I've been reading this book for a few days now - finished it yesterday - and I am already finding myself changing a bit of how I operate. According to the book, I am usually a matcher - one who gives reciprocally, when I figure I can receive in return. And there isn't much wrong with that. But, according to Adam Grant and his bevy of research, otherish givers are usually the most successful.
So, let me explain.
There are three broad styles of interpersonal dealing: taking, matching, and giving. Takers are those who try to take more than they give. Matchers are those who try to give and take proportaionally and conditionally. Givers are those who give more than they take. Takers are primarily self-oriented, matchers are other-oriented as a means to being self-oriented (I'll help you when I think you will help me) and givers are primarily other-oriented.
Here's the counter-intuitive part. If we look at the most successful people - the happiest, the most likely to be promoted, etc - they are generally givers, and if we look at the least successful, they too often tend to be givers. (Takers do moderately well, but over time, few want to deal with them. Matchers do okay too.)
This book is an attempt to explain why being a giver is a good 'strategy' for success, as well as under what conditions giving is a failing 'strategy.' First, the positive: simply put, people appreciate givers and giving often makes people want to give back. Since givers help others and often put others' needs as a priority, givers often garner (without deliberately trying - AND THAT IS KEY!) a network of support from others they've helped. Want to communicate most effectively? Ask more questions to others than you give answers, ask for advice, and be aware of how you can help others. Want to bring out the best in people around you? Believe in them by recognizing and appreciating their strengths and contributions. Want to be successful? Don't think of personal relations as zero-sum games (where others can only win to the degree you lose), but positive sum games (if you win, it doesn't mean that I lose, but we can all win together).
It sounds obvious, right? But it isn't. Even when we may be givers in our personal lives, we often become matchers or takers at work. Even if the success of a giving strategy seems intuitive, it is equally intuitive that getting ahead requires receiving as much as or more than you get, spending most of your time working on things that will obviously benefit you, and not spending more time assisting others at work than getting your own stuff done. But Grant cites a growing body of research showing that giving - under the right conditions - really is the best overall 'strategy.'
Of course, I said "under the right conditions." What are those conditions? Well, for starters, one must give with some sort of purpose. Those who don't see some sort of result from their giving often burn out. (So, fundraising telemarketers burn out less when they can talk with those who their efforts have helped, and teachers burn out less when they see what their more successful students go on to do.) Also, one must give to others and things that the giver is interested in. (Volunteering for projects and to help people I care about is much easier and fun than for those I care little about.) Lastly, one must watch out not to be exploited by takers, who can often seem like givers in their agreeableness, but be exploitative in the end. (And Grant gives some good advice on how to detect real givers versus takers who are good actors.)
So, all of this is what Grant calls 'otheerish giving.' Giving selflessly versus giving a bit selfishly is, Grant writes, what ultimately separates successful from unsuccessful givers. Give, but make sure one is giving with a sense of purpose, and to people and things one cares about. Give, but not when it comes AT THE EXPENSE of one's own projects.
And this is the one area of criticism I have for Grant's otherwise well-written and VERY interesting book. He doesn't do a great job distinguishing between matchers (those who give when they think there will be something for them in return), and otherish givers (those who give selectively). .On its face, I think I have an understanding of the difference, but the ideas are very closely related.
One other small area of criticism: does it make sense to urge others to give, but then point out that giving is a good strategy to success? If one adopts giving as a strategy for success, then doesn't that mean, in a sense, that they are takers (giving because they expect to gain more than they give ultimately)? Grant warns against this tendency, telling us that giving because one expects ultimate benefits - is often a self-defeating strategy that others can detect. But, doesn't the mere fact that Grant's whole point is to show that and how giving is ultimately a winning strategy mean that many people WILL adopt it somewhat artificially because they expect a payoff? (I don't see how its avoidable.)
Anyway, I did gain a lot from this book. Not only have I found myself monitoring some of my interpersonal dealings by the advice given in this book, but it's given me insights into what working styles many of my colleagues have (which affects how I deal with them). Very good book that not only conveys some very interesting research, but should be able to give people some good and usable advice.
Oh, and as a final teaser... chapter 3 explains why Jonas Salk - typically renowned as a giver for refusing to patent his polio vaccine - is actually a taker.
