A few weeks before I left Google, something funny happened. My manager who is a Stanford GSB Alum asked me for a conversation. He wanted to share with me the top mistake which he was predicting I would do during the next two years at business school. Not necessarily a charming way to wish me the best on my new chapter I thought, but hey, you shouldn't say no to free advise, right?
So while this article is probably more/most useful for an ongoing MBA, the lesson he shared with me has general validity and applicability to situations beyond business school.
The "fear of missing out of giving"
John came up with this notion called “FOMOG” – the fear of missing out of giving. If you happen to have read Adam Grant’s “Give and Take,” (which I can highly recommend if you haven’t) this topic might sound somewhat familiar to you.
With FOMOG, he was describing the constant desire – if not even urge – to be contributing to others and the community. His argument was that many people who go to business school have this attitude of relentlessly wanting to contribute to class and the community.
While giving is generally a good thing (and here again, the book “Give and Take” makes a very strong point in favor of being a giver) there are different forms of giving and it’s important to keep a healthy balance among those forms. Going “all in” on the most popular category of giving, called the “Rockstar," can actually have negative returns as it diminishes the ability to receive.
In summary, there are three forms of giving and the different measures of impact that they each have.
1) The Rockstar – the very impressive form of giving: organizing a big class trip, a popular event, leading a club, etc.). A lot of people see your impact, get to know your name, benefit from what you do. It’s very "1:n” – you do a lot for many people, but you are not giving on a 1:1 level. This is a popular category as it provides a “stage to shine”
2) The Supporter – the giving opportunities that everyone knows are important but which receive much less credit: mentoring someone for 6 months, volunteering at an event, etc. Here it’s a “1:few” relationship where you are impacting fewer people, but in a more (inter)personal way.
3) The Trustee – the giving you do towards your closest friends and family which is very 1:1 and mostly unknown to others. This could be face to face conversations in which you discuss problems and solutions. However, you wouldn’t be bragging about how much impact you have with your family for example.
As you can see, there is a reversed relationship between “publicity and fame” and how “targeted and personal” your giving is (the Rockstar is high in publicity but not very targeted. The Trustee is the other way around).
By now, I probably talked to 50+ alum and if there was one recurring pattern in the advise they gave me, it was the importance to prioritize the third category, being a Trustee. They all talked about the 1:1 relationships they were able to build and that this sort of giving has been the most meaningful as they are still “receiving” through those relationships today. They were acknowledging the benefits of the Rockstar-type of giving, but they also made clear that the publicity and fame would oftentimes compromise the long-tern return of that type of giving.
My manager’s point was that many people who are natural givers aim for the 1:n-type giving which comes with a lot of publicity and fame (the Rockstar), but one that is not targeted and personal at all. And often times, this sort of giving takes a lot of giving-effort, without creating a venue for receiving on a personal level and a targeted manner. In his words: “the extent to which you dedicate yourself to category one (Rockstar) or two (Supporter), you automatically compromise on category 3 (Trustee). But the truth is that you need to create that room because the Trustee category is the one through which you’d be receiving most."
The longest-lasting value of any sort of experience can often times be found in the relationships that result from that experience. With that in mind, it’s important to find a balance among these three types of giving and to ensure that you give off stage (Trustee) as much as you give on stage (Rockstar & Supporter).