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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Give and Take by Adam Grant

Readers, the husband thought my last post was super-depressing. That came as a shock. I had thought I had managed to convey something positive by taking us back to classical values. Well. I am moving on. I don’t want to depress the husband. Also my father told me to. Specifically, he said, you are not alone in being upset, but we all have to move on. After he said that, he also said, “It’s a little bit like building a bridge over the river while the banks are eroding.” This might not sound like the most positive statement. It might actually sound like a pretty depressing assessment of the current situation. But then I took a broader view of things. That’s life, after all, isn’t it? Building a bridge over the river while the banks erode? I mean that’s just life. Or exercise and the race against decrepitude. 

Oy, that’s depressing, too. Hell. I was trying to be funny. 

Anyway, I am not going political this week at all. Instead, I am relating the following items.

Item: This text message exchange happened (during the middle of a school day)
9th Grader: What’s Nai-Nai’s number? Everyone’s texting their grandparents.
Me (after sending the number): Why are they?
9th Grader: We’re talking about Confucianism. 

Which I found very sweet, very funny, and a possibly appropriate use of technology during Global History Class.

Item: After talking to my dad, I picked up a book about success and managed to get engrossed in it. I moved on. So that’s what I’m writing about today. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, by Adam Grant. 

Adam Grant, who should not be confused with Adam Ant, the New Romantic musician of the 1980s with a flair for a ruffled shirt and a flowered lappet, is a professor of Organizational Psychology at Wharton School of Business. He has some interesting things to say about success.
First of all, he says there are three kinds of people. Now, a lot of people say there are two kinds of people, and then they tell you what kinds. They are the kind of people who do something, and the kind of people who do not do it. Well, Adam Grant not Ant says there are three kinds of people - and then he tells you what kinds. Which means he is not one of those kinds of people who say there are two kinds of people. He's the other kind. 

Anyhoo, those three kinds are these:

  • Givers- give more than take
  • Takers- bend reciprocity in their favor (take more than give)
  • Matchers - operate on principle of fairness and try to preserve equal balance of giving and getting.

Okay, if you're at all like me, already you want to know which type is the best type to be. You want to quiz yourself and skew the answers so that you'll come out as that type. Well, I'll get there in a sec. (Think Polonius - "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Then remember that Polonius is a fool.) Now, Grant’s talking about the business realm, as are so many writers about success. In the personal realm, he says most people are givers. But the business realm is where many people look when they think about success. So I ran with it. These three types are styles of interaction in the work world. All three types can succeed, says Grant. However, givers are special. They tend to be at both the very bottom and the very top of the “success ladder.” Matchers and takers tend to “land in the middle.”  He then goes on to explain his theory, with lots of anecdotes about famous givers and takers. For example, Kenneth Lay of Enron. Big taker. Frank Lloyd Wright? Also a taker. Famous givers? Jack Welch of General Electric. Abraham Lincoln. But a lot of very successful givers remain in the shadows, not known outside their fields, because of their natural style - to give freely of their time, of their help, of their ideas, and to not worry about repayment. Eventually they do get repaid, big time, but they tend to be a little more shadowed. He mentions George Meyer, who was a major shaper of “The Simpsons” television show, and several others with very interesting careers as engineers, venture capitalists, and researchers. 

Key to success for givers? Knowing when to receive help and always being open to repaying it later. Not keeping score when helping someone, because you never know when they might help you out later. And - networking really, really well, so when they do need help, they can attract the most talented helpers, who come willingly to their teams. 

Speaking of teams, these givers are universally team players. They are not concerned with being the one who gets all the credit. They put the good of the project above all else. By behaving in this way, others who work with them don’t feel competitive with them. They gain “idiosyncrasy credits,” which apparently is a real term - positive impressions generated in a person by the generous behavior of an individual towards a team. The giver exhibits “expedition behavior,” a term coined by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to define the best mountaineering practices: “putting the group’s goals and mission first, and showing the same amount of concern for others as you do for yourself.” 

Underlying givers’ success, says Grant, is a fact about success that gets overlooked. That fact is that success always involves team effort. Even though the public tends to look at achievement as a solo act, all achievement comes from group effort. That's what made Grant choose relational style as a defining characteristic of success. So, people who can motivate a team to put the mission ahead of themselves are bound to do better work than people who are either concerned with making themselves appear to be the best, or with keeping everything even-Steven. Grant goes into the ways in which teams help one another succeed. It sounds a lot like my success scaffolding plank of like-minded others. Givers tend to recognize and expect high potential and achievement from others - and they get it. This is acting like a loving mirror, reflecting at their team members what they believe they can achieve and by doing so, empowering them to achieve it. 

So. Be a giver. But - there's always a but - there are two kinds of givers. Selfless and otherish. There are the successful givers, who are mega-successful. And there are the unsuccessful givers, who are failures.

Here's the good news. The givers who fail, fail because they are too selfless and burn out. Sadly for them, because they're just trying to be really nice. And nice guys apparently do finish last. Luckily, they also finish first. And they get to enjoy themselves. That's because the givers who succeed are self-interested as well as giving. They are called otherish. They're motived by two engines, the engine of self-concern and the engine of advancing others' goals. That's the kind you want to be. 

Food for thought. 

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