Like many children, my granddaughter Zoe has a bedtime ritual that includes a bath, stories, and lights out followed by a backrub. I had carried out the procedure perfectly and after ten minutes decided to quietly exit her room.

The moment I took my hand off her back, Zoe’s eyes flew open, her right arm shot out and she looked perplexed. “I can’t rub my own back,” she pointed out.

Zoe was right, of course, and neither can you nor I. No matter how high a value we place on self-reliance, all of us need the talents, skills and services of others.

In growing a business, interdependence needs to co-exist with independence. The most successful entrepreneurs have always known this, it appears.

Andrew Carnegie claimed that his greatest talent was surrounding himself with people who were smarter than he was. Doing so enhanced, not diminished, his success.

In the small Minnesota town where I grew up, a group of businessowners met for breakfast every morning. These were the same men who organized community events, spearheaded fundraisers and kept looking for ways to make it a better place to live.

It’s a scenario that repeats itself in cities and villages everywhere that progress is occurring. The folks who want to make things better connect and collaborate.

There’s also an appreciation for the special gifts that each of them has to contribute.

Adam Cohen’s The Perfect Store is the biography of the beginnings of the phenomenon known as eBay. He talks about how once the company began to succeed numerous copycats followed. The other early online auction sites did not enjoy the same success.

Cohen concludes that eBay’s secret weapon was the online community which was a vital part of their growth. Sellers could get questions answered, share tips and form virtual alliances with one another.

It’s a lesson that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar hasn’t forgotten. Today he and his wife Pam run the Omidyar Network. The purpose of this network is outlined on their Web site:

“Omidyar Network believes that all individuals have the innate potential to make life better for themselves and their communities. Certain conditions increase the likelihood for individuals to discover and act on that potential, and consequently improve the quality of their lives as they define it.”

Likewise, Jeff Skoll, eBay’s first employee, now runs the Skoll Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Both men are using their considerable fortunes to rub the backs of others.

While many wealthy people have made financial contributions to a variety of causes, the new form of philanthropy goes way beyond merely writing a check. The same creative thinking and problem-solving skills that were used to build a business are now being applied to solving the challenges facing humanity.

It’s a reminder that real philanthropy  begins with getting in the habit of being kind to our fellow humans—no matter what our resources are.

Feeling shaky about your dreams? Nothing diminishes the fear and trepidation generated by self-absorption more quickly than reaching out to someone else.

Remind yourself of all the people who can’t rub their own backs—and how your business can do it for them. Connect and collaborate. Be a small time philanthropist.

Oh, and don’t forget to thank everyone who is rubbing your back at the same time.

And if you need some inspiration, check out this story about Glassybaby.