A friend recently reminded me of a book review I wrote for one of those “get rich” books The Go Giver (below) for the sorely-missed Complete Lawyer. I reprint it here in the Negotiation Blog because I talk a lot about the power of reciprocity in bargaining. I’d summarize my response here, but I can’t say it any better than I did below.
The Go-Giver, A Guide to a Life Lived Richly
American business people have been writing self-help guides to financial success since Benjamin Franklin penned Advice to a Young Tradesman and Poor Richard’s Almanac. Business consultants Bob Burg and John Davis Mann add to this tradition a new parable — The Go-Giver, A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea.
As the title suggests, Burg and Mann recommend that we discard “go getting” — hard work focused on individual success — in favor of “go giving” – authentically passionate work focused on the success of others. To demonstrate how material wealth follows generous action, Burg and Mann create an elusive but legendary business consultant “Pindar,” who shares his Five Laws of Stratospheric Success with anyone who promises to practice these principles in all their affairs.
The pilgrim in this progress is “Joe,” an earnest and hard-working salesman on the brink of a third failed quarter. After promising to follow the laws Pindar teaches him, Joe meets a handful of spectacularly successful givers. These include former hot dog vendor Ernesto, who credits his restaurant and real estate empire to giving more than you take; Nicole, who owes her rise from school teacher to educational software titan to giving much to many; former insurance salesman Sam, whose many philanthropies thrive on giving without expectation of return; and, Debra, who learns to succeed in business by giving of her true self. Having quickly learned each lesson, Joe himself exemplifies Law No. 5 – the willingness to receive the bounty that flows from giving.
Unfortunately, as a guide to financial success, The Go-Giver is more fairy tale than instruction manual. All of the business icons Joe visits ascribe their riches to acts of authentic generosity. It is apparent from the context in which these stories arise, however, that the key here is neither virtue nor the inherent satisfaction to be found in giving. The key is choosing the right people to give to – those with wealth, monied connections or the power to create economic opportunities for others.
If we are moved to visit shut-ins; bring recovery meetings to incarcerated felons; or make micro-loans to third-world entrepreneurs, this book is not for us. This is focused giving and the focus is on the “haves,” not the “have nots.” If we are among the unemployed; the sick; or, the elderly, we’ll need another set of “Laws” for success – chief among them laws guaranteeing the education; training; and, health care necessary to enable us to make use of the opportunities created by the Go-Givers’ generosity. 
Walking the Razor’s Edge
Most Complete Lawyer readers are, however, the type of business people for whom The Go-Giver is written. No matter where we appear on the legal economic ladder, as educated people with access to the justice system, we are well poised to engage in random acts of kindness for, and reap rewards from, those who are well situated to spread a little green.  So long as we successfully negotiate the razor’s edge between opportunism and genuine acts of generosity, Burg and Mann’s advice will likely redound not only to our emotional and spiritual well-being, but also to our financial success.
Most readers will, of course, recognize Joe’s spectacular rise from failing salesman to coffee-bean multi-millionaire as the fairy tale the The Go-Giver all but announces itself to be. There is value here, however, in the quotidian acts of kindness in which Joe engages to satisfy Pindar’s requirement that he promptly practice the “Laws” conveyed.
The most credible results of Joe’s baby steps on the road to becoming a generous human being are his improved relationships with his fellows. Practicing “not keeping track,” Joe foregoes telling his wife his own work-a-day worries, focusing his entire attention upon the challenges of her day. His reward? An entirely believable note of love and gratitude on her pillow the following morning. Practicing “giving more value” than he receives, Joe serves coffee to his workmates as they struggle to meet a collective quarter-end deadline. Though Joe reports “feeling like an idiot” in doing so, it is clear that the warmth and bemused surprise expressed by is co-workers is its own reward.
The true lesson of The Go-Giver is not so much that material reward follows an expansive spirit, but that one’s daily pleasure increases with the size of one’s own heart. After all, when financial success eludes us – or crashes with the national economy – what we have to rely upon is not numbers on a ledger sheet, but the family, friends and neighbors who will see us through. If we give authentically without expectation of reward – because we “love to . . . as a way of life” – what we will reap is a life richly lived even if we do not thereby “get rich” in the process.
 As the Labor Department tells us, in the year 2000, “high school dropouts were more than twice as likely as high school graduates to be counted among the 31 million American “working poor” while only 1.4% of that number possessed college degrees. See A Profile of the Working Poor – 2000, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswp2000.htm. One’s existing occupation – the job we have been lucky or well-placed enough to be trained to do — is also highly correlated with financial success or failure. As the Labor Department reports, “[a]lmost 31 percent of the poor who worked during the year  were employed in [low skill] service occupations . . . .,” including “[p]rivate household workers, a subset of service workers that is made up largely of women, were the most likely to be in poverty (20 percent)”. On the other hand, those engaged in executive, administrative, managerial and professional occupations had low incidences of poverty since “[h]igh earning and full-time employment are typical in these occupations.”
 For a fascinating study of way in which social networks have benefited some and excluded others, including women and minorities, see University of Colorado History Professor Pamela Walker Laird’s book, Pull, Networking and Success Since Benjamin Franklin.
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