Do you remember the story of the Three Kings in the Bible?
You might have heard that they didn't come empty-handed. That's because they understood one of the core principles of living was “giving”.
Not all the advice you get is obvious. Let's look at some of the not-so-obvious angles for succeeding in life.
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The Not-So-Obvious Angles To Succeeding in Life.
1- Be interested
3-The Three Wise Men principle.
Let's see how this plays out with friends, family, but also in business.
1: Be interested
I remember the time I got back from my holiday in Fiji.
“What did you do in Fiji?” someone asked me. I started to talk but found that I couldn't get very far. I might have told just one story of the trip, and then I was listening to what they did on their Fiji trip. I heard about the warm water, how they had an area that was safe to swim, what they ate, and the entertainment they experienced.
Um, didn't they want to know about my trip?
Yes, they did, but let's just say we're self-centred. We know this for a fact, because we can be at a party and someone starts talking about how their day, and almost unconsciously we want to tell our story. In fact, we're often not even listening to the other person completely because we're formulating “our story” in our minds.
What would change if you were “interested”?
Well, for one, you'd stop talking and start listening. At some point the person is going to stop talking. That's when you ask the second question. They talk and you ask the third question. All the while you're listening to what they're saying.
When you ask questions, it signals that you're interested
It's not just the signal alone that matters. Yes, the other person wants to answer your questions and feels good that you're so interested, but there's something bigger happening. You're not thinking of your own freakin' story. You're not in your own world.
If you've got three questions back to back, you have to listen to what the other person is saying. Your questions can't be random. You have to listen to their answers. Your story, no matter how great and wonderful, will have to wait.
Being interested in people can open almost any door in the world, even with strangers.
When I started taking photos of “people at work” a few years ago, I was confronted with a slightly frustrating problem. I didn't know how I was going to take pictures of people in New Zealand. While travelling, you're a tourist and look like one, and if you point a camera at a stranger, it's not good practice, but few people object.
Once I got back to New Zealand, how could I just walk into a cafe and take a photo? Or if I saw a mother with her kid, I might have to take a picture surreptitiously and get out of the way.
Instead, I learned that I just needed to be interested.
It started with a single question and a question that anyone could answer.
Is it difficult?
That's it. Three words.
To the guy about to sail to Rangitoto island: Is it difficult?
To the guy picking up the garbage: Is it difficult?
To the mother with the kid: Is it difficult?
You could step through the door and ask your partner, your kid, or your neighbour: is it difficult?
Then listen to what they have to say
And ask three more questions. Or two questions, if you're not that keen on listening. However, whether it's someone in business or out on the street, it's not hard to start up a conversation.
Once they answer, it's just a matter of following the thread and asking a few more. And no, don't tell them your story. Be interested in them, their lives, their problems.
Being interested also works to your advantage
We were in Frankfurt and the waitress was not very helpful. “Has it been a hard day”? Renuka asked her. “It's been so tiring. It's so hot, and I've had to go up and down the stairs with cakes and coffee. I'm so tired, I just want to go back home and sleep”.
Do you think we got better service after that?
Being interested with speech is only one way of paying attention. People are interested in all sorts of things and will tell you so—if you're listening.
Harvey Mackay, author of “Swim with the sharks without being eaten alive” wrote about how his envelope company wasn't getting a foot in the door with a multinational. One day the CEO mentioned about how his son collected stamps of obscure countries. Yes, that's what Harvey Mackay did next.
He'd collect stamps. He knew the CEO wasn't stupid. This wasn't a charity stamp donation in action. Even so, people know when you're interested. You've listened to them, asked one question and then follow up questions.
Being interested in someone is hard work.
However, once you stop thinking of your thoughts and worries, you'll notice that people see you in a different light. Whether your goal is to take pictures, to get some business, or to just let the waitress know that you've noticed, bring interested is what makes all the difference.
However, there's a downside to being interested.
Once people have told you their story, their problems etc. they realise that things are becoming a bit one sided. They want to know more about what you do, your thoughts etc.
Now you have to be interesting.
2: Being interesting.
How much would you pay for a tulip?
How about: Four fat oxen, eight fat swine, twelve fat sheep, two hogsheads of wine, four turns of beer, one thousand pounds of cheese, two tons of butter, a bed, a silver cup, a set of fine clothes, two lasts of wheat, and four lasts of rhye.
If you lived in Holland in the year 1630's or so, tulips were the rage.
It is rumoured that around the year 1633, a single bulb of the Semper Augustus tulip was more than sufficient to feed, clothe and house an average Dutch family for half a lifetime. In an age when a Dutch workman earned just 150 guilders a year, 40 bulbs of tulips were sold for 100,000 guilders.
What's the surprising part of this story?
