A common phrase is ‘nice guys finish last’. Too many people think they need to be ruthless to get ahead, but a recent study by Harvard dispels that theory and shows that being ‘nice’ and ‘generous’ can help you get ahead.
In real life, we get to control who we do business with, and in fact we generally have a lot of choices. Just consider airlines – if you want to get from point A to point B, you usually have a pretty decent list of different airlines to choose from. How do you choose, especially when price is so frequently identical. From the paper:
We had them play a cooperation game embedded in a social network. At the beginning of the game, each person was randomly connected to set of other players (her ‘friends’). In each round of the game, each player chose whether to be generous and pay a cost to give a benefit to each of their friends, or to be selfish and not. Then the players got to find out whether some random other people where generous or not, and based on that information could choose to form new friendships, or break existing friendships. The amount of money they got paid at the end of the study depended on how many points they earned, so being generous really cost you something (and was really materially beneficial for your ‘friends’).
In addition, they go on to conclude:
The key insight of our paper was that allowing people to make and break friendships supports generosity. In the game worlds where friends were fixed, or where friendships were shuffled randomly, selfish people did better and selfishness spread. But in the games where people had control over their friendships, generosity was favored and being nice spread.