posttitle = Four easy ways to create value for your friends titleClass =title-long len =47

Four easy ways to create value for your friends

People in entrepreneurship circles talk a lot about creating (and capturing) value. It’s a pretty decent model for business: make something valuable, or perform a valuable service, and then “capture” enough of that value to be profitable. Value is created, on net, when the outputs of a system or process are more valuable than the inputs. Magic! Extropy! But this is a real thing, and it applies much more broadly than business.

So this post is basically a list of easy ways (aka ‘low-hanging fruit’) to create value in the lives of people around you. I’ve also considered reasons why people don’t do this more, and offered suggestions as to why those reasons don’t matter, and ways around them.


Me massaging a friend of mine.

Let’s bring grooming back.

I have an affordance for massaging shoulders. It’s also something I enjoy doing, at least for a few minutes. Also, most people I’ve met really like having their shoulders massaged. So I’ve started just casually massaging my friends’ shoulders (making sure they’re into it first of course) and I was struck by just how much value gets created in a few seconds of massage. The cost of me giving a massage is very low, and the benefit is massive.

So why doesn’t it happen more?

  • awkwardness around physical touch: Some of this is reasonable: don’t just go around surprising-massaging people, because consent is important! But there are ways around this. A subtle (maybe Guess Culture) approach might involve putting a hand on someone’s shoulder, who you know well enough to know they’d be comfortable with that, and gauging whether to try more based on how they respond to the touch. Or you could ask directly.
  • awkwardness around reciprocity norms: “you scratch my back, I’ll literally scratch yours”. This might be hard to get around if you don’t have a fair bit of openness / Tell Culture, but try to just express something like: “I like giving people massages. I wouldn’t refuse one if offered, but I’m not doing this just so you’ll massage me.” If all else fails, print out this blog post and hand it to them.

Positive feedback

I kept massaging people, but up until a week ago I hadn’t really thought of anything else—admittedly, I hadn’t put much effort towards doing so. Then I got an email from a friend giving me positive feedback for a tiny user experience delight in one of the complice emails. It put a huge grin on my face, and made me realize that simple, positive feedback is another epic low-hanging fruit for making other people feel great.

I’m using “positive feedback” here to refer to when someone does something that isn’t personally towards you, but that you’re really glad about, and you want to tell them to keep on keeping on.

I think the main reasons people don’t do this more are:

  • bystander effect: since the act you’re +1ing wasn’t directed at you, maybe other people have already given them that feedback
  • illusion of transparency: there’s a tendency to kind of naïvely assume that if you think a kind thought then the other person will know. Obviously this doesn’t stand up under inspection, but most of the time we never look closely enough to realize how silly that is. If you want someone to know you thought a thought, tell them.

Public appreciation / shoutouts

A twist on positive feedback. In this case, someone has done something, likely specifically towards you, and you want to tell the world how great they are. Facebook is one great medium for this. Last Mother’s Day, my friend Ben “Compass Rose” Hoffman wrote a long post about how great his mom was. And then this followup:

A friend posted: “Why are you telling me that you appreciate your mother? It’s none of my business.”
Public praise is more meaningful because it’s an act of affiliation. Praise in private is cheap – but if you praise someone in public you’re committing yourself to being the sort of person who likes the object of your praise.
Mother’s Day is a day in which it’s considered especially appropriate to publicly appreciate our mothers. If you’re feeling left out of the appreciation today, or any other day, ask me and I’ll be happy to write a Facebook post about how I appreciate you.
Or if you prefer, I can send you your letter privately.

Fascinatingly, I only counted myself and one other person (Edit: Ben says about 5 now) who actually took him up on this offer. Maybe some people feel weird about the idea of requesting appreciation? But hey, it was great—he wrote me over 700 words, and it totally brightened my day!

Hmm, why don’t people do this? I mean, the 700 word thing is kind of a lot, so I wouldn’t even consider that to be low-hanging fruit. But why don’t we see more simple shoutouts, like “I just wanted to say thanks to Jane for helping me edit my resume :)”?

