I often think of a fascinating New York Times Magazine article “Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead,” I read a few months ago.
“Giving as the Secret to Getting Ahead,” profiles Adam Grant, 31, the youngest tenured professor at Wharton Business School, and author of “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” who studies and practices generosity as a way of life and work. (This eccentric post is a sort of précis of the brilliant article, chock-full of direct quotes. Back to regular programming soon)
“For Adam Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.
“The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other people’s lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”
“Grant sees an in-box filled with requests not a task to be dispensed with perfunctorily (or worse, avoided); it’s an opportunity to help people, and therefore it’s an opportunity to feel good about yourself and your work.”
“The message sounds terrific: Feel good about your work, and get more of it done, and bask in the appreciation of all the people you help along the way. Nice guys can finish first! ’’
At a Call Centre at the U of Michigan raising money for scholarships, the success rate soared by 400 % once the students making the calls heard from grateful recipients and read their letters.
It was almost as if prosocial motivation — the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback made workers more driven to succeed.
“Grant divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they are defensive about their turf.”
“Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders.”
“The most successful givers, Grant explains, are those who rate high in concern for others but also in self-interest. And they are strategic in their giving — they give to other givers and matchers, so that their work has the maximum desired effect; they are cautious about giving to takers; they give in ways that reinforce their social ties; and they consolidate their giving into chunks, so that the impact is intense enough to be gratifying.”
“Grant incorporates his field’s findings into his own life with methodical rigor: one reason he meets with students four and a half hours in one day rather than spreading it out over the week is that a study found that consolidating giving yields more happiness. Grant’s rule: Unless the person on the other end is a proven taker, just do it — collaborate, offer up, grant the favour.”
“In “Give and Take,” Grant cites a study that found that most people lose physical strength after enduring a test of will, like resisting chocolate-chip cookies when they are hungry. Typically, the study’s subjects could squeeze a handgrip for only 25 seconds after an exercise in willpower. But one group distinguished itself, squeezing the grip for 35 seconds after the test of will. They were people who were on the giving end of the other-directedness scale. “By consistently overriding their selfish impulses in order to help others, they had strengthened their psychological muscles, to the point where using willpower for painful tasks was no longer exhausting,” writes Grant.”
“Grant is highly efficient about his giving: he virtually never says no to the five-minute favor, something that will help someone out — an introduction, a quick suggestion — but cost him very little, relative to impact.”
“Extreme givers are perhaps matchers who are in it, maybe even subconsciously, for the long run. Eventually, in ways that are predictable and unpredictable, the bounty returns to them. Grant’s giving instincts might be reflexive, but they do clearly contribute to his success.”
“The entire world feels like it owes Grant a favour. People rush at the opportunity to work with him.” And one round of giving enables another: when Grant calls on a work contact and asks her to meet with an undergraduate seeking work, chances are that contact is more than happy to enable Grant’s favor, because she has already been the beneficiary of more than one from him herself. The path to success is filled with people helping to clear the way.”
Adam Grant’s work reminds me of Jeff Goins’ writing about his practice of radical generosity.