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Too Good for Your Own Good

You are a wonderful person!

If no one at work has told you that recently, it’s only because the people with whom you work are jealous of your wonderfulness. They are petty and stupid and resent your soaring intelligence and your super-model good looks.

And why should you care? Because it just may be that there is a better strategy than ruthlessly scratching and clawing your way up the executive ladder. Really! According to recent research, being sneaky and unprincipled may no longer be enough. These days, you also have to be good.

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This basis for this revolutionary idea can be found in a widely publicized new book by Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of Business. According to a book review by Bryant Urstadt on businessweek.com, Grant’s tome, “Give and Take,” argues, “the most successful people aren’t take-no-prisoners types, but those who selflessly give the most. Instead of monetizing time, information, or access, Grant suggests that if one just gives it all away, it will be returned in heartwarming multiples.”

It’s certainly a radical idea, and I suspect that if you look around your workplace, few of the managers are at risk of being selfless givers, more concerned with your welfare than their own. I mean, they’re always ready to give you more work than you can possible handle, and when it comes to providing criticism of the way you do your job, the bosses are always very generous, but in a matters of money, few are shaking “The Giving Tree.”

In developing a taxonomy for the generous in business, Professor Grant suggests that there are “takers, who look out for themselves exclusively; matchers, who operate on a one-for-one basis, and givers, who part with whatever is asked of them and seek nothing in return.”

If you’re not 100 percent certain where you stand in the giving game, there is a way to gauge your essential goody-goodyness. On the Give and Take website, cleverly named giveandtake.com, there is a test you can take, answering 15 questions that allow the website to assess whether you are a giver, a matcher, or a taker.

(Since I want you to be informed, I subjected myself to the testing ordeal. I can report that the questions revolved around thoughtless friends and needy co-workers asking for ridiculously inappropriate favors. Shockingly, the assessment showed me to be 99 percent a taker, which is obviously a mistake.)

Being a total giver myself, I can offer you a better way to determine where you fit on the goodness scale. Go get a cashier’s check for 50 dollars and send it to me at the First Bank and Trust of Pongo-Pongo. (That’s the hot new location for offshore banking, now that we’ve learned that certain offshore banks — yes, I’m talking about you, Cayman Islands — are being run by blabbermouths.)

If you never get a thank you, which I can pretty much guarantee will be the case, and if that makes you feel cheated, then you are obviously a “taker,” totally unable to “part with whatever is asked of them and seek nothing in return.”

Really, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Or, when you send me that cashier’s check — and feel free to make it out to “cash.” No reason to rile the “takers” at the IRS — if you request that I provide 50 dollars of services in return, you’ll know that you’re a “matcher.” (And, sure enough, in return for your money, I will promise to spend 15 minutes thinking about you, while I get my morning palm-oil massage, for exactly one week. Double the amount of the check, and I will also toast you with my morning margarita.)

Of course, if you send off the 50 and don’t ask or receive anything in return, and you never think about the money again, nor beat yourself up for being a stupid idiot, nor do anything truly reckless, like tracking me down and beating the 50 out of me, then you, dear reader, are truly a “giver.” And you will definitely receive.

In fact, you can expect to receive about 200 emails a day from friends who have been mugged on business trips and urgently need $500 to get home, and from Nigerian lawyers, who want you to act on their behalf in the transfer of an multi-million dollar inheritance.

To which, I say, go for it. In this world, being a sap is what being a giver is all about.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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