Friday, April 4, 2014

Givers Finish Last…And First

Or at least that appears to be the thesis of Wharton professor Adam Grant’s (relatively) new book Give and Take (2013).  (Disclosure: I received a free copy from the publisher).

According to Professor Grant, giving, matching, and taking “are three fundamental styles of social interaction.”  Givers give without thought of what they will get in return; givers are generous, other-focused, and give without keeping score.  Matchers give expecting quid pro quo; matchers “believe in tit for tat…and believe in an even exchange of favors.”  Takers give expecting a positive return; takers put “their own interests ahead of others’ needs.” (pgs. 4-5). 

Grant is quick to admit that, “the lines between [giving, taking, and matching] are not hard and fast.” (pg. 5)  Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, as more exacting or less exacting "matchers."

In his book, Grant cites studies of medical students, engineers, salespeople, and others to support his thesis that the “worst performers and the best performers are givers; takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle.” (pg. 7) (emphasis added).  (While Grant cites a number of academic studies, this book is written for a popular audience.)

If "givers" end up at both ends of the success spectrum, the key question becomes:  what distinguishes successful givers from unsuccessful givers? 

Grant claims that successful givers switch to a matching strategy when they interact with takers (to avoid becoming doormats for the takers), but the successful givers only make the switch to “generous tit for tat” not an unforgiving version of tit for tat.  Successful givers also draw appropriate boundaries.  See below for Professor Grant’s video clip on avoiding the doormat effect:

 

Grant’s thesis likely holds for professors.  I know a number of givers who have risen to the top of the professorial ranks.  I am less optimistic about large law firm partners, though I know a small handful of partners who have done well as givers.

A related Authors at Google talk by Professor Grant is below.  (Side note, I wish more companies did events like Authors at Google...and posted them for us to watch.)

     

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/business_law/2014/04/givers-finish-lastand-first.html

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