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Paying It Forward With Random Acts of Kindness

I began my tech career in a factory in Evansville, IN as the sole “geek” living in a condemned (yes—condemned) apartment building for $50.00 a month with my wife, who was finishing her nursing degree. How things have changed from that humble beginning. When I look back on my career and where it has

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
7 min read
A calendar showing Feb 17 as Random Act of Kindness Day as part of the Paying It Forward movement
Feb 17 is Random Act of Kindness Day – part of the Paying It Forward movement

I began my tech career in a factory in Evansville, IN as the sole “geek” living in a condemned (yes—condemned) apartment building for $50.00 a month with my wife, who was finishing her nursing degree. How things have changed from that humble beginning. When I look back on my career and where it has brought us, there is no way we could ever pay back the time, coaching, and support I received from my mentors.

One mentor to who I dedicated my book, Bob Davis, was the one who introduced me to the concept of paying it forward. Many years later, when I asked him how I could ever pay him back for the time and advice he gave early in my career, he laughed. He said I couldn't pay it back but had to pay it forward.

What paying it forward means

Paying it forward is when the beneficiary of a good deed repays the kindness to others instead of to the person who helped you.

Paying it forward is when we take what we have and pass it along to someone else, so that they may benefit as we have. It's a simple idea, but one with profound implications for our society. When we pay it forward, we create a cycle of kindness that can change the world.

It can be as simple as doing something nice for someone else, with no expectation of anything in return. Sometimes, all it takes is a kind word or act to make someone's day. It can also involve doing something more substantial, like helping someone out with a difficult task or offering them guidance and support.

One of the best things about paying it forward is that it benefits everyone involved.

We can trace its history back to ancient times. One of the earliest examples comes from the story of The Three Wise Men, who were said to have paid it forward by giving gifts to others after they received them from Baby Jesus.

In more recent times, the idea of paying it forward has gained traction on social media. This has led to several notable examples, such as the Pay It Forward Foundation.

Changing The World One Good Deed At A Time

Paying it forward is a simple idea, but one that has the potential to change the world. When we pay it forward, we create a cycle of kindness that can make our world a better place. When we pay it forward, we not only help others, but we also help ourselves. We become happier and more connected to the people around us. This simple act can make our world a better place.

There are many things that can prompt people to pay forward good deeds. A kind gesture from a stranger, a feeling of gratitude, or simply the desire to make a difference can all motivate people to pay it forward. When we see someone do something kind, it inspires us to do the same. We feel grateful for the blessings we have received and want to share those blessings with others. To pay it forward is a simple way to make the world a better place.

Strangers Performing A Good Deed

There are many inspiring stories of people who paid it forward.

One story is about a woman named Cynthia who was out of work and had no money to buy Christmas presents for her children. A stranger came up to her and gave her $100 as a random act, telling her to “pay it forward.” Cynthia used the money to buy presents for her children, and she has since paid it forward to others in need.

Another story is about a man named Clay who was homeless and living on the streets. He was given a meal by a kind stranger, and he decided to pay it forward by paying for the meal of the next homeless person he met. Clay has since found housing and started a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the homeless.

The third story is about a farmer named Michael. Weather destroyed his crops. He was having difficulty paying his bills, but he met another farmer who had received extra money for the produce he grew. This stranger paid for Michael's debts and enabled him to pay it forward by helping others in need.

While these random acts are about money being the way to pay it forward, there are other ways that have an impact.

There are many examples of people paying it forward by coaching and mentoring someone early in their career. This can help them learn and grow, and it can also help them develop relationships that could be beneficial later on. Coaching and mentoring can also help the person paying it forward feel good about themselves, knowing that they are helping someone else succeed.

For example, if someone helps you with a task at work and then asks you to help another person in the company with something, you pay forward by simply agreeing to help the second person with their task.

I Was A Recipient Of Pay It Forward

I was the direct beneficiary of Bob Davis' accidental kindness when he hired me to join my first real job. Bob took me under his wing and said that I might build a successful software engineer's career or I could achieve so much more by being open to various experiences early in my job.

