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Are you a giver, a matcher or a taker?
March 28, 2013 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? [Adam] Grant, 31, is the youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor at Wharton.... Grant might not seem so different from any number of accessible and devoted professors on any number of campuses, and yet when you witness over time the sheer volume of Grant’s commitments, and the way in which he is able to follow through on all of them, you start to sense that something profoundly different is at work. Helpfulness is Grant’s credo.... For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive. How, he has wondered for most of his professional life, does the interplay of those two factors work for everyone else?

Grant’s book, incorporating several decades of social-science research on reciprocity, divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders. Much of Grant’s book sets out to establish the difference between the givers who are exploited and those who end up as models of achievement. The most successful givers, Grant explains, are those who rate high in concern for others but also in self-interest. And they are strategic in their giving — they give to other givers and matchers, so that their work has the maximum desired effect; they are cautious about giving to takers; they give in ways that reinforce their social ties; and they consolidate their giving into chunks, so that the impact is intense enough to be gratifying.
posted by caddis (46 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ahahahaha the video, y'all need to watch it.
posted by resurrexit at 7:38 AM on March 28, 2013


I've heard about those guys... they are funny!!
posted by ReeMonster at 7:45 AM on March 28, 2013


Needs more Key and Peele advertising.

The article itself is lovely, and corresponds with what I read in Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken about the only four things which contribute to intrinsic happiness. That is, we're happy when:

– We are given challenging work;
– We feel like we're successful at said work;
– We feel we're working alongside other people at something;
– We feel that we're contributing to something greater than ourselves.

It sounds like Grant has got the latter two down to a tee.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:57 AM on March 28, 2013 [24 favorites]


I work with Adam. He lives what he preaches, and his productivity in academic research is genuinely astonishing. The article was actually a really interesting psychological profile, as well as a discussion of his work.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:12 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Rory Marinich: The first two points are also very much the central thesis of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's concept of 'Flow' - From wikipedia:
One cannot force oneself to enter flow. It just happens. A flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is most likely to occur when one is wholeheartedly performing a task or activity for intrinsic purposes.[7][9] Passive activities like taking a bath or even watching TV usually don’t elicit flow experiences as individuals have to actively do something to enter a flow state.[10][11]

Flow theory postulates three conditions that have to be met to achieve a flow state:

* One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.[12]

* The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.[12]

* One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.[12]
It'd be interesting to see if people using test|behaviour driven development spend more time in deep hack mode, as it seems to provide better for the conditions than more traditional development processes.
posted by titus-g at 8:22 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder if he ever waited tables.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:25 AM on March 28, 2013


“Think of it this way,” he said. “In corporate America, people do sometimes feel that the work they do isn’t meaningful. And contributing to co-workers can be a substitute for that.”


This is a well observed phenomenon in the military that you hear all the time, and that the military takes advantage of relentlessly;

"Hey, we're invading a country, but I'm looking out for my brothers."
posted by lalochezia at 8:32 AM on March 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Also: "“My mother has what she calls the fix-it gene. Maybe I just inherited it.”
See a fictional treatment Generosity, An Enhancement, by Richard Powers
posted by lalochezia at 8:35 AM on March 28, 2013


I would submit that perhaps this "giving" model works for a professor at a non-profit university. Good for him (I mean that sincerely). Sounds like a lovely guy.

In my experience, in the for profit corporate world, it doesn't mean jack squat. If you "give" and spend time actively seeking ways to help people out, you are Clueless in the MacLeod Losers-Clueless-Sociopath pyramid. The Clueless helpful person is the person who stays late to get something done, who is a "team player," and who is deluded into thinking that they are pursuing a higher purpose... in reality, it's always about profits and making money.

I feel like a guy like this would get walked all over by my bosses... the sucker who will take the shit job and the lower pay to do harder work if you tell him that you love him and he's really helping people. I see it every day.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:36 AM on March 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I feel like a guy like this would get walked all over by my bosses... the sucker who will take the shit job and the lower pay to do harder work if you tell him that you love him and he's really helping people. I see it every day.

Part of Grant's research is looking at successful and non successful givers. Those who are successful tend to be careful in their giving, using it almost like networking to interact with other givers who give in return. There's a perception element in terms of rapidly figuring out who the givers are and who the takers are.

