Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success


Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
Author: Adam Grant
Published: NaN/NaN/NaN
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. It turns out that at work, most people operate as either 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…

Book Summary - Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

Key Insights

In Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant invites readers to explore what it really means to give and take. While traditional teaching tells us we must take what it is we need, Grant uncovers the many reasons why it is actually the givers who win in the end.

And oftentimes, the givers carry others with them on the road to success.

Key Points

Givers and Takers

Givers--they give far more than they get

Takers--they take far more than they give

To takers, the world is a battleground. Life is an unforgiving game and you need to take as much as you can. You only help others if the benefit is far greater than the cost. For example, Michael Jordan’s personal philosophy is “To be successful, you have to be selfish.” He is known for speaking out against increasing team revenue shares when he was a team owner, the converse of his opinion as a player.

To givers, on the other hand, helping others is a reward in and of itself. For example, George Meyer, writer for The Simpsons, encouraged other writers to use his ideas for the show. As a result, he is only credited with writing 12 episodes when he actually penned more than 300. For George Meyer, helping his colleagues was more important than receiving recognition.

The Importance of the Social Circle

When we need to ask for a favor, we are most likely to turn to our closest friends and family members first. The alternative feels awkward: we wonder what right we have to ask for something from an individual we have not been in contact with recently.

However, research shows that most givers are actually not phased by not knowing a recipient of their generosity very well--or by not having been in communication with them lately.

Quite the contrary.

For instance, let’s look at Adam Rifkin, cofounder of the company 106 Miles. Twice each month, Rifkin holds events where entrepreneurs come together as a group and he then provides feedback on their ideas, assists them in getting jobs, and helps connect them to his extensive network.

While it is likely that Adam Rifkin started holding these gatherings based on a sense of altruism, the successful entrepreneur has benefitted from his own generosity as well.

He was able to use the ‘social capital’ he received from his networking events to ask for a favor of his own. When starting a company called Excite, he received advice from Graham Spencer--a person he had not seen in five years. Even so, Spencer remembered Rifkin for his assistance from years ago and was compelled to help him out with this new endeavor.

Givers commonly believe that pool knowledge benefits everyone.

Excessive Taking

For those who take and take, a price is often paid in the form of a damaged reputation and lost respect. This is referred to as a taker tax. According to this phenomenon, the more an individual takes, the more likely he or she is to experience negative repercussions as a result of word of mouth.

For instance, Frank Lloyd Wright developed a name for himself as a taker. He refused to pay his apprentices and made them cite him on all of their work--even projects that he was not personally involved in. He once invoiced his own son for all the living expenses he had accrued throughout his lifetime while in his father’s care. For this reason, Frank Lloyd Wright lost a lot of clients. Some of them preferred hiring his apprentices instead!

Focusing on the Greater Good

The world of work is cutthroat. For this reason, many individuals believe that the best way to achieve success is through an attitude of take, take, take.

However, research finds that givers are actually much higher achieving in the long-run and an added bonus accompanies their success: they bring others along for the ride.

Consider Abraham Lincoln. Prior to becoming president, Lincoln actually chose to drop out of the senate race in order to let his opponent, Lyman Trumbull, win. Later on, Trumbull returned the favor by advocating for Lincoln when he ran for senate a second time.

Let’s turn now to a more recent example. At Deloitte Consulting, Jason Geller designed an information system that could be used to collaboratively store client and competitor data for the company. While Jason could have easily kept the information he collected to himself, he instead impressed his supervisors by disseminating the data to the rest of the company and was ultimately promoted based on his hard work. He went on to become one of the youngest partners at Deloitte.

As the saying goes, the cream rises to the top.

Adapting and Identifying

Groupthink is real. Research shows that more often than not, when an individual is placed in a group situation, he or she will side with the majority of the group even if the decision does not reflect their personal beliefs.

So, what does this say about us as people?

That we are highly impressionable. But it also says that we adapt.

In adapting, sometimes we alter or hide who we really are. For instance, a taker might be more generous in public than they otherwise would be, in order to give off the persona of a caring individual. A giver, on the other hand, may tone down their generosity in the workplace in order to fit in with the company culture.

A website that very much thrives on the philosophy of groupthink is Freecycle.org. Through this website, individuals can donate items they no longer need OR the site can be used to take items for free. The thought process, though, is that most people will give a lot more than they take, because they will see others giving and feel motivated to do the same.

In addition to group impact, our ability to see ourselves as the recipient of our goodwill directly correlates to how willing we are to give. When we find someone with whom we share a common identity, we develop an immediate allegiance to that person.

For instance, a study recently showed that Manchester United soccer fans were way more likely to stop and help an injured person when he was wearing a Manchester United shirt as opposed to when he was wearing a regular tee-shirt without the team’s name. People automatically assumed that this person was worthy of help, because he shared a common interest with those who came to assist him.

Powerful Communication

Intuitively, we tend to associate confident and assertive language with powerful communication. While this is often an accurate connection, recent studies show that what is referred to as powerless communication can actually be even more impacting.

The main tenant of powerless communication is focusing on the person you are talking to. Rather than emphasizing your own perspective and personal background, powerless communication involves asking questions and seeking advice from your conversation counterpart.

For givers, powerless communication is often the go-to. These individuals are naturally inclined to take an interest in the lives and experiences of others and genuinely want to know more about what their conversation partner is saying.

For takers, shifting the ‘me-focused’ perspective to a ‘you-focused’ point of view can be a significant adaptation, but it is a critical component in building trust.

For instance, consider the following example. A scientist at a Fortune 500 company was working and studying for her MBA at the same time. When the company management asked her to change plant locations, thus forgoing her academic studies, rather than abruptly demanding a solution from the higher-ups, the scientist went to the HR manager and asked him what he would do in the situation. In the end, she was given access to the company plane so she could fly back and forth between locations.

If she had taken a different approach, such as creating a list of her personal needs and demands and asking them to be met, the answer she received may have been a different one.

Powerless communication may appear to be less direct, but it allows individuals to build a relationship with their customer or client first, which ultimately leads to more success in buying and selling.

The Main Take-away

At the end of the day, we must decide: are we going to be givers or takers? Is it possible to be a combination thereof? According to Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, the way we answer this question is critical to our professional success. Givers and takers are opposites, and thus, we must be one or the other--we cannot be both at any given time. In a rapidly evolving world, it is important to consider the role you play. Are you a giver who pulls others up as you climb the ladder to success or are you a taker who steps on the heads of those at the bottom? It is time to make a conscious choice.

About the Author

Adam Grant was born in 1981 in West Bloomfield, Michigan. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a Ph.D in organizational psychology, Grant began his teaching career with a professorship at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill in 2007.

In 2009, Grant left UNC for the Wharton School of the University Pennsylvania. Grant became the university’s youngest tenured professor when he began teaching there at age 28.

Throughout his prestigious career, Grant authored several books in addition to Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. His other titles include Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World and also Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy which he c0-wrote with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

While he was at the University of Michigan, Grant worked as a professional magician.

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