He described himself as having a “T” shape. People are either “I” shaped (i.e., deep expertise in a narrow area) or “T” shaped (i.e., less deep than “I,” but with a greater variety of roles and functions across multiple industries). That one little nugget of advice set me on the path to spending the last 40 years building my career on that foundation, which culminated with me becoming CTO at Hewlett-Packard and now CEO for CableLabs.

How did Bob put this forward movement into action?

To build out my “T” shape, he rotated me every six months into a new role in a different department. While I started in software development, I then rotated to sales, marketing, IT, finance, and HR. Then, he promoted me to be the manager of the new product development team. I was 21!

Bob and I stayed together as a team at three companies.

Throughout my career, Bob kept reminding me to pay it forward whenever I came across someone who I could help

I don't know how many other people were directly affected by Bob's advice and that random hiring decision that day, or who indirectly affected by my paying it forward. But I have come to realize that paying it forward is the secret to making the world a better place. One good deed at a time.

I still shake my head at how fortunate I was to have had the experience.

The pay it forward idea

As the beneficiary of someone paying it forward, I strive to pay it forward every day. One way is the sharing of my experiences and lessons learned throughout my career via the millions of downloads of my podcast and this blog.

What I have learned from doing the podcast, when you do a good deed for someone, they will pay the favor back to someone else. It spreads. The beauty in this concept is that when one person does something nice for another, not only are both people happy, but also society benefits because it spreads more good deeds around. This simple act can improve your life and make the world a better place.

Paying it forward doesn't have to be about money or time. The act can come in so many forms. It can be a random act of kindness that you do for another. You can pay for someone's groceries or for their coffee, or doing something nice for someone so they have something to smile about.

Remember the smallest gestures can go a long way and can come from anywhere.

Is Sharing an Idea Paying It Forward?

Ideas are powerful things, and when someone shares an idea with another person, it can be considered as having paid it forward. When you share an idea with someone, not only are you paying it forward, but you are also starting a chain reaction of giving and receiving ideas.

The best thing about the forward sharing of ideas is that it's a continuous cycle that benefits everyone involved. When you share an idea with someone, they can then share the idea with someone else, and so on and so forth. That one act has a ripple effect beyond what we could ever imagine.

Not only have you paid it forward by sharing your ideas, but you're also inspiring others to do the same. What could be better than that?

An Idea to Make The World A Better Place

What change would we see in society if paying it forward became our societal norm?

I predict that the impact would be significant. We would see less need for government assistance, as people would be more likely to help each other out. We would also see a decrease in crime rates, as people would be more likely to act with compassion and understanding towards each other.

The people would also be more likely to adopt the forward concept mindset because this would become a societal expectation. They would, in turn, have others pay it forward to them, creating a virtuous cycle that affects everyone around us.

I also see it as an investment in the future. The more we help each other, the more likely they are to return the favor when needed.

Paying it forward is paying what you can today for a better tomorrow.

Getting Involved

There are many ways that you can get involved with paying-it-forward activities. You can start by looking for opportunities to do something kind for a stranger, such as paying for their coffee or groceries. You can also volunteer your time at a local charity or organization, or simply donate money to a good cause. Whatever you do, just make sure that you're paying it forward and helping to make the world a better place.

If we all paid it forward regularly, we could turn this simple idea into the societal norm. It becomes an expectation rather than an exception when everyone is doing it. This would lead to more kindness and compassion in the world, and it could even change what paying it forward means. Right now, paying it forward is a way to thank someone for something that they did for you. In the future, it can become a way of life; We will expect everyone to help others who are in need because someone else helped them out.


When you pay it forward, good things come back to you in ways that you could never imagine. Not only do you help others, but you also improve your own life and make the world a better place. It's a simple idea that can profoundly affect all of us.

We all have been the recipient of numerous good deeds from others that we should pay back by paying them forward and making this world a better place for everyone.

If all goes as planned, this article will be informative and helpful to its readers. If all does not go as planned… well, at least I paid it forward. I hope someone else has paid it forward too.

Let's get started! When? February 17 is Random Act of Kindness Day. Why not start then?

Paying it forward is like a nuclear bomb. It has the potential to destroy everything in its path and make the world a better place.

Phil McKinney


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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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