The article also takes a lot a Grant himself and it's a far from completely positive take.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:42 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would submit that perhaps this "giving" model works for a professor at a non-profit university. Good for him (I mean that sincerely). Sounds like a lovely guy.

I do think it's worth asking why the NYT is running a profile on a selfless giver and why there's this ideological emphasis on happiness through giving. I mean, I am a chronic activist, do a lot of stuff for free and inconvenience myself no little thereby...but...

...there's certainly a lot of corporate (and nonprofit industrial complex) rhetoric around emotional investment in your work - how a "good" worker is someone who gives and gives and gives and puts thoughts of reward aside. Also that "giving" makes you happy, and therefore being obsessed with getting paid fairly is not only selfish but actively bad for you. (Biopolitical concerns here!) And of course, women are pushed to be givers, nurturing and donating and all that rather than demanding cold hard cash.

Basically, when we value "giving" in a vacuum without looking at who is expected to give and under what conditions, we're just bolstering up a system which already tries to exact as much free labor and uncompensated time from workers as possible.
posted by Frowner at 9:14 AM on March 28, 2013 [33 favorites]


The most successful givers, Grant explains, are those who rate high in concern for others but also in self-interest. And they are strategic in their giving — they give to other givers and matchers, so that their work has the maximum desired effect; they are cautious about giving to takers; they give in ways that reinforce their social ties; and they consolidate their giving into chunks, so that the impact is intense enough to be gratifying.

Isn't this saying, in so many words, that the most successful givers are really matchers in disguise?
posted by jsturgill at 9:24 AM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Brandon, do you have any examples of the successful vs. nonsuccessful giving distinction in his research papers? I looked on his wharton web site but couldn't find one (note: not being sarcastic, genuinely interested.)
posted by The Ted at 9:25 AM on March 28, 2013


If someone makes a nickel off every dime I make, I'll try to make them a millionaire.
posted by klarck at 9:35 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


> we're just bolstering up a system which already tries to exact as much free labor and uncompensated time from workers as possible.

FTA: "he also works at least one full day on the weekend, as well as six evenings a week, often well past 11.... It wasn’t exactly a mystery, his mentor told him: He worked more."

So he's working 80-100 hours a week to do this. And he claims he's not a doormat?
posted by anti social order at 9:41 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Interesting insights and all, but, holy shit, this is a big ol' custom made happy face sticker for neoliberal labour. His ideas are going to be taken up by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Generosity as the new exploitation.

It's especially troubling since this focuses so much on his work as a professor. If you're on the tenure track, you're already a keener, so it's great this guy can be such a jolly buddha in his work, but damn I'd hate to be one his colleagues right now. Employment in post-secondary education relies more often than not on some severely unhealthy and unbalanced expectations of what you should "give" to the work already, and teachers aren't bad academics for not wanting to go beyond that, but if these ideas worm their way in to administration practices, you can bet they'll be treated that way.

It'll be even worse for sessionals, adjunct professors, TAs and GAs, etc...

"He regularly advises companies about how to get the most out of their employees"

Ugh.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:43 AM on March 28, 2013 [31 favorites]


You might say that he's an expert on...
[puts on sunglasses]
academic Grant's giving.
posted by ardgedee at 9:56 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


"But he also works at least one full day on the weekend, as well as six evenings a week, often well past 11."

Succeed at the small, insignificant cost of everything you are as a person!
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:06 AM on March 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


– We feel like we're successful at said work;

Ah, here's my problem.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:12 AM on March 28, 2013


I think just looking at this through the lens of your paid job is rather limiting. Plenty of people are involved in organizations outside of work that this can be applied to. Organizations that you care about are a potential source of future employment, good friends, good times and helping the community. Giving yourself generously to non-profits or just the board game night at the community center - that's rewarding and a good way to network and build relationships. I hear what people are saying about being worried this will be used cynically by corporations, but we don't have to do that to ourselves. We're welcome to read this research and apply it to the things we do in our lives that aren't about making corporations rich.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:18 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"He regularly advises companies about how to get the most out of their employees"

