The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea by Bob Burg and John David Mann is one of my top favorite books. I’ve read it multiple times. It’s well-written. It’s a short and smooth read, and the authors have turned what could have been dry material into something very enjoyable.
That’s the short version of my book review for The Go-Giver. Keep reading for the longer version, and you’ll discover the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.
What Is the Secret to Success?
The Go-Giver tells a story, a modern-day parable, about what it takes to do extremely well in life, not only in business. We follow along as the main character, Joe, learns each of the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success from Pindar and other teachers, including a surprise teacher for the fifth Law.
Whenever I quote directly from the authors Bob Burg and John David Mann, I will credit them like that. Whenever I quote from the story, I’ll credit the name of the character I am quoting from, as follows:
- Ernesto Iafrate;
- Nicole Martin;
- Sam Rosen;
- Susan; and
- Debra Davenport.
I have the expanded edition of The Go-Giver on Kindle, which includes extras such as a Discussion Guide and a Q&A with the Authors. I’ll cover those specific extras after I’ve gone through the story.
The Go-Giver reveals the secret to success, and it’s something that Arianna Huffington talks about in the Foreword of the book.
“Being a giving person is how you achieve success in the first place, however you define success.” – Arianna Huffington
The secret to success isn’t something new. You’ve likely heard it and seen it in multiple other places already, but the way it’s presented in The Go-Giver is compelling, easily digestible, and well-explained. It makes sense on both an emotional level and a logical level.
In the story, Joe learns each of the Five Stratospheric Laws of Success one day at a time. He applies each Law the same day that he learns it. The majority of the story takes place over five days, but those five days are enough to transform Joe’s entire life.
I found Joe to be a relatable character. I identified with his struggles, including what he was learning and how to apply it.
I’ve often thought that I don’t have anything worth giving or that nobody wants what I have to offer. Those are both mistaken ideas, but that’s where I’ve been stuck for so much of my life.
In the Introduction to the Revised Edition, the authors, Bob Burg and John David Mann, detail the impact The Go-Giver has had since it first debuted. Also, they admit that what they write about is counter-intuitive, but it’s how the world really works.
“The more you give, the more you have.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
That quote references how all Five Laws of Stratospheric Success work together. Giving without receiving leads to poverty, but giving and receiving leads to stratospheric success.
The authors invite readers to apply the Five Laws to their lives and see what happens.
The Story Begins
When we first meet Joe, he is struggling. He doesn’t get what he’s after. He works hard, but his efforts don’t pay off how he would like them to. Thankfully, Joe is aware enough to know he needs help. He realizes he can’t succeed in doing things as he’s always done. He needs something more, something different.
Joe needs a mentor, so he sets up a meeting with Pindar, someone that Joe has heard about by reputation. Joe knows that Pindar has achieved what Joe is after, so it makes sense to find out if Pindar is willing to help him.
Pindar doesn’t waste any time getting started at their first meeting, and he tells Joe what Larry King said to him once.
“A person can reach a certain level of success without being particularly special. But to get really, really big, to reach the kind of stratospheric success we’re talking about, people need to have something on the inside, something that’s genuine.” – Larry King
After some foreshadowing for the end of the book, Pindar wants to ensure he and Joe are approaching wealth creation with the same mindset.
“There’s nothing wrong with making money. … It’s just not a goal that will make you successful.” – Pindar
With that, Pindar tells Joe what the secret to success is.
“The secret to success is giving.” – Pindar
Any italics and underlines I included in the quotes were in the original text. I noticed this time just how many italics are in the book.
There are many clues throughout the story that the character of Pindar is based on Bob Proctor, and the authors confirm that to be the case. It’s a nice touch to have at least one of the characters in The Go-Giver based on a real person. If you’re familiar with Bob Proctor, you might hear his voice when you read what Pindar says.
