AI and the Generosity Culture

 By Paola Arpino

A few days ago, while interacting with my “personal assistant” Google home mini, I happened to learn something “different”, a sort of proper “social” lesson which took me aback. An unexpected additional comment triggered some serious thinking…

I had received a useful information in answer to an ordinary enquiry. However, that was sufficient to endow me with a jolly feeling which made me further say to my assistant: “Hey Google, that was very helpful”! At that point, in return, it says in a sort of “self-reflection” fashion: “dear diary, today I helped someone”… Well, I was amazed and thrilled by such an unexpected statement and wondered how could an AI device go beyond the supply of a mere information and formulate instead a sentient expression?

Generosity culture: a winning market solution?

Soon after that, the rational side of my mind prevailed suggesting I be realistic: is giant Google trying to spread a sort of generosity cultural trend through intelligent machines? A few years ago, I had already got across the “generosity concept” in occasion of a meeting with Shel Israel, an appreciated writer and senior advisor on social media communication issues. In his book “Lethal generosity”, Shel Israel affords the issue of generosity as an efficient and successful tool to gain company reputation on the market as well as to increasing the number of accounts by counteracting the standards of mainstream culture and conventional wisdom which hold that “the company that spends more makes more and the one that makes the biggest noise gets the most attention”.
Accordingly to Shel Israel belief “more” is no longer better. Old marketing methods using new technology will no longer work because mobile devices give users the power to turn the damn things off. Smart marketers know this and are now oriented to address a new approach leading to “customer centricity”.

Shel Israel affords the issue of generosity as an efficient and successful tool to gain company reputation on the market (Eva Blue, Flickr)

Generosity key players

In the generosity planet, Shel Israel doesn’t play alone… Ido Leffler is an entrepreneur who seats on the board of about ten Millennial companies and serves as an advisor to United Nations Foundation which helps issues linked to climate change and global poverty. Leffler has made available his lethal generous business model strategies to whoever wishes to use a similar approach.
Originally born as a blogger, Leffler’s goal in achieving results out of his efforts has consisted in engaging actively with his customers, providing comments and responding to criticalities in the fastest possible way, creating a team which would make customers central in their culture as they were part of it and setting aside profitability versus trust.
A team initially and an online community later, the central purpose at the heart of his thesis, is to let others say about how great you are in listening and solving problems in contrast with those organizations which base their reputation on self-accomplishment. The new slogan consists in winning loyalty and let others telling good stories about you and once this is achieved, restore profitability back avoiding the paradox of being self-lethal.
Where many decision makers might have chosen to put profitability first figuring the customers tend to forget, Leffler elected to risk profits and save trust. He therefore opted for generosity, for a “giving” attitude that customers would instead fix in their memory.
In a market filled with offers of all kind, a company which boosts products to serve a brand, needs to build credibility first as people on the other side of the fence, might react with suspicion and take distance.
Many successful companies understand they are standing at a crossroad. Although no major brand today is fully committed to the road to pinpoint, a few have embarked on the exploration of alternative routes.

Ido Leffler's new slogan consists in winning loyalty and let others telling good stories about you (

Shel Israel is not alone on this line of thought: Adam Grants with his bestselling book “Give and take” illustrates how “givers can be better networkers, influencers, leaders and collaborators” especially within workplace contexts. Grants puts forward his idea about the attitude needed at work in order to win coworkers consent which I would say to translate in a sort of social doctrine: “givers, give more and expect nothing in return; matchers give and expect equal in return; takers, take more and give less. Givers, matchers and takers can all experience success, but there is a vital difference in value that each brings to an organization. Here’s the difference: takers achieve a bit of success, but it is usually at the expense of others. However, when givers win, their winningness is not at the expense of others.
In this kind of environment, there is no room for more and less capable individuals as the “giving strategy” applied works in favor of the success of the team and consequently on better company’s production.
More brands should embrace generosity and cause marketing which, involving the cooperative efforts of both a non-profit and business are strategies that have proved so far to generate mutual benefits. Some corporations have applied to this model with a notable success.

