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The Favor Economy

Published: Jun 18, 2019


By Kanishk Chandra

DURING 1973-74, the iconic actor Mr.Bachchan was struggling, seen as a "failed new comer" who then had twelve flops and only two hits. Screenwriter duo Salim-Javed soon discovered Bachchan. Salim - Javed wrote the story, screenplay and script of Zanjeer (1973), and conceived the "angry young man" persona for the lead role. Prakash Mehra, as the film’s director, saw the script as a new trend-setting story. However, they were struggling to find an actor for the lead "angry young man" role; it was turned down by several established romantic actors. This is when Salim-Javed saw unusual talent in Bachchan and introduced him to Prakash Mehra. Salim-Javed insisted that Bachchan be cast for the role. Rest is History. Any measure can not quantify this Favor of Reference of the writer duo.

There are times when one needs help or referral with no counteroffer. One either asks for a favor or calls in one. In most of the places, favors are the non-monetary economy. This system may be as old as Barter and is still thriving. Favors seem to be the unofficial form of transaction in any growing economy. IMF Report of 2015 attributes great significance to economic activities arising out of consequences of favor.

The concept is simple - people do things for you that does not help them but helps you. People do not expect anything in return but hope someday they can rely on you when they need a favor. However, there remains ambiguity in proper valuation of such acts of favor. Favors are mostly granted between acquaintances having certain degree of mutual trust. Trust may ensure the return of favors as and when needed. But there remains no contract to return the favor .

Favor Economy still exists. Every time you hear the story of a man who made it big from nothing, it is because somewhere someone believed in him and decided to do him a favor. Someone gave him a chance to rise from nothing knowing very well that this man had nothing to offer in return at that moment. A more benign interpretation of the favor economy is that it may have a spiritual dimension: that favors done may be repaid indirectly through the various karmic recourses.

There are shortcomings in the system. Favors are not accessible for everyone. These are transacted between acquaintances. The favor economy offers various modes of participation ; from being exclusively among friends with no return expectations to strategic determination and calculations amongst various professionals.There’s always an implied gamble in doing a favor for someone and one needs to pick the right horse to back after careful analysis and monitoring as to who will do well.

A significant factor stopping us in seeking favor may be our self-set constraints.One is never sure of reactions of a stranger to a request made asking for particular favor. Maybe because our brain is hard-wired to exaggerate the risk compared to rewards.Self-set constraints are the biggest hurdles when it comes to thriving in the favor economy. Since an early age, most of us have been conditioned to not ask for help or we overestimate response of the other person.This creates imaginary constraints. Situation is akin to elephants raised in captivity. The elephants are tied to a pole as babies. As little baby elephants, they fail to break free from the pole because then they lack the strength and they stop resisting and just stay where they are. Even as adults, they are so accustomed to being held back by the rope, that merely the rope itself keeps the animal in check. If only they knew how powerful they really are. Just as the elephants, our brains have been hard-wired by our self-set constraints. We either believe that what we are asking for is too big, or we simply assume that the person will not be interested in granting favor.

A very mundane example would be to ask for an introduction to someone at a place you are looking for a job . Making a referral does not cost anything for the mentor, but its value for a successful candidate can never be quantified accurately. Today recruiters typically exercise ironclad control over who gets interviewed; there’s one crucial exception: The Referral. That’s because if someone on the inside can vouch for you, it’s a lot harder for the recruiter to say no. Referrals are powerful because they take the decision out of the hands of the recruiter and dramatically increase the odds of getting the jobs.

But at the end of the day, such favors come with some inherent risks. Even if someone recommends you at the firm because of your relationship with the firm there is no guarantee that you will perform well during the interview. Your poor performance reflects poorly on the person who recommended you. Bottom line- everyone is looking for the right horse to bet on. This, in a way, levels the playing field for everyone. Even a nobody now has a chance. If a ‘nobody’ can prove that he or she is the proverbial diamond in the rough, then people will be willing to back this person up. The daunting question that now lingers in the air- how to establish trust and prove that you are the right horse to back? How can you show that in the long run, you will be able to return the favor and not disappoint when given a chance?

There is no answer to this question, but there is an old Bollywood movie that might point in the right direction. Deewar is a 70’s masterpiece, with a lot of things to teach us, one of the scenes teaches us how to prove you are a winning horse. The scene starts with two men having their boots polished by a kid as they discuss how to pick a winning horse. After the kid is done, one of the guys throws money on the street expecting the kid to pick it up. The kid stands up with anger in his eyes and with firm resolve in his voice says that he won’t pick money that is thrown at him, he might be polishing boots, but he is no beggar. This left the men aghast, but other guy suggested to his friend that he should pick up the coin and give to the kid with respect. This man later explains to his friend (who threw money at the kid) that the kid is destined for greater things and is a winning horse.

Well, not everyone has to go around polishing boot every day but the point here is that the kid proved himself. His attitude, his words and his actions all ‘signaled’ that he is capable of great things. Every one of us have these signaling mechanism in our life, at our work or our resume that signals the other person if we are a good bet or not. Finding out what signals are we sending is the key to garnering any favor. We need to understand what people see when they talk to us. Usually, when people have to decide if they should favor us or not they rely on what they see (and what our past is.)

Past is the best predictor of the future, and when you are talking to someone you don’t know, past may be the only predictor of the future. So make sure that even before you are asking for a favor, you have your signaling mechanism ready. When people ask you about your life, you have enough stories to prove that your life has prepared you for what they are about to ask. In any case, the most important thing is to keep improving to have the right signals and always keep asking for help.

(Author: Kanishk Chandra is currently pursuing Masters in Management Science, specialising in Business Analytics. He completed his undergraduate studies from Pennsylvania State University where he majored in Computer Science and minored in Information Science and Technology)