My Life as a Disagreeable Giver
As co-founders of 106 Miles, the biggest Meetup group specifically for entrepreneurial engineers, Adam Rifkin and I spend a lot of time helping smart techies who want to start their own ventures. It’s our joy and privilege to do what we can, but the nature of the aid we provide is probably not what you might think. In fact I feel that the most valuable service we provide for budding entrepreneurs is crisp, targeted, personalized DISCOURAGEMENT.
For instance, a few years back Adam asked me to meet with a classic entrepreneurial duo. They were a smart team with trust built up between them over a few years. They had genuinely original, defensible, and very cool technology. They were open to go-to-market ideas. Basically they had everything you’d look for in a team at their stage — except for one thing: by the end of the initial meeting I was 90% convinced that they didn’t own their IP and probably never would. (I’ve never worked with a team who ended up being happy with IP lawyers from outside Silicon Valley, by the way — if you need one, ask me.)
I told them all of this as frankly as possible but it was obvious that they didn’t believe me. So I made this bet with them: I would introduce them in glowing terms to the #1 startup lawyer in the Valley, a guy so renowned that founders specifically try to befriend me just to get an introduction to him… and if he said their IP was unencumbered I would help them to the fullest extent of my ability. To my sorrow but not my surprise I never heard from that team again.
I never had a term for that type of interaction before I started reading the work of Wharton professor Adam Grant. In his bestselling and beloved book Give and Take, he lays out the three major types of people — givers, matchers, and takers — and how their proclivities play out in business and in life. But since then he has gone further with his taxonomy and proposed that in fact the most dangerous employee in your business is the “agreeable taker”, while the rarest but most valuable is the “disagreeable giver” who will go against the herd to save the group from itself. His latest book, Originals, is at a certain level all about the disagreeable givers who saved their organizations — and although he doesn’t dwell on this, the price they paid personally for their giving (spoiler alert: almost all of them get fired at least once).
Not to whine, but it is actually rather disagreeable to read that you’re disagreeable! It gets to you over time, especially if you’re destined to be cast as the bad cop next to a business partner who looks and acts like a panda bear, and is beloved by all. Efficaciously crushing the dreams of young entrepreneurs for their own good is actually not as much fun as it sounds… and if it makes them develop negative feelings about you, it’s REALLY not much fun.
Most importantly, as Adam Grant points out, we are probably hardwired to believe that a nice UI translates to good intentions, while a gruff manner and sharp tongue (especially for a woman!) are indicators of fundamental untrustworthiness. And that is the takeaway of this post: think about whether you have rejected the disagreeable givers in your life who could have helped you — or given too much time and attention to the agreeable takers! It takes practice and life experience to tease out the fundamental intentions of others from their social veneers.
Would love to hear your stories in the comments here or on Twitter…