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Generosity is the service

I strongly believe in generosity as the cornerstone of being of service.

Generosity is one of those transactions that can be easily misunderstood. Generosity is not offering things cheaper. This is not the kind of generosity I am talking about. Generosity is a the act of giving a finite resource you possess to someone else without expecting anything in return. With no agenda, except to delight and offer a better alternative.

If you were a restauranteer, being generous would not mean serving a larger portion of food. Most of the times the portion served is just perfectly right and anything more would make us sick. That’s the opposite of generosity. Nor would discounting each meal be generous, because this would backfire in the longterm. You would be unable to treat your employees and suppliers with the salaries and dignity they deserve, and you ‘d no longer afford to serve fresh, healthy produce.

I am talking about generosity as the kind act of treating your clients with genuine humanity and care. Generosity is when you create something – a product, a service, a design, a process – where you have donated emotional labour and time to make it magical. Generosity is absolutely irrelevant to the price tag. An Aston Martin is generous. Louis Vuitton is generous. Because if you are looking for the thrill of owning the best of the best, or if you seek to own a piece of superior artisanship (and can afford it) both of these companies have spent a tremendous amount of thinking to make one just for you.

And on the other extreme, generosity can be free. Think of the tasteful graffiti on a wall. That artist spent countless hours creating that for you to enjoy for free. In Florence, there are two artists who spend 12 hours a day creating chalk paints on the floor – they do not expect to be paid. They welcome it, but do not expect it. In the corner of the Piazza della Repubblica plays one of the best street jazz bands I have ever heard. You can enjoy it for free (though I recommend you give them whatever change you can spare). Sometimes generosity is as simple as turning a light for everyone else to see better – both figuratively and literally.

Sometines generosity is as simple as turning a light for everyone else to see better.

There is no trading when it comes to being generous. The transaction is non-linear and unpredictable, but it roughly translates into this: if anyone has a choice to connect with someone, would not this be a generous person? Once that connection is created, generous human beings become indispensable to the tribe. If you are indispensable, then your tribe will make sure you thrive! You are now a leader!

Inherent in the concept of generosity is the idea that it serves the needs of a very specific audience. The tiny portions at a fine dining restaurant, created with respect to culinary traditions, love for the produce and nature, and with the diner’s delight in mind, are a generous act. This said, they are not for everyone. They are certainly not for someone who just left work at 8pm and is desperately looking to fill her belly with a quick, convenient meal! Macdonalds will suffice – and in this sense, Macdonalds generously solves this specific diner’s problem! You see, generosity is subjective – if you don’t know who it is for, you can easily end up doing the opposite of being generous. Think for a moment of the boyscout who walks an elderly bystander across the street, only to find out on the other side that she didn’t want to cross in the first place! The lesson here is: never, ever discredit the client who does not choose you. They have their reasons, and they are usually all valid. All you can do is accept that you are not for everyone. Accept this without ever becoming bitter to your competitors, or the clients who did not choose you.

Trust is a major component of generosity. Generosity leads to trust. Who would you trust? Someone generous, or someone selfish? However, at the same time, it’s understandable that generosity requires trust to begin with: if a stranger approached you, handing you a burger – all wrapped up and fresh – would you accept it, even if you are starving? Most likely not. The acceptance of generosity requires trust as much as it creates trust.

This is why generosity is difficult to implement at first. Here is an example from my own service. I have made it my policy not to give out my pricelist before meeting prospective couples in person, because I do not want to distract them with specifications. I wish to generously spend one hour with them to educate them about connection and artisanship. Sending out my pricelist freely would only serve in making prices and specifications the deciding factor. For some clients, this would be the most generous act. For the ones I want to work with, it would be a disservice. It would encourage couples to prioritise pricing and distract them from an opportunity to value my service as a wholesome experience. Therefore, I began encouraging everyone to have an open conversation with me first, a conversation with no agenda or sale trickery. Here is what I discovered: although I am willing to freely give at least an hour to someone who is essentially a stranger to me, usually very late at night (because of time zone differences), there are a few times when my request is met with scepticism. Perhaps couples are worried I will corner them with salesmanship tricks – and I do not blame them! Us, marketers, have managed to destroy the trust people so willingly gave us: we spam, we take shortcuts, we lie, all in the name of a delusional self-justified twisted version of generosity: buy 1 get 1 free! Hurry up! Offer ending soon! and so on… Marketers will convince you to buy 1 extra pizza for only 1 Eur, disguising this as generosity. Only then do you realise that they are, in fact, leaving you with three equally bad choices: 1. either force-feed yourself the extra pizza 2. waste the extra pizza, or 3. Eat pizza for 2 days in a row. All of these options are at the expense of your health, the ecology and our collective wellbeing. Where is the generosity in that?

Generosity is not a component of good service. It is the service itself. Generosity is what humanises the industrialised craft of marketing. We all long to connect. We want to be seen for who we are and be cared of… We long to be led towards a better alternative. Generosity is the ultimate enactment of empathy: “here! I made this especially for you.” And if this is not what your client needs, then find the empathy to say “I am sorry this is not for you. Here is the phone of a colleague who can better meet your needs”. Then, only then, will you find the FREEDOM to do work that matters for those few, special people who long what you have to give. Do it once. Then do it again, until it becomes a habit, until generosity embeds itself deeply in the very design of your service!

Go on, create something extraordinary!

Leave a Reply

  1. Jenn Saulter says:

    So insightful! I like the concept of “turning the lightbulb for everyone to see better”. And that generosity is a matter of sending the right audience!

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The AKG studio was created out of my fascination for blending modern techniques with the art d'excellence from a bygone era, creating a photography of timeless aesthetic and heritage. 

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