intangibles

Free Wins

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People or companies may confer benefits on third parties without cost, as a side effect or byproduct of their actions. Planting a tree improves the neighborhood and provides shade to a neighbor. Keeping bees results in the pollination of nearby crops. Providing first-aid training to workers may save lives outside of work. A video or blog post created for clients might contain an idea that helps people who are not clients.

These are examples of what economists call positive externalities. These things are all good. They make the world a better place.

I believe the concept applies in our interactions with others, as well. Have you ever had your day brightened by the laughter of a group of passersby? Watched someone hold a door for someone with an armload of packages? Overheard a “thank you” being given for an otherwise thankless task?

All of these things are benefits that they produced for free and you enjoyed at no extra cost. They are positive externalities, on the small scale of daily life.

Having a tree planted improves our home as well as the neighborhood, but generating positive externalities can also help us beyond business transactions. Friends and family members respond to the empathy, kindness, and thoughtfulness embedded in any of those little actions we can take. If employed, those in our network are likely to sense the intangibles we add to the workplace environment. Our teammates across the community likely enjoy our interactions more.

Generating positive externalities is not charity. There are no costs involved, only benefits for giver, recipient, and neighbors and passersby. Win-win-win.

The general concept has been around for a long time, and is often expressed more simply. Be kind. Fill up the buckets of others. Do unto others.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.