“Create more value than you capture.” –Tim O'Reilly

As we’ve been thinking about weirdos, what they want and where they gather, I’ve been seeing a recurring story about generosity. For individuals, it’s sharing all that wonderful weirdness that makes you you and experiencing the accompanying joys and challenges alongside others who get you.

And we’ve been encouraging companies to take part in this, too. Seeing your weirdos, valuing them, and inviting them to participate with you feels like a generous way to connect them with your product or service. And we’ve shown how it works and works and works. But is it still generous when “it works” means people ultimately bought what you were selling? Can you run a generous for-profit business?

At its core, a generous company would give more than is expected of it, with intention, to its employees, customers, industry, and community. Time and money immediately come to mind, but if anything, I hope this series has shown there’s so much to be generous with like our presence, passions, creativity, and influence.

But often it does come down to money, so let’s talk about that.

Financial growth and success for a business can feel the opposite of generous. It can feel difficult, even greedy to charge for the true value of your work, especially the farther that number rises above costs. I’ve been there for sure. But I think this feeling hinges on the idea that generosity requires giving things away.

Generosity is not a one way transaction, and the receiver of your gifts is just as active a participant.

One of the first stories of generosity I remember learning is the childhood classic The Giving Tree (which turns out is more of a cautionary tale1). In the story, a tree finds joy in giving what she has to her favorite boy: her shade for rest and trunk to climb, apples to sell, and branches to build. As the boy ages, his needs grow larger and (spoiler alert) the tree gives so much by the end she is no longer a tree.

It’s a story about giving but also about taking. A story about boundaries, limits, and sustainability.

There’s a lot that companies give away for free, especially in the tech industry. Think about how much software you can use without payment, despite millions of dollars invested. It can seem generous. But the real truth is businesses must make money to continue. We’ve seen ourselves become the product. Our data is sold and our attention is monetized.

People are tired of it. Companies need to earn their customers’ trust and attention back. Finding your weirdos is an approach to doing that difficult work and earning their business: seeing people as they are and where they are, valuing their unique passions, and asking them to contribute in achieving your shared goals. While so many companies take, it is generous to reexamine what and how you give (and the impact that will have on the receiver).

As &yet CFO and all around wise person Mark Brault says, “Business is about people. People do the work and people buy the end product.” And our CEO Sarah Avenir added a hard but true caveat that businesses “need profit to care for people.”2

A generous company takes care of the people inside it and the work they do by finding, valuing, and connecting with the weirdos who not only need what you’re offering, but celebrate in buying it.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are there ways we grow or make money at the expense of our employees, customers, or community?
  • What boundaries can we hold true to and how can we better respect the boundaries of the people we care for?
  • What can we do to make what we offer and receive more equitable?
  • In what ways can we shift our focal point of centering our business to multiple focal points where our we contribute within a thriving system?