The Good Network: Why Paying it Forward Pays Off
I just finished reading Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant. If you’re in business, a relationship, or simply alive this is a must read. Grant’s groundbreaking research in organizational behavior explores how we approach our interactions with other people and contrasts the success of Givers, Takers, and Matchers. By no means will this post spoil the read so once you’re done reading this post (and shared it!) you should definitely pick up the book (e-book, or audiobook), it will likely change or re-enforce your thinking on how interaction style contributes to success.
The central question is;
“According to conventional wisdom, highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck. [But there is] a fourth ingredient, one that’s critical but often neglected: success depends heavily on how we approach our interactions with other people. Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”
Outside the workplace, in our relationships with family, friends, and partners Grant argues that we are mostly givers, helping without expecting a win. When our career success is on the line, Grant describes how people are aligned to being either a Giver, Taker, or Maker to achieve their goals.
Takers: Takers have a distinctive signature: they like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs. Takers believe that the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts. Garden-variety takers aren’t cruel or cutthroat; they’re just cautious and self-protective. “If I don’t look out for myself first,” takers think, “no one will.”
Givers: In the workplace, givers are a relatively rare breed. They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them.
In contrasting Takers and Givers, Adam argues that the preferences in approach are not about money, they’re not distinguished by how much money they make or donate. The difference is in their attitude and actions towards other people.
“If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.”
Grant agrees with and cites organizational behavior research that suggests none of us are purely Givers or Takers but Matchers, and that our personality isn’t fixed but fluid…
“We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you’re a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your relationships are governed by even exchanges of favors.”
“Giving, taking, and matching are three fundamental styles of social interaction, but the lines between them aren’t hard and fast. You might find that you shift from one reciprocity style to another as you travel across different work roles and relationships. It wouldn’t be surprising if you act like a taker when negotiating your salary, a giver when mentoring someone with less experience than you, and a matcher when sharing expertise with a colleague. But evidence shows that at work, the vast majority of people develop a primary reciprocity style, which captures how they approach most of the people most of the time. And this primary style can play as much of a role in our success as hard work, talent, and luck.”
Ok enough with the book citations. As the title of this post suggests; contrary to what the asshole in your office thinks, in ranking the three approaches Givers come out on top…but they also dominate the bottom. Takers and Matchers make up the middle. How is that possible that Givers are on top and at the bottom? The answer is in the strategies givers use and choices they make in achieving their goals. Successful givers leverage three strategies; sincerity screening, generous tit for tat, and being willing to negotiate. Read the book to learn more.
A giver can be a huge pushover and land at the bottom or a smart, well networked person that helps others and builds great re-pour; paying it forward and becoming a trusted asset to the organization manifesting in career success.
You can think less “me, me, me” and not be so much a taker, genuinely not feeling you need to step on others to meet your goals. If you’re a taker and fortunate enough to realize it, treating others with more empathy will make you more a matcher which is where most people sit. Giving without expectation of return is something that can’t be faked; its something that you do because you feel it’s the right thing to do and believe that by helping or working for the benefit of everyone may ultimately come back to be a benefit to yourself. If karma shines on you great, if not that’s fine too. You can’t fake it and people who are pure givers are a rare breed.
In the opening of the book Grant describes venture capitalist David Hornik who is a giver and has a remarkable track record. I haven’t met David but I am fortunate enough to know a few givers and they have selflessly been a tremendous benefit to my career. I like to think that the thousands of coffees I make time to have to listen to aspiring entrepreneurs and the introductions I’m happy to make for them means I have some giver tendencies, or maybe I’m a matcher, others are better to judge. What I do know is that nice guys don’t always finish last because I’ve seen many at the top.
I credit my father with teaching me that much of a person’s ultimate success is not in their own hands but rather comes from working hard, being good to others and, as I’ve found, serendipitous events that you couldn’t plan for or control. I’ve never met anyone more selfless than my father. He ran a travel agency and one year had booked hundreds of people on Yugoslavian Airlines, collecting thousands of dollars in ticket fees that he passed onto the airline for them to issue the tickets (this was the mid-90s) and get his small commission back on each ticket. Then the Balkan War broke out and Yugoslavian Airlines stopped flying and went insolvent taking all the ticket fees collected with it and stranding passengers that had already paid. Every other travel agency I’m aware of simply explaining to these passengers that had lost their money and their tickets that its not the travel agency’s fault, their money is with the airline and there is literally nothing that can be done. People lost their money and tickets and agencies lost their commissions. All of this is well within normal but my father did something different and remarkable, he dug into his own funds and refunded all of his customer’s money. Thousands of dollars that spelled a very tough time for his travel agency that would take years to recover from. I asked him why and he simply said that it was more important to be good and fair to others, even if it meant some sacrifice to yourself, your rewards will come.
My father was a very intelligent, faithful, and welcoming man. When he passed I overheard someone saying to another person at the funeral; “he’s the only person I know that I have never heard someone speak badly of”. Your shoes are impossible to fill but thank you for being a giver and giving your all so that I could succeed. I’m by no means perfect but hope I’m making you proud.