Join Arianna Huffington for an in-depth discussion in this video Adam Grant on the power of giving, part of Arianna Huffington's Thrive 06: Understanding the Link between Giving and Success.
- Our guest teacher for this lesson is a good friend of mine, the author of one of my favorite books, Give and Take, a book that perfectly captures that transformative power of giving, not only for the recipients, but for the givers. His work illustrates that those who give their time and talents to others end up not just being happier, but also achieving more success than those who don't, Adam Grant. Adam, this is just an amazing shift from all the cultural messages we get that good guys finish last, and the assumption that if you're completely, monumentally self absorbed, you're going to end up at the top of the mountain.
- Yeah, it's a complete shift. Right, the irony is, the more you focus on others, the more you actually end up getting ahead. But of course if you do it just to get ahead, it doesn't work. That is the paradox. But I think the great thing is, we all love to be helpful, right? We enjoy being able to make a difference in the lives of others, but we're all really busy and often stretched too thin. And so we end up missing out on these opportunities to give and ultimately we lose, both from a success standpoint and an energy standpoint. - Exactly, the energy standpoint is key because what you say is that when you're exclusively preoccupied with ourselves and our own problems, then this is really a huge energy drain.
And when we expand our circle of concern to include others, it has an incredible impact on our energy, on putting our own problems in perspective. So what would you recommend to our students, who are all busy, who are all juggling multiple things, and now you're telling them to also give? - Yeah, so I think the good news is that if you want to be a giver, you don't have to be Mother Theresa or Gandhi. In fact, for most of us that's not going to be sustainable. Instead, I think we can all do a few more five minute favors in our week.
So five minute favor is just a small way of adding large value to other people's lives. It's like a microloan of your time, your skills, your network to benefit other people. And I think it's pretty easy actually to make time for that. - So you've had a very interesting life because you, among other things, were a magician. And now in a way, you're saying that you can bring some magic to people's lives simply by giving of yourself, of your time, of your talents, and you're saying that while you are the youngest Wharton professor and one of the most popular.
So how is that message being received by your students? - Well, I think initially I was unsure about what the reaction was going to be. And somebody at one point called me the guy who is studying altruism in the temple of greed, (laughs) which was not quite what I was aiming for, but I've been stunned by the number of students who respond by saying, this is part of why we were interested in studying psychology or going into business is we wanted to bring tools that can make people's lives better. And we thought that we had to wait until we were successful to do that.
But I think it's a myth, right, that you succeed first and then give back. The most successful people are the ones who start giving right from day one, and then along the way, of course, great things often happen. We know that giving builds deeper and broader networks. We build stronger relationships because it's a way of connecting to other people. And to your point about energy, we get a lot of meaning and purpose when we're able to connect what we do to something that really makes other people's lives better. And so in the long run, that actually does enable us to work harder, smarter, longer, more creatively and that all works to our advantage.
- So our step in this lesson starts with making personal connections with people that otherwise we would take for granted during our day, you know, the barista in the coffee shop. So this is kind of a relatively easy form of giving, and yet so often, we feel so rushed, and like we have so much to do that we don't even take the time to do that. So how do you change that autopilot behavior? - Well I think the first thing is to pick a particular situation where you're going to do it.
It's very hard to snap to attention in the moment. I think we have to plan in advance to be ready for it. So I would say, for example, pick the Starbucks barista today and say okay, I'm going to make it a point to just acknowledge that that person exists, right? To not just say thank you, but ask them how their day is going. And it's amazing how quickly that kind of interaction can shift from we're all stressed and burned out and overwhelmed to I just made a meaningful connection with another person. It doesn't have to last, right, but I gave them a sense of dignity and respect. They reciprocated it and I can walk away feeling like I did something a little bit better with my time than I would've otherwise.
- And in fact, you have another great Starbucks story. Would you tell us about it? - Well, the gist of the story is that basically one person decides waiting in line to pay for the person behind them, right? And so you walk up to the cash register and you think you're going to have to pay for a coffee and no it's just been covered by the person in front of you. Well, what do I do now? What does this person want from me? This is strange, right? Where does this happen? Well the natural response is I can't pay it back, the person's already left, so I'm going to pay it forward instead. And 300 some people later, this chain is continuing.
And I think it's such a great way of, again, just doing something very small for somebody else. There's a great example of this in the Karma Kitchen where you can go to this restaurant that gives you a bill and it says $0. And you ask, how do I pay? And they say you can't because the person who dined here previously paid for your meal, and if you'd like, you can pay that forward too. And this restaurant is completely self-sustaining based on people paying for each others meals. - Absolutely amazing, and also these stories just listening to them are so life enhancing.
I mean, you feel good about life and about other human beings just by listening to the stories.
- Putting your life in context
- Giving to others
- Considering the power of giving
- Practicing giving
- Defining your own success