Striving for success is defined by some as advancing oneself. Success for others is a means to provide for those we love or a way to make a difference in the world. Most of us strive for success in one way or another and the question is, what is it for us and what are we willing to do to achieve it? Adam Grant’s Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (2013) offers insights on success motivation and how to manage it in others and ourselves so that more can benefit.
Grant starts by reflecting the conventional wisdom that “highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity.” To these he suggests adding a fourth – “how we approach our interactions with other people.” He proposes three common ways we interact – taking, giving, and matching. When considering success, one of these types falls into both the worst and the best performer categories – the giver. Takers and matchers typically fall somewhere in between the worst and best performers. Givers can fail because they offer too much but they can also achieve great success by supporting and nurturing other people as the givers seek their own objectives.
Give and Take provides numerous examples of the three archetypes of taker, matcher, and giver. One historic example was Abraham Lincoln who, prior to rising to the U.S. Presidency, often contributed to other’s success at his own expense. However, the base of Lincoln’s ultimate long-term achievements was established through generosity that resulted in critical goodwill and trust. Regardless of historic examples like Lincoln or even our lived experience when we look around at those with whom we would most like to live and work, many of us fear exposing our giving character because we fear being judged as weak and naïve. The irony is that it is often those who tend to be dominant and controlling (stereotypical takers) who are often highly submissive when it comes to dealing with superiors or others who they perceive to hold power.
So how would we determine our or other’s inclinations? Takers are relatively easily identified by their self-glorifying and self-absorbed perspectives, often leading to the frequent use of first-person singular pronouns like I, me, mine, my and myself. Matchers can be spotted by the reciprocal (i.e. prid quo pro) expectations they have when dealing with others. Givers offer their assistance and advocate for others without expectation of return and can sometimes be characterized as “pronoid,” or excessively optimistic in their expectations of others. Givers offer their knowledge, advocate for others, and look for ways to help whenever they can.
Can the giver’s pronoid approach to life result in others taking advantage of them? Sure, but the advantage that the giver possesses over takers and matchers is their higher level of sincerity screening, a form of emotional intelligence that allows them to spot those who are out for themselves or striking a deal. The giver can sense the motivation of others and then responds in a giver spirit or as a cautious matcher when the exploitive motivations of others is sensed.
In essence, Grant advocates “otherish” behavior that reflects high concern for our own interests at the same time it demonstrates willingness and interest in other’s achieving their goals as well. Otherish goals can be maximized by joining together with others who seek to make a positive difference in the world, often resulting in networks of uncommon commonality (linkages based on optimal distinctiveness that allow us to fit in and stand out at the same time). The bottom line is that research indicates that givers generally feel better about themselves, receive more support from colleagues, and are engaged in meaningful work and involvements throughout their lives (incidentally, they tend to live longer). Successful givers “get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them.”