Author: Adam Grant
APA Style Citation
Grant, A. (2013). Give and take: Why helping others drives our success. Penguin Book.
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Adam Grant discusses the potential benefits and drawbacks of being a giver, matcher or taker. We can all think of individuals who fall into each of these given categories, and Grant sets out to determine how each of these types of individuals fares in a competitive environment. What he finds is somewhat surprising. Grant examines students in the first year of medical school and finds that those who are identified as “givers” wind up at the bottom of their medical school class. In large part, this occurs because they are spending time helping others instead of focusing on their own work. Takers, on the other hand, wind up on top because they are utilizing their most generous classmates to help them prepare for exams. Matchers wind up in the middle as they will help others if they believe that in the future, that favor can be returned. These results may cause you to believe that givers are often taken advantage of to their own detriment. Grant does find evidence that givers make, on average, 14 percent less than takers, who are far more likely to aggressively negotiate their salaries.
Givers however, often have unseen advantages. They are likely to benefit from dormant ties, having done a favor for someone years before, when the giver needs something in return, people are more than happy to help out. Givers do not help others out with this intention in mind, and that becomes clear to others who appreciate their genuine assistance. Givers are willing to provide with no expectation of reciprocity. Matchers, on the other hand, let reciprocity drive their decisions to help (or not) others. Conversely, takers often “kiss up and kick down.” They look for ways that others can help them get ahead and often treat those who cannot give them an advantage with disdain. Samuel Johnson once wrote, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” Grant gives the example of the disgraced former CEO of Enron Kenneth Lay, who filled his company’s annual reports with photos of himself. His leadership at Enron became about himself (a telltale sign of a taker) rather than the company and how the company could do good for others and benefit its shareholders. Takers burn bridges over time, looking out only for themselves and seeking out others whom they can use to their own benefit and then discard after those benefits no longer bear any returns.
Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright is a classic taker. He took advantage of clients, charging them exorbitant amounts of money to build what he wanted, disregarding their requests. He had his associates do most of the work but rarely gave them credit and often did not pay them, believing the opportunity to work with him was payment enough. Eventually, people stopped working with him, and he earned fewer and fewer commissions over time, leaving him nearly destitute. Grant indicates that takers may be geniuses, but givers are genius makers.
Givers are happy to rely on the expertise of others and give them recognition without fearing that the abilities of others poorly reflect on themselves. The taker wants to claim all of the credit for themselves and often put others down both privately and publicly. Givers enjoy mentoring, they like finding diamonds in the rough and helping smooth out the edges. Givers are also more likely to demonstrate grit and recognize it in others, they, on the whole, work harder and longer than matchers and takers.
There are downfalls to being a giver, and Grant points to the potential for burnout, but givers often thrive when helping others, and the five-minute rule is one that many high-powered givers practice. If helping someone out takes less than five minutes it should be done almost immediately. This short time commitment can serve a great benefit to others and can be executed quickly by the giver. Much research has now demonstrated that helping others is a main factor in increasing happiness, so these small actions serve as a win-win for both the giver and the person they are helping. A bit more work from givers provides benefits for both themselves and others.
Givers may be more prone to being taken advantage of, so they must recognize agreeable takers who seem sincere but are only looking out for themselves. Givers often initially give more than they receive but do not seem bothered by this. Once they figure out where to best focus their energies and can identify people who may be taking advantage of their generosity they fare better. In some cases, givers must be more assertive to stand up to unrelenting takers. However, successful givers are happy to stop helping takers when they realize it takes away from helping those who can genuinely benefit and do good for others because of their assistance. Givers advance themselves without cutting others down and find ways to expand the pie so that everyone benefits.
Grant returns to the medical school in the fifth year and finds, at this point, the givers are on top of the class. Over the many years, medical students spend together, they realize whom they can count on for help and who is in it just for themselves. This causes the takers to be rejected and isolated, whereas the givers benefit from their generosity towards others and people are more than happy to return a favor or help them out. Givers create a ripple effect of success around them, and while they may seem to lose out in the short run, it often serves to the advantage of both themselves and others in the long run. It takes time for people to understand what givers have to offer, and Grant likens it to losing the 100-yard dash but winning the marathon.
Other Related Resources
Adam Grant’s Webpage for Give and Take
Give and Take Quiz by Adam Grant
YouTube Are you a Giver or a Taker?
Why should you be a giver?
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Frans De Waal