“Most of us have grown up seeing the world as a place of limitation rather than as a place of inexhaustible treasures. A world of competition rather than one of co-creation.” – Pindar
In other words, most of us have things backward. Being more focused on what we can get and keep – to the exclusion of all else – comes from and leads to a feeling of scarcity. And even actual scarcity, too. If we’re not giving, we severely limit what we can receive. The two work together hand in hand. More on that later…
“In life, you often don’t get what you want. But … here’s what you do get – You get what you expect. … What you focus on is what you get.” – Pindar
If you focus on giving, you’ll give yourself opportunities to meet people who want to give to you.
Do you expect that others will want to receive from you and give to you? Do you look for the best in people or expect the worst?
“Go looking for the best in people, and you’ll be amazed at how much talent, ingenuity, empathy, and goodwill you’ll find. Ultimately, the world treats you more or less the way you expect to be treated. … You’d be amazed at just how much you have to do with what happens to you.” – Pindar
I’ve had both extremes. I’ve expected to get yelled at, and I’ve been yelled at. I’ve expected to be accepted, and I’ve been accepted. I’ve gotten what I expected. One expectation is undoubtedly preferable to the other.
Before the end of Joe and Pindar’s first meeting, Pindar tells Joe the one condition that Joe has to agree to for them to have any other meetings.
“Test every Law I show you by actually trying it out. Not by thinking about it, not by talking about it, but by applying it in your life. … You must apply each Law right away, the same day you first learn it.” – Pindar
Otherwise, if Joe didn’t apply each Law on the same day that he learned it, he would have to cancel the rest of his meetings with Pindar. That’s the condition Joe would have to agree to.
It’s one thing to learn something and something else entirely to apply it. That’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is only potential power. Wisdom is power. I consider wisdom to be, among other things, the combination of correct knowledge and correct action.
Joe’s growth is up to him. He has to make the most of this mentorship opportunity.
“I have to know you’re taking this seriously. But here’s what’s far more important: you have to know you’re taking this seriously. … I don’t want to see you wasting your time.” – Pindar
Will Joe go further, or will this be the only time he meets with Pindar?
Joe agrees to Pindar’s condition, and they set up their next meetings. They arrange to meet the following week during Joe’s lunch breaks. Pindar has Five Laws of Stratospheric Success to teach Joe. One Law each day.
The First Law: The Law of Value
Before Joe has even learned the first Law, he is already admitting to himself that there are things far more powerful than money. And he’s open to learning from Pindar. Joe knows that there’s a lot he can learn in these five meetings.
“The guy radiates success. … It’s not just money, it’s something far more powerful than money.” – Joe
This meeting sets the trend for the following meetings. Pindar isn’t the only one that Joe will learn from. Joe meets an additional teacher each day.
Joe and Pindar meet with Ernesto Iafrate at Ernesto’s restaurant. Ernesto tells Joe how he started with a hot dog stand and has since gone on to much, much more than that.
“Ernesto … owns a half dozen restaurants now. Also, several hundred million dollars’ worth of commercial real estate. All starting with a hot dog stand.” – Pindar
Ernesto applied the Law of Value. He didn’t look at his humble beginnings as being too humble. He wasn’t ashamed of where he started from. Even with his hot dog stand, Ernesto knew he had so much to give.
The Law of Value states, “Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.”
By no means was Ernesto’s success automatic. He didn’t simply give and turn into an overnight sensation. Each stage of development in his career took years. Ernesto started with a hot dog stand, moved on to a little cafe, expanded to a group of restaurants, and bought properties around the restaurants. He was powerfully focused and did the best with what he had.
As part of that focus, Ernesto knew what questions he needed to ask himself.
“The first question should be, ‘Does it serve? Does it add value to others?’ If the answer to that question is yes, then you can go ahead and ask, ‘Does it make money?'” – Ernesto Iafrate
Ernesto kept at his work faithfully each day, and incrementally, his progress became exponential over time.
“Exceed people’s expectations, and they’ll pay you even more.” – Joe
Joe had part of it right, but Ernesto tells him that money isn’t the point.
