Get a Little “Otherish”: Finding Success Through Giving

May 10, 2017 | By Firefield CEO and Founder, Adam McGowan

Otherish? Is that even a word?

Truthfully, I really don’t know, but what I can tell you is this: my introduction to the concept has had an enormous impact on my life. As background, I learned the term “otherish” from the Wharton professor Adam Grant in his book “Give and Take”. Through his research, Grant makes a strong case that refutes the increasingly stale adage that “nice guys finish last”. Or better yet, his work may suggest that “nice <insert gender appropriate noun here> finish either first or last.” I’ll explain.


Can Givers Win?

“Give and Take” sets out to support the idea that when we sincerely think and act for the benefit of others first, we ourselves can reap rewards. And this benefit isn’t simply the feel-good sensation that may accompany benevolence. We’re talking about bonafide success here. That advancement, however, doesn’t come to all who give. In fact, blind selflessness (acting for others without being mindful of yourself) doesn’t produce banner results. It often leads to an individual so focused on helping others that he has no time to make personal progress. Worse still, truly selfless individuals may become the mark of “takers” who exploit their generosity. In light of bleak prospects, Grant’s concept of otherish-ness offers the world’s givers a bit of hope.

This concept is rooted in rethinking how we assess our interactions with others. If we assume an interpersonal exchange is a zero-sum game, then we might plot our approach as a single point on a scale ranging from “concerned for others” to “concerned for me”. As the self-interest of one party rises, the self-interest of the other side would need to fall. Stated simply – the more I win, the more you lose. By adding another dimension to the equation, Grant suggests that results don’t need to be so black or white.


Ambition and Care Can Coexist

In this two-dimensional system, concerns for self and concerns for others are assessed separately. Therein lies all the difference. Being otherish means that you have decided to place a high value on the concerns of others while still prioritizing your own self-interest. Grant sums this up far better than anyone else could:

Yet in my studies of what drives people at work, I’ve consistently found that self-interest and other-interest are completely independent motivations; you can have both of them at the same time… If takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.


Fakers Beware

And now for my personal word of caution. It’s easy for an ambitious person to leverage giving as a tool instead of viewing it as a motivation. In that scenario, every act of good will is nothing more than a search for reciprocity. Interactions will be sized up for their near-term value, and many opportunities to truly help will be cast aside for a quicker and more obvious “win”. I can only speak for myself, but such an approach may feel like a success for a time, but it’s a hollow pursuit. When the shine of a new client or sale wears off, you might very well be disappointed with the prospects ahead.



In my attempts to practice what I preach, I’ve started spending more and more time encouraging otherish giving in others. Earlier this year, I kicked off a collection of events called the Spark Series. While there is no dollar cost to participate, attendance isn’t free. If you show up, your lead in when meeting someone new should be “how can I help?”… and you’re expected to make good on your promises. This endeavor is still young, but the early results have been very, very promising.


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