An immensely popular business school professor at my alma mater, The University of Pennsylvania, is relying on yogic principles for his new theories relating to Organizational Psychology. He has adopted “helpfulness” as the centerpiece for his credo of pro-social motivation. Pro-social motivation is the desire to have a positive impact on other people, groups, and organizations without experiencing any financial reward for doing so.
Professor Grant has hit upon a notion that is at the heart of many yogic philosophies. Yoga, and its community of practitioners, espouse mindfulness, thoughtfulness, an approach of gratitude, and viewing one’s life as one of abundance.
Grant practices what he preaches; according to a New York Times article, “He is the colleague who is always nominating another for an award or taking the time to offer a thoughtful critique or writing a lengthy letter of recommendation for a student — something he does approximately 100 times a year.”
Organizational Psychology meet Karma
Organizational psychology is the academic field that Grant focuses on. It is concerned with how to structure work so that people will enjoy it and be motivated to keep doing it. For Professor Grant, helping is the motivator that acts as a catalyst to fuel increased productivity and creativity, not hinder it, which it might appear to do, at least superficially. Beyond financial compensation and the possibility for promotion, Grant feels that service to others — namely, the contribution of our work to other people’s lives — has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves. A chance to help someone else “is an opportunity to feel good about yourself and your work.”
In the world of yoga, we call that seva — service to or caring towards others done purely on a voluntary basis with no expectation in return except that we will feel good about it and receive blessings.
Givers, Matchers and Takers
Grant will be publishing a book called Give and Take in the coming months that will cover these topics in greater depth. In his work, Grant divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain, they never seem too busy to help, they share credit actively, and they mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their territory and relationships. Most people whom Grant surveyed fall into the matcher category.
How It Impacts Your World
Beyond the “seva” notion that is a part of yogic thinking, there are other instances of this form of prosocial behavior. In many ways, the very acts of teaching yoga or running a yoga studio are forms of “helpfulness.” While financial considerations are important in order to sustain life and keep the lights (or the heaters) on, compensation goes beyond monetary exchange. There is something else being felt that drives the desire and it isn’t easily quantifiable.
I think it is also important to develop a culture of this within your own establishment. As a teacher, you can lead by example; as a studio owner, you can do the same, and establish incentives for others to adopt this behavior. Also, selecting people to work at the studio who reflect these values will be beneficial. Given the plethora of yoga studio options out there, students need an incentive to keep coming back. Beyond schedules and specific teachers that they adore, if students feel that their studio has a “giver” orientation, they will be continuously attracted to that and will be more likely to step through your doors.
Beyond the Studio
I believe the sensation that Grant champions can be expanded beyond helping others to also include ideals: the environment, abuse of children, animal rights. When we give of ourselves to fight for a cause, there is a natural high that we experience.
Help someone or some cause today. You’ll feel great about it.