Adam Grant is a professor at the University Pennsylvania and he almost never says “no.” He answers every email and accepts all requests for favors. Yet, the man is highly productive and, as a result, has thousands of people who feel indebted with gratitude. According to a profile of Grant in the New York Times he “has published more papers in his field’s top-tier journals than colleagues who have won lifetime-achievement awards” and routinely receives emails from people gushingly thanking him for his help. From the piece:
For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive. How, he has wondered for most of his professional life, does the interplay of those two factors work for everyone else?
Grant’s work on giving has mixed with his own personal life and has him thinking a lot about what makes a good “giver:”
[Grant] divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders.
And if you think all of that “giving” would tax one’s workday, you’d be right:
Once, when Grant was asked to give a talk on productivity, he confessed to a mentor that for all his research, he was still not sure what he did that was any different from anyone else. It wasn’t exactly a mystery, his mentor told him: He worked more.
It’s a long one, but we highly recommend settling down and reading the entire piece. It’s a fascinating look at someone who is an accomplished psychologist embodying their work, with the self-awareness to discuss its effects honestly. It also calls into question: giving to others is undoubtedly a path to happiness, but how much is too much?