workplace psychology

The Selfish Reason to Take 5 Minutes to Do Someone a Favor

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStoc/Getty Images

Adam Grant, of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, has a refreshingly nice approach to life and success, one that you might not typically associate with a business-school professor. His work focuses on how being a “giver” — that is, offering help to your colleagues — will ultimately bring you more success and respect than being a “taker”; he even wrote an entire book on the subject. In his research on high-performing salespeople, for example, he’s found that they tend to score “unusually high … on the desire to benefit others.”

Generosity in the workplace is a very nice idea, but one hang-up many people have about this philosophy is — just who has the time for that? Enter the “five-minute favor,” a term Grant coined to make his point that not every act of giving must be especially time-consuming. In a chat on his Facebook page yesterday, Grant reflected on one of the most memorable favors he’s received: His mentor, Cambridge University psychologist Brian Little, years ago introduced him to a brand-new writer who was working on a book that sounded interesting.

The writer ended up being Susan Cain, and the book was the megabestseller Quiet. The introduction took Little just a few minutes, but knowing Cain has helped Grant professionally for many years since, and, he says, that interaction even helped inspire him to write his own book. Think of the five-minute favor, Grant has said, as something like a microloan: a way to help someone else at a small cost to you.

Just Take 5 Minutes to Do Someone a Favor