THE BLOG
04/09/2014 12:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2014

'Give, Give, Give' Says Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a Wharton Business School Professor who sounds just like my mother: They both tell me it is better to give than to receive. The only difference is that Adam wrote a New York Times bestseller, Give and Take, to make his point. My mom wrote me a lot of letters, but never a book.

I thought I owed it to my mother to learn more about Adam, the youngest tenured Wharton professor so after one of his Wharton Executive Education presentations at the Steinberg Conference Center, I asked him to give me some answers to my questions.

Dr. Hank: What was the moment you realized giving and helping others is a ticket to success?

One of the key moments was when I was conducting research at Google. I was struck by the fact that many Googlers were unusually helpful and generous. Engineers shared their knowledge and volunteered to support their colleagues in solving problems; marketing and advertising folks provided service to clients that extended far beyond the call of duty. Over the ensuing months, these "givers" became some of the most productive and valued people at Google, earning top performance marks, regular awards and frequent promotions. Before that, I assumed that many people succeeded first and then started giving back. Google opened my eyes to the possibility that giving first could lead to success later.

Dr. Hank: Evolutionary scientists would say that there is no such thing as genuinely giving to others -- that we only do so because it helps us further our own goals. After all, somebody always seems to know the identity of the anonymous gift giver. What do you think?

I weigh in on this debate in chapter eight of Give and Take. Over more than three and a half decades, psychologists Robert Cialdini and Daniel Batson have conducted experiments to resolve the debate about whether pure altruism can exist, or whether giving is always selfishly motivated. My read of the data is that true altruism is relatively rare, and most giving is driven by a mix of concern for others and self-interest. However, the balance is important: Deborah Small and her colleagues have shown that if your primary reason for giving is to get, people don't give you credit as a generous person. On the other hand, if you're contributing because you care about the person or the cause, it's viewed as more genuine.

Dr. Hank: What do organizations do differently after you speak with them. How might a manager or executive change his or her behavior if he or she wanted to follow your recommendations?

At the organizational level, the evidence points to three key steps for shifting cultures away from taking and toward giving. The first is selection: Screening out the most selfish takers, as one bad apple can spoil the barrel. The second is rewards: making sure that givers are recognized and promoted for their contributions. The third is encouraging employees to seek help, not only give it. People often decide not to ask for help because they don't want to be embarrassed, vulnerable or a burden to others. Yet if no one is willing to ask and receive, it's impossible for givers to know how they can be helpful, and to whom.

Dr. Hank: What advice would you give President Obama to make America a more giving society?

We might start by debunking the myth that good guys finish last, and giving is a sign of weakness. That can be true, but it's also an important source of strength. From there, I would love to see more marketplaces for giving and receiving help. A wonderful example is the Reciprocity Ring at Humax Networks: people gather in groups, each person makes a request, and everyone tries to help each other fulfill the requests. I think a tremendous amount of good could be accomplished if every city or community had a monthly Reciprocity Ring.

It all sounds pretty good, and I have to say, Adam is a Giver -- he just had his book released as a paperback so he can give it to you at a lower price. That's giving! I suggest you all take it!

Check out Adam and see why if you play cards with him, he will Give you a good hand, but still Take the pot.