Fortune favours the givers

giveandtake-coverEveryone likes to think of themselves as generous, so I avoided starting this post with an, “are you a giver?” question. In reading this latest book, I have had to confess that I certainly don’t come up to scratch when compared to some of the givers profiled in this story. Both the mega-generosity and the mega-success that it led to… but let me begin with some theories:

The world is made up of givers, takers and matchers. Givers need nothing in return, matchers are operating a sort of transactional account and takers are very good at asking for what they want or need and expecting to get it. Our default can be different in work settings as opposed to family settings and a giving culture can be developed because everyone will become more generous if that is the norm in an organisation.

[A few asides: It didn’t come up in this book but giving can also be a status grab, I’ve stopped insisting that I pay for coffee, with a little more perspective about what that feels like on the receiving end. And as we talk more about the sharing economy and the gift economy, the framework in this book becomes very important to acknowledge.]

The most important finding in this book is that Givers dominate both the very top and the very bottom of the career success ladder. I like this idea and it throws a lot of what we are taught about success out the window. Ruthlessness is not a prerequisite for success. Being generous to others can support your success, rather than undermine it – if you do it cleverly. The doormats at the bottom of the career success ladder need to tweak a few of their undermining, giving behaviours.

Adam Grant’s thesis is that it used to take much longer for an individual’s giving to transfer into career success but in this day and age of reputational value and fast communications, giving is the advantage worth leveraging in the modern digital era.

The most important takeaway from the book are the elements that help you be a successful giver, not give too much at your own expense, and not have your generosity taken advantage of:

  • Trust most of the people most of the time. The outer shell of someone’s demeanor can create a wrong impression. Disagreeable givers exist everywhere – you may not warm to someone immediately but they can turn out to be extraordinarily generous. By contrast successful takers often look like givers. Kenneth Lay, the primary villian in the Enron scandal, was given as the example. “Kissing up, kicking down” – you know the type. But givers can identify takers pretty quickly, as long as they test their reciprocity a little. Grant calls it, “sincerity screening” and reckons givers are pretty good at detecting those with selfish motives because givers are often more attentive to other’s behaviours.
  • Generous tit for tat involves giving as good as you get, most of the time – and erring on the side of generosity. This can be a successful strategy when you feel obligated to a taker or just too wise to burn bridges, even after you have recognised that you are being treated like a doormat.
  • Advocating for others rather than being assertive. Reams have been written about how women don’t negotiate salaries as well or as often as men – and when they do they are seen as pushy and unlikable. However, women apparently do an excellent job when they are pretend they are negotiating for someone else. Grant gives the example of someone advocating for his family in his salary negotiations, rather than for himself.
  • On the same theme – pushing past pushover highlights that givers often feel wrong about helping themselves but can be motivated to ask and negotiate when they understand how their success helps others. Remaining stuck in one particular style is a danger and knowing how to match, ask for and accept help are equally valuable skills.

The chapter on the ripple effect provides some great stories about just how far a successful giver’s cultural influence can extend. This is often due to the expectation by the giver, explicitly stated, that those who receive help will pay it forward in some way.

Givers have a head start in supporting the diamonds in the rough, those talents whose star ultimately shines brightly but it took someone dedicated to ‘give’ in the first place. Think athletes and musicians. Interestingly Grant thinks givers are better at walking away from a sunk investment in someone too because their own ego isn’t at stake if an investment doesn’t develop into a diamond.

Powerless communication tackles the advantages of being prepared to be vulnerable, and ultimately more likeable and trustworthy.

Motivation maintenance grapples with the risk of burn out and tells some interesting stories of givers faced with burn out who ramped up the giving – but in an area that sustained them more. There’s a whole discussion here about how much more energy you can have if you work on things you enjoy – be selective about your giving!

The shift to online peer to peer systems allows for giving in many different forms. The relationships, building of trust, sense of community, shared ideology are all part of making these systems work. The aspect of choice is essential. Where giving is incentivised it often breaks down when the incentives are withdrawn. By contrast volunteers in an organisation might join for self interested reasons but over time see the giving component of themselves as part of their identity and become organisational citizens. Hmmm an interesting point here about localisation and active citizenry…

The book provides some resources worth pursuing if you want to take these ideas to the next step:

  • You can test your giver quotient on
  • You can start a reciprocity ring – an interesting exercise where everyone in a group takes the time to ask for something from the group, and give something back to the group.
  • You can indulge in some job crafting, in order to better give your gifts to your employer and enjoy your work more in the process.
  • ..and a whole heap of other ways you can practice giving and receiving and improve the giving culture around you.

Filled with heartwarming stories of successful givers – I thoroughly enjoyed this book – I’ll leave you with a quote from Simon Sinek:

Givers advance the world, Takers advance themselves and hold the world back

About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
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2 Responses to Fortune favours the givers

  1. Pingback: The Small Big | changing weather by Heather Smith

  2. Pingback: Change starts from within | changing weather by Heather Smith

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