Givers and Takers


I’ve been thinking that a dimension by which people’s behavior can be characterized is the degree to which they are a giver vs. a taker. This isn’t about whether one or the other is good or bad, but I am curious about what the impact of either is on business.

In his TED Talk Are You a Giver or a Taker, Adam Grant investigates givers and takers in organizations. He observes, “Takers are self-serving in their interactions. It's all about what can you do for me. The opposite is a giver. It's somebody who approaches most interactions by asking, ‘What can I do for you?’”

After much exposition (totally worth the listen) Grant concludes “So… if we can weed takers out of organizations, if we can make it safe to ask for help, if we can protect givers from burnout and make it OK for them to be ambitious in pursuing their own goals as well as trying to help other people, we can actually change the way that people define success. Instead of saying it's all about winning a competition, people will realize success is really more about contribution.”

I found another example in the competition between two organizations. In his TED Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek tells the story of how Samuel Langley lost to the Wright brothers in the race for manned flight. Sinek says, “Orville and Wilbur were driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it'll change the course of the world. Samuel Pierpont Langley was different. He wanted to be rich, and he wanted to be famous. He was in pursuit of the result. He was in pursuit of the riches.”  It appears to me that the Wright Brothers were givers, trying to contribute the ability to fly to the world, and Langley was a taker, trying to win riches and fame for himself.

Both giving and taking have their place in the world. But it seems clear that there is greater value in finding a way to conduct business that is essentially acts of giving, compassion, everyone winning, or contribution, instead of acts of taking, someone else losing, or self-service.

“Givers advance the world.
Takers advance themselves and hold the world back.”
Simon Sinek