Do good guys always finish last?

I heard that Walmart is making its employees work on Thanksgiving this year, because the poverty-level wages they’re paying out, at a time of record corporate profits, aren’t making employees suffer enough.

Do companies have to be this way? Callously disregard people’s needs in favor of the all-mighty bottom line? Are the “socially conscious” companies out there just cynically pushing that line as a marketing ploy?

Do people have to put their better natures aside in order to succeed in business?

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of both sides, but I like my business advice to come with a side of hard data.

So, I was pretty happy with a new book called “Give and Take” by Adam Grant, a corporate consultant and a professor at the Wharton School of Business.

The book pulls together data from a large number of studies to discover which approach actually works in business.

Are you a giver or a taker?

I took away two main ideas from this book.

First, is that there are three main styles of interacting with people: giving, taking, and matching. Giving is when you help others, without expecting anything back. Taking is the reverse, when you manipulate people into helping you out, then don’t return the favor. Matching is the “tit for tat” approach — you help people who help you back.

The “takers” in this book sound a lot like some of the bad guys I warned about in a previous post.

It seems obvious that, over time, the “taker” approach is not likely to be the most successful. After all, if you never give back, eventually nobody around is going to want to do business with you. If all your contracts are one-sided, all your customers and business partners feel ripped off, you’re not going to last long.

I’v heard of grid owners who promised content creators land, partnerships, recognition — and then reneged on those promises as soon as the builds were done.

And content creators who got paid, then turned in work that didn’t meet requirements and couldn’t be used, or that had licensing problems.

It’s obvious that these kind of strategies don’t work for long. Unless the people involved improve their behavior, they develop a bad reputation and nobody wants to work with them.

So, intuitively, matching seems like the best strategy. Negotiations that end equitably. Honest work done for an honest day’s pay. Agreements kept.

And the givers — the guys who always put other people first — should finish last, as everyone takes advantage of them.

According to Grant that does, in fact, happen. The people whose careers progress the slowest, for example, often spend too much time helping others and not enough time on their own work.

But, according to these studies, something surprising happens, as well — givers are also ones who are statistically more likely to finish ahead of everyone else.

Gift giving is a perfect example of the three types of personalities. As a young child, you get gifts, without giving anything back. As a parent, you give gifts, without expecting anything in return. And, as adults, we tend to prefer reciprocal gift-giving with friends, siblings, and colleagues.
Gift giving is a perfect example of the three types of approaches to giving. As a young child, you get gifts, without giving anything back. As a parent, you give gifts, without expecting anything in return. And, as adults, we tend to prefer reciprocal gift-giving with friends, siblings, and colleagues.

Not all givers are created equal

The other thing I took away from this book is that there’s a right and a wrong way to be a giver. The wrong way leads to becoming a patsy, a floor mat, to burnout. And the right way leads to productivity, strong support networks, and success.

According to Grant, people who give, without expectation of reward, from their heart, build a positive reputation and a strong network of people ready and willing to help them in return.

If they do giving right, then anti-paranoia — the idea that everyone is out to help you succeed — becomes reality.

And the difference in the two types of giving lies in how much the people value themselves, and their own time.

Valuing others and valuing yourself turn out not to be two extremes of the same continuum, but two separate and independent factors.

Someone who values others, but not themselves, doesn’t know where to draw the line. They can’t say “no.” They work themselves to the bone, and are miserable.

Someone who values others, but also values themselves, is more than happy to give — but on their own terms.

For example, if someone comes up and asks for help, the selfless giver drops everything to help out. The giver with a strong sense of self-worth, however, might say something like, “I’d love to help. I’ve got Wednesday morning free — why don’t we meet for coffee then and I’ll take you through it?”

A selfless giver agrees to every request for volunteering that comes along.

The not-so-selfless type volunteers on projects that are valuable in and of themselves, that they are happy doing even if they never get credit or recognition. They do volunteer work that they don’t feel burdened by, and so don’t get burned out, even as they help others.

A selfless giver gives money to everyone who asks, without expecting it to be repaid the way a matcher would.

A smarter giver donates reasonable amounts to worthy causes and don’t drive themselves into poverty. They give money to friends, but only if they can afford the loss. If the friends do pay the money back, it’s a happy surprise. If they don’t, well, the giver has written that money off anyway, so there’s no damage to the relationship.

In a virtual world context, for example, a generous creator might help out with volunteer builds on grids that they really believe in. If the grids become successful and give something back, it would be a pleasant bonus. But if they don’t, the creator still gets to see something that they value grow and flourish, a kind of reward all on its own.

I’ve long had this policy where it comes to my writing. I volunteer as a writer for causes that I believe in. I don’t expect to get paid, I just like contributing to something important. And I don’t expect to get paid for my writing for Hypergrid Business. If I do a good enough job, and virtual worlds grow, and the metaverse arrives just a little bit faster because of my efforts, that’s good enough. And if it does turn into a viable commercial enterprise at some point, that’s just gravy.

I suspect that many of the most successful grid owners feel the same way. They want to create a thriving grid and make people happy. And if, eventually, it turns into a profitable business, it will be a pleasant surprise. But if it doesn’t, they’ll still have had fun along the way, learned a lot, and made some strong connections.


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