Earlier this month we lost musician Mac Miller to a drug overdose. A multi-instrumentalist best known for his rapping and production, Mac was a proud Pittsburgh native who others overwhelmingly described as “kind” and “warm.” Addiction is a terrible thing.
Reading the commentary after his death, I was reminded of Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take. Grant describes a continuum that people exist on, stretching end-to-end from takers to givers. Imagine a scale of reciprocity (how much one gets relative to what they give, and vice versa). Takers like to get more than they give so they strategically try to tilt the scale in their own favor. Givers do the opposite and prefer to give more than they get, choosing to tip the scale in favor of others. In the middle are matchers who keep track of how much giving and taking they, and others, do.
Grant explains that most people aren’t all of one, and that it’s normal to shift between styles in different roles and relationships. However, the key insight of his work has to do with how giver’s, taker’s and matcher’s styles correlate with success. While one might correctly assume that givers are most likely to be the least successful (“doormats and pushovers”), Grant also demonstrates that they are surprisingly the most successful cohort too. The middle ranges are populated by a mix of takers and matchers, but the extremes are for the givers. Focusing on the successful, he explains that the network effects of giving the right type of value to the right types of people can be extremely powerful, and is definitely not the behavior of a doormat. In his research he found that this analysis held true across multiple fields and industries.
In reading more about Mac Miller’s personal life, we see him taking the help given to him by fellow artist Wiz Khalifa in Pittsburgh, and multiplying that back into the world once he started to succeed. He famously lived in a largely empty house in California that held his personal recording studio, which he kept filled with people he wanted to give access to. He helped to launch the careers of current chart toppers like Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar amongst many, many others. We know he didn’t do this for personal gain as some type of mercenary, because the outpouring of gratitude towards him after his death is staggering.
Mac Miller was obviously a giver. His constant collaboration and assistance built a network of people that lifted him to the highest levels of success over his staggeringly short career. As Grant describes, successful givers don’t succeed first and give back later, but actually give first – which better positions them for success later.
Whether it’s with our clients, coworkers, friends or families – when we actively give our time, expertise and passion, we also help ourselves. It really does feel better to give than to receive. Take the lesson from Grant and Miller and go out and give something away with no strings attached. Do it enough times and you can’t even imagine what the rewards may be. RIP Mac.