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  • Dan Connors

Give and Take- Why helping others drives our success- review

Give and Take- A revolutionary approach to success

By Adam Grant 2013

Four of five stars ****

Who prospers more- those who give or those who take? That's the central premise of this interesting book from Adam Grant. Based on observations, it often looks like the takers are the ones who always come out on top. They lie, cheat and steal their way to the top, promote themselves ruthlessly and ignore the needs of others to get what they need. Mr. Grant tries to present the hypothesis that it actually is givers who come out at the very top, and he gives plenty of examples how and why.

According to the author, there are three types of reciprocity styles. Takers are the ones who are purely self-interested. Matchers are willing to give, but always try to match up their gifts with things they get back. Givers approach dealings with a spirit of giving out to others without expecting anything in return, what some might consider suckers. You can see where you fall on the scale here:

The book claims that while some givers who don't operate in any self-interest at all end up at the bottom of every pile, there is another group of givers that ends up at the very top. Takers and matchers end up in the middle.

Takers and matchers see life as a zero sum game. In order for them to win, someone else has to lose. Givers don't see it that way. They seek to expand the pie for everyone, getting more for themselves and those they help. Grant calls these successful givers- those who are able to watch out for their own best interest AND that of those they work with.

There are examples of takers coming out on top everywhere, which conflicts with the principles of this book. In business, entertainment, sports and politics it appears that takers who are the most ruthless and self-promoting rule everything. Grant provides examples, perhaps cherry-picked outliers, that show otherwise. It's nice to hear about givers winning, because it makes it easier for us to feel good about giving, and the world we live in.

The big disadvantage that takers come up against it that sooner or later people catch on to their game and stop cooperating with them. Only if they can amass money or power can they keep people in line, and even then it gets tricky. Grant uses Kenneth Lay of Enron fame as his extreme taker example. Lay was a crook and scoundrel who brought his company down, and the book points out that people could have seen it coming by the large full-page photos of Mr. Lay in the company's annual reports along with glowing praise of his and not employees accomplishments.

Here are some highlights of how givers prosper:

- Collaborators are natural givers who contribute to group projects without worrying about who gets the credit. People recognize them anyway and value their input, because projects improve any time they participate. George Meyer, writer for the Simpsons and Saturday Night Live is the prime example used in this book. He gave to other writers, and became one of the most important writers in tv comedy because of it.

- There's a fascinating chapter on teachers and coaches, and how they should give support, encouragement, and motivation to all their students, not just the ones they think are gifted. There are plenty of studies that show how motivation comes first, and talent follows. Some of the most gifted pianists in the world started with normal, local teachers who inspired them. Teacher beliefs can infuse students with grit and desire, setting them on the path to greatness from humble beginnings. Talent may not be so much genetic and cultivated. Takers walk into teaching situations looking for the most talented that can give the biggert return on investment, which is not always obvious. Givers are better teachers in that respect, and even if many of their students don't recognize or appreciate their gifts, those that do make the most progress.

- The chapter on communication covers why givers can get through to their audiences better. Takers may be full of self-confidence and bravado, but their powerful presence can be off-putting and make people raise their defenses. Givers use self-deprecation and distraction to put people at ease. They ask questions to build trust and gain knowledge. The biggest and hardest point of this chapter is to ask for advice, which is hard because it makes you vulnerable. But asking for advice makes the other person feel important and they become more invested in your success because they now have a stake in your success.

- Grant warns about burnout and loss of motivation if givers to too far and don't look out for their own self-interest. He advises chunking your giving into discrete blocks of time so that the rest of your time is available for meeting your basic needs. There's something called the 100 hour rule in volunteering where people who give at least 100 hours a year (2 hours a week) are the most happy. The most valuable concept for me here was that to avoid giving burnout, you need to see the results and hear the stories that flow from your giving. If you donate to charity, make sure to get some feedback on the great effects your giving made a difference with.

- The final chapter has some excellent resources for communities and projects that emphasize giving. One I had heard some about is, which I just joined. People give away things for free all over the world now. Another is something called reciprocity rings, where groups get together and make requests and each member helps with that request if they can. People can always use help with advice, encouragement, money, or time, and this would be a great thing if it caught on.

Takers are everywhere. You probably know a few. You may be one. This book encourages you to think more like a giver and realize that the good feelings and better networks of friends are worth it. You can't be a naive giver, because takers will start to take advantage of your generosity. In those cases, Grant gives instructions to move into matcher mode until balance is restored. Giving is contagious, and once people feel safe, they are more willing to try it.

One of the things that most struck me about this book was the pages and pages of endorsements and recommendations that Adam Grant got from others. They fill multiple pages in the front and the entire back cover, saying wonderful things about the book and about Adam Grant. These alone are testimony that being a giver works. Because in the end, who wants to die alone and unloved because all they did their entire lives was take, take, take without giving anything back?

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