“The point isn’t to have them pay you more; it’s to give them more. You give, give, give. Why? … Because you love to. It’s not a strategy. It’s a way of life. And when you do, … then very, very profitable things begin to happen.” – Ernesto Iafrate
Now that Joe has learned the Law of Value, how will he apply it?
Back at work, Joe loses out on a business account and gives the referral for that account to a competitor!
That reminds me of the movie The Miracle on 34th Street (1947), where Santa Claus is working in Macy’s, and he recommends other stores to customers where they can find the products they’re looking for. Recommending competitors doesn’t decrease Macy’s sales, though. Santa Claus’ bold move of being unafraid to recommend other stores increases Macy’s sales. The trust that Santa Claus gave customers draws them in.
When Joe gives a referral to a competitor, he illustrates the fact that there is really no such thing as competition. He cooperated with what was best for that business account and his competitor.
Will that referral pay off for Joe later?
The Second Law: The Law of Compensation
Joe has arrived to learn the second Law at Learning Systems for Children, Inc. He and Pindar are there to meet with the company’s CEO, Nicole Martin.
“The First Law determines how valuable you are. … In other words, your potential income, how much you could earn. But it’s the Second Law that determines how much you actually do earn.” – Nicole Martin
Nicole has applied the second Law, the Law of Compensation. She kept expanding her company into other markets, including many other countries.
The Law of Compensation states, “Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.”
“Or, to put it another way, Your compensation is directly proportional to how many lives you touch. … There are two amazing things about this. First, it means that you get to determine your level of compensation – it’s under your control. If you want more success, find a way to serve more people. It’s that simple. … It also means there are no limitations on what you can earn, because you can always find more people to serve. … ‘Everybody can be successful because anybody can give.'” – Nicole Martin
Nicole and her employees teach children learning, and when they brainstorm, they play as if they’re kids again. It’s funny imagining a group of adults in a conference room playing with modeling clay, pipe cleaners, construction paper, crayons, and finger painting. But it works for them. They get creative and keep expanding their company from the ideas they come up with during their playtime.
Nicole has identified her life mission and sees the positive effect that her work has.
“Think about … how much good we could accomplish.” – Nicole Martin
Nicole didn’t sabotage her success. She saw how big her company could grow and changed her belief system to one that supported her success.
Joe learned the Law of Compensation and applied it that day by serving coffee to all of his co-workers working with him on the same floor.
How to apply the Laws isn’t always obvious, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as using what you’ve already got.
The Third Law: The Law of Influence
Value, compensation, and now influence.
What is influence really?
“The three universal reasons for working. Survive – to meet your basic living needs. Save – to go beyond your basic needs and expand your life. And serve – to make a contribution to the world around you.” – Pindar
Influence is about serving. And Joe learns the Law of Influence from Sam Rosen, the chief financial adviser for Pindar and Nicole Martin.
As you progress through The Go-Giver, you discover how various characters know each other. While I won’t mention all the connections in this review, you will find all of them in the book.
“In any business, you … need to know how to develop a network. … They might never buy a thing from you, but … they’re people who are personally invested in seeing you succeed. … And … that’s because you’re the same way about them. They’re your army of personal walking ambassadors. When you’ve got your own army of personal walking ambassadors, you’ll have referrals coming your way faster than you can handle them.” – Sam Rosen
Having a network to that extent, an army of personal walking ambassadors, explains how Sam has achieved the amount of influence that he has.
As Pindar explains to Joe, Sam single-handedly brings in more than 75% of all the money of “the single most successful branch office of the single most successful financial services company in the world.”
How did Sam build his network?
“Want to know what makes that kind of network happen? … Stop keeping score. … When you base your relationships – in business or anywhere else in your life – on who owes who what, that’s not being a friend. That’s being a creditor. … Make your win about the other person, go after what (they want). Forget win-win – focus on the other person’s win.” – Sam Rosen
The Law of Influence states, “Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.”
