Archive for April 25th, 2013


magnificent obsession

Magnificent Obsession made into a 1954 movie starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson

Yesterday on the radio, I heard an author of a new book being interviewed. The author was Adam Grant, Wharton’s youngest tenured professor. The book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, was released earlier this month, and it reminds me of a couple books from the olden days—books that literally changed my life.

The new book first. According to

For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. According to Grant, it turns out that at work, most people operate either as takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others, and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

Using his own research, Grant shows that these styles have a surprising impact on success.

Although some givers get exploited and burn out, the rest achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries. Combining cutting-edge evidence and captivating stories, this landmark book shows how one of America’s best networkers developed his connections, why the creative genius behind one of the most popular shows in television history toiled for years in anonymity, how a basketball executive responsible for multiple draft busts transformed his franchise into a winner, and how we could have anticipated Enron’s demise four years before the company collapsed—without ever looking at a single number.

Give and Take’s central premise appears to be that if the giving comes first, success will follow. This landmark book opens up an approach to success that has the power to transform not just individuals and groups, but entire organizations and communities.

Adam Grant is the youngest tenured professor and single highest-rated teacher at The Wharton School. An award-winning researcher and teacher, his consulting and speaking clients include Google, the NFL, Merck, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, the World Economic Forum, the United Nations, and the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. He has been honored as one of BusinessWeek’s favorite professors and one of the world’s top 40 business professors under 40. A leading expert in work and success, he has published more than 50 articles during the last five years in prominent psychology and management journals. He has appeared on the Today Show, CNN, and the Diane Rehm show, and was recently profiled in the New York Times magazine cover story, “Is giving the secret to getting ahead?” He holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan and a B.A. from Harvard University. He is a former record-setting advertising director, junior Olympic springboard diver, and professional magician.

For more details, see

Although the idea of giving to others first may seem like a new idea, this is really an old one, according to some going back to Christ (though I suspect it predates Christ by thousands of years). When I was just a kid, my mom gave me two books for Christmas that I still prize: Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal and The Magnificent Obsession, both by former minister Lloyd C. Douglass.

(I just checked, and Secret Journal appears to be out-of-print and available only at great expense, but Magnificent Obsession appears to be for sale at less than $20.)

This book about obsession actually became an obsession for scores of readers, including me. Lloyd C. Douglas wrote about the deluge of mail he received from readers who wanted to live out the principles of the novel in their own lives. As the two books make clear, the principle is based on a Biblical passage, the finding of which became an all-consuming goal for me many years ago. The principle of giving first and deriving something later assumed an almost magical power. It is this same dynamic that Grant’s research seems to show as being real.

The Magnificent Obsession (1929) is the story of the transformation of a young man—a churlish, spoiled, rich man who foolishly wrecks his speed boat—and whom the rescue team resuscitates with equipment that’s unavailable to aid a local hero, Dr. Hudson, who dies as a result. This experience leads the young man, reluctantly, to an unexpected life of full-immersion, anonymous philanthropy that helps others without feeding his ego. He becomes consumed with the task of helping others—sacrificing his time, effort, and money in order to do so. Ultimately the burdens he consents to bear are instrumental in leading him to his highest life goals. He develops a more “powerful personality.”  His life is redeemed and he greatly affects the lives of many others. His actions are emulated by those around him.

One person can truly change the world.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Nat King Cole performing “Magnificent Obsession”