Generalized Reciprocity

Wayne Baker does research on and teaches a topic called generalized reciprocity. It basically means giving to the whole and assuming that life will pay us back. He tells the story of a woman who listened and took the concept seriously. She was a loan officer named Janet.

“Janet’s job was to make loans, and she was evaluated on the volume of loans she produced. One day she experienced a shift of perspective. She stopped trying to make loans and started trying to help. Instead of looking at the person across the desk from her as a loan to be made, Janet saw the person as someone with needs that she might be able to satisfy.

If she thought they didn’t need a loan, she would tell them so, even if they qualified for one according to her bank’s rules. If she thought her potential customers could do better by getting a loan at a competitor’s bank, she would give them the name of a loan offer at the bank. Eventually she engaged potential customers in a broad conversation about their lives, families, and needs, and then worked hard to help them, no matter what kind of help they needed.

She even began the practice of sharing cab rides with strangers, just so she could strike up a conversation and see if there was some way she could assist them. What happened? All she helped were so grateful that they did everything they could to help her. Even if they didn’t get a loan at her bank, they would recommend Janet to all of their friends, family, neighbors, business associates, colleagues, and just about anyone else.

The result was an explosion in Janet’s loan productivity. She made more loans – and made more money – than ever before. She had become extraordinarily successful by taking herself out of the equation and helping others without regard to how it might help her.

In the positive organization people engage in generalized reciprocity. The process is hard to understand because it is outside conventional norms. Understanding and practicing it is a source of great power. (Quinn and Quinn, Lift: pg. 154-155)


What do I believe about generalized reciprocity?

How could I implement this concept?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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