Adam Grant puts forward his idea about the attitude needed at work in order to win coworkers consent (Matt Albiani)

Cause marketing examples

The “Theatre is Good for You” for instance, is an original format implemented by the expertise of Jacopo Fo with the financial, organizational and creative support of Eni Foundation with the goal of enhancing knowledge on good hygiene and food practices in a more effective way than traditional behavior change communication (BCC). This kind of initiative relies on the involvement of local communities’ traditional theatre, which have been involved and enriched with the skills and techniques of Italian “Commedia dell’Arte” in order to address effectively important issues such as health and nutrition, replicable in the country as well as other parts of the world.
The “Soar With Reading” campaign is a partnership between JetBlue and the nonprofit organization FirstBook. The “Soar With Reading” program was designed to inspire and encourage children’s imaginations. JetBlue donates money to FirstBook to help provide books to children in low-income neighborhoods. Some of these books have been distributed via free book vending machines. Additionally, the program helps to provide educators and students with diverse books to promote learning.

JetBlue joins the Detroit community with the help of First Book

The case study: Japanese keiretsu

Keiretsu is a Japanese term defining an alliance of enterprises that enjoy interlocking relationships and sharing business intelligence. Keiretsu started in the post-world war II reconstruction of the island nation and are given much credit for Japan’s rapid economic recovery. In the late 80s keiretsu became so effective that the Japanese economy threatened US global economic leadership.
Several major Japanese companies are structured on the keiretsu model: Mitsubishi Group (also part of the core group is Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Trust and Banking), one of the most popular example.
The keiretsu of nowadays adds to the traditional one, the use of technology to speed and expand sharing, the generosity towards social causes, they are usually dominated by Millennials (namely all the individuals in the range of 15-35 years old) that being digital natives have taken control over the global commerce.
To this extent, a research headed by Forbes says that to target millennials is necessary to adjust your marketing strategy to their profile: they are used to having control over information and their interactions with brands. They are accustomed to communities (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.) and demand a central role in the communication efforts of a brand. They expect to be rewarded for their loyalty, they ask continuous incentives, updates. They want connectivity and share-ability: if you meet their needs they will share their life with you through their community world.

The Pros and Cons of keiretsu

The limited competition within the keiretsu may lead to inefficient practices. Because a keiretsu company knows it can readily access capital, it could easily take on too much debt and overly risky strategies. On the other hand, the reduction of costs due to dealing with intra-keiretsu firms can increase efficiency within the supply chain.
Information sharing within the keiretsu is another argument for increased efficiency. Information is shared among customers, suppliers and employees and this results on a quicker decision making among the people involved in this chain.
Both the old and new organizations are motivated by profits but the most critical difference between them is that the operations headed by Millennials achieve profits by building cultures of generosity rather than cultures of aggression and competitiveness.
The best advice is to understand how Millennials think and the new models they are building through contextual technologies and networks. You cannot change your entire business organization overnight but it would be wise to begin making changes soon, following the paths being blazed by Millennial entrepreneurs. The sharing economy is the context in which it is easiest to understand how, in this new contextual age, customer experience has eclipsed brand trust (ref. Lethal generosity by Shel Israel).

A probable answer to my wondering…

I’ve just realized that a basic interaction with my Google mini home assistant pushed me towards the need of “understanding” how AI works… I once read somewhere that AI is a technology that “transforms every walk of life, a tool that is altering the world and raising important questions for society, the economy and governance”.
Intelligent machines are unlike passive machines capable only of mechanical or predetermined responses. Using sensors, digital data, or remote inputs, they combine information from a variety of different sources, analyze the material instantly, and act on the insights derived from those data.
There is a philosophical debate going on about the need of establishing the fine line between the non-sentience of machines and the assumed consciousness of human beings and the assumption is that humanity does have some unique sense of sentience that an AI acting based on learning algorithms and computer power lacks.
Thus, the idea of endowing AI units with the “transcendent consciousness” of human life becomes not only a stark implausibility but also a purely theoretical scientific task.
But there is also some awareness raising that AI is not only a technology of the future but something that is happening right now and starting to enter the world of charity and philanthropy. Some organizations are already using AI to deliver more effective interventions to their beneficiaries.
Well, if that’s true, by the elements gathered, my initial enquiry about whether AI is trying to address a new impulse towards generosity theme has probably found the answer…

READ MORE: Making an unconventional choice by Rob Davies

about the author
Paola Arpino
Traveling with myself, through Rome, London and Milan, dreaming that one day I could be writing....