Give and Take

The intelligent altruists, though less altruistic than the unintelligent altruists, will be fitter than both unintelligent altruists and selfish individuals. – Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize winner in economics

If its indeed better to give than to receive, why are some givers exploited and burnout while others receive extra-ordinary success? Harvard Professor Adam Grant examines the world of career success on why some people rise to the top of their career success while others sink to the bottom?

Grant observed that most people operate as either takers, matchers or givers.

It takes out that there are two types of givers:

(i) selfless givers are people with high other interest and low self interest. they give their time and energy without regard for their own needs and they pay a price for it. Grant calls it pathological altruism. It is unhealthy because they end up being overwhelmed and risk harming themselves.

(ii) Otherish givers care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.  Grant quotes Bill Gates at the WEF, “there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest and caring for others”and people are most successful when they are driven by a hybrid engine of the two.  Being otherish is about giving more than you receive, but keeping your own self-interest in sight as a guide to whom you will give.

Some suggestions by Grant on how to give:

(i) Chunking, Sprinkling and the 100 hour rule of volunteering

Otherish givers tend of chunk their volunteering, specific times of the day, instead of sprinkling – helping whenever people needed them. This allows givers more control of their time and energy to complete their own work. Grant found that chunkers achieved gains in happiness while sprinklers did not.

(ii) Myth of giver burnout

Acts 20: 35 It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Grant quotes work by Northwestern University psychologists Seeley and Gardner who found that people who consistently override their selfish impulses in order to help others, they had strengthened their psychological muscles to the point where using willpower for painful tasks was no longer exhausting.

Grant went on to tell the story of Utah businessman Jon Huntsman who believes that being a giver actually made him rich.  Economist Arthur Brooks tested the relationship between income and charitable giving. For every $1 in extra charitable giving, income was $3.75 higher.  Neuroscience research also shows that giving also activates the reward centres in the brain, signalling pleasure.

(iii) Sincerity screening

Do you know what the other person’s intention is?  Its wise to start out as a giver, advise Grant. But once a counterpart is clearly acting like a taker, it makes sense for givers to flex their reciprocity styles and shift to a matching strategy.  Game theorists call it “tit for tat”, and Harvard mathematical biologist Martin Nowak found it can be advantageous to alternate between giving and matching.

(iv) How to negotiate?

Givers, particularly agreeable ones, often overestimate the degree to which assertiveness might be off-putting to others.

Asking on account of others. When you’re willing to advocate for others,  this sends a positive signal about how hard you would work.  When a client makes an unreasonable request, explain how it was going to stretch my team or kill them working crazy hours.


Read the book for his compelling research.

Are you a giver, a matcher or a taker?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: