I was in the lobby of premier venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz in Palo Alto, California waiting for a meeting. The lobby there is more like a library, with books on investing, technology, and business all around. Everyone in the lobby (except me) was waiting to pitch an idea in the hopes of getting funded with millions of dollars. The stress and nerves in the room were pounding. To avoid succumbing to the mood, I pulled a book off a shelf and in it was an envelope with a note inside.
The note was hand scribbled and ripped from a larger piece of paper. It read, “Congrats, Treasure Finder! Now leave some swag of your own (and feel free to take what’s here!)” It was signed with a heart, and “4SQ”. Under the signature was a sticker from the company foursquare. I looked around the lobby to see if others were in on a joke. Nope. No one waseven paying attention.
The note could have been left the day before or a year before. No one else had ever been interested in this particular book about corporate culture except me.
In the envelope were two one dollar bills, a note in another currency from a country I never heard of, a few tickets good for fares on public transportation and a few business cards. I was ecstatic. It was like I had won the lottery; I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I kept the two bucks and spent it but saved the note as a memento of my find and a reminder that small gifts matter.
The little gift changed my day and had me thinking about small gestures as presents. To improve other’s attitudes and perspective, sometimes all it takes is a smile, paying the toll for the guy behind you or holding open an elevator door for that extra few seconds. You all have been the recipient of such largesse and know the feeling. You know too the feeling of being the giver and how good that feels.
As a leader, here is why small gifts matter…
- The workplace consists of very few pleasant surprises. We all know of the unwelcome surprises like cost cutting and bad apple people, but think of the last time you had a nice surprise, no matter how small. A pleasant and welcome surprise goes a long way.
- Very few gifts come without a quid pro quo. Sure the sales rep brought over some wine but don’t think there isn’t a little bit of an ulterior motive and expectation for a return on the gift. A real random act of kindness is when nothing is expected in return.
- Small gifts have a return far in excess of dollars. A gesture can build a brand of good things. For example, for the two dollar leave-behind, I am now a big foursquare supporter.
It’s not a Holiday thing. Small surprise gifts are important all year long and can build an organization and a reputation. Even better, small gifts sometimes require small or no money.
And the “swag” I left behind in the lobby of Andreessen Horowitz? I hope it has been found by now and that it made someone smile.