Giving for Success

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”.

Comments (12)
  • sir,such a motivational speech you always give us, thank you sir

  • You are right. In business dealings, reputation is very important. Takers are avoided by people, while Givers gain confidence and trust of people, and find it much easier to approach prospective clients or other businessmen.

  • Thanks. I do agree wholeheartedly to what u have said. These r the lessons we we may read in our holy Quoran and in the life of Prophet Mohammad SM. I believe u have already studied those as I have mentioned above. Otherwise, u may read those. If u want I will try to help u in this respect. But my knowledge is very limited in this respect. Thank u once again for sending the message.

  • Dear Sir
    I am a vivid reader of your penning and often find it most interesting. Here in this case if you are a GIVER & the land owner is a TAKER, and both of you are in a win win scenario, then where we, as a third party apartment BOOKER stand ( as a winner, a looser or a dumb customer?)
    Plz !

  • Thank you so much ❤️

    • Dear Sir
      Thankyou for a nice up-to-date article.
      In this current pandemic situation only Givers can win the success along with it’s all stakeholders.
      The time has come to establish values,morality and honesty in the every sectors of the society.
      To overcome the upcoming economic disaster of the world Givers should come forward to take the lead.

      Best Regards

  • Dear thanks for summing up in favour of giver. The key reason we are in this world is to contribute. There are always whispers in our ears that by giving we are loosing. Actually life is really not that complicated. You reap what you sow. You get what you give. What goes around comes around. Let us make sure we give goodness, kindness & all things positive! We cannot cheat anyone except our own self. May Allah enlighten us with true spirit of realism.

  • I see a continuity here as I give i also take and at the end of the day I match. I realised it is very hard to win while loosing is so easy. You must invest or give if you want to win the pandemic or at least flatten it. Its sad that my country is not doing and distress is so obvious. Its time to be a giver. If you do not give now when will you give? The Bengal famine was an example of not giving. We can not take anything now nor we can match. Its time to give only. Does our leader get it? The scale of giving in US was in trillionUSD. Can it be trillion BDT?

  • Dear Mr Haider,
    You have explained the three types of characters very eloquently and I fully agree with what you have stated. To summarise I believe wholeheartedly that business should always be looked at in long term perspective and when I say long term I really mean long term i.e. this worldly life and the eternal life. The basic principle should be that the guy sitting in front of me should not lose and anyone that I come across in life in my business dealings should be benefited and by following this principle one can hope to be successful in both the worlds.

  • The article is a unique endeavour of the author delineating the intrinsic characteristics of the three different types of people reflected in their interactions with others- the Taker, the Giver and the Matcher. Analyzing the inherent qualities of these three players, whose viewpoints are always different, the writer opined that the three fundamental behaviours of the people shift due to circumstances and situation. Flavored with Adam Grant’s research finding, enlightened with Dr. Mahmud Sultana Afroze’s selfless attitude and dedication, and the advocacy of Jin Rohn, the author discussed the topic in the most interesting way and lucid manner that allure one to read the article again and again. This issue and other articles of the author in the series have genuine application for both regular students and the professionals of multi-discipline.

    Coming to our world, the real estate sector, we should invest heavily on the “Giver- Receiver” virtues professed by the author. Knowing the subject thoroughly, having the total knowledge on the product and authority to sell, we as Giver in Selling Flats and Taker in Buying the Lands are always welcome to the Flat Buyers and Landowners respectively. We must strive to Receiving through Giving. I’m convinced to become a Receiver than a Taker as none likes a Taker. A Taker will have invariably damaging contenders while a Receiver will have authentic admirers.

  • I have read your article carefully. Adam Grant’s thinking is the complete opposite of conventional thinking. But that’s right. Thank you so much for exposing Grant’s invention. Such a writing about people of different characters is truly impeccably beautiful. I hope you will write more like this in the future.

  • A fascinating essay about generosity and fair play. The notion of Taker, Giver and Matcher is brilliant, even though all of us have probably thought in some vague way about these categories of people. But I think the crux of the essay is in the sentence “Being ambitious and being a Giver are not mutually exclusive.” The author of the essay is a prime example of this truth and I am sure it has propelled him over the decades to build his large, solid business. Thank you and I look forward to more.

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