Updated on 11.04.09

Putting Out the Word

Trent Hamm

About a year ago, my mother decided to re-do the guest bedroom in her home. Before starting out on the project, she outlined her project to several of her friends, not asking for a single thing beyond advice. The end result? One friend gave her a crib. Another friend gave her a children’s bed. Another friend gave some paint to help refinish the room.

A few months ago, I needed some small cloth drawstring bags for a small project. Instead of just heading to Hobby Lobby, I told several people that I know about the project and mentioned that my next step was to get the drawstring cloth bags. Within a week, I had more such bags than I needed.

These two stories have an obvious connection in common. By exerting a bit of patience on projects and talking to others about those projects, we found success without having to ask for it.

Why did this happen? There are several factors at work.

First, in neither case did we ask for anything but advice. The items we received from people weren’t as a result of a specific request or out of greed. They were delivered out of goodwill.

Second, most people want to help others, particularly if it’s convenient. When a friend tells you a story that’s easily solved by a simple action, most people will respond by fulfilling that simple action. They won’t go to extraordinary lengths to make it happen (at least not normally), but if there’s something a friend can conveniently do to help you, they often will. Plus, they’ll feel great about being able to help.

Third, even if a friend can’t help materially, they’ll often help with good advice. Your friends will see your situation from a different angle than you do. They might know of opportunities, techniques, or other such information that can transform your project.

Fourth, the person actually working on the project showed patience. Instead of just throwing money at the problem and rushing around to complete it – something many of us do in the rapid-fire modern world – patience was exerted. They sat back, asked around, and found a better solution.

Fifth, such value exchanges strengthen friendships on both sides. Not only does the giver feel good about being able to help a friend, the receiver feels good as well because of the generosity of their friend. It’s the type of value exchange in which both sides win.

To put it simply, it’s well worth putting the word out in your social network if you’re working on a project of any kind. Simply tell your friends about the things you’re doing and seek their input. Time and time again, they’ll be happy to give their input, whether you choose to use it or not, and quite often they’ll provide someting of great value to you.

Of course, the reciprocal is true – when your friends ask you for advice and you can easily help them, you should provide the same help. If you have useful advice or information, provide it. If you have an item that could easily solve their problem (and you have little need for it), give it.

After all, in the end, what is a friendship beyond a long series of value exchanges? We are constantly doing things for our friends that lift them and our friends constantly do things for us that lift us.

The real lesson here is the value of patience. The utilization of one’s social network is just one piece of the puzzle. Without patience, both stories would have ended with a trip to the store, less money in hand, and a shallower connection with the people in one’s social circle.

If there’s a project you’re working on that’s not incredibly urgent, be patient. Put out the word about your project. Gather input. You might be surprised at the things you discover and the value you find.

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  1. Susan says:

    I see this as an example of how relationships between people bring the most joy in life – much more so than ‘things’. I love being able to do things for my friends!

    It amazes me constantly how when I need something, if I am patient, the item I need will be given to me or I will find it for pennies on the dollar at a thrift store. This has happened for me time and time again.

  2. Very true- and for the younger generation, facebook and twitter can be a great way to let your network know you are looking for something, or alternatively, have something to give away that someone might want. My wife just picked up a piece of furniture we were looking at buying for free from a friend b/c her friend asked if anyone was interested in it on facebook.

  3. Trent, you say the main lesson here is patience, but to me it’s the importance of giving. Do you think your friends would have readily offered things to you if you hadn’t fostered that relationship with your friends in the first place by providing for them?

    Patience is obviously a virtue, but you probably did a lot of giving yourself to build relationships that would eventually help you out.

  4. It’s networking, it works, and the principles that apply to business work in all other things.

    John DeFlumeri Jr.

  5. Vicky says:

    This is amazing!

    Let it also be said that strangers will also be happy to lend a hand!

    When I first started to learn how to sew, I made a post on CraigsList saying that I was looking for scraps of fabrics that I could buy. I was also looking for old sheets or curtains that someone didn’t mind me destroying. :)

    The end result? There are A TON of people who donated a LOT of materials to me that I could practice on and learn how to sew with. Most of them were happy to help – some even offered patterns to me so I could get better, some offered a few basic tips and advice, some gave me books, and a LOT of people gave me scraps of fabric that they had sitting around.

  6. Gabriel says:

    By putting out the word, I was able to furnish my new apartment for under $100. So many people were happy to unload their clutter on me!

  7. Matt says:

    The key with value exchanges is to not put any scoring mechanism in mind or time frame. If people feel obligated immediately to exchange value, I don’t think you’ll get what you desire as much as the patient approach Trent talks about. During moving we were quite surprised when we had 14 people to make a normal 4 hour move take 1 1/2 hours. I had helped members of my in-laws family move multiple times and didn’t expect as much as help as I got- but I’m very thankful for the value exchange.

  8. deRuiter says:

    Great Post Trent! This also helps the giver who does not want the object any longer but doesn’t want to see it go to waste, and hasn’t had the energy, time, or mind set to get rid of the unwanted thing. Helps the environment too! I run estate sales, and at the end, we put the unwanted things on the curb, and post on Craigslist what’s available. It’s amazing how fast the stuff gets adopted. It’s necessary to keep updating the Craigslist info to accommodate what’s been adopted and what’s just been dragged to the curb. It’s loads of fun to watch the curbside shopers making their selections!

  9. anne says:

    this is such a great post

    what popped into my head was how at work the other day a friend of mine was saying she has nothing saved for retirement, it’s too late, she seemed so sad and resigned about it. she’s 58, and it’s late, but i really don’t think it’s too late.

    but in my car i happened to have david bach’s book “start late, finish rich” so i gave it to her- i didn’t lend it to her.

    in the past this friend and i have just given each other so many things, but never expecting immediate or any reciprocation. like i just love antique linens- i brought in a bunch i had just bought on my way to work to show her, just because i was so excited, and she laughed and said if she only knew i liked that stuff she’d have given me tons of it. then the next day or so she brought in a huge box of fantastic handmade and crocheted linens she had inherited but didn’t want.

    when her son was stationed in iraq i helped her mail the care packages to him, and i gave her some costco sized packages of her son’s favorite snacks and treats to send in her packages.

    and when he was coming home she didn’t have a curtain for his room and said she was going to tack up a bath towel, so i gave her a curtain that i knew would fit the window.

    and she LOVES gilbert gottfried, so i took her to see one of his shows.

    she is always so generous w/ people, it just makes you want to give back to her.

    i feel this way about a lot of my friends and coworkers, but she’s who i thought of first.

    trent- i’m sure that’s why people go out of their way to help you- you’re probably always giving to them, too.

  10. kristine says:

    Patience is key. If I need something, I will wait until I see it posted on Freecycle. Does it mean I have to do without for a while? Sure. Sometimes a month or two. But things waited for are more appreciated.

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