This week, in a book called The Facebook Era by Clara Shih, I read about an experiment called the “reciprocity ring” held during a leadership course in Stanford’s graduate business program. In it, each of the eight participants in the course came up with a request for the group, ranging from “a ride to the airport” to “a job at Google” and wrote their request on a whiteboard.
After sharing their requests, each participant was given a stack of sticky notes and asked to write their name and how they might be able to help next to any of the requests where they might be able to contribute in some way.
After ten minutes, the group stepped back and looked at the graph. Every request had received at least one offer of help—some of them several—and every person had been able to offer help at least once. Interestingly, the transactions were rarely one-to-one: the person who provided a favor to Amy was not the person Amy helped. It took the group to help the group.
Shih writes, “For the Stanford experiment to work, we all had to be in the same place at the same time for the same purpose. In real life, this is extremely rare…..you would never physically assemble a large group of people for the purpose of asking each other favors. But in Facebook….these large groups of people are already assembled and ready to be mobilized when you need a favor….Online social networking extends the notion of the reciprocity ring across time, geography and networks and is therefore capable of generating a tremendous amount of social capital for participants.”
In other words, this is an opportunity that pre-Internet life couldn’t give us. Perhaps we’d occasionally go to a business event or a cocktail party and try to connect with as many people as possible without being obnoxious, and occasionally we might even be successful at finding someone to fund part of a project or make an introduction for us. But it was much more difficult. Now, through social media and blogging, the “reciprocity ring” can be almost infinitely bigger. Anyone can be in the circle, helping and getting help, and anyone can invite anyone else in.
All of this got me thinking. I’m certainly no social media all-star. There are plenty of people with more Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and blog readers. But I definitely have a lot more than eight, and according to the Stanford experiment that’s enough. So why not leverage that and help all of us? So, new on the blog: Favor Fridays.
During the week, you can respond via comments here on the blog or email me directly (email@example.com) with the favor you need. Maybe it’s a job. Maybe it’s an introduction to someone in a certain industry. Maybe it’s a sermon illustration or a great vacation rental or a date with someone who’s sane. Whatever it is for you, let me know (along with the email address at which you want to be contacted with replies) and on Friday I’m going to briefly share those requests here in our version of a reciprocity circle.
On Fridays I’m also inviting all of you, dear readers, to swing by and see if there’s anything you can help with. There won’t be sticky notes, but there will be an easy way for you to get in touch with anyone you can help, plus the opportunity to feel great about your own awesomeness the rest of the day. Assuming I get some requests right away, we’ll kick it off this week. Because one of the best things about the Internet is how it allows us to collaborate with new people in new ways. Let’s try this one.