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How do you buy a gift for someone who already has everything they want and need? I encounter this problem every year when shopping for my dad’s birthday gift. He is a low-maintenance, minimalist type who doesn’t need much to be happy, and if you have a similar person in your life, then you know how hard gift giving can be at times.
A few days ago I heard a podcast which entirely changed my views on gift giving. It led me consider the true purpose of gift giving and better understand how to give the right gift in any circumstance. The idea was so simple that I laughed at myself for not realizing it sooner.
Gift Giving Made Simple
In the podcast I mentioned, host Tim Ferriss interviewed Adam Robinson. Robinson is what you might call a jack of all trades: an international chess master, the founder of The Princeton Review, speaker, and adviser to managers of some of the largest hedge funds in the world. During the interview, Robinson told a story which blew me away.
Robinson was discussing his role in the investment world and was asked about his relationship with billionaire Warren Buffett. Robinson gushed about Buffett, and with good reason – he had just given away $2.8 billion in 2016 alone. Then the conversation shifted toward the time that Robinson was searching for a birthday gift for Buffett.
Robinson didn’t mention it, but gift buying has to be tough when you’re shopping for a billionaire who could buy himself anything. (Never mind the fact that Buffett is the definition of low maintenance – he still lives in the same modest home he purchased many years ago – and still uses coupons – even using a coupon for a free coffee at McDonald’s during a sit-down with Steve Jobs.) Instead, Robinson focused the search for the perfect gift on Buffett himself.
Robinson remembered that Buffett had a love for Beeman’s chewing gum as a child. He wanted to buy the gum for Buffett, but the company had been out of business for over a decade at the time. After a long search, he found an internet collector who was selling a 50-year old pack of the gum, purchased it from a warehouse in Montanna, and framed it in a custom shadow box.
Robinson, who prides himself on being the world’s greatest gift giver, was proud of his rare find, but he wasn’t quite out of the woods yet. He needed to find a way to send the gift safely from New York City to Omaha, Nebraska, where Buffett lives.
An Unexpected Solution
Sending a fragile framed back of gum hundreds of miles across the country presented obvious problems. Robinson hadn’t paid it too much thought until the day he picked up the frame from the shop where it had been customized.
After inspecting the finished gift, he struck up a conversation with a woman who worked at the frame shop. Robinson explained that the gift was for a friend in Nebraska (without naming Buffett by name) and openly shared his concern about sending the gift safely. He was not prepared for what would happen next.
“I’ll deliver it for you – no charge,” the woman offered.
Robinson was dumbfounded. He had never this woman until today, and now she was offering to transport a gift hundreds of miles! For free. And it was just five days before Christmas.
“Excuse me? This is Nebraska we’re talking about,” Robinson responded.
Yes, she knew. But she didn’t care. She explained that she could feel that this gift mattered deeply to Robinson. He insisted on paying her, but she said, “No, I’ll do it for free. I can tell this is important to you.”
In that moment, the world’s greatest gift giver was one-upped.
The Magic of Focusing on Others
Adam Robinson is a self-proclaimed believer in magic. He actively looks for it in every moment, whether having lunch with friends, meeting someone for the first time, or giving gifts.
Some people may say that Robinson has a way of finding magic; I believe he has a unique way of creating magical moments.
On that December day in New York City, a 20-something woman working at a frame shop was so inspired by her interactions with Robinson that she was swept up in the magic of the moment and wanted to be a part of the gift giving experience. She was overcome by Robinson’s exuberance and selflessness.
I believe there is a lesson to be learned here.
Finding the Perfect Gift
Giving the perfect gift is not necessarily about the gift itself, as Robinson’s story shows. The best gifts are not only thoughtful, but they seek to completely delight the person receiving the gift. These gifts connect with the receiver on a deeply personal level.
How are can you learn to connect with people on a deeper level? Robinson lives his life according to what he calls The Gospel of the Other. Whether he is engaged in conversation, business meetings, an interview, or buying a gift, his focus is squarely upon delighting the other person. Even if the conservation or individual question is focused on him, he still finds a may to make everything about the other person.
“Delighting in the other,” as Robinson calls it, doesn’t have to be hard. You can apply the principle anywhere at anytime – as a server in a restaurant, while volunteering in the community, or engaging in the act of gift giving.
If you want to give better gifts than ever before, focus on these three actionable steps:
1. If you want to give the perfect gift time after time, spend more time getting to know the person you are buying for by focusing on them.
2. Find a unique gift that connects deeply with what the other person values.
3. Make gift giving all about the receiver.
Robinson didn’t tell us how Warren Buffett responded to receiving the shadow box of Beeman’s gum, but I think we know the answer. Robinson’s gift nearly became the greatest gift that Warren Buffett never received, but thanks to the magic of a single moment, Robinson successfully gave a gift that was sure to delight the receiver.