But what about your interests? How do you get your needs met?
“If you place the other person’s interests first, your interests will always be taken care of. Always. Some people call it enlightened self-interest. Watch out for what other people need, with the faith that when you do, you’ll get what you need. … Have you ever wondered what makes people attractive? I mean, genuinely attractive? Magnetic? … They love to give. That’s why they’re attractive. Givers attract.” – Pindar
What some people call enlightened self-interest, I call healthy selfishness.
Why do givers attract?
“Givers attract. … And that’s why the Law of Influence works. Because it magnetizes you.” – Joe
Joe applied the first two Laws at work but didn’t do that this time. He goes through the day thinking he hasn’t applied the third Law at all…
How Does Joe, as a Man, Apply the Law of Influence?
Joe and his wife, Susan, followed a particular routine. Before they went to sleep, they would complain to each other about their lives, including their jobs, for up to thirty minutes each.
It was Susan’s turn first, so she paced and talked while complaining. Joe wanted to say something to help her feel better, but he couldn’t think of what that could be.
When it was Joe’s turn to complain, he did something different. He broke from the routine by refusing to take his turn.
“Please, go on. … I’d like to hear about what happened.” – Joe
Joe, a man, turned down the opportunity to talk. And he didn’t try to solve any of Susan’s problems either. He did something that so very many women wish men would do.
And that’s how Joe applied the Law of Influence. He put Susan’s interests first.
Susan kept talking about her day. She poured her heart out. She got to cover more ground this time. She had been waiting for this opportunity. Susan wanted to be listened to. To be heard.
It can be tricky to be listened to or heard when there is a time limit placed on it. Joe gave Susan the freedom to express herself. She needed the space. This was so liberating for her that she burst into tears.
Joe tried to comfort Susan as she cried herself to sleep. He had given her everything she needed but didn’t know that yet. He thought he had failed her. He felt foolish, useless, and defeated. Eventually, Joe fell asleep, too.
When Joe woke up the following day, he noticed that he’d slept later than usual and that Susan had already left the house to go to work. He was horrified by the thought that he hadn’t applied the Law of Influence and would have to cancel the rest of his meetings with Pindar.
Then, something caught Joe’s eye.
Susan had written him a letter and placed it on her pillow. She thanked him for what he had done the night before.
“Thank you so much. Thank you for your generosity. I can’t remember ever feeling … so listened to. So heard. I love you.” – Susan
Joe laughed as he realized that he had applied the Law of Influence.
The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success are noticeably starting to transform his life, and he still has two more to learn.
The Fourth Law: The Law of Authenticity
“These lessons don’t apply only to business. … A genuinely sound business principle will apply anywhere in life.” – Pindar
Pindar has been happily married for forty-eight years. He tells Joe why that is.
“I believe there is one reason, and only one reason, that we have stayed together so long and are as happy together today as we were forty-eight years ago – more so, in fact. That reason is this: I care more about my wife’s happiness than I do about my own. All I’ve ever wanted to do since (meeting) her is make her happy. And here’s the truly remarkable thing – she seems to want the same thing for me.” – Pindar
For the fourth Law, Joe and Pindar go to see Debra Davenport give a keynote speech at a large event. Debra takes the audience through a tour of her life. As a single mother with three children, Debra had to make something happen to provide for herself and her children. But that didn’t work out right away. She became a realtor and didn’t make any sales in her first year in business.
Debra’s best friend gave her a ticket to a keynote speech that Pindar was giving. During the speech, Debra and Pindar had a quick conversation.
“You can excel by adding value. If you need money, … add value. And if you need a lot of money, add a lot of value.” – Pindar
“What if you need a lot of money fast?” – Debra Davenport
“Then find a way to add a lot of value fast!” – Pindar
Debra thought long and hard about what Pindar said to her. She thought about it all weekend. She couldn’t think of any value she could add. She was ready to quit her job as a realtor. She only had one appointment left. Debra gave up on all the sales techniques she had learned and simply enjoyed herself with the prospect.
