Friday, October 08, 2010

The Power of Gratitude

While working on the Alan Turing apology campaign I put into action something that I'd always believed: gratitude is a powerful thing. As people began signing the petition I used a combination of a Perl script and Wikipedia to automatically identity "celebrities" that might have signed the petition by scraping the No. 10 web site.

One of these was the writer Ian McEwan. To confirm that it was really the writer and not some other Ian McEwan I sent a note to his literary agency:


I'm the person who created the Alan Turing petition on the Number 10
web site:

It is rumoured that Ian McEwan has signed the petition. Could you
forward this email to him and pass on my thanks to him for supporting
this campaign?


The next day I received the following email from McEwan's personal email account:

Dear John Graham-Cumming,
Good luck in your campaign. Alan Turing was one of the most important British scientists of the 20C. I think that HMG regards apologies in general as opening the floodgates. But I think it will mean a lot, even to make this attempt.
Best wishes,
Ian McEwan

And from there I had a brief back and forth with him and was able to use his name publicly with the press (which was a very important step because that gave the press something to say).

And I also wrote to every journalist who had covered the story thanking them for the coverage. To this day I am in contact with many of them and was able to quickly tell them about the Plan 28.

But most importantly I replied to every single person who wrote to me about the campaign. Often I didn't have more time available than for a simple thanks, but many of those thanks resulted in conversations that were very helpful.

Now, all that may seem self-serving. These thanks turned into something more. But underlying my gratitude is something that I think is more important. Gratitude is a way of communicating to a person that you acknowledge their effort and that you were not taking their effort for granted. Those two things are vitally important whether it's as part of a national campaign or on a personal level. When people make an unpaid effort to do something, repay them with thanks.

Tens of thousands of people supported my Alan Turing apology campaign. I wish there were a way for me to email them all a note of thanks. I did manage to thank Stephen Fry, who replied like a gentleman.

On a personal level I receive a lot of mail from people asking for help with things on my blog (such as GNU Make, image forgery, climate change, spam filtering, or my high-altitude balloon). I try to help them all.

Quite often I receive no thanks at all. Being on the receiving end of a lack of gratitude is annoying because I will have made an effort on that person's behalf. A suitable 'repayment' is a simple "Thanks". And if you do thank me you are more likely to get more out of me later.

It turns out that I, and others, will do a lot if you express gratitude. And even if you never ask me anything again, it's better to be remembered as the person whose last word to me was, "Thanks".

Thanks for reading.


Rui Sousa said...

Thank you for spending the time and effort to write blog posts.

Antonio TouriƱo said...


Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. This particular one has inspired me to come out of lurkerland and express my gratitude about all the post you've written which I have found really insightful or have enriched my life somehow. For these things, I thank you, good sir.

Robin Message said...

Thanks for sharing this and for all of your original, amusing and insightful blog posts.

Sudarshan P said...

Thanks for this awesome post :) and the GeekAtlas

- Sudarshan.P

Shirty said...

I worked on a phone queue for years, and found that while most people will happily demand an escalation for a job poorly done, it's rare to hear them pass along praise for a good customer experience. I've made it a habit, whenever I am impressed, of letting the managers know, and it's as much of a reward for me as the employee when the managers respond with surprised goodwill.

RBerenguel said...

Thanks for writing here, for the Alan Turing campaign and the recent campaign for the Analytical Engine. And if some day I have to ask you something, I will thank you, because I have also been in 'the bad end' and it does no harm to do it ;)