making sure that you are a person who can be trusted to lead re-ally
great work that will lead to more innovation moving forward.
But they do not stop there. It is not enough to just have lead
authorship on a patent. You also have to have a track record of sup-porting
other people’s successful patents. One great way of doing
this is to be a secondary or tertiary author on patents. The terrific
thing about this is that no taker would ever do the behaviours nec-essary
to “free ride” on other people’s patents because patents could
take eight to 10 years to develop, and it requires a huge amount of
work to help other people on them. There is not enough short-term
return for it to make sense for a taker to game the system.
By the time a scientist or engineer has done the giving and help-ing
necessary to be on other people’s patents, it becomes a symbol
that they have actually been a giver. I think this is such a phenom-enal
way to reward successful givers who have been responsible for
great individual achievements, but who have also gone out of their
way to make other people successful.
When discussing this type of program, is this in line with
breaking down reward systems more specifically (e.g., individ-ual,
team and organizational performance)?
AG: Absolutely. I think there is always a balance. I am not sug-gesting
to get rid of individual performance evaluations or rewards
and promotions. I am saying that most organizations are skewed
too heavily in that direction. We need to do a better job of tracking
not just your success, but how does your success affect the achieve-ment
How about having members of the team acknowledge each oth-er
for their giving?
I am an increasingly big fan of “peer bonus programs” for exactly
the reason we talked about earlier; peers see a lot of giving and tak-ing
that bosses don’t. So if you follow the lead of Google, Zappos,
Southwest or Jet Blue, give every employee the opportunity to pro-vide
meaningful recognition to others or even give them a small
budget to dole out bonuses for giving. Again, it is hard to game
the system on these things and in general, an organization will do
a better job of gathering data not only about who is receiving the
most recognition and bonuses, but also about the people who go
out of their way to give these bonuses out, because that can be an
act of giving in and of itself.
What is one of the more counterintuitive points you talk about
and have found in your research while writing Give and Take?
AG: If you want a culture of giving, you need a culture of help-seeking.
The logic for this is pretty simple. Most giving happens in
response to a request. If everybody holds back on asking because
they want to be self-reliant or they do not want to be vulnerable,
then you deprive all of the givers in the organization knowledge
about who could benefit from their help and how.
For HR leaders, there are two concrete steps they can take.
First, they can model “help-seeking” so that people realize it is not
a sign of incompetence, but it is actually encouraged and accepted.
A second step is to create better marketplaces for connecting
people who do have requests with the best experts and the people
who are most qualified to actually give. Our research shows that
for the most part, when employees seek help, they go to the people
Give and Take by Adam Grant, Ph.D. is currently available and
was named one of the best books of 2013 for leaders
they trust the most and feel the most comfortable with, and they
basically ignore expertise as a consideration in terms of who they
An HR leader can play a big role here in pointing out that al-though
the employee may not have as strong a relationship with
someone, this individual is the person you want to go to with your
This really resonates with coaching and organizational devel-opment
work – that there is a strong fear with vulnerability and
people want to think they have the answer to every question.
Am I taking it too far to link that help-seeking type of culture
AG: That is a great connection. In cultures of arrogance, people
feel like they have to be, Enron-style, the smartest person in the
room and any display of asking for help or seeking input on an
idea is admitting that they do not have all of the answers. If peo-ple
embrace greater humility and modesty, we would realize we
are all human, we are all fallible, we all have incomplete knowledge
and on any topic, there is more than likely somebody else that may
have better insight.
Also, part of humility is recognizing that even if you are a
world-leading expert, there is somebody else who may know less
but who has a novel perspective that could impact the work that
you are doing. n
Craig Dowden, Ph.D. is managing director of the Toronto office of
SPB Organizational Psychology.
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