And the prospect bought the house. That ended Debra’s dry spell in sales and got her started on her well-known track record of being the “city’s top realtor in both residential and commercial markets.”
Debra had found the value she could provide. She found herself.
“No matter what your training, no matter what your skills, no matter what area you’re in, … the most valuable gift you have to offer is you.” – Debra Davenport
Debra applied the Law of Authenticity, and that made all the difference.
The Law of Authenticity states, “The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.”
After Debra’s keynote speech, Joe returned to work and had an honest talk with his co-worker, Gus.
“You’ve been good to me, ever since I first got here. … You … love what you do. You love talking with people, asking them questions, learning all about them, finding ways you can help them, serve them, fill a need, share a resource.” – Joe
Gus connected Joe with Pindar, and that’s not the only people that Gus connected. It’s beautiful to read about what Gus did in his role as the Connector. Gus is another example of someone who applied the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.
With Joe’s honest talk with Gus, Joe applied the Law of Authenticity. Now he’s ready for the mystery guest who will teach him the fifth Law.
The Fifth Law: The Law of Receptivity
Value, compensation, influence, authenticity, and now receptivity.
Joe has made it to the fifth Law. The first four Laws are about giving, and the fifth Law is about receiving.
“It’s not better to give than to receive. It’s insane to try to give and not receive. … Receiving is the natural result of giving. … Every giving can happen only because it is also a receiving.” – Pindar
Giving and receiving are both necessary and can be compared to breathing. Inhaling and exhaling are both necessary, too. One can’t happen without the other. Receiving is like inhaling, and giving is like exhaling. Receiving breath and giving breath. In and out. Each works together.
“All the giving in the world won’t bring success, won’t create the results you want, unless you also make yourself willing and able to receive in like measure. Because if you don’t let yourself receive, you’re refusing the gifts of others – and you shut down the flow. … The secret to success … to gaining it, to having it, is to give, give, give. The secret to getting is giving. And the secret to giving is making yourself open to receiving.” – Joe
Joe made multiple guesses as to who the mystery guest would be and correctly identified who it was. It’s the one who stated the Law of Receptivity.
The Law of Receptivity states, “The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.”
Joe returns to work, ready to apply the Law of Receptivity. It didn’t look like he was going to meet his sales quota. Good thing he stayed late and had another talk with Gus.
“You can’t measure your success by whether or not you get the account. That’s not the point. … The point is not what you do. Not what you accomplish. It’s who you are.” – Gus
Joe has been on a journey to transform himself. Not his sales quota. Not his marriage. Not his income. Himself. And in transforming himself, he naturally transforms everything in his life. Joe has already seen some proof of that.
What other surprises await him?
Everyone else has already left work for the day. Now it’s Gus’ turn to go. Gus has noticed how Joe has changed.
“You’re a different person than you were a week ago. … Although this Joe was already inside there, too. Just not quite visible yet.” – Gus
With Gus gone for the day, Joe is now the last one in the office. At 6:15 p.m., Joe receives a phone call at his desk. This phone call resulted from Joe’s referral to a competitor four days earlier. In return, the competitor referred Joe to a huge account.
Joe accepts the referral, meets his sales quota, and starts his own stratospherically successful company with two business partners he met and befriended during his week of transformation.
Giving leads to receiving, and receiving leads to giving.
Joe’s life will never be the same, all thanks to learning and applying the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.
How will you apply the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success?
If you need further clarification about the Laws, a Discussion Guide and a Q&A with the Authors are included in the expanded edition of The Go-Giver book.
Joe met multiple stratospherically successful people, including Pindar, during his week of transformation, and Joe found them to be very generous.
“Successful people are willing to share their secrets with others. … How would you go about meeting someone you’d want to learn from?” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
There were various times when Joe felt foolish applying the Laws, but he did it anyway and was greatly rewarded for that.
