The Five-Minute Favor: A Case For Change


In 2012, Stephanie, a LinkedIn recruiter, was searching for a job, but based on her callbacks (or lack thereof) wasn’t optimistic. That is until she was introduced to entrepreneur Adam Rifkin, through a mutual friend.

Rifkin advised her, primarily by text messages, and helped her find job leads. His involvement paid off and before long, she found employment in a role she was best suited for.

Stephanie emailed him to express her gratitude and offered to return the favour.

She expressed:

I know we only met in person once and we talk only occasionally, but you have helped me more than you know . . . I really would like to do something to help give back to you. [1].

Instead of reciprocating to Rifkin, directly, she volunteered to attend a 106 Miles meeting of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, so she could help him help them.

At the meeting, Stephanie gave entrepreneurs feedback on their ideas, offered to test their product prototypes and introduced them to potential collaborators and investors.

Stephanie was no different to the countless others Rifkin had selflessly helped; Raymond Rouf, the CEO and founder of GraphScience, would also often drop in on 106 Miles meetings to help other entrepreneurs.

In 2009, Bob, an out-of-work stranger Rifkin struck up a conversation with in a bar, was introduced to a number of Adam’s contacts and landed himself a job as an engineer.

Today, as a result of Rifkin’s generosity, Bob is a successful engineer at his number one choice: Google.

Adam didn’t spend hours helping Stephanie, Raymond and Bob – he spent just five minutes.

The Five Minute Favour:

Adam Rifkin revolutionised how we reciprocate (albeit unintentionally). In traditional trade-offs, we would respond to kind, positive actions with similar kind, positive actions of our own; “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.

The rule of thumb was we helped those who helped us and sometimes, helped those we wanted something from. 

However, now, selfless givers like Rifkin have become a catalyst for change; no longer do we need to give and take, we can give in the hope those we help will pay it forward.

His philosophy is governed by a simple rule: the five minute favour.

In Adam Grant’s Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, he writes

You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody. [2]

Adam Rifkin doesn’t concern himself with if/when he’ll be repaid; this isn’t important to him. He’s interested in how he can create more opportunities to contribute.

Generally, if people feel grateful for people’s help, they’re more likely to want to return the favour, as Stephanie comments:

The important lesson I learned from Adam is that you can be a genuinely kind-hearted person and still get ahead in the world. [3]

If Rifkin does ask people for help, it isn’t for selfish reasons, it’s for assistance to help others.

Interestingly enough, when giving starts to occur regularly, it becomes the new normal and people carry it from one interaction to the next.

People begin to lead by example.

In an interview with Forbes, Grant commented:

Adam Rifkin taught me that giving doesn’t require becoming Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi; we can all find ways of adding high value to others’ lives at a low personal cost. The five-minute favor is my single favorite habit that I learned while writing the book. [4]

How You Can Use This:

Here’s the rub: we typically enjoy looking for ways to:

Teach others what we know

Introduce people who may benefit from knowing one other.

For example, if you have an acquaintance who’s an entrepreneur, you can use their product and offer constructive criticism that’s helpful and practical. Introduce them to a potential prospect who would benefit from their service. Or write them a recommendation on LinkedIn.

The five minute favour isn’t about what kind, positive offer you can expect in return, it’s about a lot more than that. It becomes an approach to change that not only transforms individuals and groups, but entire organisations and communities as well.

Imagine: Your neighbour’s an athlete. Rather than exchanging pleasantries in passing, you can recommend a motivational book they’d benefit from reading. Recommend a doctor who specialises in the nagging injury they’ve been nursing. Or wish them luck, come their next competition.     

And your co-worker? As a creative, imagine how humbled she would be to learn her new article has been shared, commented on or forwarded to a contact with a letter of gratitude?     

If favours are the currency of success, one that costs five minutes is one we can all afford. The question is, how will you spend yours? Thought Catalog Logo Mark


[1], [2], [3] Grant, A. (2013) Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, London: Orion Publishing Group.

[4] Anderson, K. (2013) Pay It Forward With The Five-Minute Favor(Accessed: 25th September).


Adam Grant for introducing me to Adam Ruskin and the five minute favour.

Marcus Oakey for suggesting examples of how to apply the five minute favour.

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