There's a chance you've never heard of tulip mania until now. It's recorded as one of the biggest speculator crazes in history and just a few people seem to know about it. In a world that's seemingly saturated with information, people don't seem to know a lot.
They know what they see in the news, and a bit about their work, but that's where people seems to circle endlessly. There's a good chance that once people leave school or college, they almost never seem to add to their learning about history, geography, science and freakish Tulip auctions.
There's a good reason why this is the case
In school or college, the only real activity is to study and learn. Once you get into the working world, we have a lot more responsibility.
Paying the toll for the trip you've just done, putting out the garbage, remembering to call the electrician—these are just some of the thousands of things we have to do in a year. There's also the burden of adding more information on top of all the stuff we have to learn just to keep afloat. To want to add even more elements to our to-do list seems almost too much.
Yet, most of us love when someone else is interesting
The thought of running into someone like David Attenborough is always more interesting than running into your neighbour down the street, or just about anyone in your family. The reason why some people are more interesting than others, is firstly, because they're interested.
They ask questions, and if they run into you, you'll notice that they ask a lot of questions. However, in their own time, they're also learning about a variety of things.
If you look at some of the most talented people in the world, you'll find a common thread
When we say “talented”, we don't mean someone who's just good at one thing. E.g. swimming, basketball or physics. Marie Curie was awarded two Nobel prizes, Her core work involved radiation and discovering of the element Radium.
However, she was also interested in how to fit out ambulances. She made sure hospitals were using X-Ray machines correctly during World War I. In an age where few, if any, women drove, she would drive one of the X-Ray ambulances herself.
Then there's Rabindranath Tagore: Indian poet, writer, philosopher, musician, and artist. He was also the first non-European Nobel laureate in Literature. You've surely heard of Albert Einstein. Einstein was an accomplished violinist and played in chamber groups with friends.
He was a prolific writer in scientific and non-scientific domains. He served as a professor at various institutions, including the Swiss Federal Polytechnic and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
We tend to think of people as multi-talented, but there's something off in that thought process
It's quite bizarre to believe that some people can be talented in three, five or even ten disciplines when others are struggling with just one. The answer is likely to be quite the opposite of what we think.
The reason why some people are more talented, is because they're more interested. And in turn, they're more interesting because of the range of information. It's also not hard to see how this multidisciplinary learning feeds into each other.
Think of it as a computer all by itself in a room
You can do a lot of tasks with that computer, but then there's a point when you connect to the Internet. If you were to connect to just another computer, you have so much more interesting information.
The moment you connect to three, or five, suddenly the information and capabilities become exponential. In a similar manner, the moment you step outside your current ‘blah, blah' news cycle of politics, crime and other boring stuff, you start to become interesting.
How do you become interesting?
It's a difficult question to answer, but usually the question can be answered with one word: hobbies. A hobby allows you to go deep into any subject matter without needing to be monetised in any way. Having a hobby (singular) is a good starting point.
Over time, having hobbies signifies more than just a need to be interesting. It also signifies that you have somehow made time for yourself to learn something that needs no praise. The hobby exists just for you. Many hobbies means you've expanded the scope of your learning in a way that is rivalled by your work.
Does that mean people obsessed with work are boring?
You know that statement in not true. A person who is deep into their work, isn't necessarily boring. However, work, work and more work can be limiting in its own way. In a similar way, the information related to your work can be quite limiting.
Who would you rather spend time with? A person who knew just about physics, or a person who knew about physics and could talk and possibly relate the subject matter to ice-cream, volcanoes and curry leaves?
You don't have to stay in the dark ages once you leave school and college
While books are interesting, the range of books you read need to be diverse.While YouTube is almost addictive, watching comedy, geology, history, photography etc is what you want to mix and match.
You don't even have to keep looking as YouTube will fill your feed with whatever you start watching. In tiny bites, you can stop filling your head with pointless politics and crime and be a much smarter, more interesting person.
Being interesting requires you to be interested. Interested in diverse people, things and activities. Yet, as interesting as you are, people can still avoid you. If you avoid the most fundamental pricing in life, you can still get ahead, but your progress is slower.
That's because we're failing to understand the principle of the Three Kings.
3. The Three Wise Men principle
You're likely to have heard the story of the Three Wise Men
In the Christian faith, the birth of Jesus is heralded by angels. It's also said that shepherds showed up. However, the bit that gets the most airtime is the arrival of the Three Wise Men. It's unlikely that there would be any story about them if they showed up empty handed.
Instead, these ThreeWise Men are described as bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. They could have just shown up and satisfied their curiosity, but no, they had to bring gifts.
Gift giving is a crucial part of the human psyche
You know this to be true because it's likely that you were once a selfish, self-centred person. If you had a toy, it was your own. As you got more toys, they were all part of your property and you refused to share.
