February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. It's tempting to think of this as a greeting card fabrication. But I know that generosity is actually a great growth strategy. As a growth strategist, my worldview is fundamentally about focus and making purposeful choices. Randomness would appear to be at odds with the very idea of strategy, which is about how to allocate scarce resources for a company to use wisely to hire great people and win great customers.
It turns out there is a lot of science that suggests random kindness pays many dividends for both your well-being and your work. Specifically, there are at least a few reasons why performing random acts of kindness may be one of the best things you can do for your startup.
Kindness renews your health, soul, and energy as an entrepreneur
Most people think of kindness as something you do for someone else versus something you do for yourself. For example, when I'm driving and someone is desperately trying to merge into my lane at the last minute, it would be kind of me to let that person in (which I rarely do).
But science says there are health benefits for you when you are being kind to others. Christine Carter, a professor of sociology from UC Berkeley, conducted a study in which participants helped others and afterwards felt stronger, more energetic, calmer, and less depressed and had higher self-worth. David R. Hamilton notes that kindness releases oxytocin hormone, which dilates the blood vessels, reduces blood pressure, and is good for your heart.
These are all things that are critical to replenish as an entrepreneur who is pouring their all into their startup and is constantly fighting a fear of failure. Every entrepreneur I know faces adversity and recognizes that kindness is like a cool drink of water for a parched throat. There are times as an entrepreneur that all you have left is your health, soul, and energy, so regularly replenishing your reserves is key to success.
Kindness is contagious and is how marketing works best today
One imagines that the recipient of kindness is impacted by kindness. But science suggests that third-party observers are also impacted.
Jonathan D. Haidt, a professor of psychology at NYU, wrote about the idea of elevation, the "warm uplifting feeling that people experience when they see unexpected acts of human goodness, kindness, courage, or compassion." He noted elevation was contagious and inspired third-party observers to be similarly good, kind, courageous, and compassionate.
So kindness is viral. And in a world where consumers have an abundance of brands and businesses they can choose from, kindness can be the difference maker. This is especially true when, according to McKinsey, word of mouth accounts for 50 percent of a company's sales.
One executive of a billion-dollar business described its customer service strategy as "kill them with kindness." If the product had a defect, the company shipped a new one next-day air with no questions asked. There was no business case to prove the math worked, but the company believed in it. And the word spread, and the business quadrupled in five years.
Randomness is the secret to sustainable and surprising kindness
So there are perhaps scientific benefits to kindness. And perhaps kindness is contagious, which can be great with customers and for growth. But what is the benefit of kindness being random? Shouldn't we just be kind to everyone?
My personal reflection is that there are two reasons why there is wisdom to random kindness. The first reason is it paces you. It's far less taxing to strive for one random act of kindness per day versus being constantly kind and being at risk of burning out.
Second, random kindness startles us and has a bigger impact on us. It breaks the conventional wisdom of merit, that kind people deserve kindness and mean people do not. Random bad things happen all the time, as anyone dealing with cancer knows. Perhaps a bit more of random kindness can help even things out. Plus random kindness implies that every person has inherent worth and is worthy of kindness, regardless if they've earned it or not.
Kindness appears to function very similarly to forgiveness, which is also miscast as a benefit to "the other" versus for yourself. It turns out a Johns Hopkins psychiatrist, Karen Swartz, notes that forgiving others actually relieves your own stress and lowers your blood pressure. As the late Maya Angelou said, "It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everyone."
So entrepreneurs, be bold. Be randomly kind. Let the late lane changer in your lane. And you'll be healthy and happy enough to give your best to your startup.