Dr. Wayne Baker invites you and your friends to ‘Pay it forward!’

Editor of ReadTheSpirit.com

“Where is Dr. Wayne Baker these days?”

That’s a frequently asked question since Dr. Baker’s years-long run of daily OurValues columns ended in the autumn of 2015.

Full disclosure: I see him regularly, since he and his wife Cheryl sit in front of my wife Amy and me most Sundays at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor, which is situated right across the street from the University of Michigan. That’s the school where Baker is one of the top scholars at the Ross School of Business. We’ve been friends for more than a decade.

In late 2015, after nearly 2,000 columns in a seven-year series by Wayne (and occasional guest columnists), we mutually agreed to stop adding new posts to the OurValues columnOf course, the site’s entire series remains online and is visited every week by individuals and group leaders who want to use these columns as free discussion-starters on contemporary issues. By October 2015, Baker’s teaching, research and national speaking schedule had exploded to the point that he simply had no time left in his weekly schedule to write the column.

What’s more—Wayne and Cheryl together have been developing a major new campaign to expand the powerful system they have developed, called the Reciprocity Ring, so that it will be available to a wider range of ordinary folks. Through the development of an App, they hope to expand this pay-it-forward system with countless new men and women who might never have a chance to participate in one of the more elaborate face-to-face “Rings” that their company Humax develops in person for major clients around the world.

What kind of major clients have been calling on the Bakers and their colleagues at Humax so far?

“There are different segments of this work,” Baker said this week. “First, there is the business world where we have worked with very large companies to get their teams to work better together. Big companies bring us in with the Reciprocity Ring to help in staff development and leadership training.”

Then, the Ring also is widely used in major business schools. “Our Reciprocity Ring is now used in 17 of the top 20 business schools, places like Harvard, Stanford’s business school, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.

“And the Ring has been used by a lot of associations that might have an annual conference or a workshop and they want to train people to engage in this kind of activity. We either go in person to run these events or we license this to them and we train their leaders to run the Ring. Because of all the kinds of organizations that want to use this, we’ve had the Reciprocity Ring conducted in 18 different languages all around the world.”

The reason this is both popular and extremely portable worldwide? “The Ring taps into a universal human principle.”

So, we’ve circled back to Baker’s career-spanning interest in values that unite people, even across apparent cultural or political chasms.

“Scholars call this human principle generalized reciprocity,” Baker explained. “Direct reciprocity is when I help you and you help me—and the reciprocity is direct between us. In contrast, generalized prosperity is you help me, then I feel grateful and help a third person and that person helps a fourth person. Gratitude drives the process.”

Baker just delivered a TEDx talk on the subject, starting with a dramatic real-life story from his family’s experience of being stranded far from home in a remote area of the Great Lakes. You can watch that TEDx video below. Regular readers of OurValues may remember that Baker first told the boating story in his OurValues column shortly after the Great Lakes incident occurred in 2012. Then, in the video, he goes further in his 18-minute talk about generalized reciprocity. You might want to use this video clip in a small-group setting to spark discussion.


Through their Humax company, the Bakers have brought in additional allies to launch an App version of the Reciprocity Ring. It’s not available yet in any online App store, because they are rolling it out with carefully chosen early adopters.

“We need to be sure that a group of people wanting to use the Ring is really suited to this,” Baker said. “We need to see enough people in the group. Our groups work best with 20 to 24 people, though we can accommodate groups of any size by running multiple Rings. And we need to see that there is enough interest in the Ring that people will actually use it enough to make it effective. We’re experimenting with it all the time. We’re working right now on a Ring that we will start in person here in Ann Arbor for people working at Zingerman’s. We will start with the face-to-face version of the Ring and then migrate to using the App.”

The Humax system is licensed and there are fees to participate in a Ring. The same will be true of the App as it rolls out. Right now, the “Give and Take” website for the App invites inquiries and the Bakers are looking for business groups interested in piloting the App.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Rodney Curtis says

    That was a great TED talk, Wayne. Thank you for sharing it, David.

    I admit, asking is much tougher than helping. It’s good to see I’m not alone. Speaking of helping, I would be honored to be part of the early app-dopters. “Ring” me up.