jeff meyers blog

Give and Take

At the end of last year I read the book Give and Take by Adam Grant.  Quite simply, it was the best book I’ve read in the last year.  Adam is an interesting guy.  He’s the youngest tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, and has done research on some really interesting aspects of business.

The book identifies three different kinds of people: Givers, Takers and Matchers.  The definition of each of these groups is what you might expect.  Givers naturally give more than they get, and instinctively act in the interest of others.  Takers like to get more than they give.  And Matchers strive to preserve an equal balance between giving and getting.

The fundamental premise of Grant’s book is that while it takes some time for Givers to build up goodwill and trust, eventually they establish a reputation and relationships that enhance their success.  In fact, research shows that people who help and regularly give their time to their colleagues actually earn more and get more promotions than Takers or Matchers in the long run.  Studies also show that the most productive people are people who give often.

In the middle of the book, things get really interesting.  Grant makes a distinction between “Selfless Givers” and “Otherish Givers”.  He says that when you really analyze Givers you find that they tend to fall at both the top and the bottom of the success ladder, while Takers and Matchers tend to land more in the middle.  So, what’s the difference between Givers who succeed and Givers don’t?  According to Grant, it’s whether or not they can look out for themselves at the same time as they give.

“Selfless Givers” don’t think enough about themselves.  They think only of others, and are prone to end up as doormats.  People take advantage of them.  On the other hand, “Otherish Givers” are both others-oriented and self-oriented.  For me, the most fascinating point Grant makes is that self-interest and others-interest are completely independent motivations; a person can have both at the same time.  These two characteristics are not opposites such that you need to choose one or the other.  In fact, they can complement one another.  Successful Givers care about benefitting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.  Givers who do both of these things end up being more successful than Takers or Matchers.

Grant’s ideas were very helpful to me personally.  Our stated purpose in our hardwood lumber business at Baillie is “To Help Others Succeed.”  We occasionally get into discussions about whether or not one can take this too far.  In other words, is it possible to be so exclusively focused on others that it hurts your performance?  Grant’s idea that focusing on helping others and advancing your own self-interest are not opposite things, but are actually separate motivations that can both be present at the same time and can actually complement each other, really helped me as I think about our purpose.

If you are able, read this book.  I’m interested in your opinion of Grant’s ideas.

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"In the hardwood lumber industry, we can think of what we do as cutting logs and processing boards, or instead we can see our work as rearranging the raw materials of creation (trees) into useful products (chairs, tables, cabinets, floors) that help people to live better and more productively.

For me, viewing our work as rearrainging creation's raw materials is more motivating and inspiring, and brings dignity and meaning to all kinds of work."

Jeff Meyer

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