The Efficiency of Kindness

Last week at the Trader Joe’s, I picked up some groceries and stood in line. The cashier was reaching into this overfilled shopping cart and ringing up the items. The future owner of all of these groceries at the other end of the register and putting all of the groceries in paper bags.

For a couple moments, I just looked at this process and realized that I was just an idle by-stander doing absolutely nothing. So, I started to take things out of the shopping cart, so the cashier could focus on ringing up the groceries. At first the women, “Oh…no…no. That’s okay. Don’t worry about.” And, I responded, “No, no. That’s okay.”

Later, she said to me, “You are the best customer.” I am not too sure if that is the case, but I will say that it made for a far more enjoyable 20 minutes at the grocery store. Not only was I actively engaged in something aside from being caught up in my thoughts, but also I was part of an experiment: The Efficiency of Kindness.

In a previous time, we lived in smaller communities or villages, where we knew the cashier, the fellow shopper, etc. We knew their families, we knew their trade, we knew their hardships, we knew them as humans. We were there for one and other — just because and no other reason.

The difference between today and this “previous time” is that our community has become faceless. We have our immediate family and friends, and then everyone else. Whether we go to a self-service counter or not at the grocery store, we can now pick up our food without talking to a single human being.
The current model of capitalism is simple: I pay money, you give me something. Intelligence and logic has enabled and will continue to make that exchange of goods and services as efficient as possible. But, I believe there are consequences.

We now go to the grocery store with the intent of getting back home as quickly as possible. We may be coming back to have dinner with our families, but it seems like a lot of us are just rushing back, so we can turn on Netflix or our televisions. Why do we watch Netflix? To laugh? To cry? To enjoy the world of 2D images of people interacting? We have become so efficient that we have replaced real human interactions at the grocery store with passively witnessing human interactions on a screen.

There in lies the rub, we actually never created greater efficiencies, we merely shifted human needs from the real to virtual world.

Image source: Monkey Pictures

71 Aphorisms for Life and Leadership from my Uncle

1. You can Lead without a Title.
2. Knowing what to do and not doing it is the same as not knowing what to do.
3. Give away what you most wish to receive.
4. The antidote to stagnation is innovation.
5. The conversations you are most resisting are the conversations you most need to be having.
6. Leadership is not about position or image; it is about passion and impact.
7. The bigger the dream, the more important the team.
8. Visionaries see the “impossible” as the inevitable.
9. All great thinkers are initially ridiculed and eventually revered.
10. The more you worry about being applauded by others and making money, the less you’ll focus on doing the great work that will generate applause… and make you money as by-product.
11. To double your net worth, double your self-worth because you will never exceed the height of your self-image.
12. The more messes you allow into your life, the more messes will become a normal (and acceptable) part of your life.
13. The secret to genius is not genetics but daily practice married with relentless perseverance.
14. The best leaders lift people up versus tear people down.
15. Your most precious resource is not your time. It is your energy. Manage it well.
16. The fears you run from run to you.
17. The most dangerous place is in your comfort zone.
18. The more you go to your limits, the more your limits will expand.
19. Every moment in front of a customer is a gorgeous opportunity to live your values.
20. Be so good at what you do that no one else in the world can do what you do.
21. You’ll never go wrong in doing what is right.
22. It generally takes about 10 years to become an “overnight sensation”.
23. Never leave the site of a compelling idea without doing something to execute around it.
24. A strong foundation at home sets you up for a strong foundation at work.
25. Never miss a moment to encourage someone with whom you work.
26. Saying “I’ll try” means “I’m not really committed”.
27. The secret of passion is purpose.
28. Do a few things at mastery versus many things at mediocrity.
29. To have the rewards that very few have, do the things that very few people are willing to do.
30. Go where no one’s gone and leave a trail of excellence behind you.
31. Who you are becoming is more important than what you are accumulating.
32. Accept your teammates for what they are and inspire them to become all they can be.
33. The best leaders are the most dedicated learners. Read great books daily. Investing in your self-development is the best investment you will ever make.
34. Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.
35. Change is hardest at the beginning, messiest in the middle and best at the end.
36. Measure your success by your inner scorecard versus an outer one.
37. Understand the acute difference between the cost of something and the value of something.
38. Nothing fails like success. Because when you are at the top, it’s so easy to stop doing the very things that brought you there.
39. The best leaders blend courage with compassion.
40. The less you are like others, the less others will like you.
41. Excellence in one area is the beginning of excellence in every area.
42. The real reward for doing your best work is not the money you make but the person you become in the process.
43. Passion + production = performance.
44. The value of our goals lives not in reaching them but instead in what the journey towards those goals reveals and who we become as a result.
45. Stand for something. Or else you’ll fall for anything.
46. Say “thank you” when you’re grateful and “sorry” when you’re wrong.
47. Always make the work today’s work product better than yesterday’s work product.
48. Small daily – seemingly insignificant – improvements and innovations lead to staggering achievements over time.
49. Peak performers replace depletion with inspiration on a daily basis.
50. Take care of your relationships and the sales/money will take care of itself.
51. You can’t be great if you don’t feel great. Make exceptional health your #1 priority.
52. Doing the difficult things that you’ve never done awakens the talents you never knew you had.
53. As we express our natural genius, we elevate the world around us.
54. Your daily schedule reflects your deepest values.
55. People do business with people who make them feel special.
56. All things being equal, the primary competitive advantage of your business will be your ability to grow Leaders Without Titles faster than your industry peers can.
57. Treat people well on your way up and they’ll treat you well on your way down.
58. Success lies in mastering a few fundamentals. It really is simple. Not easy. But simple.
59. The business (and person) who tries to be everything to everyone ends up being nothing to anyone.
60. One of the primary tactics for enduring winning is daily learning.
61. To have everything you want, help as many people as you can possibly find get everything they want.
62. Understand that a problem is only a problem if you choose to view it as a problem (vs. an opportunity).
63. Clarity precedes mastery. Craft clear and precise goals/plans/deliverables. And then block out all else.
64. The best in business spend far more time on learning than in leisure.
65. Lucky is where skill meets persistence.
66. The best Leaders Without Titles use their heads and listen to their hearts.
67. The things that are hardest to do are often the best things to do.
68. Every single person in the world could be a genius at something, if she practiced it daily for at least ten years.
69. Daily exercise is an insurance policy against future illness. The best Leaders Without Titles are the fittest.
70. Education is the beginning of transformation. Dedicate yourself to daily learning via books/audios/seminars and coaching.
71. The quickest way to grow the sales of your business is to grow your people.

