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[The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea, by Bob Burg and John David Mann Portfolio, Expanded Edition (2008).]

As I mentioned in Day One of My Partnership to Success Journey, The Go-Giver is some homework reading aiming to orientate your frame of mind to that of a truly successful entrepreneur.

I liked the book very much – short, simple to read, easy to understand, and not a traditional “self-help” book. As a fictional story, the plot, needless to say, is a little idealized from time to time; opportunities for the protagonist to benefit from the lessons he learns seem to fall into his lap rather quickly. But this doesn’t detract from the principles themselves.

I also happen to believe that the core message of the book is true: in order to find success you should focus on what you can give to others ahead of what you either want or expect to gain.

In fact, as we shall see, The Go-Giver is little more than an illustration, or parable, of truths that have been known for centuries; they have simply become distorted by misapprehensions as to the true nature of voluntary trade and exchange. The Go-Giver is a welcome antidote in this regard.

However, I expect also that the book’s message is likely to be misunderstood (although the accompanying “Q&A” with the authors, placed at the end of the version I read, seeks to clarify its meaning somewhat). As such, the aim of this article is to elaborate on this message.

The most important aspect to realize about The Go-Giver is that it is not about charity. Nor does it say you should sacrifice any trace of dignity and self-respect by failing to stand up to those who may be undeserving of your time and attention – far from it. To assume that your only task, from here on in, is to display unrelenting generosity, or dispense reams of altruistic “help” devoid of focus, is to miss the point. In fact, in a world of limited time and resources, such an approach would lead to ruin.

The clue as to what the book is really about lies in its subtitle: “A Powerful Business Idea”. Indeed, the protagonist is a businessman seeking to make an income. His mentor is wealthy and successful, as are all of the individuals he consults. None of them offers a service for which they do not expect to be paid.

This is not to imply that The Go-Giver’s principles are inapplicable to familial, intimate, or non-monetary scenarios. In fact, one lesson in the book is especially pertinent for personal relationships, both within and outside of business world: never keep a mental score, or “ledger”, of obligations with your friends and colleagues. In otherwise, don’t demand that a favor be repaid with a favor.

But the real importance of the book’s message is what it tells us about the operation of the market economy – how social co-operation across tens, hundreds, thousands or even millions of people is made possible.

The key to this operation? The creation of value for others. It is on this aspect that I would like to elaborate.

The Creation of Value

In a market economy, two people enter a relationship of trade and exchange – even if they are complete strangers – because they each have different estimations of value for the goods or services they are offering. What do we mean by this?

Say that the butcher sells a steak to the baker in exchange for the baker’s loaf of bread. Why would they bother do this? It can only be because the butcher values the bread more than he values the steak, whereas the baker values the steak more than he values the bread.

In short, each wants what the other has more than what they each have already.

If this was not true, there could never be an exchange. If the butcher valued the steak more than he valued the bread, he would never part with that steak. Likewise, if the baker valued the bread more than he valued steak, then he would walk right by the butcher’s shop.

(When we say it like this, it sounds pretty simple. But this truth has confounded some of history’s greatest thinkers).

Now let’s take this simple fact one step farther: say that the butcher was willing to offer not one, but two steaks in exchange for the baker’s loaf of bread. In this case, wouldn’t the baker now be all the more eager to hand over that loaf of bread to the butcher? Aren’t two steaks better than just one?

But what if the butcher was to go all out, offering three or four steaks – may be even five? In this case, I expect that the baker would be hammering on the butcher’s door to take advantage of this unbelievable bargain.

This is the real blueprint of how to be a “go-giver” from a business perspective (and the one lesson from which all of the book’s principles are derived): the more abundantly you can create value for other people, the more likely it is that people will be willing to patronize your services.

Critically, “abundance” doesn’t just mean more in an absolute sense – rather, the key is the excess of what you offering compared to your asking price. For instance, two butchers could each offer to sell the baker five steaks. However, Butcher A offers to sell the steaks in exchange for only one load of bread. Butcher B, on the other hand, demands two loaves of bread.

Clearly, Butcher A, by offering a cheaper price, is creating a greater abundance of value for the baker. Indeed, in business, creating more value than your competitors is the real key that unlocks the door to success.

Value ≠ Money

Importantly, creating value doesn’t necessarily mean selling a superior, physical product, nor do you have to offer your product for less. In fact, there isn’t much indication that any of the successful entrepreneurs in The Go-Giver is offering an inherently better product than anyone else.

Instead, they create value in other ways. The restaurateur does so through the dining experience he creates, largely through his infectious personality. The realtor offers her integrity and authenticity.

Thus, being a “go-giver” doesn’t necessarily mean incurring higher costs or slimmer profit margins. You simply find non-monetary ways to do it.

In sum, The Go-Giver is essentially the flip side of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”; whereas the latter tells us that we serve others (or the “greater good”) through serving ourselves, in The Go-Giver, we serve ourselves through serving others.

As such, the wider lesson of The Go-Giver is that the marketplace, on its own, is not a zero-sum, “winner takes all” forum of pillage and plunder (as painted by politicians and critics). Rather, everybody benefits through voluntary trade and exchange.

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Buy The Go-Giver here

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To learn more about some of the principles outlined in this post, I recommend this short book.

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