#063 Winning through giving inspired by Adam Grant

#063 Winning through giving inspired by Adam Grant

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#058 Purpose in everyday life

Episode Transcript

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Hi everyone! Welcome to "How to Live," a podcast that explores ways to live a good life. I'm your host, Sharad Lal. This is Episode 63.

"Nice guys finish last"—or do they?

We've all rooted for the underdog. The hero who’s helping others - keeps getting left behind. But in the end, against all odds finishes on top. 

These tales inspire us, but when we look around, especially in the competitive business world, the reality seems grim. 

How often have we seen good men and women, who give without expecting anything in return, end up overlooked or overshadowed?

It was with a dose of scepticism that I picked up Adam Grant's "Give and Take." Adam divides us into three categories: givers, takers, and matchers, and he's done tons of research exploring who ends up on top.

Unsurprisingly, givers finish last. But here’s the intriguing part: they also finish first.

How can that be?

It turns out not all givers are the same. Today, we're going to unravel the mystery behind successful givers. We’ll build on Adam’s work and introduce our theories around meaningful and desperate giving, examine the dynamics of the asking-giving relationship, and uncover strategies for thriving as a giver.

Because, giving doesn't just enrich others—it paves the way to our own fulfilment and success.

Before we dive in, I want to thank my speaking mentor Avi Liran who encouraged me to read this book.  And for everyone listening - thank you for your incredible support. If you enjoy our podcast please follow and rate us. Now, let's get started on unravelling the secrets to living as a successful giver.


In my early career, I observed countless instances where dedicated team players toiled away, only to see their hard-earned credit snatched away by others. It was disheartening to witness givers consistently losing out to takers. However, as the years passed, I noticed a fascinating shift – the emerging power of reputation.

Over time, people begin to recognize who truly puts in the effort and who simply free rides on the achievements of others.

A sort of meritocracy starts to emerge. Givers begin to succeed.

Adam Grant’s "Give and Take," with its extensive research, solidified this observation for me. Once again he has three groups: givers, takers, and matchers. In the short term, it might seem like takers and matchers come out on top, but as time passes, givers rise to the forefront. 

However, there's a catch – givers who succeed are those who manage to give without sacrificing their own well-being. They take care of themselves, ensuring they're not giving at their own expense. Adam refers to this as "otherish giving," a concept we'll delve into deeper later in the episode.

The book positions otherish givers at the top, followed by matchers, then takers. And at the bottom are givers who extend themselves to the point of burning out. 

Why does this happen?

The first reason, as we've touched on, is the long-term impact of reputation. When tough times hit, like layoffs or economic downturns, those known for stealing credit often find it hard to secure new opportunities. In contrast, givers find themselves surrounded by a network of people who are more than willing to go the extra mile to assist them.

There’s also the factor of emotional support. Everyone roots for the givers. When they succeed, it feels like a collective victory. This goodwill encourages them forward. 


Inspired by Adam’s exploration of otherish giving, I've reflected on my own journey with generosity, leading me to what I call "meaningful giving."

Adam outlines otherish giving as giving without harming ourselves. The emphasis of this idea is to control the downside of giving.

What if we could go a step further?

What if, in addition to minimizing our own loss, we also focus on maximizing the receiver's gain?

This is where my concept of meaningful giving comes into play. 

It's making significant contributions that go beyond the superficial, impacting the receiver's in life-altering ways. It’s not mere transactions of how much we give but the impact we have. 

A prime example of meaningful giving involves two prominent scientists. 

When Neil deGrasse Tyson, a -17-year-old from the Bronx, who dreamt of becoming a scientist applied to Cornell -  he received an unexpected letter. 

It was from none other than Carl Sagan, a renowned astrophysicist and professor at Cornell. Sagan hosted the popular show Cosmos and was a hero to many aspiring scientists. 

He  invited Tyson to spend a day at Cornell, offering to personally show him around the labs. He even suggested Tyson could stay at his home if the bus back to New York ran late.

Sagan’s act of kindness giving his time, attention, and encouragement deeply touched Tyson. Tyson later went onto become one of the greatest astrophysicists of his generation. 

He quotes this act of generous giving as the most influential event that inspired him. Today, as a leading astrophysicist Tyson is now shaping the world’s understanding of the universe.

Imagine the fulfilment Carl Sagan would feel, knowing his simple, meaningful act of giving played such a huge role not only in a man’s life but in the future of mankind. 

We may not reach this scale of impact but sometimes helping someone land a job can change their career and life path, or advice at a critical moment can pull someone out of a tough situation. 

This is meaningful giving - creating a deep impact in someone’s life and possibly even changing the trajectory of their life path. I find this the ultimate act of giving. 

