How May I Help You? The Genius of the Reciprocity Ring
In my experience, about 80 percent of requests get a meaningful lead that a person couldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Adam Grant is the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and a leading expert on success, work motivation, and helping and giving behaviors. He has been recognized as Wharton’s single-highest-rated teacher, one of the world’s 40 best business professors under 40, and one of BusinessWeek’s favorite professors. Previously, he was a record-setting advertising director at Let’s Go Publications, an All-American springboard diver, and a professional magician.
Adam earned his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan, completing it in less than three years, and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa honors. He has been honored with the Excellence in Teaching Award for every class that he has taught. He has presented for leaders at organizations such as Google, the NFL, Merck, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, IBM, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. He has appeared on CNN and CBC, and designed several experiential learning activities based on The Apprentice in which students have raised over $175,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation while developing leadership, influence, networking and collaboration skills.
Adam’s research has been featured in bestselling books, including Quiet by Susan Cain, Drive and To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, as well as hundreds of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine,USA Today, The Financial Times, Oprah Magazine, and the Freakonomics blog. Adam has more than 60 publications in leading management and psychology journals, and his pioneering studies have increased performance and reduced burnout among engineers and sales professionals, enhanced call center productivity, and motivated safety behaviors among doctors, nurses and lifeguards. In 2011, he won the triple crown of prestigious scholarly achievement awards from the American Psychological Association, the Academy of Management, and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
There’s a very powerful exercise created by Wayne Baker at the University of Michigan and his wife Cheryl Baker at Humax Networks. What they do is they assume that there are actually a lot of people who would enjoy helping others but they don’t know what other people need. And at the same time there are other people who have requests that they would love to make but they don’t know where to go.
The reciprocity ring is a solution to both of these problems. What you often do is bring a group of people together – it might be as few as eight or as many as 30. And you ask each person to make a request. It has to be a meaningful request. It could be personal or professional. And ideally it’s one that you couldn’t fulfill yourself even though it’s important to you. Everybody else in the group then is challenged to use their knowledge and their networks to try to figure out if they can make the request happen.
I’ve seen some very diverse requests over the years. I run the reciprocity ring frequently with groups of employees in organizations as well as with students in my own classroom. I’ve had people ask to meet their favorite celebrity, to see a sporting event, to find a job. But also there are things like "I want to see a Bengal tiger in the wild." Or, "I have a friend who can’t find clothes that fit because her growth was stunted due to a health problem and can anybody help me find the right contact in the garment industry to work with her." And it’s really remarkable to see how many people underestimate the access in these networks in which, in my experience, about 80 percent of requests get a meaningful lead that the person couldn’t have gotten otherwise.
I think it’s a great opportunity for people to number one, figure out how they can act like givers because you actually get to see all these needs and requests and figure out how you can help. And number two, also realize that actually giving can be more efficient than matching. If you are a matcher you are typically only able to reach out to the people that you have exchanged a lot of help with in the past. Whereas, if you have this structure where everyone is actually willing to help everyone else in the group, you can then go to the person who actually is best suited to help you as opposed to the person you have a strong relationship with.
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