The Economics of Being Nice

I recently attended the NFL’s Business Management and Entrepreneurship program at Wharton’s San Francisco campus. My favorite part of this trip (as with most any trip) was meeting interesting people. One of these people made a simple statement about the attitudes of people around Silicon Valley. It resonated with me, and I would like to expand on it a little bit.

Generally, people are friendly, helpful, and open in Silicon Valley. It’s a highly competitive area, but also highly collaborative. One might assume that people are incentivized to hoard their resources from other market participants/competitors in an effort to succeed or prevent others from succeeding (I don’t want to make this post about Game Theory, but if you’re interested in learning more about why people make certain choices, I recommend reading a little bit about it.).

People have seen the guy who was sitting next to them one day become Mark Zuckerberg the next. The realization that there is so much talent and potential for success around them does wonders for the collaborative environment. Here’s the thing, you don’t want to get a bad reputation for having been a dick to the next [insert successful businessperson here].

From my perspective, this look into the human psyche should benefit us in a few ways. I’m going to try to extrapolate some (probably far-flung) conclusions here based on these realizations. Utilizing our innate understanding of social hierarchies, if we can create an environment where everyone has a great opportunity to move up in the world (I’ll let you define what that means in your own life.) through learning and implementing their ideas– technological or otherwise, we may be able to improve relationships across society (i.e. gender, socio-economic, race, etc.).

Many of the speakers at the program emphasized how helping others, with no expectation of anything in return has helped them tremendously down the road. I hope I can learn this lesson, and I hope society can take more from Silicon Valley than just the next messaging app on their phone.

I’ve been very fortunate to meet some amazing people–some of the most talented, intelligent, and dynamic people you could think of– in all sorts of different fields. I find the ones that really have staying power, the people I want to be around, are generous and genuine regardless of who you are on the totem pole at your company or what you can offer them. If you want a quick judge of character, watch how they act toward those whose job it is to serve them (waiters, employees, etc.). I realize it’s not a foolproof way to judge character, and I also am not foolish enough to think people don’t treat me differently because I play in the NFL. I hope that I can practice what I preach, because some day I won’t be Coby Fleener, the NFL player. I’ll just be Coby Fleener.