Give or Take: A Practical Real-World Experiment – and You’re Invited

by Ken Howard

I’m planning a real-world experiment in the social impact of giving and taking, and I’d like to invite your participation.

30 years ago, I designed a structured group experience to test a two-part hypothesis:

Part A: There are three kinds of people in world (I’m not the first to make this observation):

  1. Givers: People who give without thought of getting.
  2. Takers: People who take without thought of giving.
  3. Exchangers: People who are willing to give, but only if they get equal value in return.

Part B: It is better to give, than to take…or exchange. Not just better for the soul, but actually more productive.

The structured experience was called Stock Exchange. It involved dividing a large group of people into teams, giving them a task to complete, and inviting them to attempt to complete the task successfully in three successive rounds with different instructions on how the teams were to behave toward each other.

The task was simple: gather a specified number of four different colors of poker chips, knowing that the facilitator had distributed to the groups exactly the number of poker chips for all groups to succeed (though not in the amounts each group needed).

The instructions for the three rounds were also very simple:

Round 1 – Taking: Groups were instructed to look out only for themselves. They could ask for, beg for, or steal the chips they needed from the other groups, but could not give or exchange chips. (Do unto others before they do unto you.)

Round 2 – Exchanging: Groups were now allowed to make quid-pro-quo exchanges with other groups. They could only give as many chips as they got. (Do unto others exactly what they do unto you.)

Round 3 – Giving: Groups were instructed to look out not for themselves but for every other group. They were to gather up all the chips of each color of which they had an excess and distribute them to groups with shortages of those color chips. (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)

Over 100’s of uses, the results of the three rounds have always seemed to follow this pattern:

Round 1: Taking – Everybody Loses: Resource inequalities develop rapidly. Because groups hoard their resources, every group ends up with a glut of one or two chip colors, but a dearth of all the others.

Round 2: Exchanging – Most Everybody Loses: Occasionally a group will succeed in the task but mostly none do, since quid-pro-quo exchanges cannot succeed in addressing resource inequalities.

Round 3: Giving – Everybody Wins: Because every group has every other group looking out for them, hoarding stops, resource inequalities are addressed, and all succeed.

But now I’d like to get a more scientific read on my hypothesis…and I’d like your help.

It’ll be easy as 1-2-3. All you have to do is:

  1. Click here to download Stock Exchange.
  2. Try it in your organization.
  3. Send me the result using the form below.

When I publish the results, you and your organization will be listed in the acknowledgement!

Looking forward to hearing from you.

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