Being a “Giver,” Not a “Taker” is Good for Business

Published in UT San Diego, February 10, 2014

Give and TakeOne of my business partners is a “giver,” and in an effort to enhance and improve his partner, he gave me a book, appropriately titled “Give and Take,” by Adam Grant. While our column is not normally the New York Review of Books, this week we are going to go rogue and tell you about this book and how it can change your life.

The book’s premise is simple. Traditionally, the entrepreneurial drivers to success have been passion, hard work, talent, dedication and luck. But Grant argues (and proves) that success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. In other words, success hinges more on effective networking, collaboration, influence, negotiation and leadership — all of which are informed by and made more valuable by being a “giver.”

Grant posits that there are three kinds of people in the world: “takers,” “matchers” and “givers.” We all know what a taker is — scorched earth, sort of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine. A taker is always thinking “what can you do for me?” rather than “what can I do for you?”

Matchers are slightly more evolved. They have an internal balance mechanism that measures giving and taking — recognizing the basic principle of win-win, but always measuring. They know clearly when they are not being reciprocated.

And then there are givers. This is the enlightened species that provides service, guidance, care, feeding and comfort without any immediate expectation of recompense or match or equality. The giver is someone who has an internal desire to genuinely share. Now before you chuckle at the naiveté of being a giver, the book also explains how to be a giver without being a schmuck. The giver comes from a position of power, not weakness.

Grant profiles famous television writer George Meyer (“The Simpsons”), who wrote a large number of the shows but took much less credit than he was entitled to. His behavior, talent and generosity energized and inspired the rest of the writing staff and made the show even better.

He also profiles David Hornik of August Capital. In the rotten, competitive world of the venture capitalist, Hornik stands like a beacon on the hill of helping others, often initially at his own expense — and then like the true giver, deals and success come back to him in a tsunami.

Grant also writes about Stu Inman, a basketball coach who sometimes “stayed too long” with his draft choices, and yet, once again, at the end, was enormously successful.

Another example is Adam Rifkin, who in 2011 had more LinkedIn connections to the 640 powerful people on Fortune’s list than any human being on the planet. And you probably have not heard of him. Rifkin’s maxim is “I believe in the strength of weak ties.” It turns out that acquaintances are more important in the networking ecosystem than strong, close friends.

Herewith a quote from a man whom some would consider a world-class taker, Bill Gates. “There are two great forces of human nature — self-interest and caring for others,” and it is proven that people are the most successful when they develop a hybrid engine, mixing the two fuels. He gets it.

Successful givers are “otherish.” They are ambitious in their own goals and equally and simultaneously care about benefiting others.

I love this paradox. In our own little entrepreneurial ecosystem in San Diego, we all have met the trio — takers, matchers and givers. Now, here is the puzzler for the founder seeking assistance as well as the seasoned executive — how to pick your mentor, who should I invest time in?

I have my own rule about negotiation. If I have the upper hand and if I make a deal “too good” for me, I will often go back the next day and renegotiate against myself. I feel the obligation to protect the other person when it is not a fair fight. When I have all the guns and all the ammo, I know that I can avoid war, not by keeping all the weapons, but in fact by giving a few of them back to the other guy. If you want confirmation on that one, read Grant’s chapter about Derek Sorenson.

“Give and Take” is a monster book. It will change your life. I am now more committed to increasing my “giver” quotient. Because I know I will like myself better, and on top of that, it’s good business.

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