Book Review: Give and Take

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In the opening pages of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant says:

“Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

Then Grant defines three characteristic ways of dealing with that choice. “Takers” try to get as much value as they can. They want to come out on top. They want to win. “Givers” are their polar opposite. Givers try to give as much as they can without worrying about what they get back.

According to Grant, both of those styles are rare and at opposite ends of a continuum. In the middle are what he calls “Matchers.” Matchers worry about a fair exchange. They’re willing to help others, but they also try to protect themselves, and many of their transactions come out even. Which type is most likely to succeed? Here’s Grant:

“Across occupations, it appears that givers are just too caring, too trusting, and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others. There’s even evidence that compared with takers, on average, givers earn 14 percent less money, have twice the risk of becoming victims of crimes, and are judged as 22 percent less powerful and dominant.”

Wow. I’ve always thought of myself as a giver. My instinct is to say “Yes” when somebody asks me for something, without worrying too much about what’s in it for me. In fact, one of the hardest things I had to learn during my lifetime was that if I wanted to be successful, I needed to say “No” a lot more. I’ve been taken advantage of many times in my life because of that giving nature. I figured that was okay, though, because I couldn’t see myself really acting like either a taker or a matcher.

Grant’s statement made me stop and think. The bottom of the pile? I had to stop reading for a while and process what I read. It took a while and a bunch of soul searching, but I finally realized that I was okay with that. If that had to be the cost, then that was the cost. Besides, I thought I’d done pretty well in my life. When I returned to the book, here’s the next thing I read.

“So if givers are most likely to land at the bottom of the success ladder, who’s at the top—takers or matchers? Neither. When I took another look at the data, I discovered a surprising pattern: It’s the givers again.”

When Grant outlined the things about the differences between the givers at the top and bottom of the career achievement heap, they matched up well with my life experience. One of the neat things about being 72 is that you’ve got a lot to look back on, and what I realized was that my giver behavior was very different today than it was 50 years ago.

As I went through the book, I discovered that most of the strategies that Grant talks about to make givers more successful and productive were things that I had learned over my lifetime. It took longer that way. Plus, learning from experience is much more painful than learning from reading. But what’s in Give and Take matches up with my life experience and is supported by an awful lot of evidence.

I will admit, that as a writing coach, I wanted to applaud Grant for the way he handled that revelation. It was an absolutely masterful bit of writing.

Masterful writing’s characteristic of Adam Grant’s books and Give and Take is no exception. He tells you what you’ll find in the different chapters, and then supports his points with both story/examples and research. The examples are good, and the research is solid and wide-ranging.

Whether you decide to change your behavior and become more of a giver or not, you’ll still learn a lot from this book. It’s a good read with good lessons. Grant summarizes many of those lessons in a final chapter called “Actions for Impact.” That chapter has 10 suggestions for specific things that you can do based on what you’ve learned in the book. It is a solid, practical chapter, and gives you a way to experiment with some ideas you might have gotten in the earlier pages.

In A Nutshell

In Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant reveals that a life strategy of being a giver as opposed to a taker or a matcher can work for you, but only if you do it in a sensible and intentional way. The book is filled with great examples and the points are supported with research.

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