Saturday, March 10, 2018

Off the Shelf:
Give and Take

Collaboration. Influence. Leadership. These are all concepts held high by business experts. Indeed, "success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others," as the cover notes state for the book I'm reading this month. This, however, is not only the key to success in business, but "an approach...that has the power to transform not just individuals and groups, but entire organizations and communities."

While I've always kept an eye on those skills which can lead to success in business, what I've been focusing on lately has been success in other types of organizationsand of communities. In particular, stepping into my new role as president of our local genealogical society this month, I'm keen to examine what can help our group grow. More than that, I want to explore how we can build a community around the value of respecting our heritage.

I feel that, in our current decade, we've seen organizations build resources that are not only particularly helpful to genealogists, but have also fostered an interest in beginning to learn about family history. Thanks to everything from direct-to-consumer DNA test commercials to television mini-series exploring the roots of favorite celebrities, the concept that anybody can learn about his or her family heritage has become so widespread as to create a groundswell of demand for genealogical education.

Our local genealogical societies are uniquely situated to step in and be the boots-on-the-ground for this training mission. But we can't just work ourselves to the bone, trying to repeat the same time-worn tactics used in past decades.

That's where the book I'm reading, Adam Grant's Give and Take, comes in. A specialist in organizational psychology and a leading professor at the Wharton School of Business, Adam Grant zeroes in on one aspect of interpersonal working style that, in the long run, leads to successful outcomes. That aspect is what he calls giving.

There are givers, the author explains, and there are takers. Those who contribute to the success of othersthrough their help, their advice, their recommendationswhile not expecting anything in return he calls givers. Givers don't operate on a zero-sum-game paradigm. They are willing to do what it takes for the benefit of the group's success.

The more I read of Adam Grant's book, the more I see his recommendationsbacked up by a broad spectrum of research resultsas applicable to us in genealogical societies. Everything from our overarching organizational mission to the nitty-gritty of our daily operational efforts has the fingerprints of giving embedded in it. Though I'm only halfway through the book at this point, I've found inspiration for re-envisioning our society efforts as a team building adventure. What we do as a society enables us to guide others, new to genealogy, in such a way as to encourage them to pass those lessons along to others in the community.

There is so much that genealogy can give to a communitya sense of who we are, of the value of our heritage, of a purpose for that to be carried forward into the future. The time seems more right than ever before to seize the opportunity to give back to our local communities with the gift of genealogy.

In order to do that, though, we need to equip ourselves with foundational concepts of how to develop such an organization. Adam Grant's Give and Take has sparked several thoughts in my mind about how to reshape our board and our entire organization to face the challenge of meeting this greater demand for training and coaching new researchers.

Several years ago, my predecessor, Sheri Fenley, had commented that there were many more people out there in our county interested in genealogy than attended our meetings and events. Perhaps that was her unscientific assessment, but her conviction that it was so is now becoming more visible to me, as well. They are out there, those people who yearn to know more about their family's saga. Somehow, we need to connect with them, to work together with them so they will be their most successful at digging for those answers. It would do us well, even as small and local nonprofit organizations, to learn from the work of authors and instructors such as Adam Grant. What this book contains is advice that reaches far beyond the realm of the business world. It speaks to us, too. 



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