I have been looking forward to this book because I have heard so many positive things about it leading up to its release. It is a very well written book, and I am looking forward to reading more from Adam Grant in the future (a business professor who is a professional magician too . . . only good things can come from that combination). As talented as Grant is, and you can tell just from reading it how much work he poured into the book, I felt that it fell short in ways that other recent books have succeeded.
The basic premise of the book is that "Givers" are more successful in the long run, for a variety of reasons. This is especially true now in the United States because so many people, up to 80%, work in a service industry. Giving pays huge dividends, and Grant proves his theory with anecdotal evidence backed up by research studies.
What I Liked:
* The first chapter was very good. The argument that givers are more successful across a wide variety of fields is made succinctly, and the evidence is hard to argue with.
* Love all the practical tools in the last chapter.
* Stories chosen throughout the book are all new to me - no rehashing from other business books, which is a plus.
What I Didn't Like:
* Though the stories are different, I was not compelled by most of them. They were interesting, but the connection to the chapter material lacked in some places.
* The first and last chapter were great, but I would rate the middle as mediocre. Every chapter felt like it was just too long, like the publisher had a quota to fill and just stretched the material as far as it would go to get up to 300 pages.
* While I agree with the premise, I'm not sure I would be convinced if I hadn't already been on his side before reading the book. Did not read like a persuasive book.
I wish the author would have interspersed more practical application throughout the book. A book in a similar vein, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, offers practical sections at the end of each chapter. Pink also argues for a new approach to business based on our service economy and, while he doesn't define them as givers, they come to many similar conclusions. Because I just read Pink's book and because of all the practical application, I will be recommending it over Give & Take should anyone ask. Would be hard to recommend reading both - as good as Grant's book is, there are others available that are more suitable for a wider audience.
on April 11, 2013
First, a disclosure: I'm one of the people whose stories are featured in Adam Grant's book.
I don't read a lot of books, but I'm glad I read "Give and Take".
I agree with the reviewer who says the book is worth reading for the first and last chapters alone.
The first chapter explains why people who give are more successful in business.
The last chapter ("Actions for Impact") is a short, useful list of practical tools to apply the book's principles in life.
The rest of the book is filled with good stories, too, but those are a bonus.
I think overall this is an important book. If more business leaders succeed through principled giving of time, energy, connections, and knowledge, the world will be a better place.
I want to live in a world where more people have this kind of success.
on April 17, 2013
In reading reviews of this book, ask yourself whether it is the book being reviewed, or is it the premise (concept) of the book. I re-read the reviews that enticed me into reading this book and found that, under a critical reading, they seemed to be predominantly the latter. And when you encounter a review that lauds the book as "new", "revolutionary"... while also contrarily reporting its content as "well-known", "proven" or an established part of the reviewer's professional life, be skeptical.*
My background: I am in my 60s and I now read this category of book not for myself, but to assist in my mentoring of others. I spent my career in high tech, 30 years in Silicon Valley.
At the core of my negative reaction to this book is a difference in world view. The book claims that "givers are a rare breed of people" (inside of jacket). My experience is that they are hardly rare**, and there are daily reminders of that -- for example the response to the recent Boston Marathon bombing. What you see are many people who are _reflexively_ givers (no pause for calculation). Note: I am not denying the existence of "takers" and "matchers", but take issue with the book's estimates of their numbers as being too high.
The book's subtitle "A Revolutionary Approach to Success" reveals how divorced from reality it is. The characteristics of the "giver" have long been taught in a wide range of leadership courses -- the only thing new here is the name. The "Servant Model" of Christianity (and other religions) is often invoked in these leadership courses, including some by the US military.
The book even argues against itself: It opens with a study claiming that "givers" dominate the group of most successful people and later argues that this is not invisible. No matter -- much of the rest of the book is spent using examples to argue for the existence of such people. And much of what this book highlights as making someone a giver is misdirected -- in my experience, those actions are side-effects or peripheral to the core. Although working on this periphery might help with the core, my experience is that it is not very effective (analogy: Forcing a smile can somewhat improve your mood, but actually being happy is better).
The book seems to come from within a bubble where the "me first" culture is seen as normal and pervasive. Speculation: The author may be wrongly projecting what he sees in his MBA students as being representative of the business world and wider society. If you don't reside in such a bubble, much of what is in this book is tediously obvious.
