.  Other times, a scorecard is exactly what the other person needs you to be . . .”

“When they need to be the only one throwing all of the word-darts?” I asked.

“Correct!” said grandfather.

“Therefore, what you’re saying is that,” I thoughtfully concluded, “sometimes you’re the darts, sometimes you’re the scorecard, and sometimes you’re the dartboard.  You can’t play the game of darts unless you have all three.  Therefore, you can’t have effective communication unless you’re willing to sometimes talk, sometimes listen, and sometimes be willing to get yelled at.”

“That’s my boy!” said grandfather.  “You know, you’re pretty smart for your age.”

“That’s because I take after grandmother.”


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“I can make glass tubes”

One of my favorite television writers is Aaron Sorkin (more famous for creating The West Wing), who created the short-lived Sports Night, where William H. Macy guest-starred as an expert consultant brought in by executive management.

In a “strategy session” scene, where executives are dictating mandatory changes, Macy's character calls for a break, allowing the frustrated team to leave the room before losing their composure.  He then asks executive management to take a walk with him. 

Unbeknownst to them as it is happening, while he proceeds to escort them out of the building, he recites the following:

“You guys know who Philo Farnsworth was?

He invented television.  I don't mean he invented television like Uncle Milty [Milton Berle]. 

I mean he invented the television in a little house in Provo, Utah, at a time when the idea of transmitting moving pictures through the air would be like me saying I figured out a way to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise.

He was a visionary.  He died broke and without fanfare. 

The guy I really like though was his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. 

He said, ‘Philo, I know everyone thinks you're crazy, but I want to be a part of this.  I don't have your head for science, so I'm not going to be able to help much with the design and mechanics of the invention, but it sounds like you're going to need glass tubes.’

You see, Philo was inventing the Cathode Ray Tube [CRT], and even though Cliff didn't know what that meant or how it worked, he'd seen Philo's drawing, and he knew that he was going to need glass tubes.  And since television hadn't been invented yet, it's not like you could get them at the local TV repair shop.

‘I want to be a part of this,’ Cliff said. ‘I don't have your head for science.  How would it be if I were to teach myself to be a glass blower?  And I could set up a little shop in the backyard.  And I could make all the tubes you'll need for testing.’

There ought to be Congressional Medals for people like that.

[At this point, and quite understandably, executive management was very confused.]

I've looked over the notes you've been giving over the last year or so, and I have to say they exhibit an almost total lack of understanding of how to get the best from talented people.

You said before that for whatever reason, I seem to be able to exert some authority around here.

I assure you it's not because they like me.  It's because they knew two minutes after I walked in the door, I'm someone who knows how to do something.

I can help.

I can make glass tubes.

That's what they need.”

What's my point?

Sometimes—and with the very best of intentions—when we try to help others, we have a tendency to try to get them to change everything they are currently doing.  More specifically, we try to get them to do things our way.

After all, our way works great for us, surely it will work just as well for them, right?


Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else.”

So, if you want to help others be a first-rate version of themselves, then follow Cliff Gardner's lead. 

Take a good look at the situation, realize the person you are trying to help is full of potential, and probably just needs a little help with something very minor.

Listen carefully to the person you want to help—and then—kindly let them know:

I can make glass tubes.”

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My #ThemeWord for 2010: KARMA

My #ThemeWord for 2010: KARMA

Rob Paller introduced me to the #ThemeWord tradition, started in 2008 by Erica Douglass as an alternative to New Year's Resolutions, where you pick one word to serve as an over-arching theme for the upcoming year.


My #ThemeWord for 2010: KARMA

The Sanskrit word karma (literally “action” or “deed”) is commonly misunderstood or oversimplified.  It is a complex concept with deep roots in Eastern philosophy and the religious traditions of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

First and most important—please let me stress that I do not wish to offend anyone's religious sensibilities. 

I am using the word karma in a philosophical and secular sense.  However, I will admit that my perspective is greatly influenced by my non-religious study of Buddhism.  Of the many useful texts I own on the subject, my favorite description of karma comes from the book Lotus In A Stream by Chinese Buddhist Master Hsing Yun (as translated by Tom Graham):

“Karma is a universal law of cause and effect concerned with intentional deeds.  The law of karma tells us that all intentional deeds produce results that eventually will be felt by the doer of the deed.  Good deeds produce good karmic effects and bad deeds produce bad karmic effects.”

Obviously, “cause and effect” is neither only an Eastern concept, nor only a philosophical concept. 

The history of both Western philosophy, perhaps most notably by Aristotle, as well as Western science, perhaps most notably by Isaac Newton, also includes excellent exposition on cause and effect. 

Therefore, please feel free to contemplate “karma” in Aristotelian and/or Newtonian terms.

Some additional alternatives include:

  • Reciprocal Altruism
  • The Whuffie Factor
  • Quid Pro Quo


Reciprocal Altruism

Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers coined the term reciprocal altruism to explain how altruism, which he defined as an act of helping someone else—although incurring some “cost” for this act—may have evolved because it was beneficial to incur this cost if there is a chance of being in a reverse situation at some point in the future, where the person that you helped before may perform an altruistic act towards you.


The Whuffie Factor

Tara Hunt uses the term whuffie to describe “the residual outcome—the currency—of your reputation.  You lose or gain it based on positive or negative actions, your contributions to the community, and what people think of you.”


Quid Pro Quo

The Latin phrase quid pro quo (literally “something for something”) is commonly used to describe an equal exchange of goods, services, or favors, which can be alternatively described using the far more colloquial phrase:

“You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.”

Mean People Suck

So, whether you prefer to use karma, reciprocal altruism, whuffie, quid pro quo, or other terms, we all have some way of expressing the concept of what we expect to happen when we help other people.

We have a natural tendency to “keep score” one way or another.  We usually help others so that they will be more willing to return the favor—so others will be indebted to us.  We use subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) peer pressure techniques.

We remember who turns us down (or simply ignores us) when we ask them for their help.  And we especially take note when it was someone we had previously helped.

Mean and selfish people definitely suck.  But let's face it, nobody's perfect.  We all have bad days, we all occasionally say and do stupid things, and we all occasionally treat people worse than they deserve to be treated.


Quid Pro No

Although I accept the fact I can't possibly help everyone, in 2010 I pledge to help others whenever I can.

Most important, I pledge to practice quid pro no—I will help others without worrying about what's in it for me.

Or to borrow the wonderful words of 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva (as translated by Stephen Batchelor):

“Even when I do things for the sake of others

No sense of amazement or conceit arises.

It is just like feeding myself;

I hope for nothing in return.”  

How to Pick Your #ThemeWord for 2010

Karma is my theme word for 2010.  I will occasionally discuss it directly and indirectly in my blog posts throughout the year.

If you are interested in participating in the theme word tradition, then follow these three simple steps:

  1. Think of a word that reflects your hopes and dreams for 2010
  2. Share your theme word with friends on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog
  3. Be sure and use the hashtag #ThemeWord