About 14 years ago, as we walked to work, my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were discussing the purpose of life.
“It’s to be helpful to others,” I announced. “What else is there to do?”
He smiled. “You can help yourself. When you do that, others end up being helped as well.”
A new book is coming out next week, by Adam Grant, a young (youngest tenured at 31) professor at The Wharton School, called Give and Take. I’ve pre-ordered it, I’ve taken the online assessment on his site to estimate my giving, taking, or matching tendencies, and I’ve bookmarked his blog, so that I can follow it when it opens next week with the release of his book, all because of this article I started reading at 6:45 this morning:
“Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?” By Susan Dominus for The New York Times, it’s a thorough interview of Grant and examination of the theories (and data!) behind his work. It moved me, because it validates that the implicit conclusion of that conversation I had with my best friend 14 years ago.
In professional interactions, it turns out that most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.
Are “givers” saps? Not necessarily.
Much of Grant’s book sets out to establish the difference between the givers who are exploited and those who end up as models of achievement. 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.
And get this: In the video of Dominus talking with Grant, he describes how “takers” only win in the short-term. And in fact, Grant shares that according to his colleague’s research givers or matchers might engage in what is known as “pro-social gossip” about takers, in order to affect the taker’s reputation and protect others from that taker. Specifically:
The more generous and moral among us are most likely to pass on rumors about untrustworthy people,” says Willer, “and they report doing so because they are concerned about the well-being others.
I love that, for so many reasons (which I can’t elucidate here, because there’s prosocial gossip, and then there’s antisocial blogging).
I can’t wait to read his book.