Give and Take – An introduction

Collaborating Minds is built on the foundation that people who give to each other will work better together. In Adam Grant’s Give and Take,
published last year, Grant explores the conditions under which giving propels success and the different giving styles that exist. Different giving styles yield different kinds of give-and-takeoutcomes, and over different time frames. A certain style of giving, it turns out, leads to the best outcomes of any approach to giving or taking. A different style of giving leads to the worst outcomes. I am interested in exploring the implications his fascinating framework and analysis has for Collaborating Minds. In this post, I’ll outline some of the ideas he shares, and hint at areas of application for us.

By the way, the book is filled with research results and interesting stories and anecdotes about people ranging from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to Abraham Lincoln to young consultants on the way up (or not). You’ll get the facts, but won’t get much of the quite tasty flavor of the book from this blog post (sorry).

Grant’s first distinction is givers vs. takers vs. matchers. In a crude definition:

  • Givers like to give more than they take from others,
  • Takers like to take more than they give, and
  • Matchers are very careful to balance giving and taking in any particular bilateral relationship.

Grant has a diagnostic to sort people into these categories, and some of his own research compares how these different types (as defined by the diagnostic) behave and perform.

How givers behave on dimensions that matter to us

Since Collaborating Minds aims to be a community of givers, it’s interesting to see Grant’s assessment of the approaches givers have to networking, collaborating, evaluating and influencing.

  • Networking. Not surprisingly, givers are focused on building their networks through giving. They willingly help others, and often end up with many people who know them and like them.
  • Collaborating. In their work collaboration, givers give lots of credit to others . They talk about what “we did” rather than what “I did,” even when their own individual contribution was essential. As a result, within their groups, they are seen as not self-centered. Being seen as a giver and supporter in fact lets the givers have great influence because no one fears losing credit or being bamboozled; takers, on the other hand, are resisted out because of fears that the takers are just pursuing their own interests and not what is right for the group. Although many creative people feel they have to be the one making the final call, and many observers believe that creative people must be driven to see their own ideas come to fruition, Grant respectfully disagrees. He believes that the most effective creative people, and the most effective business people and scientists, are highly capable themselves but willing (or even eager) to devote much of their energy to their colleague’s flourishing. He cites a few examples, including Jonas Salk and Frank Lloyd Wright, who allowed the vision that made them great to also isolate them from others, eventually leading to subpar results.
  • Evaluating. Grant cites studies that show that people who are told that they have high potential will tend to live up to those expectations (and people who are told they have low potential will tend to live down to those expectations). Givers are good for development of others because givers tend to start by assuming that others have high potential. Matchers and takers tend not to make that assumption
  • Influencing .Givers are modest in their communications. They are self-effacing, ask questions and are willing to be vulnerable. Takers and matchers are much more interested in being seen as powerful and important. However, a giver’s willingness to be vulnerable only works when the audience gets other signals of the person’s competence, e.g., the quality of their material, presentation or performance; otherwise, they will just see the person as weak. One effective way to communicate in a “powerless” fashion is to seek advice. Advice seeking leads to learning, getting someone else to take your perspective, and gets commitment and if appropriate active support to what is recommended by the recommender. Asking someone’s advice also flatters the other person, which tends to make them think more highly of the advice seeker.

How givers avoid burning out (when they do avoid it)

Grant’s second distinction is between two kinds of givers. Again, in crude definitions:

  • “Selfless” givers give without regard for their own time and energy and needs.
  • “Otherish” givers care about helping others but also have ambitious goals for themselves. Otherish givers are very interested in the well-being of others and very interested in their own success.

Being “otherish” is the key to success for givers — and otherish givers are the most successful people in many fields. “Otherish giving” is the approach that Grant seems to recommend.

“Otherish people” help others in ways that also support their own goals and well-being. Some of these strategies include:

  • Designing their giving so they can see the impact of what they do. Burnout comes not from too much giving, but from not being able to make a difference or see that difference. Grant tells a wonderful story about Doing a good job herepeople at a university fundraising call center, where he had evaluated people as givers, takers, or matchers.  When he started at the call center, the givers were performing most poorly. One had this sign at their desk.

Grant started to focus on impact. When he had someone read to the group from some letters sent by scholarship recipients, the givers in the call center became much more motivated and successful. Actually meeting a scholarship winner for 5 minutes led to a boost in revenue by 400%, with the biggest change coming from givers.

Similarly, a study showed that radiologists who see a picture of the patient attached to the file do a much better job reading scans than radiologists who don’t have a patient picture attached. Just imagining the person being affected greatly enhances performance.

  •  “Chunking” their giving. Successful givers don’t give all day and night but make sure to carve out time for doing their own jobs. 100 hours per year appears to be a magic number for giving, in terms of felt benefits for the giver. People who give less than this don’t feel as good, and people who give more time don’t feel incremental benefits.
  • Learning to avoid over-investing in takers. Givers are biased towards helping, and it’s hard to quickly tell a taker from a matcher or a giver when someone asks for help. The distinction between someone being friendly/agreeable vs. surly/disagreeable turns out not be a very good indicator of whether they are givers or takers. Crusty people can be givers, and there are definitely “fakers” who are nice people but takers. To sustain themselves, givers have to realize who are “takers” and not just keep giving to them indefinitely. They can still give to the takers, but need to keep it shorter and more strategic. They need an adaptive strategy that lets them become a matcher in exchange with a taker
  • Reframing their task into advocacy for another, in order to overcome their own unwillingness to be demanding. Givers find it hard to be demanding, so risk becoming a doormat that everyone steps one. One strategy to strengthen their spine is to think like they are advocating for someone else, e.g., for a mentee or for the good of their own family. When they think they are advocating for someone else, they use their giving-powered creativity and skills to get great results without doing harm to others. Thinking about advocating facilitates the giver developing win-win solutions that lets the giver simultaneously provide for the interest of the other party and for the giver’s own interests.

So what’s for Collaborating Minds – initial thoughts

We have the skills and are trying to use the member recruiting process to eliminate people who are just takers. We can try to build in much more the ability to see impact, on problems and in supporting each other. We can encourage people to “chunk their giving,” perhaps by visiting the Collaborating Minds team site at certain times.  We can encourage people to be aware of what they need, and to communicate when they aren’t getting what they need. We can be much better at checking in with them that they are getting what they need.

One issue is that many of our members aren’t very willing to ask for help.  They are willing to give, but not to ask. And that’s a challenge because as one member said, “I understand that if everyone wants to give and nobody wants to take help, then nobody will be able to give help. But I still don’t like to take help”.  Any thoughts on how to respond to that would be most welcome.

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