What We're Into: Adam Grant on Generosity

Photo by Flickr user Katherine

Traditional business models are motivated purely by profit, encouraging a mindset of competition and self-promotion. At Connect the Grey, we're invested in helping business work better for both people and planet. One resource that inspires us by charting an alternative path to success is Give and Take by organizational psychologist Adam Grant.

Grant's basic concept is that people's interaction styles fall into three categories: giving, taking, and matching. Givers are focused on benefiting others, while takers care about benefiting themselves. Matchers' goal is reciprocity: They will always seek to return a favor with a favor.

The book explains that the least successful people tend to be givers, who neglect their own goals and let their time and resources be eaten up by doing favors for other people. So the key to success is being a taker, then? Nope — the most successful people are also givers. Their eagerness to support others without asking anything in return can reap exponential benefits, as their willingness to give is remembered and rewarded. Their generosity helps them form valuable connections that go beyond a simple transaction. By contrast, takers often destroy relationships by being self-centered or calculating. When givers can maintain their generosity without letting anyone take advantage of them, they come out on top.

One of the intriguing points from the research is that giving is contagious. Givers help establish a norm within their networks of adding value for others instead of claiming value for themselves. As more and more people seek to help their friends and colleagues, more and more people receive that help and in turn are inspired to help others.

But an even more exciting thing Grant describes about the benefits of giving is that they're not just limited to one-on-one interactions. He explains that givers are better at collaborating and introducing new ideas within a team, because they've shown themselves to have the best interests of the group at heart. "When ideas that might be threatening were proposed by givers, their colleagues listened and rewarded them for speaking up, knowing they were motivated by a genuine desire to contribute," Grant writes. Givers' spirit of generosity makes them quick to reward talent and overlook flaws, so they encourage others to speak up, too — they help everyone feel safe to suggest new ideas without worrying they'll be shot down.

For more of Grant's ideas, including advice on how to be a giver, you can read Give and Take or check out his new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.