We don’t want to sit quietly for the next five minutes

“We sit in our cells for for 21.5 hours-a-day. We don’t want to sit quietly for the next five minutes…” Marshall* said. 

“Okay.” I replied with my heart sinking and my voice tapering off.

At 7AM on a Monday in the winter of 2006, I was sitting in a cold recreational room in the Jackson Correctional Facility, a level-4 maximum security prison, working with incarcerated individuals to create a play. Marshall’s words pierced my very being and fundamentally transformed how I looked at other individuals.

I imagined — in the time he spoke those two defining sentences — this young man, who was perhaps the same age as me, and the last 5 years of his sentence and the next 30 years that he would still serve. I imagined him sitting in his cell day-after-day without fresh air. I imagined him without the ability to make a quick unscheduled phone call. I imagined him feeling lonely. I imagined him looking forward to the 1.5 hour workshop once a week on Monday mornings at 7AM.

I felt — in that moment — his strength, his experience and his emotion. For that singular moment, I became him — there was no other place in the Universe that my mind was but in the emotions of his experience…where I was sitting in that cell as him for 21.5 hours-a-day. My past and future thoughts melted away — I was present — I was him.


In an effort to brainstorm what we would write our play about, I requested that the 13 of us sit quietly for 5 minutes and then go around the circle to discuss what thoughts went through our minds. I did not have the slightest idea that it would be met even with an ounce of resistance.

It was at this time, when Marshall spoke these two sentences, where I began to understand the meaning of our shared identity. From that point forward, when I am giving my ticket to the train conductor, being served by a waiter, or interacting with family/friends/coworkers, I try to look beyond my perceptions of how I think they look or what I think they are saying, or what I think they are thinking, and, instead, focus on their experience and their emotions. In that space, all the layers of looks, words and thoughts peel away, and, you and me becomes we.

Some notes/resources:

+ *Although many incarcerated individuals do not use their actual names when in prison, I wanted to protect the identity of “Marshall” by using a fictional name.

+ Prison Creative Arts Project: If you would like to learn more about the program that enabled me to volunteer in a prison, please go here.

+ Jackson Correctional Facility: This maximum security prison used to be one of the largest prisons in the country, but it was recently sold to a movie studio to produce films and television shows.

+ Prison Industrial Complex: Incarceration has become a very large and significant business with strong lobbies to promote increased incarceration of people in the United States. Corrections Corp of America (NYSE: CCA) is one of many publicly traded companies whose business model revolves around creating more prisons and housing more inmates.To learn more go here.