The book is dominated by inept parables -- the type you might sit uncomfortably through during a church sermon from a mediocre preacher (except they are from the business world rather than the Bible). These parables have little instructive content other than "It is good to be a giver" and "Givers can be winners", but this comes only after plodding through a page or two or more of mostly irrelevant biographic detail. Many parables use such extreme cases that they can be regarded as only motivational. The parables didn't cover anything about leadership and character that I hadn't learned before going off to college, but then I grew up in the days when supervised youth activities were the exception and thus we had abundant opportunities to observe and practice.
One expects books of this category to be bloated with excessive repetition that is compensated for by a writing style that allows the reader to breeze through and get its few nuggets. I found the parables so annoyingly presented that I could not do this. Part of my annoyance is that the template for parables signals that they are inauthentic and manipulative. Part is that the stories are so single-minded and narrowly focused on "the message" that they avoid any analysis as real-world situations, thereby undermining credibility and relevance. Add to this that many come across as just a way for the author to flaunt the people he seems to know (a type of taker he labels a "peacock").*** I have used "parable" for the stories to emphasize that these are not "case studies", as one might expect from an author who is a business school professor, or even very simplified versions of such, but rather theology.
The book's presentation of Freecycle as exceptional illustrates the basic analytic failings of this book. First, Freecycle was just another creation of a community or corporate culture -- something that has long been a basic part of leadership and Organizational Psych. Second, Freecycle didn't really create anything new, but rather provided a much larger scale alternative to what had long been happening on a wide range of email lists, discussion groups,... And that sharing of physical goods had been a natural growth of the sharing of information on those groups, which had built upon ... Rather than creating a new culture, Freecycle was largely recruiting, and facilitating, people already well into that culture (and was much appreciated).
Interspersed with the parables are accounts of various psychological studies. If you have taken the normal introductory courses in Psychology and Organizational Psychology, or done equivalent readings, much of this will already be familiar to you, or at least unsurprising. And the presentation of these studies is motivational -- in keeping with the tone of the parables -- rather than analytical.**** I understand that an author may well want to include such material for newbies, but the book's format should allow more typical readers to easily ID and skip it. This book does the reverse.
The book makes brief and shallow excursions into how being a "giver" can get you into trouble, but I judge it to only be enough to alert the reader to existence of such problems, but not enough to provide real-world assistance.
Disclosure: I didn't read every page of this book. I read the initial chapters and then started a pattern of skipping a few pages and reading to see if there was anything worthwhile. My rating of 2-star (Amazon's interpretation: "I disliked it") is based upon its having been a total waste of time, and I was very tempted to give it only 1 star ("I hated it") because of its fraudulent promotion.
---- Footnotes ----
* Recognize that the publisher, not the author, controls the hyperbole in the promotional materials. I expect potential customers to recognize such as advertising and to be skeptical of its claims -- I down-grade the book only when it crosses a threshold of being misleading about whether one would want to buy the book. I have a different standards for reviews because they present themselves as independent evaluations, not ads.
** One should remember that the creation and growth of the Internet was powered by a vast community of "givers": people (and companies) freely contributing design, software implementations, tech support, computing resources and network bandwidth. Although the business school perspective on the free version of a commercial product is that it is a "gateway", the reality (personal experience) is that it is recognized that the conversion rate will be tiny and the motivation for making the free version available corresponds to what this book attributes to "givers".
Silicon Valley (pre DotCom boom) was routinely portrayed as being powered by honest partnering in contrast to Microsoft which was an abusive "partner".
*** Remember that a book review is not about what the author is or isn't, but what the book itself is. It is to help the potential reader make a decision whether to spend money and time on the book.
**** Caveat: One of my Psych professors cautioned that, based on the subjects in the typical experiment, the field would more accurately be called "Psychology of undergraduates at major research universities" (early 1970s). General awareness of this problem now has its own acronym: WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic).
