How to win while being generous: Givers can avoid burnout by shunning free-riders and give-nothing-back takers

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant has a new book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. NY Times Magazine made it the cover story for March. I think this is a pretty useful model for thinking about the human beings around us:  

Grant’s book, incorporating several decades of social-science research on reciprocity, divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders. Much of Grant’s book sets out to establish the difference between the givers who are exploited and those who end up as models of achievement. 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. 

I blogged recently about lessons I learned in my first 2^5 years and I think these classifications of giver, matcher and taker fit with the third lesson well. Giving is a winning strategy in a world in which human beings are mirrors. But to avoid free-riderhood and to just plain protect yourself, you've got to identify takers and other zero-sum-thinkers and gracefully jettison their influence from your life.