Monday, January 04, 2016

Educating The Modern Professional: Developing The Culture of Contribution

Adam Grant, in his excellent 'Give and Take', shows how Givers, those who seek to create value for others first, win at the modern workplace. His key point, that Giving, seeking to create value first, is a better professional strategy than Taking, seeking value for oneself, or even Matching, giving after norms of reciprocity have been clearly established. 

He cites three reasons for the enhanced effectiveness of Giving. First, the essential difference between Giving and Taking may have been the focus on Long Term. Givers thought longer term, and they knew creating value always paid back over time. With accelarated pace of our lives, this long term has become shorter, thereby creating a more immediate payback for giving and making it a better professional approach. Second, the increased prevalence of collaborative work, and relative decline of independent working, has shone the spotlight on the Givers, making them more desired as colleagues. As a member of the team who focuses on contributing rather than counting his/her own benefit first, Givers stand out. Third, most people today work in Services, and if we think our Doctors, Lawyers, Financial Advisors are concerned about our well-being, we tend to value them more highly. While it may not have mattered in independently operating production jobs, Giving holds the centerpiece in service work.

This sounds counter-intuitive, and it is. But that may be because our intuition, shaped by the zero-sum mentality, may be out of date. There is enough evidence, from personal experiences and examples and studies cited by Professor Grant and others, that Giving works, and works well. Sudhakar Ram, well-regarded CEO of the Indian software company, Mastek, and an astute observer and author, makes the point about moving away from Scarcity Mentality to Abundance mentality in shaping our career strategies. Features of the modern professional work - 24x7, visible, relationship-oriented - are focusing our minds on the primacy of value-creation, rather than value-extraction, and this makes the Giver mentality a key asset for success.

Our system of education, though, inordinately rewards the Taking approach over Giving. Most educational settings are built around individual excellence, independent work and getting ahead of others. Collaborative work is mostly extra-curricular, and despite the shift of focus on the extra-curricular in the employment interviews, curriculum makers have failed to take notice. Speaking with the employers, we see that this is what they see as the most important failure of the traditional education - that it does not 'teach' people to work in teams and insufficiently focus on the contribution to any collective endeavour. Professor Grant uses a study of Belgian Medical students to highlight how Givers lag behind in the first year of Medical school, when independent coursework is preeminent, but rise to the top in the later years, as it involves more and more work with other people, interacting with patients, doing rounds etc. 

It seems that the divergence of world of education and world of work is closely related to the changing paradigm of work. Besides, because Customer Centricity, Contribution to Collective Efforts and associated behaviour are so important to career progression, one could point of the misalignment of educational values as one key reason why so many people remain underemployed, or suffer from false starts early in their career. One way of attending to this is to install project-based, collaborative work at the heart of the educational enterprise, which should prepare the modern professionals fittingly and with right values.




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