TODAY   |  April 10, 2013

Professor works to change future of business ethics

Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is taking on the “greed is good” mentality of some CEOs and business executives, hoping to shape the leaders of tomorrow by teaching them it’s possible to give and still get ahead. NBC’s Willie Geist reports.

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>>> we're back at 8:37 with one of the most influential people in business you probably never heard of. willie geist recently met a young professor at the university of pennsylvania who is helping to shape tomorrow's ceos .

>> good morning, good to see you. students on the ivy league campus flock to his classroom to hear a simple philosophy that is shaking up the business world. nice guys it turns out often finish first.

>> the point is, ladies and gentlemen , that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

>> in an era of big bank failures and global recession, gordan gek co's alpha dog style of business is under siege and from an unlikely source.

>> it's called pronoia.

>> adam grant at 31 is the youngest tenured professor at the university of pennsylvania .

>> the fear that other people are plotting your well-being.

>> reporter: named one of "business week's" favorite professors and one of the world's top 40 business professors under 40.

>> i would love to have new class.

>> reporter: his classes are some of the most popular at the wha famed wharton school of business .

>> nice to meet you.

>> reporter: you're known as something i'm going to make you uncomfortable a celebrity professor on this camp us?

>> i hope not.

>> reporter: grant 's big idea is this, the cultural wisdom that says only the strong and self-interested survive in the dog eat dog world of business is demonstrably wrong.

>> it's unique therecy group of people that succeed in ways of lifting people up as opposed to cutting them down.

>> reporter: the students agree.

>> i think it fits right into where the world of business is going.

>> reporter: "give and take" fleshes out the argument. people fall into one of three categories, takers, givers and matchers.

>> if you were a taker would you only help other people, when the benefits to you would basically outweigh the cost, whereas a giver is somebody more likely to help when the benefits to the other person outweigh the personal cost.

>> reporter: the rest of us fall in between, matchers. it's true you'll find takers at the top of many organizations but professor grant 's research shows givers are the ones who stay on top. so take me through the career of a giver and why he or she would be successful?

>> if you work in a team and you're the one who is willing to put the team's interest ahead of your own the team will reward with you greater status, with more promotions, et cetera .

>> one of history's greatest givers? abraham lincoln .

>> lincoln was able to look at what's going to be in the best interests of the country and bring the most capable people along even if they weren't his best friends .

>> reporter: grant says spotting a taker in business can be easy.

>> they talk about their successes with i and me instead of us and we.

>> reporter: exhibit "a" this full page photo of disgraced ceo enron's ken ley.

>> they have larger photos of themselves in their annual reports, just sort of signals it's all about me. decisions and predictions about the stock market .

>> reporter: professor grant has been called in to evaluate the culture at organizations like google, goldman sachs , even the envelope, make-a-wish, a foundation built on giving turns to him as well.

>> it's very evident right away that he knows his material. there's an instant acceptance of what he's doing.

>> reporter: a long way from the self-described intro vert who once turned to magic to come out of his shell. was that your card?

>> whoa!

>> reporter: but today there is no trick to his message.

>> there are ways i can be helpful to you, i hope you'll reach out.

>> reporter: just science that may change the way the world does business.

>> a lot of us underestimate the success and the meaning and happiness that comes from making a difference in the lives of others.

>> professor grant concedes there are limits to what a giver can do before he or she becomes a doormat or pushover. he tries to weed out the takers from his own life with a simple test. if someone asks you for something, ask them to pay it forward with some small task of their own. if they're unwilling to do that, don't waste your time with them.

>> how many ceos watching are calling their pr saying shrink the size of my picture on the yearly statement.

>> you know what? professor grant says that applies not just to ceos but if you look at your friends on facebook, that's a great indicator and there are studies that show people who have only pictures of themselves, watch out.

>> somebody told me that has to do with your signature, big signature, big ego. thank