Maybe he should advise companies on how to give something to their employees. I hear it's good for you.
posted by echo target at 10:49 AM on March 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Now that I've read TFA, my previous comment about givers being a particular style of matchers is brought up:
A skeptic might read Grant’s book and conclude that extreme givers are just matchers who are in it, maybe even subconsciously, for the long run. Eventually, in ways that are predictable and unpredictable, the bounty returns to them.
The article refuses to propose an answer to that question, but the section that opens with the above closes with the following:
Grant would be the first to say that he is not purely altruistic — that pure altruism, giving without regard for one’s self-interest, perhaps does not even exist. When he writes those 100 student recommendations, he says, he gets the satisfaction of helping them succeed. But there are other happy byproducts of that work as well: he might end up the beneficiary of those students’ good will later on and possibly inspire them to try to do right by those who will eventually ask them for help. He will also have kept himself busy enough that he won’t have much time to spend agonizing over what happens when he can’t give anymore.
Part of me thinks that's a weak response to a fundamental question that could have been the core of the article. It seems clear that he receives a lot of tangible benefits from this approach to work and life, and that he is both aware of and actively cultivating those rewards.
posted by jsturgill at 10:52 AM on March 28, 2013


Here's the thing...that's all great in his professional life, but I don't trust this stuff without hearing what his wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/best friend/dog say about his 'helpfulness'. If you're 'helping' your students and your S.O. is at home buried under the boring details of life, cleaning up the messes that you don't have time for and generally wishing they got to actual feel your love more, then sorry but no, you're not being helpful.
posted by spicynuts at 10:53 AM on March 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Here's the thing...that's all great in his professional life, but I don't trust this stuff without hearing what his wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/best friend/dog say about his 'helpfulness'.

This is touched on in the article.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:54 AM on March 28, 2013


Clearly Brandon Blatcher is a giver and I'm a taker.
posted by spicynuts at 11:05 AM on March 28, 2013


I think just looking at this through the lens of your paid job is rather limiting. Plenty of people are involved in organizations outside of work that this can be applied to. Organizations that you care about are a potential source of future employment, good friends, good times and helping the community. Giving yourself generously to non-profits or just the board game night at the community center - that's rewarding and a good way to network and build relationships. I hear what people are saying about being worried this will be used cynically by corporations, but we don't have to do that to ourselves. We're welcome to read this research and apply it to the things we do in our lives that aren't about making corporations rich.

See, the thing is, I am in a world where people do a lot of unpaid labor for causes they believe in. And I still don't like this whole "giver" business. Here is why:

1. What about people who are doing important stuff that doesn't involve giving and requires concentration? Painters, writers, composers, researchers - sure, some of those people also do a lot of community stuff, but many need to be introverts to get their work done. Emphasis on the morality of giving obscures the fact that there are many important things that don't fit into this "use your time in structured, public ways that are obviously tangible" thing.

2. And what about introverts? Being in public exhausts me. Running events and volunteering exhausts me. I need a lot of alone time. I tend to go through phases where I do a lot and then crash and do very little for a year or so. When everything is about "you must informally network as a volunteer so that you get jobs and build connections", it puts introverts in a real spot.

3. The class and gender dimension. Poor folks work long hours and face tremendous transit constraints. "Giving" is easy when you have a car, a nice home that is easy to clean and the spare change to pick up dinner from the co-op deli if you're getting home late and too tired to cook. Women, of course, are expected to work the second shift at home and have less time to "give". I've seen first hand how working class people and women, especially mothers, get marginalized in this type of "gift" economy because they can't put in the hours like men and middle class people.
posted by Frowner at 11:28 AM on March 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


Oh, and I add: what about the politically necessary work that is controversial and ruffles feathers? This academic dude is doing work that the middle class social consensus agrees is valuable. What if you're a sex worker organizing sex workers to agitate for health care? What if you're a militant black radical? What if you're disabled and working on disability projects because you need them to benefit yourself?

Everyone talks about "giving" as this altruistic thing - because we conceive the default "normal" citizen as white, middle class, male-like, straight, able-bodied, youngish....people who don't need to fight for their own rights. When it's not altruistic - when you're an immigrant fighting for immigrants' rights, a trans woman fighting for trans women's rights - people don't see that as "giving". I know only too well that they see it as sordid self-interest.
posted by Frowner at 11:31 AM on March 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Part of me thinks that's a weak response to a fundamental question that could have been the core of the article. It seems clear that he receives a lot of tangible benefits from this approach to work and life, and that he is both aware of and actively cultivating those rewards.

