119. Adam Grant: Give and Take

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When Adam Grant joined his high school diving team, his coach told him he had good news and bad news: Adam lack flexibility and grace, two of the three components needed to be a successful diver. The good news? His coach would be there to support him the entire way.

He [said he] doesn't care how good I am. That whatever level of effort I put in, he's willing to put in that level of effort as a coach too. He actually said, “I will never cut a diver who wants to be here.” And, I mean to me that is the epitome of what a coach is, right? To say, look, you know, I respond to your motivation, not what I think is your talent level.”

This event had a profound impact on Adam. His coach not only believed in him but was willing to match the effort that he would put into his own success. His influence was also felt as Adam reached out to help other divers—even those that would be in direct competition with him—because he knew that he could help.

Continued below…

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Although he considered becoming a professional coach himself, Adam’s career took a different trajectory. After receiving a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology, he became a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is world-renowned for his expertise in motivation and meaning. He has authored four New York Times bestselling books (including one with Sheryl Sandberg), and his TED talks that have been viewed more than 18 million times.

Our conversation on the podcast delves into the pages of his book “Give and Take,” where he examines the interactions between coworkers and their classifications as “givers, matchers, and takers.” By being givers, he explains, we create an environment for success that takers never reach.

“I really believe that the most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.”

The willingness of his coach to be a “mini helper” continues to influence Adam’s life, and he is a wonderful example of a giver (although he is too modest to give himself the label). I feel I have much to think about after this conversation, and I think you will, too. Join us as we discuss how he chose a career where he could be “ambitious for himself and ambitious for others,” his best dive ever, and how Givers can truly help others (without becoming doormats).

Listen to the podcast in the player below, or download the episode on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Takeaways from this Episode:

  • Our early experiences are woven into the choices we make. Early in life, Adam was a diver with aspirations of becoming a diving coach. He is still using the lessons he learned on the diving board in his life today.
  • Adam’s coach told him “I will never cut a diver who wants to be here.” He was willing to look at a diver’s motivation and not their talent level. How can this apply in your life? Is there someone on your team who is at the low end of the curve skill-wise, but is motivated to learn and wants to be there? What support can you give? What are you doing not to “cut” that person?
  • Against the judgment of his coach (and pretty much everyone else), Adam took the time to coach his competitor and help him improve his entry into the water. This eventually allowed that diver to beat Adam in competition. Adam’s attitude about the event is inspiring: “I didn’t want to be in a world where my motivation to help others would be in conflict with my motivation to succeed.”
  • These were defining experiences that eventually led to Adam’s book, Give and Take. In it he discusses styles of reciprocity (the framework for personality or motivation): givers, takers, and matchers. Everyone has moments where they display each style, but they will also have a dominant style—how we treat the majority of people the majority of the time.
  • Givers look to see how they can add value. They enjoy helping others without strings attached.
  • Takers primarily focus on trying to figure out what they can get from other people.
  • Matchers will reciprocate whatever the other individual involved is doing. If they are giving a little, matchers will give a little. If they are willing to give a lot, matchers will give a lot.
  • Kat Cole once gave Adam advice on how to increase generosity: go into every interaction asking “How can I be a mini-helper? What’s the biggest challenge the other person is facing right now?”
  • In an organization, if you want to create a culture of help givingyou need to establish a culture of help seeking. Are there people in your organization that you haven’t approached about a problem who may be able to help you.
  • “The mistake that most of us make is when we need help, we only go to the people that we've traded favors with in the past or expect to in the future. And you know, the odds that that person who's helped you before or that you know well is the most qualified person to help you with a completely different request are pretty low.
  • Successful givers are thoughtful about who they help and how they help. Don’t help anybody who just asks—this can lead out burn out. Be flexible and adaptable in your style. If you are dealing with a taker, try to be a matcher.

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

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