Giving as a Path to Success

Our interactions with other people are essential in our careers and personal lives. And when we interact with others we get to decide how much value we want to distribute. Do we want to maximize the value we claim for ourselves or do we want to offer value to others? In Give and Take, Adam Grant categorizes people into three categories based on their interaction styles:

  1. Givers — These people seek to tilt reciprocity in the direction of other people
  2. Takers — These people seek to gain more value than they give
  3. Matchers — These people seek to maintain an equal balance of giving and receiving

In a research study, success (which of course has many definitions) was measured against people’s presence in each of these categories and the results were fascinating: The people at the bottom of the success ladder were givers and the people at the top of the success ladder were givers. Grant’s thesis is that while people that give consistently without looking out for themselves can end up falling behind, the right approach to giving will lead to incredible amounts of success in any field.

One of the major advantages of being a giver is networks. Better networks give you access to private information, diverse skills, and power. Although givers can often be categorized as chumps or doormats, people whose natural inclination is to give tend to build a greater quantity and quality of connections in the long-run. The counter-intuitive piece of this is that these benefits from networks cannot be directly pursued; they come from investments in genuine activities and relationships. Matchers, for example, tend to build smaller networks because they have shortsightedness about the relationships they “should” be forming while givers’ reach will extend much broader because they are not seeking anything through their giving. We can’t always predict who can help us and the importance of weak ties cannot be understated.

“Being a giver is not good for a 100-yard dash, but it’s valuable in a marathon.” — Adam Grant, Give and Take

However, someone who is a giver with absolutely no desire to look out for themselves is likely to be taken advantage of. The most successful givers are just as ambitious as takers and givers. Grant lays this out on a helpful matrix:

Otherish Give and Take Matrix (High Self and Other Interest)

Givers have a high concern for others’ interests but can vary in their concern for self-interest. The givers that have a high concern for self-interest — called otherish — are the most successful ones. One of the biggest reasons for this is that the otherish givers can protect themselves because they know who’s likely to try to take advantage of them and can adjust their trust. The key mindset switch is that they draw on reserves of assertiveness from commitments to the people that matter to them. For example, if you are negotiating the terms of a deal with someone and they want to take a larger sum of money for themselves or their company, assert your position as a concern for the interests of your team or your family as opposed to this negotiator.

Another critical attribute of successful givers is their openness to receiving help and gifts from others. While otherish givers are more than happy to offer guidance to others, they are not afraid to call upon support networks to ask for help for themselves. Grant notes that advice seeking is a surprisingly effective strategy for exercising influence in times when we lack authority. Moreover, the natural byproduct of genuine giving is an expanded network and hence opportunity and reward. Successful givers are not afraid to reap these rewards.

“The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving” — Bob Burg and John David Mann, The Go-Giver

For example, successful givers can use giving as a way to optimize their energy levels. Grant points to research that shows that those who volunteer between 100 and 800 hours a year are happier and more satisfied. When you are intentional and give as a meaningful choice — as long as you are not overextending yourself — you can actually gain energy. The point is that while successful givers are doing it for genuine reasons, they are not abandoning their own well-being and will use this energy boost to excel in their primary work.

But what if you are not inherently a giver but see the value in it? Grant suggests that you start by giving in ways that are enjoyable to you and to recipients whose well-being matters to you. Eventually, consistently giving and prioritizing others’ interests will result in an intrinsic drift toward the giver mentality.

“By shifting ever so slightly in the giver direction we might find our waking hours marked by greater success, richer meaning, and more lasting impact.” — Adam Grant, Give and Take

Grant finishes Give and Take with a chapter called “Actions for Impact” which highlights actionable steps to begin applying these concepts. Here are the suggestions I found most relevant to getting started.

  • Run a reciprocity ring — get a group of people together for a weekly 20-minute meeting. Each person makes a request and the rest of the group uses their knowledge, resources, and connections to help out.
  • Embrace the five-minute favor — be open and willing to perform favors for others, especially when they come at a low-cost to you
  • Act as a connector — pick pairs of people in your network that share an uncommon commonality and introduce them by email
  • Reconnect with dormant ties — reach out to one person a month who you haven’t spoken to in years and find out what they’re working on and ask if there are ways to help
  • Volunteer/Mentor — find a cause that is meaningful to you and get involved on a regular basis
  • Launch a personal generosity experiment — get ideas and do one nice thing a day for a month
  • Seek help more often — help generously but also ask often for what you need
  • Join a community of givers — freecycle.org, servicespace.org, thegogiver.com/community

If you’re interested in keeping up with everything I’m learning and thinking about + my recommendations for tools, books, articles, and videos related to personal development, feel free to check out my newsletter here.

For more ideas on giving, check out the books Give and Take and The Go-Giver.

If you want to check out any of my other articles on personal growth, click here.

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