Give and Take | Adam Grant

Published: 2014

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Adam Grant received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and later became the youngest Professor of Wharton Business School. Grant has studied humans based on a framework of three categories: Givers, Takers and Matchers. In short, Givers helps even when the benefits to others outweigh their personal cost. Matchers want to achieve an even balance between giving and receiving. Takers help only when their benefits outweigh their personal costs.

EVERYBODY HAS A STYLE. Giving, taking and matching are three basic styles of social interaction, but the boundaries between them are flexible and murky. You can change “reciprocity style” depending on your work role and relationship. Grant, however, believes that most people develop a primary style on how they treat other people. This primary style can play a big a role in how our lives develop.

HOW TO IDENTIFY A TAKER. Takers like to get more than they give and follow the “dog-eat-dog” mentality. They are selfish and have a tendency to market their few good deeds so that they can get recognition. Grant describes them as a “black hole”, as they can suck the energy out of any group or system. Takers will take credit for the work done in a team. Seen as game theory, this exploitative strategy can be successful in the short term, but in the long term the truth will catch up.

“I’d rather have a large accounts receivable than a large accounts payable”

READING THE FINANCIAL REPORT. Grant presents a study on corporate executives and the rhetoric used in the annual reports. When a CEO uses words like “me, me, mine, etc.” we should see it as a warning flag. This is also the case when the salaries are excessively high or if large pictures of the CEO adorn the annual report (full-page pictures are the worst – for example Ken Lay in Enron). These directors are Takers and not the ones you want as captains of your boat.

MATCHERS TAKE THE SAFE PATH. Based on test variables such as quality of life and standard of living, the outcome for Givers is both at the top and the bottom. Takers and Matchers are more likely to end up in the middle on the same scale. Matchers try to create a fair balance between giving and taking. They often act according to the principle of justice and reciprocity when helping others.

TIT-FOR-TAT. The Givers who have not succeeded well have had a hard time drawing a line, and are thus exploited. To avoid becoming a “doormat”, Givers can apply a tit-for-tat strategy, that is, you first give and then see how it is welcomed. It may be wise to become a Matcher if someone turns out to be a Taker. But give potential Takers more than one chance to change his or her behavior – without forgiveness, tit-for-tat can derail in a very unpleasant way.

HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD. Navigating successfully as a Giver, without being burned out or exploited, can eventually create a large network of allies. The good reputation is an asset of high value. Most people want an ambitious Giver to succeed, which creates less friction in everyday life. In addition, goals are achieved faster if a group consists of many Givers as everyone has access to the free flow of information, knowledge, expertise and connection.

”Every time we interact with another person at work we have a choice to make: do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

ALLOW OTHERS TO GIVE. The fear of asking someone for help is related to an underlying fear of being vulnerable, rejected or appearing weak or clingy. But the cost of asking for help is often non-existent and the upside is large. When we think about whether someone will say yes or no, it is easy to focus on the sacrifices that are associated with a yes. But we do not think that there are a lot of downsides with a no as well. Saying no is uncomfortable, shameful and you feel like a bad person if you deny someone a small request.

GIVING AND HAPPINESS. Studies have shown that those who spend money on themselves experience a constant level of happiness, but those who spend on someone else increase their happiness. It’s a great feeling to give to someone who deserves it. One way to be generous is to discuss ideas with others instead of being afraid that someone will take the idea.

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