Adam Grant is a wildly popular professor at Wharton, the business school. He is an organizational psychologist, interested in how people succeed in the workplace, and is the author of a recent book, Give and Take. I like it. I think you should read it.
Now the first thing I should mention is that Adam Grant is about ten times smarter than I am, so it is pretty unlikely for me to argue that I have noticed something that Adam Grant didn’t notice.
But on the other hand, I am about ten times older than Adam Grant, so perhaps I have a shot, based not on being smart, but having been around a long time.
Grant has identified three mindsets in business and life: Takers, Matchers, and Givers. If you don’t think you have the time to read the book, I will give you the bottom line. His research shows that being a giver, someone who tries to help others without worrying about whether they will get anything back, is the best strategy.
In one study he did find that in medical school, the givers had the lowest grades. Who had the highest grades? Givers, again.
The difference is in when you take the measurement. In the first year of medical school, there is no particular value in being a giver, and so their grades are lower. Selfish people get ahead in class. Matchers, people who try to get back something for whatever they give, can do well in study groups.
But in the last year of medical school, teamwork becomes much more important. By that point, the givers are clearly the most accomplished, because people like working around givers, and so they get the best scores and ratings.
Similarly, with engineers, the givers tend to be less productive over a three month period, but much more productive over a longer period. Lifetime productivity is far higher for givers than takers.
Grant uses a particularly touching example: Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine. When he announced the stunning breakthrough, that they had grown the virus in the lab, that they had inactivated it to make it safe to use as a vaccine, he committed a terrible act: he took all the credit and gave no thanks or credits to people in his lab that had labored with him. He had a team, but failed to thank the team. He was a classic taker. As a result of that, his reputation tanked, and he failed to gain the kind of appreciation that he craved. He never made another major discovery.
On the other hand, Grant talks about a remarkable humorist, George Meyer, who is perhaps the greatest force behind The Simpsons, the longest running cartoon show, earning many awards and seen as a game changer. Meyer is remarkable for his selfless desire to make the script better, and is a source of much of the material. In spite of that, he takes very little credit, and isn’t recognized widely outside of the community of humor writers. But within that community, he is idealized, because he is creative, honest, and seems to care nothing about credit.
So if Adam Grant has discovered this powerful mindset, the giver, what could he have possibly missed?
One thing: I think he doesn’t mention the core motivation behind being a giver. It is love.
Here is my YouTube video:
(I know the video cuts off my head, but the message is what is important.)
Think of love as being a skill, and like many skills, based partly on genetics and partly on early environment. Some people are simply loving people from the get-go, and some learn to love from being in an environment that fosters it.
Nevertheless, the work of Buddhist teachers on loving kindness, the research of Barbara Fredrickson which she reports in her book, Love 2.0, shows us clearly that love can be learned. Even when we are old. Neural plasticity we call it, the ability of the brain to change and learn and grow throughout life, not just in youth.
If you are like me, and born with very little tendency to love others, you can heal that by practicing loving kindness as a discipline,
Anyone can learn to juggle. Anyone can learn to play a musical instrument. If you have at least average or somewhat less than average intelligence, you can pretty much learn anything if you are willing to put effort into it. The person who will simply practice a foreign language an hour a day will soon be able to read, write, and converse.
Could it be that learning to love others is the most valuable thing in the world? I think that it is. Those who can love widely and deeply find that being a Giver is simply the most natural and easy thing they could possibly do.
Read Adam Grant, listen to his talks, and keep in mind that he is avoiding the “L” word. Slide that word in when he talks about giving as a lifestyle choice. Then the shift, if you are more of a Taker or a Matcher, is easy, just so easy. Cultivate your capacity to love.
How do we cultivate love as a skill?
Barbara Fredrickson has shown that about six weeks or so of “loving kindness meditation” will raise both your ability to love and your actual performance in all sorts of areas. Want to be more creative? Cultivate love! Want to be a better leader? Cultivate love! Want to assure yourself of long-term success, more income, a more satisfying marriage, better friendships? Cultivate love.
Would you like a luxury house, a luxury car, or a very expensive wristwatch? Well, there I can’t help you. But if you want more joy and satisfaction in your live, if you want to be more successful in the things that matter, cultivating love is the path.
Try this experiment:
Watch carefully for things that annoy you. Fortunately, there are lots of annoying people. There are lots of annoying circumstances. There are plenty of government bureaucrats, poor customer service in business, rude drivers.
Rather than just be annoyed, use each of those as a gift.
Practice this: Remember the last time you were annoyed. Think of the person behind that. Now say, “The poor guy . . . the poor woman . . . isn’t at his best. She isn’t at her best.”
The key here is seeing the annoyance as a gift. Turn it into a simple act of compassion.
After all, none of us are at our best all the time.
Since I am sometimes (HA! Often, to be honest) not at my best, I can easily raise my mood by shifting to a compassion position. The more often I practice, the more I can do it.
Here are a couple of handouts / “cheat sheets” on developing love, besides the hint I just gave.
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