Why should the core of the article been all about viewing good actions in the most cynical, obnoxious light possible?
posted by shivohum at 11:46 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


What if you're a sex worker organizing sex workers to agitate for health care? What if you're a militant black radical? What if you're disabled and working on disability projects because you need them to benefit yourself?

I think all of those count under my reading of what he means by "giving". You are giving to a community that you are part of. Activism and art and all those things are part of what I think makes a successful giver. Sure, he's looking at it through a particular lens, but I don't think it's the only lens. And there have been more and less successful activists, and a lot of what makes someone a good agitator I think is covered by what he's talking about. I also didn't read it as moralizing - but that's just me. I'm a pretty hardcore introvert, but that doesn't mean I can't see the value in what he's talking about and look at how it applies to what I do.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:56 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


i think the fact the guy is an OCD case who works (ahem, "gives") 80-100 hrs a week while his wife stays at home taking care of the kids kind of blows apart the thesis of giving until your giver is sore. The categorization of "matchers" as independent from "givers" is bizarre and not well substantiated. It all sounds very shallow to me.
posted by smidgen at 12:11 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give back.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:01 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


smidgen: i think the fact the guy is an OCD case who works (ahem, "gives") 80-100 hrs a week while his wife stays at home taking care of the kids kind of blows apart the thesis of giving until your giver is sore. The categorization of "matchers" as independent from "givers" is bizarre and not well substantiated. It all sounds very shallow to me.

Yeah, it's actually kind of sad. His crazy work ethic is probably going to earn him a divorce in the end.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:24 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm partnered to a giver, and let me tell you, it can be tough feeling like that person is willing to give, give, give to everyone else, but your own needs fall on deaf ears, while you're expected to be the unwavering supporter. It's really important to set boundaries. It's much harder when that person is one of the givers who does give to takers, as you know that neither one of you is seeing any benefit from the giving.
posted by PigAlien at 1:27 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think he's consciously trying to encourage people to be model prisoners of the capitalist patriarchy. And I'm not sure if that's the end result either.

It seems to me that everything in the article applies to work in the sense of "concerted purposeful effort". And that that applies to almost everyone. Including artists, composers, introverts, activists and poor folks.

I'm not arguing that people should be happy to be exploited, but those that have the good fortune to have time or energy to spare should spread the wealth, 'cause you can't hoard those things. And you are laying down the foundations for when it's your turn to need help. It's a good idea and the right thing to do... a no brainer.

And the social norms of people doing more than the minimum they agreed to, and putting in effort to help others, make anyone else more likely to do the same when they join the team, and make the enterprise more likely to be successful.

That's a valuable observation, and a neutral one. I hope that certain organisations (UKIP) will fail, and I therefore hope that everyone there is a jobsworth and things sit broken for days until the person whose job is to report it shows up and calls the person whose job it is to fix it. OTOH I want other things to be successful (Socialist Party, say), so I hope that everyone there helps with as much as possible, and has their own problems smoothed over by other people on the team.

TL;DR Productivity isn't just a guide to how best to exploit workers or be a capitalist pawn. He's talking about his personal work ethic, but also about general things which are worth knowing and thinking about in any group of humans.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:36 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"He regularly advises companies about how to get the most out of their employees"

There's actually a second part to that sentence, where he advises employees how to get the most out of their jobs. If he's just teaching corporate America how to milk their workers like suckers, he's made it awfully hard for employees to feel like they are anything but doormats.

Of course, as the article points out, that's not what he's doing. Instead, part of what he's done is demonstrated through studies something taught in networking 101 -- if you create a large, robust, interdependent network that sees you as an essential resource, you will benefit. And this works for yuppies just as well as it does for union organizers.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:42 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favorite moment in this, I must say, is when it suddenly, unexpectedly goes science fiction:

That was why he first wanted to be a scientist — before he realized biology bored him and he would never reinvent physics — so he could help figure out how to extend life, or at least design the spacecrafts that he is sure, even now, will take us to safer planets if this one runs dry.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2013


Why should the core of the article been all about viewing good actions in the most cynical, obnoxious light possible?

