Give and Take | Adam M. Grant

Summary of: Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
By: Adam M. Grant


In the book ‘Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success’ by Adam M. Grant, the author explores how generosity, collaboration and reciprocity can lead to both personal and professional success. Through various examples and analysis, the book highlights the benefits of being a giver, a taker, or a matcher and how these traits play out in various social and professional contexts. Grant challenges the conventional wisdom about success, emphasizing that being a giver can lead to achieving powerful and influential positions while creating abundance for others.

Generosity Unlocks Success

We all have encountered individuals who have left a lasting impression through their selflessness and generosity. These people, known as “givers,” go above and beyond in sharing their knowledge, skills, and time, all without expecting anything in return. A giver’s primary goal is to bring value to others and contribute to the collective success. They recognize that helping others is, in fact, a powerful reward in and of itself. A prime example of a giver is Emmy Award-winning writer George Meyer, who contributed to over 300 episodes of The Simpsons but only took credit for 12. Meyer was more concerned with the show’s success than with personal accolades, exemplifying how givers prioritize the growth and accomplishments of the group over their own. By harnessing the power of collaboration and creating abundance for others, givers strengthen bonds and unlock opportunities for widespread success.

Striking the Fair Balance

Matchers aim for equitable exchanges and see the world as a level playing field where resources are shared evenly. Operating with a tit-for-tat mentality, they believe in the fairness of reciprocity and strive to maintain balance in their interactions. As the most prevalent interaction style, matching can be observed in various scenarios, from the workplace to online marketplaces like Craigslist. Striving for fairness and equality, matchers find a harmonious middle ground between the selfless giver and the self-serving taker.

In the diverse spectrum of human interactions, there are those who identify themselves as matchers. These individuals strive to make the exchange of knowledge, skills, and resources equal for everyone involved. Unsettled by imbalance, they eagerly return favors they receive and anticipate reciprocation for the help they provide. This expectation of fairness stems from the matchers’ core belief – equitable exchanges are the bedrock of stable, harmonious relationships.

The majority of people tend to adopt the matcher’s interaction style, as it represents an appealing compromise between selflessness and self-interest. In professional settings, matchers contribute to their own success and the growth of their colleagues, collaboratively sharing skills and expertise. A prime example of the matcher’s influence is the popularity of websites like Craigslist, where transactions and exchanges are built on the foundation of equal value. Ultimately, matchers symbolize the delicate balance between generosity and selfishness, ensuring justice in a world prone to excesses.

Shaped by Social Influence

Our individual behavior of giving, taking, or matching is not just dictated by personal preferences, but also by social expectations and group dynamics. For instance, takers might be more generous in public to avoid being seen as miserly, while givers may dial back their generosity at work to prevent seeming weak. We also see this shift in behavior within communities like, where the culture of giving influences even takers to be more generous. Furthermore, similarity plays a critical role in our generosity towards others. Research shows that we are more likely to help those who appear similar to us, as seen in the case of Manchester United fans aiding fellow fans over others. In summary, without even realizing it, our giving and taking behavior is significantly molded by our interactions and perception of similarity with others.

The Downfall of Excessive Takers

Success is often believed to be achieved by taking what you want, but history reveals that excessive takers often face repercussions. Jonas Salk, the scientist behind the polio vaccine, neglected to acknowledge his collaborators and suffered the consequences of a tarnished reputation. Similarly, renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright took advantage of his apprentices, causing clients to prefer working with his subordinates rather than Wright himself. These examples demonstrate how excessive takers often encounter a “taker tax,” a self-inflicted punishment in the form of a damaged reputation and decreased opportunity for continued success.

Too often we hear that the key to success is grabbing everything we can, but history has shown that excessive takers may thrive temporarily, only to ultimately face a reckoning for their selfish ways. Jonas Salk, the scientist who developed the polio vaccine, serves as an excellent example of this. Despite his incredible achievements, Salk’s unwillingness to give credit to his collaborators resulted in him not receiving prestigious accolades like the Nobel Prize and an induction into the National Academy of Sciences.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the famed architect, also exemplifies the potential pitfalls of taking too much. He regularly denied his apprentices proper credit and compensation, even billing his own son for living expenses as repayment for work experience. Clients witnessed Wright’s mistreatment of his subordinates and began choosing to work with the subordinates themselves rather than Wright, ultimately costing him valuable business.

In both cases, Salk and Wright faced what is known as the “taker tax.” This is when others catch wind of a taker’s selfish behavior and retaliate by tarnishing their reputation. While they may have amassed impressive accomplishments, their persistent taking behavior ultimately hindered their chances of prolonged success.

The stories of Salk and Wright provide a valuable lesson for those striving for success: respect and collaboration will propel you further than selfishness and greed. By recognizing the risks of excessive taking and adjusting behaviors accordingly, individuals can create sustainable success that is built on mutual respect and collaboration.

Giving Paves the Way to Success

Many assume that in competitive fields like business and politics, taking rather than giving leads to success. However, history shows that individuals who prioritize the greater good and help others often achieve influential positions. Abraham Lincoln, a well-known giver, set aside his personal ambitions to help accomplish a shared goal and ended up repaying his selflessness. In the corporate world, Jason Geller’s generosity in sharing a valuable information management system with his colleagues led to his rapid promotion at Deloitte Consulting. Givers, by focusing on the greater good, often rise to the top and attain powerful positions.

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