On a chance event, I briefly befriended an engineering executive high up at Intel for an evening (a couple years ago). We talked for more than an hour and he told me a number of stories about Intel over the years and the lessons that he’d learned along the way. Among them was one small “did-ya-know?” that stuck with me ever since…
Intel gives generous scholarships to students, provides internships and makes a number of other contributions to the academic realm with the expressed understanding that there is no immediate or direct gain expected. (or so I was told) Most of the scholarship recipients would not end up working for Intel, many of the interns would be encouraged to consider working for competitors and other similar things were encouraged.
This should raise some eyebrows. What was explained to me was that Intel understood that their business was so deeply integrated into everything that practically anything that made the market grow would some day reach them as demand. In short, whatever they could do to encourage their surroundings, would help secure their own livelihood and grow their business. If they put energy into making their surrounding ecosystem thrive, then they’d thrive.
This was the very first time that I began to understand “ecosystem“. But the understanding surely goes beyond Intel’s example, which is about opportunity. There is also a flip side – a serious and practical risk associated with greed. Simply put, when we are greedy we undermine the very support structure we rely on.
It can be expounded upon another time, but I’d like to plant the seed now: the use of the word “profitable” is very broad and not at all limited to financial interpretations. In fact, I believe the most consequential interpretation of this maxim is that in life we should always strive to be giving more than we are taking. I believe that when we do so, we receive things (from others) we could never have given ourselves otherwise.
To close this thought, I’ll say that the understanding I’ve developed at this point is far broader than that initial story, but it was the starting point that inspired me to understand the paradox of selflessness just a little better.