What if the key to individual success was making the world a better place and helping others? What if the secret to success is “givers prosper?”
As Zig Ziglar wrote, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Adam Grant also sees a connection between success and being a Giver. His book, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” divides the world into Givers, Takers and Matchers. He shows that Takers and Matchers end up in the middle of the income ladder, while Givers hold the top and bottom ranks. So, what are the attributes of Givers, Takers and Matchers? What separates top-ranked Givers from unsuccessful, bottom-ranked Givers?
Givers, Takers and Matchers share certain characteristics, as Grant shows. They differ most in their communication style and how they interact with others. Givers encourage creativity and excellence, and offer help with no strings attached. However, they are not completely selfless dreamers. Successful Givers protect themselves from burnout and help others while still pursuing their own goals. They are prudent with their time and energy.
Givers’ unselfish ways earns respect and admiration. Their method of communication is “powerless.” They don’t assert their power or dominate others, but instead they gain influence by their behavior, which includes demonstrating vulnerability, sharing, listening, and showing interest and curiosity in others. A Giver validates other people so they open up without feeling manipulated or coerced.
Givers give because they believe it’s the right thing to do and they don’t expect anything in return. In “Give and Take,” Grant uses the results of Fortune magazine’s search for the “best networker in the United States” to make his point about Givers. Fortune selected social network app developer Adam Rifkin. He gained “best networker” status by putting friends together, introducing start-up entrepreneurs to investors, and helping people find jobs. He gives according to a simple rule: if he can do a favor for someone in five minutes, he does it. Rifkin’s Twitter handle, an anagram of his name, says it all: “IFINDKARMA.”
The Forbes article, “How Giving in the Right Way Can Transform Your Business,” a profile of Internet marketer Neil Patel, describes his giving style. Patel, who became a millionaire by age 21, donates thousands of hours and dollars to helping other entrepreneurs launch businesses “…without the expectation of receiving anything immediately in return…One of the reasons he is a very successful Internet marketer is because he is ruthless when it comes to one thing; measuring what works and doesn’t work; and then acting accordingly.”
So, what characteristics define a taker? Grant’s Takers network and use charm to seduce people into doing their bidding. Grant cites Enron’s CEO Ken Lay as a perfect example of a Taker – someone who is very successful, until he’s not. Takers reserve their charm for popular or powerful people who can help them advance.
Takers pursue their own goals while openly ignoring their subordinates and coworkers. They mistakenly think that by dominating their coworkers, they gain influence while others lose it. Takers try to appear important, but over time their self-serving ways undermine them because people come to see them as manipulative users. Takers seek advantages when they’re networking and often take personal credit for collective endeavors. As Grant says, “takers are fakers.”
Matchers tend to be scorekeepers and they base their communication or networking style on reciprocity. Unfortunately, matchers tend to see interaction on a “tit for tat” basis. Their focus is on their immediate benefit. This approach inhibits the giving process because it assumes that every gift come with a prerequisite. Matchers seek a fair-enough exchange and correlate their behavior with that of the people around them. They initially treat Takers well, but after the takers inevitably betray them, Matchers punish them. But no one cares – that’s just part of the swap. People care about Givers.
Peer-to-peer platforms for trading, sharing, hiring and selling are transforming the economy and society at large. In her TED Talk, “The Currency of the New Economy is Trust,” Rachel Botsman explains how “collaborative consumption” platforms match seekers and providers in new more democratic ways while rewarding those who create meaningful human connections. Technology gathers big data; it tracks people online and aggregates their contributions, making their reputations public to a broader audience. This amplifies the impact of reputation – which used to be intangible but isn’t anymore. In the new economy, it is harder to prosper if you are perceived as a Taker – and harder to earn forgiveness if you make a mistake.
Some businesses are already perceived as givers and successfully communicate their altruism without sounding self-aggrandizing. For example, Google’s philosophy is, “Focus on the user and all else will follow, as Jeff Jarvis reports in “What Would Google Do?” He observes that the business model for corporations that emerged in the tech and media industry is to give content away for free in order to sell products or services. Companies that are focused on more traditional business models have a hard time adapting to this new type of competition.
If corporations can be Givers, they can be Takers, too. Many business books detail how some companies take advantage of “asymmetry of information” (one side has access to information that the other side can’t get) to establish a dominant market position. Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke focuses on transparency and equal access to information as a way to avert the risk of a crisis.
Today, successful corporations compete for you to connect to them emotionally and socially. Various authors explain why, including Scott Goodson in “Uprising,” Jonah Berger in “Contagious,” and Seth Godin in “How to Get Your Ideas to Spread.” In this as in many other areas, it may serve you to be like Apple, which focuses on customer service to create connection. From the Genius Bar in your neighborhood store to the way Fast Company magazine sums up Apple’s credo, “Excellence Above Revenues,” Apple’s “team knows if they back the consumer from beginning to end, revenue will naturally follow.” They’re Givers. And it pays.
Adam Grant is the single highest-rated professor in the Wharton MBA program, one of BusinessWeek’s favorite professors, and one of the world’s top 40 business professors under 40. Grant is a former All-American and Junior Olympic springboard diver and performed for over a decade as a professional magician.