Dave Kerpen | Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success
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Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

I read a heck of a lot of business books every year (see this article and this one). But my favorite book of last year was Adam Grant’s Give and Take. Many business books (including my own), focus on anecdotes and stories and the lessons learned from them. Other business books are dry and filled with research and data for their points. It’s very rare to find a book that has both great stories and great data – and Give and Take has both.

Give and Take is filled with stories and research which support Adam Grant’s main thesis: that the world has takers, matchers and givers, and that givers end up being most successful. While most people are matchers, and while takers can achieve temporary success, it’s the givers who in the long run benefit most. I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam about the book (which was just released in paperback!) and why he believes giving is the key to success in business and life:

Dave: Your essential thesis is that givers, over time, are more successful than matcher or takers. What is it about givers that makes them so successful?

Adam: The most obvious advantage is social. Takers tend to be self-serving in their interactions, which tends to stifle trust, burn bridges, and damage reputations. Matchers develop better relationships, but often make two mistakes. One is creating a transactional impression—“I’ll help you if you help me.” The other is only helping the people they expect to reciprocate, which leaves them with narrow connections. By contrast, givers help more widely and convey that they genuinely care about others, which allows them to develop deeper and broader networks based on meaningful relationships.

Other people end up rooting for givers, instead of gunning for them.”

In the long run, evidence shows that there are at least five other reasons why givers outperform takers and matchers:

1) Reciprocity: matchers believe in an eye for an eye, which motivates them to punish takers and reward givers. Since most people are matchers, this dynamic works to the benefit of givers.

2) Learning: by volunteering to help and mentor others, givers gain new knowledge and skills, and also improve their problem-solving capabilities.

3) Motivation: contributing to others enhances the meaning and purpose of work, energizing givers to work harder and longer.

4) Creativity: by focusing on others, givers develop a habit of taking others’ perspectives, which allows them to generate ideas that are not only original, but also useful to others.

5) Leadership: givers tend to see more potential in employees than they see in themselves. This means that givers tend to bring out the best in others.

Dave: Why do some givers become doormats while others enjoy extraordinary success?

Adam: Many givers fail by sacrificing themselves for others: they say yes to all of the people all of the time with all of the requests. Successful givers are more thoughtful and selective: they have clear priorities about who to help (givers and matchers, exercising caution with takers), how to help (giving in ways that align with their interests and expertise, making it energizing, efficient, and reputationally beneficial), and when to help (carving out time for supporting others that doesn’t interfere with their own priorities). In short, successful givers balance their own ambitions with the desire to make a difference in others’ lives.

Dave: Some insist that takers can also become very successful. Are these people outliers or can takers rule as well?

Adam: Success depends on far more than just our styles of give and take. Hard work, talent, and luck matter a great deal as well, and it’s possible for takers to succeed if they’re driven, uniquely skilled, and in the right place at the right time. The good news is that although takers often rise quickly, they tend to fall quickly too. As the venture capitalist Randy Komisar told me:

It’s easier to win if everybody wants you to win.”

Dave: Who are your favorite examples of givers that you profiled in the book?

Adam: I have many favorites, but a few are Sherryann Plesse, the Vanguard lawyer-turned-executive who builds cultures of givers; Adam Rifkin, the serial entrepreneur who has made three introductions every day for the past 12 years; George Meyer, the Simpsons writer who shaped over 300 episodes but only took writing credit on 12; and “Lillian Bauer” (not her real name), the consultant who rejected the advice from her superiors to be more selfish, found a way to be productively generous, and became one of the youngest partners in her elite firm’s history.

Dave: What new research are you up to these days?

Adam: One of my favorite new questions is about how to turn takers into givers or matchers. It’s common for them to engage in acts of helping when they identify with a person or organization, or their performance evaluations, rewards, and promotions are dependent on helping. It’s much more rare for takers to change their underlying values, and become generous across multiple relationships, roles, and organizations. I’m also curious to explore how we learn to give, take, and match—and how early experiences shape whether people reserve their benevolence for family and friends, or bring it into the workplace as well. Finally, one of the biggest misconceptions about givers is that by helping others at work, they sacrifice their family lives. Colleagues and I are finding quite the opposite:

On days where we give at work, we actually bring more energy home. Of course, it’s important to set boundaries on giving.”

That’s what Adam and I had to discuss about Give and Take. Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear how you give and take to achieve success. Do you think you’re a giver, a matcher or a taker? Can givers really win? Please share your thoughts in the Comments sections below!

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