5.[Added 2013-04-22] As an example of giving, the book describes a CEO who religiously writes thank-you notes after each meeting, _failing_ to consider the potential practical reasons for such behavior, which can range from the mundane to the strategic (or it could be OCD from childhood training). A note can simply be confirming contact details (eg for an activities log). The note may be primarily for the writer's benefit -- reenforcing memory of what was important in the meeting. The note may be an informal confirmation of what came out of the meeting. The note may politely set the boundaries on subsequent interactions -- something that may be different from the assumptions going into the meeting. ... This sort of narrow, distorted interpretations permeate the book, making it unsuitable even as an alternative to more traditional materials on this topic.
6.[Added 2013-04-26] What the book calls "powerless communication" has long been taught as techniques in leadership, negotiation and persuasion (and even interrogation). My inference was that the book was positioning this in contrast to an approach that emphasized _establishing_ dominance, possibly even bullying the other parties. If true, this is a Strawman: One of the basic lessons about leadership is that power based on bullying and related methods is expensive and fragile, if not illusory, and likely to be transient.
-- Douglas B. Moran
on November 5, 2013
An interesting treatise on giving and taking.
I agree with the author's central philosophy, which can be summarized as follows -
Be a giver, to everyone except takers. When you meet a taker, don't give freely, only match.
I give the book 2 stars because the author doesn't back up his philosophy. For example, he talks about a writer for the Simpson's, who obtained a modicum of success by giving selflessly. However, we'll never know how successful the writer could have been if he'd taken credit for his contributions.
Midler's book "Influence: Why Some People Have It and Some People Don't" is a more accurate description of the world.
This book talks about `givers', `takers' and `matchers'. Givers are rare and they help others instinctively, frequently at cost to themselves. Their open-handed generosity makes the world better. Takers tilt the reciprocity balance toward themselves and put their own interest above that of everyone else. Matchers try to balance giving and taking and expect direct reciprocity when they help others.
Now, in a competitive world takers should rise to the top, right? Givers are so busy helping others that their own work suffers. And, indeed, many surveys find that those at the bottom of the heap have higher `giving' scores than those above them who tend to be takers and matchers.
Proof that `good guys finish last', right?
Hold your horses. It turns out that those at the very top also have higher giving scores than the average of those below them. In other words givers dominate at both the top and bottom.
Why this is so and what do the givers on top do differently from those at the bottom is what the book is all about. It also reinforces a thesis I strongly hold. If you want to get ahead, then help as many others as you can without keeping score.
Givers on the top are `otherish', meaning that they do not deplete themselves and quickly learn to give the most to other givers. It's a little bit like the admonition you hear from a flight attendant every time you board a plane - in case of a decompression, first put the mask on yourself and then try to help others. They differ from matchers because they do not try to balance their giving and taking.
There are host of super stories throughout. The opening vignette is about a venture capitalist who agreed to fund an entrepreneur but gave him all the time in the world and placed no restrictions on his offer. The entrepreneur went elsewhere.
But he was so impressed by the way the venture capitalist handled himself that he went back to give him a part of the deal and then became a fervent advocate and helped him get many other clients. That is the way it works.
In a popular course I teach called Creativity and Personal Mastery there is an exercise called The Other-Centered Universe in which participants set out to help someone with no strings attached. Their reward is the privilege of being able to help. They are not even allowed to expect a `thank you'. If they get one, that is a bonus. If they regret not getting one, they violated the spirit of the exercise. Participants report that they feel extraordinarily good after doing this exercise.
Now Grant provides `proof' that behaving in such a manner not only makes you feel good but also likely places you on a fast track to success.
His examples touch many industries and occupations. Politics is largely absent with the exception of a shining example of a politician who achieved truly great things as a by product of his unstinting giving. Many of his former opponents became his supporters or, at least, helped him at crucial junctures.
That politician is Abraham Lincoln - certainly a person worthy of emulation.
Now, it is readily obvious that the world will be a vastly better place if there were many more givers than takers. Can you imagine what would happen if politicians in our troubled areas - such as the Middle East - became genuine givers sincerely interested in the well-being of their political adversaries?
Great thought, but unlikely to happen, right?
Is it possible to `convert' a taker to a `giver.' I know it is because, in my course, it happens repeatedly. Every participant comments on how giving everyone else is. I now know why this happens. Takers are highly sensitive to the context in which they operate. When they are in a situation where the `norm' is giving, then that part of them surfaces and they often give much more than they take and also much more than they would have normally given. They cleverly figure out that if they are perceived as givers, others will give more to them and they want that.
