The Secret to Getting Ahead, via the NY Times

It would be easy to read yesterday’s NY Times profile of Professor Adam Grant and his book “Give and Take” and conclude the secret to success is to give more and take less.

We could come to similar, easily digestible conclusions with other, recent management development offerings. We could “lean in” more, “be more mindful”, or say yes or say no more often. But would this stick, or just make us more resentful, anxious, paranoid, or busy?

One thing is certain, I completely agree and appreciate Grant’s work and his message:

“The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”

As I see it, the key to encouraging more giving is by focusing on the feeling it brings.  In essence, we follow the feeling. Sometimes it is indescribable, but it sticks with us. 

If giving more, leaning in, taking more time for yourself, or saying no more often makes you feel better, more whole, more on purpose, then that is reason enough to do more of it. Perhaps it will allow you to give with more gusto, to listen in a way that offers the support your friend or co-worker needs.

We can save the quantity vs. quality of giving debate for another time. I feel better when I give help, advice, support, encouragement, and that is a powerful, potent, push to do more of it.

Mixing motivation and giving isn’t easy. If we view giving as a means to an end, (“matchers”, as Grant calls them in his research) than we’re missing the point.

Improvisers give in the form of making their partner look good. We give because it is the Improvisers credo. It builds trust. And it fuels creativity by opening us up to more possibilities and points of view.

But we are also good at saying no when we need to, when it feels instinctively wrong.  We are skilled at the polite, “NOPE!”. Guilt or pushing doesn’t motivate giving, that is certain.

“The most successful givers, Grant explains, are those who rate high in concern for others but also in self-interest. And they are strategic in their giving — they give to other givers and matchers, so that their work has the maximum desired effect; they are cautious about giving to takers; they give in ways that reinforce their social ties; and they consolidate their giving into chunks, so that the impact is intense enough to be gratifying.”

The impact of this work is profound if we give it and share it with others. It is the foundation of a learning organization, of a company of shared social capital and support. And it is sustained not because your boss told you to give more, or because you read about it in an article in the NY Times, but because you know how it feels when someone gave selflessly to you, and you want to pay it forward.

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Improvisation as a negotiation

“The real power and innovation of jazz is that a group of people can come together and create art – improvised art – and can negotiate their agendas with each other. And that negotiation is the art” – Wynton Marsalis”

Improvisers are trained to be masters of the “give and the take” – to simultaneously let go of control but to speak their ideas with confidence and boldness. How can this be, you might ask? Does nothing get accomplished?

It’s quite the opposite. The improviser’s negotiation table is a blank stage – there is no delineation between winner and loser, best or worst. It is a team sport where the rules of our negotiation are simple:

1. Accept and add on

2. Make the other person look good.

Beginning improvisers start by improvising in a way that’s comfortable for them – and that tends to fall on either end of the spectrum between being extremely timid or extremely domineering on stage. With practice and confidence the fear dissipates and one begins to see not only the benefits of both the give and take but is also comfortable playing either role.

One of my favorite examples of the Improvisers Negotiation in action comes from Keith Johnstone and it’s called Invisible Tug of War.

Ask two teams to mime playing tug-of-war, without a rope… and let this go on for a few moments. See what happens – and debrief around chivalry, give and take, noticing offers and making the other “team” look good.

 

What’s the drill – June 5: To push or to yield?

Last night I enjoyed a get together with the wonderful community of Bay Area Improvisers that feels like home to me, and in conversation with one good friend I asked:

What is the one most important thing Improv has taught you?

Her answer was short and sweet: It taught her to push and to yield.

Pushing and yielding may also be defined as give and take, dominance and submission, saying yes or saying no…etc.

Improv taught her, and teaches many people what it means to push and yield, what your own tendency is, and how and when to play either role.

But I’ll give you a secret – knowing when to push or to yield isn’t really about you. It’s about the other person. If you put all your attention and focus on the other person in your meeting, presentation, conversation, or improv scene – well, then you’ll pick up on how much to push or to yield.

It’s important to know how to play each role, and to have the confidence and self-awareness to do either. But the other person (your partner) will give you the clues and signs you need along the communication highway.