One of the triggers for this question was an event I attended yesterday in Mountain View at the Computer History Museum hosted by its NextGen Advisory Board. The guest was Product Hunt's founder and CEO, Ryan Hoover and the conversation was exquisitely moderated by Angela Kingyens of Version One (a Venture Capital Firm). It was a wonderful event. One thing struck me most - Angela had met Ryan a couple of years ago, probably around the 100th entrepreneur she had come across in her job as a VC, and had come across around a thousand entrepreneurs by this time yesterday. She described Ryan as someone who is a truly nice guy, after having seen a thousand entrepreneurs.

Ryan, in a self-effacing way, said surely the most giving person must be Hiten Shah. There is competition for everything in Silicon Valley:-). Who is the nicest person in Silicon Valley?

Everyone is nice in the valley - well, no actually, there are some horror stories of a few people here - I have not met the horrible people in my first three months here (Just moved from London and working on surprise, surprise, launching a startup -Purposify -, but people have written about them. But on average, most people are nice. What earned Ryan and Hiten the special mentions over and above everyone else? I do not know if I have the answer, but I do have a theory.

First, I should tell you about why I have trouble with the "Pay It Forward" concept.

What's not to like about this idea? Before you throw me to the wolves, I should say, in fact, I love "Pay It Forward", but I have a real problem with how many people understand the idea (I have heard notable entrepreneurs talk about Pay It Forward and justify or try to persuade people to engage in Pay It Forward behavior because one will get the benefit of this behavior at some point.

Perhaps, naively, I would much prefer if those people had told people to Pay It Forward, or indeed, Just Give, because it is simply a reflection of the good in us (as opposed to expecting some sort of benefit from the act of giving). Michael Sandel, the Harvard professor, raises this type of objection and calls it the displacement of the intrinsic motivation by the extrinsic motivation.

So here, instead of people wanting to help or give to their fellow human beings just because they want to do so, there is a danger of the extrinsic motivation of expecting a reward at some point from such behavior to crowd out or entirely displace, the intrinsic motivation of just wanting to do good.

With this detour, I would venture a guess that Ryan and Hiten have received such accolade, because they exemplify authentic good actions, which are generally not motivated by the expectation of reward (now or in the future). They are probably the type of people who Just Give. It probably takes one to know one, so Angela, a special shout out to you. So who is the nicest person in Silicon Valley?

This is a tough question to answer with any rigor without good data, but I would think one of the defining characteristics of the nice people are the people who are the authentic Just Give type of people. Perhaps, we should rebrand the Pay It Forward to Just Give to preclude the contamination of our intrinsically good motivations with the extrinsic motivation driven by reward.

Side note on the picture:

These are indeed bubbles - nothing to do with Silicon Valley - pure coincidence:-) Looking at the picture, I came to the conclusion we are always in a bubble of sorts (there is no constant in life generally), timing when a bubble will burst is tricky - even Nobel laureate economist Shiller cannot time them, and you could be off by many years or even a decade!

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