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Give and Take

A Revolutionary Approach to Success

by Adam Grant

Give and Take
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The world, according to Wharton professor Adam Grant, is filled with givers, takers and matchers. Takers are those who like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity — the mix of give and take — in their favor. Unlike takers, givers reflect a reciprocity style that is "other-focused": they focus more on what others need than what they need. The final category of Grant’s three reciprocity styles is the matcher, who strives to achieve a balance between giving and taking. In the workplace, matchers are common; they are willing to help somebody, but they want something in return.

On one hand, in a number of studies cited by Grant in his fascinating book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, those who are defined as givers appear to be the least successful in their fields. As Grant writes, "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." Studies of engineers in California, medical students in Belgium and salespeople in North Carolina all revealed the same pattern. The ranks of the least successful — the least effective engineers, the medical students with the poorest grades — were filled with people who, according to the study criteria, were defined as givers.

However, it’s also givers that are consistently ranked highest in their fields. It seems, as Grant puts it, that givers are both the "champs" and the "chumps" of the world. In Give and Take, Grant rehabilitates the givers, proving to his readers why giving is the best strategy to succeed. He also addresses the failures of some givers, revealing the flaws that caused their downfall.

Why Givers Succeed

Givers can have greater success than takers and matchers, according to Grant, because they approach interactions with others differently, especially relating to four domains: networking, collaborating, evaluating and influencing.

For example, in networking, the best information and contacts can come from a dormant tie — a relationship with an old contact that was allowed to lapse. Dormant ties are valuable, Grant writes, because they will have new and unfamiliar experiences and relationships to offer. However, an old contact will know that a taker uses people and then discards them; a giver, on the other hand, only lets a relationship go dormant because of the normal vicissitudes of life in which it is impossible to keep in close contact with everyone. For that reason, Grant explains, old dormant contacts will be much more inclined to help a giver who suddenly calls after a long silence than any other kind of person.

Givers have an equal advantage in collaboration. Givers know better than most what it takes to work productively with others, writes Grant. By giving unconditionally to the team, they gain the respect of their colleagues and don’t attract the jealousy that other creative or successful people might. Givers recognize the contribution of the team — and if you don’t recognize the contribution of the team, according to Grant, history has shown that you will pay the consequences. Grant describes the decade-long lull in the career of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a time during which Wright completed only two projects. Grant attributes Wright’s unwillingness to collaborate as the primary cause of the architect’s downturn in output.

The Doormat Trap

Givers are equally better at evaluating and developing talent and clearly better at influencing people than takers or matchers. And yet, Grant writes, givers are also those who fail the most. Why do some givers succeed, whereas others find that giving stalls their careers or makes them less successful? The difference is what Grant calls being an "otherish" giver. Otherish givers, unlike selfless givers, do not give indiscriminately with no thought to their interests — they are not completely other-focused. Instead, they engage in "sincerity screening," separating out the generous from those trying to take advantage.

In Give and Take, Grant conclusively dispels the mistaken yet overwhelmingly accepted notion that givers are "chumps," and takers (or at the very least matchers) will be the winners at work and at life. He argues compellingly that the best path to success lies in giving more than taking.

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