The Next Jump blog is a look into the culture of a company that believes corporations can change the world.
CEO Talks: Give and Take with Adam Grant
24 Jun

The Next Jump offices were recently visited by Adam Grant, who came to give a presentation as part of Next Jump’s “CEO Talks” series. On a regular basis, thought leaders, founders and CEOs from various fields are brought in to teach and inspire us with their work and stories. Gabe Zichermann brought us up to speed on Gamification and gave us his thoughts on where the field was going in the future; Wes Moore told us about the “power of expectations” and how it’s the expectation placed on us that can can radically alter the course of one’s life, not the environment; and then Adam Grant, the highest rated professor in the Wharton MBA program and a pioneering researcher in workplace psychology, came to tell us about the unexpected perks of possessing a generous personality. What’s most amazing to me is how all of these influential people freely donate their time to give us a presentation and answer our questions. They often mention that are blown away by our CEO Charlie’s devotion to accelerating the growth of Next Jump employees and they simply want to be a part of the mission.

So back to Mr. Grant. Early in his presentation he made the claim that people generally fall into one of three categories. I was skeptical of such a sweeping claim at first, but as he explained the three types I found myself listening intently and nodding along. First there are the people that we all know too well, the Takers who don’t see anything wrong with getting as much as they can out of others while giving as little as they can get away with. An obvious counterpoint to this greedy subset of humanity is the Givers, and those who belong to this category often give without any thought to their own benefit or needs. The final group is the Matchers, those who like to repay any efforts of assistance in equal measure. Fairness is the name of the game for this group, also incidentally the most common personality type.

As he described the groups, I realized a lot of people I knew did fit pretty neatly into these archetypes (of course you, dear reader, are not one of the Takers I’m referring to). Grant found that, unsurprisingly, people expect the Givers to perform worst in most scenarios because they don’t look out for themselves as much as the Matchers and Takers. Unfortunately, he said, this is a fair prediction - but only at first. In several studies he had performed involving medical students and engineers, the Givers routinely performed at lower levels than the other groups for the early years because they were expending so much energy helping their colleagues, but those trends soon made a dramatic reversal. Eventually the Givers were consistently among the higher performers, and it wasn’t too hard to see why. Helping or teaching others requires personal mastery of the material you are helping with, so in the course of rendering assistance to others the Givers pushed themselves to grow at an accelerated pace. Another more indirect effect was the development of healthy and wide-reaching personal networks. When someone helps you with no thought for themselves we can see the authenticity of their actions and we don’t suspect them as we might a Taker.

The example Mr. Grant gave of this phenomenon was Adam Rifkin who selflessly gave to others his whole life and was recently named Fortune’s Most Connected Man based on his LinkedIn connections. He got his start by building fan websites for some bands he liked, with one of those websites eventually taking off to the point that the band contacted him asking to buy it. This band turned out to be Green Day, which made it all the more shocking when he turned them down and gave them the site for free. Later he was contacted by a hardcore punk fan, Graham Spencer, who insisted that Green Day was not representative of true punk, as Rifkin’s site claimed they were. Mr. Rifkin made several more band web pages on the suggestion of this anonymous fan without thinking much of it. Fast forward five years when Mr. Rifkin is moving to California and doesn’t know anyone, he finds out that Graham Spencer is a well connected Venture Capitalist who puts Adam in touch with an investor for his nascent startup.

Hearing these stories and seeing the research made Mr. Grant’s thesis that giving selflessly will help others and yourself very convincing. This made me wonder how I could work to act more like a Giver. During the Q&A session with Mr. Grant I asked whether such a transformation was advisable and how best to go about it. He pointed out that diving headfirst into being a Giver can be risky: they often fare poorly when dealing with Takers if they aren’t cautious. He also mentioned that the world needed Matchers because they are the reason that Givers manage to prosper because Matchers wanted them to succeed and for Takers to crash and burn. He suggested playing to your strengths and giving freely where it costs you little, but to be cautious when you had much to lose.

Adam Grant

A few days later I came across a co-worker struggling on a problem with which I was pretty familiar. With the lessons from the talk still fresh in my mind I decided to take a few minutes and help him out, and soon we got the problem figured out successfully. He was very grateful and claimed I had saved him hours of work. I’ve been in that position before quite often, struggling late at night to finish something that I knew should be simple but for some reason wasn’t. It always felt indescribably awesome when someone more experienced would walk over and say something like “Oh, that’s not how scope works in Javascript. Here, let me explain…” and all of a sudden my problem would evaporate. Now I discovered it felt just as good to be on the other end, and I wanted to repeat that sensation as often as possible.

This philosophy lines up very closely with Next Jump’s “Why”, or our reason for existing as a company which ultimately motivates everything we do. We recently crystallized our Why into the phrase on the right side of this blog: “To do the little things that allow others to do the great things that they are meant to do.” These CEO Talks are a great example of doing something small for employees that can have a large impact in the long run, which perhaps is why the CEOs themselves agree to help without any form of payment. So consider trying to be more giving with your coworkers and friends, and remember: sometimes nice guys finish first.

You can find Adam Grant’s latest book “Give and Take” on Amazon

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