So a national conversation about givers and takers could get everyone sensitized to such behavior and have persons evaluating one another in terms of their `giving' and `taking' behavior. When such a conversation is taking place, takers tend to become givers.
Initially takers become givers because they are sensitive to reputation and do not want to be labeled as takers. But, eventually, when they have done it long enough, they become genuine givers.
And, with the high profile Adam Grant has, this book could just start such a national conversation. And when takers become givers, all of us will benefit and the world will change for the better.
One caveat, the indexing is terrible. When you read it, have your highlighter in hand and a pen. Mark sections you want to return to and persons who you would like to know more about. Many mentioned in the book such as Scott Gerber, Jonathan Haidt and Sameer Jain do not make it to the index.
Finally, there are stunning insights in the book that you can use immediately for great personal benefit. For example, Grant reports on a study that showed men consistently outdoing women in a negotiating game. A simple shift had the women running rings around the men.
This is a technique that I have used and teach and it absolutely works. It is not gender specific - a later story shows how a man used it to gain a substantial salary increase.
So what is this method? Get the book to find out. I will tell you this much - the answer is on page 205.
on April 26, 2013
I had high hopes from the book because I have been thinking a lot about how much altruism there is in this world. Many people donate time, money and knowledge anonymously and sometimes clandestinely. I have wondered if these people are motivated by religious beliefs (that they will be rewarded by God, either in present life or in heaven). The book (Give & Take) did not address altruism at all so it did not fulfill my expectations on that dimension. But this is not the fault of the author.
The author shows off that he is the youngest tenured and *single* highest rated professor at Wharton. By tooting his own horn he raised my expectations that the book would be reporting scholarly research. But it's not scholarly at all - it has about 10-12 anecdotal stories, which a journalist could have researched over a period of one year and reported. On this dimension, I fault the author because he brags about his credentials but the credentials don't fulfill the readers' expectations.
In my view, the dozen or so people discussed in the book (who the author labels as "givers" or "takers") have the same goals and motives. They want to be successful. I am sure all of them wish to be good and do good and they try to help others, as and when they can. However they go about it differently. The ones Adam calls givers seem to have long term strategies and are willing invest in their social and/or professional reputations (i.e., be viewed as helpful and giving people) in order to be rewarded, directly or indirectly, voluntarily, perhaps decades later. The givers are busy promoting themselves (e.g., Stenker, the accounting professor, shows off his popularity and probably gets paid a lot and has a lot of power at Wharton, or we read how Hornick, the venture capitalist, hosts professional parties where he ends up being in the spotlight). On the other hand, those who Adam calls takers seem to have short term strategies, and specific rewards in mind (not indirect and general rewards), and they don't seem to be patient. Perhaps sometimes the takers try to get rewards by force on their own terms and in that they might behave illegally or unethically and irritate or annoy people around them. Call them immature.
So we dislike the people Adams calls takers and like the people he calls givers. In my view their goals and objectives are the same (or at least similar - i.e., they want to succeed and do well for themselves) but their strategies are different.
I'm interested in knowing how altruists (those who give anonymously) do in life. The book does not have any discussion of altruism or any testable hypothesis that I could see - specifically, how could one determine whether a person is an altruist or a long-term opportunist? The giver's behavior is indistinguishable from the behavior of reputation-builder who hopes to receive rewards or status, in direct and indirect ways, perhaps far in the future. Reputation-builders optimize their behavior by keeping a long-term perspective on each investment they make (like, Warren Buffett does with his financial investments), whereas the takers have a short-term horizon (like, hedge fund managers).
There is no data and empirical evidence that there are more givers who succeed than there are takers, as asserted by Adam.
Adam could have, for example, asked Wikipedia to estimate how many unrecognized people there are in the Wiki community who contribute time or money, anonymously, without ever receiving any recognition. Adam could have told us stories of such people by describing their profiles if not their identities. I realize some people give time and knowledge on Wikipedia hoping to become part of the site-police who monitor and decide what content is acceptable and what is not; but most people contribute anonymously (altruistically). We might think they do it as a hobby; OK, but they are not receiving recognition that they could use to get direct or indirect favors or rewards, now or in the future.