Your parents would have slowly imparted, perhaps underlined, the importance of sharing and giving. When you had a party, other kids would arrive bearing gifts.
No one, it seems, shows up empty handed because giving is what humans are all about
When you look around you, you may think the opposite is true. People show up to your house empty handed. People seem to be more selfish and self centred than ever. It's a perception, of course. While there are those who revert back to their lack of generosity, the vast majority of people are giving.
There's a reason why giving is so prevalent, of course
It's a lot of work being selfish. It's frustrating to show up empty handed. When you show up with a gift, no matter how tiny, you get a warm glow of appreciation from the other person. However, almost instantly, the other person wants to give back. That transfers the glow back to you.
The whole space is instantly charged with a feeling of warmth that cannot exist if one of the parties are self-centred. When you don't give, there's nothing. Nothing at all. You just show up and there's nothing.
The reality is that no one “needs” your gifts
As the lyrics in the Miley Cyrus song goes:
I can buy myself flowers
Write my name in the sand
Talk to myself for hours
Say things you don't understand
I can take myself dancing
And I can hold my own hand
Yeah, I can love me better than you can
Nobody needs you to be charitable at all
We can all buy our own chocolate, get our own biscuits, and we know where to get it and often at the best possible price. We most certainly don't need anyone to get it for us.
Only the very disabled or the very young need you to give them anything. The whole act of giving is completely pointless when you look at it from a logical standpoint.
When someone ignores your birthday or an anniversary, it definitely hurts.
But on the other hand…
When someone gives you a specially made card, you know how it feels.
When someone gets you your favourite snack, you know how it feels.
The absence of giving doesn't always make you feel worse, but which feeling is better? Nothingness or something? Which is why so many of us are non-selfish. We know that everyone can be self-centred, and that life is not some eternal boring transaction. Which is approximately the point where we examine how giving applies to business.
When you buy a coffee what do you get?
Yes, me too. I get a coffee. I pay the amount I'm expected to pay and I get exactly what I've ordered. It's a transaction, and that's that. Every single day millions of people go through transactions in exactly the same manner.
However, let's say there are two cafes side by side. They both have a decor that you like, and the staff are always friendly. Even the coffee seems to be almost identical. There's just one difference. One cafe gives you a little treat every now and then.
Now tell me: which of the cafes do you prefer?
Clients will keep going to a place, even when standards fall because they remember what they were given. You (as the giver) may forget what you've given and to whom, and so does the client.
However, they remember how they were treated. They remember the feeling of getting something when all they were expecting was the eternal transaction.
Renuka and I used to go to a restaurant every Tuesday
We'd often get a free drink (lassi) when we visited. At other times, we'd get a free snack. When our nieces came along, they'd get a free lassi too. At times the service wasn't too good. At other times, we weren't terribly happy with the food.
However, we felt at home because of the generosity of the owner and the staff. A year ago, the owner sold the restaurant and our experience is purely transactional. If you had a restaurant that was closer and had equally good food, where would you go?
Exactly! That's what we do as well. In so many situations, we make our choices purely based on the goodwill that has been created. And goodwill is almost entirely created by giving.
The giving behaviour that plays out in your personal life, almost always extends to business
If you find people who give in their business, you will find them just as giving in their personal lives. They are the people you go out to dinner with, and they step up to play host. In older cultures, you will find that even if there's a group of fifteen people, only one person ever pays the bill.
There's never this embarrassing queue of people who pay their own portion based on what they ate. In younger cultures, “pay for what you ate” is almost always the default.
And yet, it's not the default.
If David Attenborough came to meet you for lunch, would you ask him to pay his share of the bill? Oh, you wouldn't? Well, he's rich enough, so why are you picking up his tab? You're doing so because you want to give something. Now, what about that cousin or those friends you're going out to dinner with? Why not pick up the bill as well?
Why is there a double standard for someone famous vs someone you love or admire?
It's not the default to “pay what you eat”. If the person across you is important enough, you will buy them flowers, chocolate and pay their bill. Why not extend that courtesy to everyone, or at least as often as you can?
When you do, giving becomes second nature
You're the person your parents wanted you to be. They taught you that giving was important; that it was good and that it was something you had to do often. We are biased towards those who give than those who are self-centred.
Even in business, where it should be merely transactional, we want to support those who give, rather than those who just swipe a credit card. It goes both ways too: If you go to a cafe, you can take something for the staff and then watch their eyes glow with happiness.
There's a simple benchmark to know if you're a giver or not.
When you're leaving the house, are you empty-handed? Well, put something in that hand and leave. That simple act will make a difference with your friends, family but also in business.
The Three Wise Men could have come empty handed. They didn't!