In the early days of my Internet start-up (Tarot.com), I assumed the sovereign archetype and invented my own currency. I called it “Karma Coins” and it was a radical idea at the time — a way to give registered members a way to make small payments for do-it-yourself Tarot card readings, I-Ching readings and astrology reports — payments that would sometimes be too small for a credit card.
As our first year of Karma Coin operations was ending, I was inspired to give all of our 100,000 members (which grew to 10 million over the next few years) a New Year’s gift of 50 Karma Coins each. It was a gesture born of a generous impulse but also to see what would happen. I told our IT guy to deposit 50 Karma Coins into each account. On the side, I predicted to our small staff that revenues would take a hit for a few days as a result.
Boy, was I wrong! Instead of dropping, sales of Karma Coins almost immediately tripled! After that, I increased the company’s generous giving to our community. We started depositing KCs into members’ accounts on their birthdays, along with a ‘personal’ e-mail from me wishing a happy birthday and telling them about our gift for them.
We were experimenting with generosity as business practice, and it had a “Johnny Appleseed” effect. When we launched Karma Coins, Visionary Networks had few employees and was barely profitable. Some thought that giving things away might destroy our chances to grow and prosper. But this experiment was an example of listening to my intuition and a desire to do a good thing for our community, so I expanded the gift-giving in various creative ways.
Other CEOs have also understood the power of generosity. For example, you may recall recent news story about Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments, who pegged $70,000 as minimum wage at his company. He drastically reduced his own pay to balance this out. His rationale was that happy employees are loyal if they are treated generously and have a long-term stake in a business (granted, he held founder’s stock).
We all have an ability to think bigger. In my previous blog post on the Tragedy of the Commons, I referenced Charles Eisenstein’s book Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition. Eisenstein mentions the possibility of making gift-giving itself into a kind of currency – where “a magical synchronicity of wants and needs” can unfold. It’s a fascinating idea.
A coda about Karma Coins: sadly, the practice of giving them away faded after I sold the company and bean-counters took over. But what I had learned from gifting Karma Coins is that when generosity comes from the heart and is in alignment with the collective good, it rebounds to the good of the giver! Even small acts of generosity can grow you while contributing to the greater social good. Let’s challenge ourselves to do at least one generous act a day without expecting anything in return. Generosity is a gift to ourselves … let’s be good to ourselves often!