Sometime ago I came across an article by Adam Grant. It was an impressive piece of writing and I became interested to know more about the author. Looking him up on google, my impression of him was validated. Adam Grant holds a PhD in organizational psychology and in 2013 aged 28 he received academic tenure thus becoming the youngest full professor and the single highest rated teacher at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The article in reference was about the different styles of human interaction and the outcome of those different styles in the context of success in our life’s pursuits. This post is my take on the paper by Adam Grant.
In a capitalist society we are forced into a rat race where one person’s win usually means another person’s loss. Adam Grant challenges this conventional view point and provides research based evidence to the contrary.
It is generally accepted that successful people have a lot of motivation and ability. They also work very hard. As Thomas Edison famously said, genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration. But success also depends on our interactions with other people. You cannot be faulted for thinking of a successful person as one who extracts as much as possible from others and gives as little as possible in the interaction. Surprisingly Adam Grant’s research shows reality to be somewhat different.
Grant classifies people into three types- Takers, Givers and Matchers.
The stereotypical smooth talker who is tall on promises but short on delivery would be a good example of a Taker. He likes to get more than he gives. He will tilt the equation in his own favour thinking only of his own interests and be least concerned about the needs of the others. He is in a rat race and lives by the dog- eat-dog philosophy. He will promote himself at every opportunity and when working in a team, very often he will not give credit to his team members preferring to hog the limelight himself. These people are insecure and feel that they need to look after their own self interest before thinking of anyone else. If you are a Taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs.
Surprisingly, there also exist people who are the opposite. Far fewer in number, these people are not concerned with what they get. They thrive on giving. Whereas the Takers are only concerned with what they can get out of others, the Giver’s natural trait is to think of what s/he can do for others. This is not about philanthropy or altruism which are often acts driven by a conscious decision. The Giver is naturally more comfortable in going out of his/her way to help others without thinking of getting anything in return or about the personal costs involved. The cost benefit analysis is not a part of the Giver’s psyche. We all come across such individuals. At work I have seen people who are giving a disproportionate amount of their time helping others even at the cost of affecting their own performance. The other day I was amazed to read a story of this young doctor who was on a four month maternity leave having given birth to a pre mature baby. One month after the birth of the baby she applied to her hospital for cancellation of her maternity leave because she wanted to resume work and would you believe it, she wanted to join the corona virus wing of the hospital to help people in distress. For those who always have something negative to say about our country and our people, this is the story of Dr. Mahmud Sultana Afroze of the Chottogram Maa O Shisu Hospital as reported in the daily Star on 14 June 2020.
The third category is the Matcher. This person maintains a ledger for giving and taking. The debit and credit of the ledger must always tally. If he helps someone, he expects the return favour in equal measure. For the Matcher relationships are based on a tit for tat equation.
Though Giving, Taking and Matching are the three fundamental characteristics, people shift from one characteristic to another depending on situations and circumstances. You could be a Taker when bargaining with a fishmonger, a Giver when doing some voluntary social work or a Matcher when giving a mulligan or a 3 foot putt in a round of golf. However, most people have a particular characteristic that they exhibit most of the time.
Having classified people into these three fundamental categories of Taker, Giver and Matcher, if I were to ask you which category is most likely to be at the bottom of the success ladder, your obvious reply would be that it would be the Givers. And this would be the correct answer. Givers are the push overs of the society; aka the chumps; the contemporary proverb “nice guys finish last” is a tribute to these selfless people. We are all likely to have associated with them in our personal lives. The popular guy in your college who was always helping out others and is now doing a mundane dead end job in some private organization or the gal next door who was a brilliant student in your university but was more passionate about teaching the poor kids in the neighbourhood and is now doing a menial job in some NGO. Such people may not arouse our envy but make no mistake, Givers are an important pillar of every society and they are also the purveyors of our value system.
Coming back to the success ladder, if Givers are at the bottom rung, who are at the top? The Takers or the Matchers? Neither. Ironically, Mr. Grant’s research shows that it is the Givers who are also at the top of the ladder. The best and the worst performers are both Givers with the Takers and the Matchers in the middle. So what is the reason? Whenever we try to examine such paradoxes, the philosophy of fatalism puts the proverbial spanner in the works. Here too, some people would put it to luck, fate or destiny but if we were to confine our analysis to scientific research then there are other more interesting revelations. Mr. Grant postulates that Givers are not necessarily “nice” and they are not necessarily altruistic. Successful Givers recognize that there is a big difference between taking and receiving. When taking, one person gains while the other person loses. When receiving, there are no losers. So for example, as a real estate developer, if I were negotiating to develop your land, as a “Taker” I could drive a very hard bargain and after signing a very lucrative deal regale my Gordon Gekkoesque victory over dinner with friends. However, if I were a Giver I could let my sense of fairness dictate how much I should get and how much you should get. Sure the deal would not be so lucrative but this is where the mystery behind the success of the Giver is revealed. If you as the landowner were dealing with me the Taker, you would have misgivings about the unfavourable deal which you signed but then you would also tell yourself that this was expected when dealing with a bhumi doshu . On the other hand if you were dealing with me the Giver, who patiently tried to understand your situation and accommodate as much of your demands as possible, you would be smitten by my sense of fair play and most likely refer me to your family and friends which would enhance my business manifold. Here instead of taking from you, I have received from you. Being ambitious and being a Giver are not mutually exclusive. Givers can be just as ambitious and driven as the Takers and Matchers; they simply have a different approach to life.
When a Taker wins, usually there is someone who loses; this also creates a list of people who look for an opportunity to knock down the Taker. When a Giver succeeds, the icing on the cake is that people around them are happy and celebrate the success. The bon homie spreads and this also acts as a powerful motivator for the Giver to achieve more success. To quote Jim Rohn, “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have”.