His profile was written because he wrote a popular book promoting a theory that states people fall into one of three categories of givers. Examining that claim, and his self-labeling as a certain kind of giver, would be interesting to me and reveal things about him as a person.
posted by jsturgill at 3:27 PM on March 28, 2013


This whole thing strikes me as some weird corporate co-dependence theory portrayed as a beneficial concept.
posted by Divest_Abstraction at 3:38 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see his research; the studies sond fascinating, and I wonder how much he levereges in personality profiles (like the aforementioned introvert/extrovert split).

The article itself, though, seems to struggled with the fundamental flaw that individual experience is not generalizable; that a single person can do this, and most can't operate at his level, is not an indication that there is something wrong with everyone else - it's an indication that people are different.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:07 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Part of Grant's research is looking at successful and non successful givers. Those who are successful tend to be careful in their giving, using it almost like networking to interact with other givers who give in return. There's a perception element in terms of rapidly figuring out who the givers are and who the takers are.

Don't many 'primitive' and island cultures work on a complicated chain of giving and obligation? Even in our culture, even buying someone a drink can or cannot imply obligation. When somebody gifts you, you owe them.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:21 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in potlatch cultures, usually the more you give away the more status you have, and the more status you have the more you're expected to give away. /extremely oversimplified and general explanation
posted by rtha at 5:33 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Machiavelli said that it doesn't matter whether you're a giver or not, as long as you just try to give most people the general impression that you're a giver.
posted by ovvl at 9:07 PM on March 28, 2013


rtha: Yeah, in potlatch cultures, usually the more you give away the more status you have, and the more status you have the more you're expected to give away. /extremely oversimplified and general explanation

For those looking for less simplified explanations see Marcel Mauss's The Gift [PDF] and most of Graeber's books, particularly Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. One of the most interesting points is that gift economies are mostly fairly complex things, and have tended not to be the sort of happy-clappy, everyone sharing with everyone on the basis of need, system that they are often caricatured as (both by their evangelists and their detractors).
posted by titus-g at 1:23 AM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


“For me, in my moments of idleness, I experience the most existential anxiety, so I like that every moment is scheduled, even when it’s having on my calendar that I’m going to watch a television show with my wife. It means my brain is engaged in other things, and it’s not going to be a terrifying evening.”

Do not want. This man sounds unhealthy in a (for now) adaptive way. What happens when he runs out of steam? Or gets sick? When could creativity happen in an over-scheduled life? What lessons could he learn if he was brave enough to face that anxiety, to develop a strategy more holistic than "distract me! Let's run like hell from the scary thing"?

I work in non-profits and this is the golden standard in a world of fake-it-til-you-break-it burn out seekers. I talk to colleagues who are under the impression that 60 hours/week is regular hours for low-level staff and obviously that should increase if they get promoted. Bosses who respond to pleas for a more sustainable workload with "I only sleep 4 hours a night. What's your problem?" Meanwhile respected colleagues at the top of the ladder drop dead at 50 from completely predictable heart attacks.

I'm doing my best to do good work and not appear "ungiving" in this insane and network-dependent environment while keeping boundaries up for the sake of my introversion, my health, my marriage, and goddammit my right to have time off to enjoy my non-work life. No, I will not reply to your work email at 8pm. Yes, I want lieu time if you make me work evenings to host events. No, I will not host events on Monday nights, you know that is the night I have dinner with friends every week. No, it is not reasonable to expect humans to perpetually accelerate to match the speed of modern technology. Yes, I work hard and yes I am willing to make sacrifices for this little start-up charity that is close to my heart, but how is it making the world better if it kills any outside life for its staff?

And despite my best efforts to maintain these boundaries, work got too crazy in February and I broke some of my rules just to keep up, and I came down with a nasty case of reactivated mono. I am sure these things are connected, and now my body is literally forcing me to slow down. Back to not working weekends and evenings, not dreaming about work, not checking email the second I wake up, and hallelujah for having a huge project finished and off our plate.
posted by heatherann at 7:08 AM on March 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Giving Isn't The Secret
In other words, Grant, like Sandberg, is selling us a message of working really hard with the underlying promise that it will make us successful, especially if we do it because we just love working really hard.
What?
First, it really matters what you work on and who you are helping. If you are not a strategic helper, you end up wasting your time for no good reason. How many times have we seen people who end up doing their job plus someone else’s job, without any thanks or extra money?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:48 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This guy is on Diane Rehm today, if anyone's interested. His voice sounds oddly like David Brooks's.
posted by HotToddy at 12:53 PM on April 8, 2013


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