However, achieving this level of impact involves several factors: offering something genuinely useful, ensuring the recipient is ready to accept and benefit, and yes, a bit of luck. It requires alignment—not just between the giver and the receiver, but with the universe itself, readying all involved for meaningful change.


That’s why, sadly, not all attempts at giving can have a meaningful impact. 

But the feeling is so good than in trying to replicate it we fall into the trap of meaningful giving - 

Desperate Giving

The other side of the coin. 

Desperate giving makes us so desperate for that profound satisfaction that we offer more than welcome or beneficial. Simply put, we can overwhelm others with our eagerness to help, even when they're not ready or willing to accept it.

I recall a time when I started  a non-profit mentoring program. I was so eager for it to succeed that I found myself hounding mentees toward opportunities. I wasn’t  fully considering their readiness or the space they needed to embrace change. I just wanted this program to succeed and make an impact on peoples’ lives. 

To those I may have unintentionally overwhelmed—I offer sincere apologies.

Mentoring often requires us to challenge and push people, and some respond positively to a more assertive approach. However, the line between encouragement and compulsion is fine, and it's crucial to remain vigilant. The question we must ask ourselves is whether our giving is truly for the benefit of the other person, or is it becoming more about fulfilling our own needs.

Related to this is unsolicited advice, which often carries an implicit judgement. This could sometimes be our need to appear superior or our own projection. 

At its extreme, desperate giving can show up as what psychologists call  'savior complex,'

Where we feel we are the ones to save someone whether they like it or not. This energy blinds us to the possibility we could be more harmful than helpful.

Another question that can help clarify intentions is -  'How much of my ego is involved here and how useful is my contribution?.


So, if we’re able to watch out for desperate giving, how do we increase the likelihood of meaningful giving? 

For that magic to happen, many factors must align—the problem should be identifiable and solvable, the solutions effective, the timing appropriate, and the recipient ready to take action.

Yet, beyond all these, there's one pivotal factor that often leads to disappointment in many of these interactions:

The real need isn't clear.

Maybe someone seeking help believes their career is stalling. Has numerous discussions on the topic - but no breakthrough is achieved. Everyones frustrated. Could be because the root issue wasnt address. The real issue could perhaps be a personal or family challenge. 

How often have we seen such misalignments?

There are many reasons for this disconnect. The most common is a lack of clarity about the real problem. When something's wrong, we tend to blame the usual suspects, like a slow promotion, without digging deeper. Factors like shame or societal expectations hide our true needs. 

Maybe it’s not the slow career that's troubling us but rather a comparison with a spouse who's excelling in their career. Shame might prevent us from even acknowledging this to ourselves.

If we  manage to be honest with ourselves and pinpoint the true issue, the fear of judgement might deter us from sharing it with others.  

Sometimes, being overly polite and nervous can make us talk in circles, hiding what we truly need. On the other hand, an attempt at clarity can come off as blunt or disrespectful, mistakenly portraying us as takers.

Given these challenges, how can we, as givers, effectively address these issues?

As givers, identifying the need becomes our most crucial task. Once the need is clearly understood, half the battle is won, often revealing the solution itself.

To achieve this, we should devote the initial sessions to exploration. Adopting a curious mindset, we ask questions to grasp the context, motives, and the real challenge, zooming out to see the bigger picture. 

In doing this - we should create a safe, judgement-free space that allows the other person to comfortably unravel the layers of their situation.

If, during this process, we realise the issue is too personal or beyond our expertise, it's crucial to manage our ego and suggest external help. 

It's about recognizing our limits and prioritising the other person's needs over our desire to be the solver of the problem.


In summary, giving can bring us immense joy. Playing a meaningful role in someone else's story offers tremendous fulfilment. However, in our eagerness to contribute, it's crucial to be mindful of the pitfalls of desperate giving and begin by clearly understanding needs.

Giving is contagious. Once we start on this journey, we'll inspire others around us, fostering an environment rich in generosity.

This approach not only enriches our lives but also shows that, even in the real world, nice guys can indeed finish on top!

What has been your experience with giving? We'd love to hear about your experiences with giving. Reach out to us at sharadlal.net/contact or follow us on the linkedin handle sharadlal24. Your story could inspire others!


I hope you found this episode both useful and uplifting. If you enjoyed our discussion today, you might also appreciate episode 58 on 'Purpose in Everyday Life.'

As we part ways, I'd like to leave you with a few reflective questions to consider:

Reflect on your recent acts of giving and contributing to others. Who have you helped?

In what situations do you find yourself giving in a way that feels meaningful?

How does engaging in meaningful giving make you feel?

What improvements can you make in how you give?

What lessons have you learned from your experiences of giving?

I wish you the best of luck as you continue on your journey of giving. Remember, every act of kindness, no matter how small, makes a difference

The next episode will drop 2 weeks from now on Mar 26th. Do join us for that. Till next time have a wonderful day ahead. Bye Bye.