Millions of people in the free world put their lives in harms way (soldiers) who do not need income, nor are they drafted. They do it because they believe in freedom - these people are true givers (altruists) - not the people who Adam has written about in his book. To make a case whether givers succeed researchers should research and report what fraction of altruists (people who give money, time and knowledge, anonymously, or who put their lives in harms way) succeed and how successful are they and in what way do they succeed aside from personal gratification?
I DID NOT LEARN ANYTHING FROM THIS BOOK. I hope scholars will do empirical research, rather than run quick experiments offering tidily amounts ($20--$50) to students (who need the money or like to play with the experimenters by distorting the results with screwy behavior and screwy answers) or to poor people who are willing to come to research labs and play the role of experiment-subjects, or conducting ambiguous surveys where people are asked to rate themselves as givers or takers. Duh! what do you think they will say? Either they will play mischief and say they are greedy, selfish takers or, like most people, they will say they are actually givers but act as matchers in the in real world because they do not want to appear as chumps and be exploited. In surveys and experiments people give answers to questions, which are not reflective of how they actually behave in reality or would under "real" conditions, where there is real and significant risk to their actions and decisions and when they are not sure if they are being monitored (with security cameras) or not.
on August 5, 2013
I was more inspired by a 5 minute interview that the author did than by reading the book. He should have written a 4-page articles. Just explain the idea. Give a few short examples how the reader can apply this in his life. Done. The book as it is is filled with stories, and it takes 6 hours to read through. So you read for 10 minutes about some randomly selected story, just to get to the point which could be explained in 30 seconds. I don't know what it is with writers these days. It started with Malcolm Gladwell: You have a vague theory. You collect random stories that support your theory. And then you dump it all on the reader. It's some weird 21st century fashion thing in the writer's world, where "non fiction" becomes bloated with stories. I find it annoying. Why don't you think your theory through, put it down in a short book or article, and then, if somebody wants to learn more, or if they don't believe you, THEN you can unpack a couple of stories to back up your theory. The author should be the one who does the research and sifts through stories to find the grains of truth. He should find them, and he should present them to the reader in an easy to understand, easy to apply form. Not drag him along through his research. Besides: For every story that Grant picked to prove a point, one could easily find another story to disprove it. Stories don't prove anything. They are mere entertainment. And I didn't buy this book to be entertained. I wanted to learn more about giving. And I am disappointed to realize that I learn about giving much faster by reading what people write ABOUT this book - rather than reading the book itself.
P.S. Maybe the issue is that I already AM convinced about giving, and didn't buy the book to be convinced that, yes, giving leads to success and not to being a doormat. But that's who the book seems to be written for: For people who still need to be sold on the WHY of giving. Which is really weird, because only people who think (or at least suspect) that giving might be the key will ever buy it.
on June 25, 2015
I've read other reviews of this book which complain that it is too lightweight and that it relies on too many stories. I have to agree with that, and I'm wondering how many of these stories are made up or embellished. The very first andecdote in the book relates to a chance meeting of an entrepreneur and a VC at their girls' soccer match. Delightful. And it goes on to relate how the VC funded the entrepreneur.
The problem arises when you read the VC's blog, and he says: " in my 13 years in the venture business I had never once funded a company that hadn't been introduced to me by someone I knew and trusted."
So who do you believe? I'm believing the VC. Ventureblog.com 09/06/2013
One star for making things up.
I'm very glad that I stumbled upon the Adam Grant's interview on the On Being radio show. This book resonated with me on many levels. There are lessons here that will help me in my roles an agile software developer, people manager, and member of my community. Grant explains how givers (as opposed to takers and matchers) get ahead in the long run and also help their teams succeed. The information here resonates with, and explains, many things I've learned from people ranging from Gerald Weinberg and Tom DeMarco to, more recently Gil Broza about technical leadership, and team dynamics. In this book you will learn how to be an effective team member, and help others to be the same. Most importantly Grant explains how to be a giver and not overextend yourself. This is was a great book to end the year with, and would be an equally good book to start the year with. As Adam Grant says, we need more givers. This book will help you to understand why that's true, how you can be a more effective giver, and how to encourage others to give, so that you can be part of a more effective team or community. This is a "business" book that will give you insights in to how to improve both your business and non-business lives.