How to Create a Culture of Helpfulness

We need a large community of generous, honest, resourceful people to make it happen.

I was inspired by yet another amazing TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan. When it comes to problem solving and improving ideas, products and services, she presents evidence that a culture of helpfulness “routinely outperforms individual intelligence”. As she eloquently describes this culture of helpfulness, she notes that it is not for the faint of heart because it will include plenty of conflict. But as she says, “Conflict is frequent because candor is safe.” This is a culture that I’d like to cultivate.

I’d like to invite you to help create a culture of helpfulness -an environment where we all have a chance to share, vet, and nurture our ideas. And instead of being fearful that someone will shoot down an idea or resort to name calling, we will have a supportive community that will help us examine and test the limits of our ideas. In addition, we’ll have colleagues who will help design improvements needed to make our ideas viable. We may even find that some of our ideas need to be let go, but that will be a safe, fun, and edifying experience.

Here’s how we can do it.

“Helpfulness means I don’t have to know everything, I just have to work among people who are good at getting and giving help” (Heffernan). So, first, we need a large, diverse community of generous, honest, resourceful people, like you! So, stay engaged because your voice makes a difference.

Second, “What drives helpfulness, is people getting to know each other”(Heffernan). Social beings that we are, getting to know people is not a challenge for most; however, we must have the courage and make the time to do it. Making the time to nurture both in-person and on-line relationships is critical. Importantly, we must resist the temptation to disengage or unfriend when another person’s perspective diverges from our own.

These social connections lead to the next important ingredients to cultivate a powerful culture of helpfulness: candor and open communication. These attributes may lead to conflict, a necessary, healthy part of this culture. Heffernan says it the best: “This isn’t about chumminess and it’s no charter for slackers because people who work this way tend to be kind of scratchy, impatient, absolutely determined to think for themselves because that’s what their contribution is. Conflict is frequent because candor is safe. And that’s how good ideas turn into great ideas. Because no idea is born fully formed. It emerges a little bit as a child is born: kind of messy and confused but full of possibilities. And its only through the generous contribution, faith, and challenge that they achieve their potential.”

So settle into the scratchiness, camaraderie, and wonder and let’s get this culture of helpfulness going so that we can get our ideas out there, clean them up, nurture, and test them. Even ideas that don’t pan out will be valuable learning opportunities.

No fear, candor is safe -that’s going on a T-shirt.

But Jacques, what does this have to do with exercise science and getting what I want from my body and mind? Stay tuned, my friend.

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Photo: Ben White/Unsplash


Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on January 13, 2016.