When Adam Grant’s book Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success first came out in 2014, it caused a bit of a sensation. Here was a serious academic armed with serious research and real-world case studies galore that disproved the old adage ‘nice people come last’, even in the cut-throat worlds of business, academia and politics.
In thirty seconds or less, here’s how the story goes. There are ostensibly three types of people in this world – givers, takers and matchers. We’ve all met ‘takers’ in our work and personal lives. These are people who take what they want with little regard for the needs or feelings of the people around them. They approach most human interactions from the perspective of ‘what can you do for me?’ Anyone who’s ever said, ‘it’s not personal, it’s just business’ while they’re taking credit for your idea, stealing one of your clients, or even retrenching you, is a taker, pure and simple.
Matchers are people who believe in fairness – if you give something you should get something in return. This is the the standard ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ approach and, while not as ruthless as takers, matchers are wary of giving unless they can see tangible benefits and balance in their interactions.
Then there are the givers, those people who are generous without any agenda or expectation of, at the very least, equal reciprocation. These folks approach their human interactions from a place of generosity or ‘what can I do for you?’ Traditionally, in the world of work where the law of ‘eat or be eaten’ prevails, givers are often seen as schmucks, losers and doormats with little prospect of achieving the sort of success that takers seem to enjoy.
Refreshingly, Adam Grant’s remarkable research puts paid to this notion once and for all. While givers certainly inhabited the lower echelons of whatever ladder constitutes the climb to success in an organisation, surprisingly, they also appeared in large numbers at the top. Even more surprisingly, these results were consistent across all areas of Grant’s investigations – from measuring the productivity of engineers, the grades of medical students, to the performance of salespeople.
It’s no surprise that this consistency of research result across diverse workplaces and industries was one of the reasons Grant’s book caused a sensation. Personally, as a one-woman crusader for more humanity in our workplaces, I’m delighted that generosity, a decidedly spiritual concept, should be empirically proven as an essential ingredient to success in business.
In the time that’s elapsed since Give and Take was released, Grant has continued to build on the message that givers can be winners in addition to being terrific people to have in our work teams, in leadership positions, and in our circle of colleagues, friends and family.
But his message comes with a warning – givers are not invincible. The efforts of their generosity can burn them out. Worse, in my observation, generous people can unwittingly engender resentment in those around them if their relentless and selfless giving is not tempered by gracious receiving. While many people are fantastic at giving, their inability to receive sometimes crosses the line between selfless generosity and martyrdom – and no one likes a martyr at work or at home.
But that’s not the only issue. In his seminal book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra, makes the emphatic point that giving and receiving are part of the same transaction, merely different aspects of the same dynamic flow of energy on which the entire Universe and everything in it is based. Dr Chopra goes onto say, “In reality, receiving is the same thing as giving…and if you stop the flow of either, you interfere with nature’s intelligence”. Who knew?
So in this season of giving, we might all do well to remember the following:
- That being a giver is a legitimate, proven strategy for success at work and in life.
- That receiving is just as important as giving. It’s not called the Universal Law of Giving and Receiving for nothing!
- We could all do with a lot more giving-without-counting-the-cost and receiving-with-gratitude at home and in the office. Amen to that.
And on that note, all of us at Blackie McDonald extend warmest wishes to our readers, clients and business associates for a joyful, peaceful and blessing-filled festive season.