By Stephen Gold

It will probably not surprise you to learn that the former Chief Business Officer for Google X, described as “an American semi-secret research and development facility” has come up with an algorithm for happiness. He is Mo Gawdat, whose book, Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path To Joy is persuasive, and also poignant.

The trigger for his research was the death of his 21-year-old son during what should have been routine surgery. Gawdat says that though his and his wife’s grief was indescribable, his algorithm made it possible for them to face it with “a sense of peace – even happiness and joy – because at least we’d had him in our lives”.

Key to his happiness theory is the power of showing kindness to others, without expectation of reward. Long before he came along, anthropologists realised that the desire to reciprocate good deeds is hard-wired into the human psyche, and has been fundamental to our development since we were, literally, scratching each other’s backs on the African savannah. Indeed, it has been proved that if we do someone a favour, we are inclined to like them more. In these fractious, accusatory times, this is something worth practising.

Unconditional good deeds bring two principal benefits: the act of giving makes us feel happy, and at the same time makes it highly likely that even though we are not looking for reward, it will come our way. It has underpinned all cultures through the ages. Odysseus relied on the kindness of other humans and mythological creatures to complete his voyage. The imperative to give is extolled by the great religions and secular philosophers. On the flip side, reciprocity may also mean “an eye for an eye”.

The injunction to be unconditionally kind and helpful to others may primarily be a moral one – it makes the world a better place. But the power of reciprocity means it is also an enlightened business strategy. It is the golden key to successful networking, which, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with taking targets out for stressful, mediocre lunches, or nursing a glass of warm prosecco at some unspeakable event, while looking around frantically for someone even more lonely and despondent than you. The most successful professionals understand this, and understand also that they have two markets.

The first is external: the web of existing clients, potential referrers of work and targets.

Clients and connections really notice if their advisers do something valuable for them unprompted and out of the box. Law firms are fond of proclaiming on their websites how they see themselves as their clients’ strategic partners, but how many of them walk the walk? Being a true strategic partner means much more than just doing the work clients put in front of us. Here is a concrete example from the world of finance: A Dutch bank has set up a series of local websites for its customers, making it easy for them to introduce themselves and do business with one another. Every time there is a transaction, the bank gets a financial benefit, but far more importantly, it basks in the glow of its customers’ appreciation and cements their long-term loyalty. A law firm’s greatest asset is its network of clients and connections, but few give any thought to how their clients might benefit one another, and how facilitating business between them will be remembered and appreciated long after the memory of their more conventional activity has faded. The accountancy profession is much more tuned into this. Is it because, unlike lawyers, they position themselves as being skilled commercial advisers in all aspects of their clients’ business, a position solicitors once held, but have long since surrendered?

The second is internal: colleagues whose clients and connections have the potential to create work for other practice areas. In theory, winning more work from clients who are already receiving a good service should be easy. But often there is a yawning gap between theory and practice.

I am often asked, “How do I get my partners to introduce me to ‘their’ clients?” Healthy firms take it as read that every client is a client of the firm, not the individual, and delivering the whole firm is everyone’s responsibility. But if real life is not like that, and culture change seems a long way off, take personal responsibility. To paraphrase the late John F Kennedy, “Ask not what your colleagues can do for you, but what you can do for your colleagues.” You may be very pleasantly surprised at what they do for you in return.

As professionals, we constantly ask ourselves, “How do I stand out?” Having this giving mentality has been a good answer since long before Google, but Mo Gawdat has done us a service in reminding us that it’s possible to feed our businesses and souls simultaneously. Now, if he could just mention this “giving” business to Silicon Valley’s tax advisers....

Stephen Gold is a solicitor and consultant to leading law firms.