Adam Grant on the Kind of Giving That Gets You Ahead

Grant, AdamBeing Masters-of-the-Universe-ruthless is so last century. Now, most of us know that nice guys (and gals) do come in first, more so than cutthroats, thanks to Adam Grant’s New York Times bestseller Give and Take. And soon, with the February release of his new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, we’ll stop suppressing our maverick sides, too. Here, the Wharton professor talks about the kind of giving that gets you ahead, good karma and the best office holiday gifts.

Q: You say that givers—people who are altruistically generous with their time, contacts and other resources—tend to be either champs or chumps. How does one increase the chances of being the success and not the flameout?

A: Try to be thoughtful about who, how and when you help. Failed givers are generous to anyone, grant any request and drop everything to help. But successful ones know they’ll be exploited if they help someone who has a reputation for being selfish, focus on one or two ways of helping that they enjoy and excel at—helping is more energizing than exhausting then—and block out chunks of time that they’ll help.

Q: Can you decide to be helpful in order to succeed? Or does the inclination to give have to be natural in order to reap any benefits?

A:  We don’t know for sure, but if you give so that you’ll succeed, you’ll find yourself acting in a way that is transactional. I think you don’t have to be naturally inclined to help, but you do have to choose to value the idea of being a giver and caring about other people.

Q: If you help because you believe in karma, are you a giver or matcher (a less successful category of people who give but expect something in return)?

A: Paying it forward is more like giving than matching. It’s not quid pro quo. You’re not expecting something in return from that person. Few people are purely givers or matchers though. So the fundamental question to ask yourself is: Who do I gravitate toward helping the most? People I am repaying or people who are less fortunate? If it’s the latter, you’re a giver.

Q: Speaking of giving just before the holidays, do you have any advice about office gifts?

A: Most people try to give unique gifts, but research shows that we all prefer what’s on our wish lists. So I’d recommend finding out what people want and giving that to them.


▶ Read more from the December 2015 newsletter.