Review of Adam Grant's "Give & Take"

My rating: ★★★★★

Since Adam Grant, a top professor at the Wharton School of Business, released his bestseller Give & Take in 2013, it has been praised by many and even nominated for Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Nonfiction. 

Although I have a tendency to think that most things are overrated, I must admit that I love this book. I enjoyed this book so much that I set aside an hour on my calendar every day to read it. I am always striving to improve my emotional intelligence, and this book helped me understand the mindset and attitudes of successful, empathetic people and how they approach and manage relationships.

As I read Give & Take, I found myself constantly reflecting back on my past behavior, the good and the bad, and the actions of my friends, teammates, and people I'm not on the best terms with. I started jotting down notes on how givers handled certain analogous situations I have been in and compared how I dealt with them. I found this to be really helpful in self-reflection and putting things in perspective.

Everything Grant says has such a nice flow to it, and it is as entertaining as it is informative. He backs up all of his conclusions and observations with actual experiments conducted by the top experts in the field, and he makes everything so easy to understand. Ah, if only all my professors could write or lecture like Adam Grant... Just kidding! Or am I? Hehe.

Have you ever heard the saying "You need to be selfish if you want to be successful?" While this is the conventional belief, Grant proves that this is not necessarily so. In fact, Grant shows that givers are actually the most successful and also have the most expansive network. Givers ultimately succeed because of their giving has a multiplier effect which triggers takers and matchers to give as well.

Wait, what? What are givers, matchers, and takers?

Grant says there are three types of people: givers, takers, and matchers. Givers love to, well, give, and they do so without expecting anything in return. It's just in their nature. They usually end up giving a lot more than they receive. By giving illustrious examples of real people (most of them are celebrities!), Grant shows how giving is crucial to success, not just in our professional careers but also our personal wellbeing.

Then, there are takers: people who try to extract as much value as they can from anything. Takers tend to receive more than they give. Takers are usually great at giving good first impressions and representing themselves in a positive light, which helps them build a strong network. Grant says that because of their tendencies, takers end up burning bridges with a lot of people, so they create more relationships to compensate for the ruined relationships.

In between the spectrum of givers and takers are the matchers. These people keep a mental track of how much they receive, and give back the matched amount. Grant says matchers are usually hesitant to make the first move of giving, because there's no guarantee how much the other person will give back to them. In the case that they receive first, they'll be sure to give repay the exact amount of effort. That means that they could go out of their way to make sure they're no longer indebted, or they may pay back less than they can if they feel that the other person didn't do as much as he/she could have.

I think Grant does a great job of providing examples of real people to illustrate not only how givers, matchers, and takers act but also the ripple effect of their actions. For instance, an exemplary giver is George Meyer, a former writer for The Simpsons. Meyer's willingness to support and help other writers, even though they were all competing for a "slot" of an episode, ultimately turned the ultra-competitive culture of the Simpson's writing group into one that was collaborative and inclusive.

The rationale behind givers' actions, Grant says, is that they are more interested in the overall wellbeing of team. Many givers in this book did things that a lot of people would not do. For instance, an accounts manager at Volkswagen came up with a genius commercial idea that generated millions of dollars, but he did not take credit for it. George Meyer was happy as long as the team was doing well and producing popular Simpsons episodes.

Grant makes it pretty clear that just because you give doesn't make you a giver. You can determine when someone is a giver, matcher, or taker just from so many ways, like from how an optician tries to sell you glasses, how someone negotiates, or even how someone recruits basketball players. I think true givers, like the ones in Give & Take, are rare, or at least not as common as matchers and takers.

Grant acknowledges that one person can be a giver, matcher, or taker in different situations, but what is that person in a "bigger picture"? For instance, I could take out an hour out of my busy day to mentor someone, but, let's say, I take the last pair of pink Manolo's at Saks when I know another woman was eyeing them.

One thing to keep in mind while reading this book, I think, is that giving can either bring you to the top of the success ladder or the bottom. Grant reiterates this quite often. But what differentiates the successful givers from the not-so-successful givers?

Towards the last third of the book, Grant discusses how there are otherish givers, who have high interest in others and high interest in themselves. These otherish givers are neither matcher nor taker, and they aren't ordinary givers either, hence the name. They have high aspirations for helping others but also high ambitions for themselves. Otherish givers contribute and help others, as long as it does not come at the expense of their own obligations.

I have two constructive comments to make about Give & Take. 
  1. I think it would be better to show earlier on how, or if, the successful givers mentioned in the earlier portions of the book were giving strategically. Some of the successful givers did not appear to be acting upon a certain strategy, because it seemed like they were passing up too many opportunities for themselves. For example, Grant describes in great detail how George Meyer made sacrifices and gave back, and this ultimately worked out really well for him because he gained social capital, respect, and authority without the aggression. However, was he strategic in how he went about this?
  2. A framework or sort about giver, matcher, and taker, and the traits for each personality type would be helpful, I think, especially when it comes to self-assessment. The lines between the personality types are not always so clear. For example, I enjoy giving on a regular basis without expecting anything in return, but I have a taker tendency of speaking assertively and sometimes dominantly. Maybe a framework for self-assessment isn't necessary, since the whole point is to be a giver whether you are a matcher or taker, but I think self-assessment can help the reader know which areas to focus on improving.

Grant did include a chapter at the end called "Actions for Impact," where he summarizes the book into ten practical rules that we can implement. While I do find it very helpful in becoming a (better) giver/otherish giver, I think that, at the end of the day, being a giver is really about empathy. The givers in this book all have an immense amount of empathy towards others, no matter how well they know them. If I have to be honest, that much empathy does not come naturally to me, but after reading this book, it's been something I always keep in my mind.

Anyway, I love love love this book. Apparently, when I had a little too much wine one night, I was preaching about the importance of being a giver in a Japanese accent. The other day, my friend pointed out that every time she tells me gossip, I classify the people in her stories as takers. Every time I classify someone as a giver, matcher, or a taker, one of my friends always says (maybe slightly annoyed), "Is that how you view the world now?"

Are you a giver, matcher, a taker, or an otherish giver? I recommend reading the book all the way to the end to find out. You will not regret it!

Have you read Give & Take? What were your thoughts?

Best,
Phyllis

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