  • no affordance: this is kind of true for everything listed here, but I think it’s especially true in this case: people don’t even think of this as being a thing that they could do! I invite you to train yourself into having this affordance, right now. Take a moment and think of something someone did in the last few days for you that was really helpful. Tell the world.
  • other people will think it’s weird: Did you do it? If you didn’t maybe it was because you were worried that people might think of it as a weird thing to do. Simple antidote for that: point them to this post 😉

Sharing learning

This blog post is a delightful meta-example of this thing too: when you learn something that might be generally useful, share it with people! Even if it kind of seems obvious.

Main reasons people don’t do this:

  • it feels like a big task: so make it easy & fun! Type up a quick paragraph and throw it to facebook. Don’t like typing even that much? Tell a friend orally, and get them to post it! There are solutions to this 🙂
  • insight decay: once you’ve had an insight, it will tend to very quickly feel not nearly so insightful, at which point you forget that for many other people, the insight is still there to be had!
  • worry about sounding dumb: do you ever realize something, which seems pretty helpful, but you kind of think that everyone else knew the whole time and you were an idiot for taking so long to figure it out? Well, that’s so improbable as to actually be impressive if you managed it. So don’t worry about it.

Another thing just occurred to me: if you have blogger friends, and you like their blog posts, share those posts on Facebook! This is both appreciation and sharing learning. I get a substantial fraction of my traffic from Facebook, so I really love when people share my posts. On that note, if you’re thinking “that public appreciation thing is a great idea, but I can’t think of something,” here’s one solution: Share this post on Facebook 😛


Four new things to try! Oh no, how will you ever remember to actually do all of the things? My advice on that:

  1. Pick one of them that feels particularly attractive and try it a bunch for the next week.
  2. Send an email to, which will remind you in a week to try another. Here’s a convenient link that will just do that: click me
If you found this thought-provoking, I invite you to subscribe:    
About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.


Eloise » 22 Feb 2015 » Reply

A thing that feels like it could also fit on this list is giving friends constructive criticism that others aren’t invested enough to give—it feels a little awkward to point out the (literal or metaphorical) spinach between someone’s teeth, but you telling them can create a lot of value for them if done well. I think friends are better suited for this sort of thing because:

  • you know the person well and can therefore judge whether they’ll find this info useful or just hurtful
  • you know the person well and can therefore give them the info at an appropriate time in a way that’s kind
  • you care about the person being happy more than a random stranger would, and therefore are invested enough to actually go through the effort (I’m much more likely to tell a friend about the spinach in her teeth than a stranger)

Robert GT » 22 Feb 2015 » Reply

I would also say: invite people to things. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion. Things you had planned on going to anyway, or just random hangouts. Good social opportunity – people appreciate being invited, even if they can’t make it.

ROBIN YOUNG » 22 Feb 2015 » Reply

My favourite post of yours so far, Malcolm. Great points and you summed them up really well. This video, though not directly hitting on the same points, echoes this kind of positive, value-creating world-view.

    Malcolm » 22 Feb 2015 » Reply

    Ehh, I have to say, his story with the woman at the start. I think a lot of women probably wish they could smile back at men in their neighbourhood, without many of those men interpreting that as flirtation. But…. I’ve heard from many women that they’re experience is that they can’t.

    And this guy, even if he’s not actually flirting, is still demanding a smile from this women. Also note that he says, “I fucking hate it if I smile at a stranger and she doesn’t smile back.” It seems suspicious to me that the pronoun there is female.

    I like “keep in touch with yourself” though. And I really like the point about appreciating when people play with his name. I really do like that. But demanding smiles from strangers? Ehhh.

Agnes » 5 Apr 2015 » Reply

Thanks for this article. It’s a reminder that it’s important to be intentional in our friendships and proactively take steps to help our relationships grow.

Another thing to do would be to ask our friends for what they would find beneficial and then focus on doing what they prefer. The suggestions in this article would add value to many people. However, they might backfire with some (for example, I’m often ambivalent about receiving shoutouts on Facebook).

More importantly, they don’t (and can’t) account for the myriad unique preferences and values. A powerful way to bring value to someone is to directly ask them for what’s important, and then do that thing (or directly state that it’s not something I’m available to do).

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