“Have there been times when you felt foolish but did the thing anyway, and seen that ultimately lead to great reward?” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
Joe discovered what influence really is and became very influential, too.
“What makes an influential person influential is not money, position or accomplishments, but how much they put others’ interests ahead of their own.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
Because Joe was generous to others, others were generous to him, including when he least expected it.
“Things that seem to happen “out of the blue” are rarely as random as they seem.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
Q & A with the Authors
The authors have received many questions from readers over the years about The Go-Giver and do their best to answer the most frequently asked questions in the “Q&A with the Authors” section at the back of the book.
Here is a sampling of some of the authors’ answers to readers’ questions:
“Success is the result of specific habits of action: creating value, touching people’s lives, putting others’ interests first, being real, and having the humility to stay open to receiving.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“Being a giving person is how you become rich and successful (however you define those two words) in the first place. You don’t need money to be a giving person. The process starts simply by adding value to other people’s lives, right now, in any way you can, and it builds from there.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“Go-givers typically (profit greatly) because they provide (abundant) value and a fantastic experience to their customers and clients. The key is where you place your principal focus. If you are focused on profit first, you will probably miss all sorts of opportunities to provide great value. When your focus is on your customers’ experience, healthy profits tend to result.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“While giving something away for free to begin or build upon a customer relationship can be a great marketing strategy, that’s not being a go-giver. … Being a go-giver doesn’t mean you shouldn’t profit from your work.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“Being a good person (however you define that) matters (greatly). It’s just not what determines your income. Money is not a measure of your goodness or worthiness. It is a measure of your impact.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“Placing others’ interests before your own, “making your win about the other person,” … doesn’t mean negating your own needs and interests. It means trusting that when you focus on others, your needs will be taken care of, too. And as people come to know you as someone who has others’ interests first, that’s exactly what will happen!” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“Success in any endeavor naturally takes time to bring to full fruition. That said, taking a go-giver approach often brings about positive outcomes in less time, not more. Reader after reader has told us that when they made a conscious shift from a me focus to an other focus in their lives, dramatic and sometimes immediate results followed.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“As a go-giver, … you willingly suspend your self-interest. You don’t deny, … suppress, … or try to eliminate it. You … defer it for the moment – which allows you to focus fully on the other person.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“Being a go-giver doesn’t preclude dedicated effort and a sound business plan, and it doesn’t mean simply doing random good deeds and expecting to be rewarded for them. … Genuine success still takes work, but it becomes work you love.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“When you focus on giving, you end up more abundantly rewarded than if you had focused on receiving. … When you give, you become a bigger person, in every way – more successful, more influential, more fulfilled.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
“When you set aside your … concerns for a moment and make a concerted effort to hear a team member’s or customer’s needs, goals, and values, you’re applying the Law of Influence. Tell a friend you’re sorry for a mistake you’ve made, without excuses or defensiveness, and you’re sharing the greatest gift you have to offer through the Law of Authenticity. … Write an unexpected testimonial. There are so many meaningful ways to become a go-giver, and it’s a great opportunity for each of us to change the world for the better.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
As a reminder, the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success are:
- “The Law of Value. Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.
- The Law of Compensation. Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
- The Law of Influence. Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.
- The Law of Authenticity. The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
- The Law of Receptivity. The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.”
I find that teaching the Laws in the form of a story is the most effective way to teach them. The authors are really on to something with that!
Buy The Go-Giver book. Experience the enjoyment of Bob Burg’s and John David Mann’s writing. Get to know the characters and the situations in the story. Identify with what they go through. It might be the most fun I’ve had reading a book, and I’ve read lots of books. I invite you to explore the book that inspired the Go-Giver movement.
“Go give – and remember to stay open to receiving.” – Bob Burg and John David Mann
Let me know what you think of The Go-Giver book in the comments section below. Also, tell me about any experiences you’ve had with applying the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.
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